"We don't really do tours, per se ... we mostly do individual shows," says Victor DeLorenzo of veteran alternative trio Violent Femmes, speaking from his home studio in Milwaukee on a recent sunny day. "Charleston ... in our 25-year career, I wouldn't be surprised to hear that we did play there before."
The cleverly understated Violent Femmes are currently on the Southern stretch of a "25th Anniversary Tour." Presented by The Plex, 96 Wave, and the City Paper, the tour lands on stage at The Plex on Thurs. Sept. 10.
"This performance in Charleston will be the three of us with a fellow who does stage for us, Jeff Hamilton, who also plays guitar, horn, and mandolin," says DeLorenzo. "A young guy named John Sparrow [of Horns of Dilemma] will be adding Latin percussion, mostly on cajon, a Peruvian beat box."
With their Velvet Underground-esque simplicity and Modern Lovers-style romantic sensibilities, the self-proclaimed "rock dadaist improvisers" were angst-riddled but fun-loving college radio staples during their formative years. The group formed in Milwaukee in 1981 with singer/guitarist Gordon Gano, bassist Brian Ritchie, and percussionist Victor DeLorenzo in the lineup and signed to the hip Slash label in 1983. That year, they released a self-titled debut containing early crowd faves such as "Blister in the Sun," "Kiss Off," and "Add It Up." The marimba-driven "Gone Daddy Gone" even made it onto the early-era MTV playlists. 1984's grim-gospel Hallowed Ground and 1986's considerably upbeat The Blind Leading the Naked followed.
In 1993, DeLorenzo made an amicable departure from the band to pursue other musical and acting projects (he was replaced by former Oil Tasters and BoDeans drummer Guy Hoffman). DeLorenzo returned to the battery in 2002, however, alongside a rotating team of side players and collaborators.
"I left in '93 and then came back in to the fold four years ago," says the drummer. "It just came to the point where I wanted to do other things. At that point in time, I also had three young children, so I was more interested in being able to have some more time at home so I could raise them. It just kind of coincided that that particular nine years fell right in line with my plans, as far as the kids, pursuing work as an actor, and playing with other people. I actually toured with Moe Tucker and others."
In addition to dad duties, DeLorenzo spent time running a recording studio in Milwaukee called the Past Office Recording Salon — as an engineer, producer, and performer doing records on his own. He was actually into audio engineering before the Femmes even came into being.
"I've done some television stuff in the Midwest and some little film stuff for some friends of mine, but primarily, I've done theatre work," the drummer says. "I haven't done much stage acting in five years, but it just so happens that I'm getting to possibly do a stage show up in Buffalo, N.Y., right when the Femmes will have some time off. I'd have to say that I enjoy them both, and probably for different reasons. For the most part, I like to think of them as two different things."
The Violent Femmes' two latest releases include a collection titled Permanent Record: The Very Best Of (released on Rhino Records in 2005) and the Shout Factory label's recent rerelease of 2000's studio album Freak Magnet.
These days, touring behind their vast catalog of tuneful punk ditties, gospel-rockers, and party favorites, DeLorenzo keeps things ultra-simple, standing behind only an old Rogers snare drum, an equally old Gretsch floor tom, and one 20-inch ride cymbal. Known best as a brushes player, he currently uses mallets, brushes, and sticks. Gano and Ritchie still pluck mostly acoustic vintage gear.
"Since I've been back, I've pretty much been saddled with the stand-up drum system that I've been using for the last four years," says DeLorenzo. "In the earlier days, I'd be more liberal, as far as what kind of drum situation I'd surround myself with from tour to tour. Sometimes I'd have a stand-up set right next to a kind of a sit-down set, so I could literally start fills standing up and end them while sitting down. It was really nice for the showmanship aspect of playing live. Now, because we don't a lot of long tours — and we do more flying — I've really pared back my set-up.
"Playing with Brian for so long, it's almost like we imply the bass/drum duties between the two of us," he adds. "It's something that is stated in a very loose way. When we originally put this rhythm section together, we were both listening to Gene Vincent & The Blue Caps, so that really molded us in the younger days. Plus, I came up studying jazz and classical percussion, so I had that in my back pocket, too. I've kind of molded my playing, so, hopefully, people don't miss that there's not a bass drum there. That's certainly something that's different about playing with this group."