ABOUT 15 YEARS AGO, Gordon Gano announced that Violent Femmes would no longer write or record new music together. They'd continue to perform when booked, but the lively acoustic punk-folk juggernaut would cease to progress. It was a dreary portent of what the following years would hold for the pride of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
The rift deepened in 2007, when bassist Brian Ritchie filed a lawsuit against Gano for signing over rights to their omnipresent classic "Blister in the Sun" for a Wendy's commercial. After going on hiatus in 2009, the band seemed destined to disappear forever.
But then Coachella came calling, which led to Violent Femmes' momentous reunion in 2013—with Dresden Dolls' Brian Viglione replacing founding drummer Victor DeLorenzo—and eventually they resumed playing live dates together. Still, the prospect of the band recording again seemed highly unlikely.
"We were interested in it," says Gano, "but we had to find a way to either resolve or set aside enough of our differences to unmake that decision."
After pensive discussions, Gano and Ritchie buried the hatchet, and this year the Femmes released We Can Do Anything, their first collection of new material since 2000's Freak Magnet. The new record features the band's fourth drummer, John Sparrow, following Viglione's departure earlier this year. It's full of the kind of joyous, funny songs that made their self-titled debut a touchstone of '80s outsider punk.
"The music is something that's always separate as far as the discord or the negativity," says Gano. "The music is too strong for that."
We Can Do Anything brings together new and old work—Gano reports that the ideas for some songs go back 25 years, while some are only one or two years old. "I Could Be Anything" is a childlike anthem written some 25 years earlier, exhumed from Gano's memory after hearing a similarly whimsical tune about saber-toothed tigers by Breathe Owl Breathe.
Gano dismisses the notion that his teenaged angst has morphed into some sort of middle-aged frustration, instead insisting that the songs are sovereign creations.
"I just don't think like that at all," says Gano. "Someone asked me if the song 'Memory' is something that somebody would be writing more in their middle-aged years thinking of their youth, yet that song is one of the oldest songs. I think of the songs as having a life of their own and being very independent from even my own personal life story."
The new album's similarities to Violent Femmes' older releases are a sticky wicket for some critics to get past. And it's true: We Can Do Anything is a pretty safe addition to the band's oeuvre. Gano laughs thinking of Violent Femmes' apparent lack of musical evolution: "Apparently we have no interest in that whatsoever."
While it's not necessarily groundbreaking, the fact that there's even a new Violent Femmes record to talk about is pretty impressive.
"There were times in the studio when I wasn't sure if or when somebody was gonna walk out, and was that somebody, perhaps, going to be me?" Gano says. "Yet, when we get to playing the music, that's all completely not part of it. There's this kind of absurd drama that goes on at the same time. The fact that this album exists and sounds really good, I'm really pleased with."