Victor DeLorenzo of the Violent Femmes
The Violent Femmes drummer talks about his new solo album, work with jazz trio Nineteen Thirteen and the Femmes reunion at Summerfest this June.
Victor DeLorenzo is the percussionist and founding member of the Violent Femmes. Defunct for the past five years, the Femmes recently announced a slew of festival dates including shows at Coachella and Bottle Rock in California as well as a headlining slot at this year’s Summerfest. A fixture in the local scene, Lorenzo also plays with blues trio Lorenzo Menzerschmidt and WAMI-nominated jazz trio Nineteen Thirteen – he’ll be performing with the latter this Thursday at the Jazz Estate.
Delorenzo’s latest musical effort is a self-titled solo album, which he has been working on for the past nine years. We chatted at his East Side studio about that record, the Femmes reunion and our mutual ambivalence towards The Eagles.
Ben Gucciardi: So this record (Victor DeLorenzo) is pretty drum-oriented. Would you call it a drummer’s album?
Victor DeLorenzo: Well it’s funny because in my catalog I have five records released under my name. This is the most drum-centric, but it’s also the most – and I hate to use the term – experimental. I thought about the record for quite a long time before I even started it. Originally the whole record was going to be multiple drum sets, percussion and voices. But then over the nine-year period that I was working on it, I met other musicians who I liked and who I wanted to incorporate, and after a while I felt that if I wanted it to be a real drummer’s record, I probably shouldn’t even have the voices on there. So already, I’ve kind of lost the drummer’s battle in that regard.
VDL: The working title of the whole record was Self-Help Book, and if you listen to it a few times, you start to get it that that discussion is happening. But I didn’t want it to come across in a New Age-y, crystal kind of way. I wanted it to be a thinking-man’s self-help approach, where you feel there’s something wrong with yourself, but you don’t worry because you can fix it. You don’t need to see a therapist. You can read these books. You can talk to your friends, and you’ll solve the problem. But then my opinion of the record changed, and I realized that I’ve never released a record just under my own name, and so I thought maybe this one is that one because — “self-help book” — I’m helping myself and that’s my name.
BG: Did you begin with that unified concept of self-help? Did it change at all during the period you were working on it?
VDL: Oh, it changed quite a bit. What happened was I got very serious about finishing the record last September of last year. And what that entailed was rounding up a lot of material that I had always earmarked as being part of this record and then figuring out if there was anything new that I wanted to record.
When I got into December, the point that I was going to start sequencing and mastering it, I went, “Ok, do I have everything I need or are there some holes here?” I wanted it to have some kind of mind through the piece and have it structured as an album, so it’s not just a collection of singles, which a lot of modern recordings are these days. So I went about going through my catalog. Owning a recording studio, you sometimes record just to record, so I had quite a backlog of stuff that I could choose from. There was that piece, “I Remember When I Loved Her,” which is a cover of a Zombies song, and the more I thought about it, that does play into the man-woman, little heart play that’s going during the course of this record. And then there were a few instrumental sections, I think one called “A Quiet Walk,” which is a little drum-synthesizer little segue that was recorded a long time ago.
BG: How did “Dr. Um,” the collaboration with Gordon [Gordon Gano, lead singer of the Violent Femmes] come about?
VDL: That happened six years ago because we were in town for Summerfest, and I had mentioned to Gordon that I was working this record called Self-Help Book, and then I said “Would you be interested in writing a lyric and maybe singing something for me?” And he goes, “Yeah, I would like to do that.” And so I told him the idea, the main idea of music as a healing force in the universe, and Gordon kind of just ran with the idea, and then he said he had prepared something, and so we set up this time when we would record.
I had sent him just a rough take of just the drum track. The way that song came about originally was I just went upstairs and I had a drum system and I miked it, and then, without any time reference, without playing to a click or anything, I just laid down that track. There is definitely a motif there, but as the song progresses it gets a little looser. There’s a little more illustrative playing, and I sent Gordon that, and I think by the time he got here I had added on a fake trumpet and a lot more percussion.
So Gordon came in, and he hadn’t heard the other percussion, and he hadn’t heard that fake trumpet. He was just reacting there, singing his melody. We did one take, and I was sitting in working on the board, throwing in those little interjections and it’s all just spontaneous. It was just really a fun session because we were flying by the seat of our pants, not really knowing what was going to happen. It was just like “Let’s go for it.” And I love that he’s of that nature, that he will take on something like that. It was one take and I was so happy and he was so happy with it, and after he left my son [Malachi DeLorenzo] came in and we added some guitar, bass and some keyboard, and it’s what you hear.
BG: Are you excited to be playing with the Femmes again? How did the reunion all come about?
VDL: Just through our agent. Our agent got a call from a friend of his who’s also an agent who is pretty high up in the ranks at Coachella, and he had asked our agent, Frank Riley, “Hey, do you think the Violent Femmes would be interested in playing a show at Coachella?” And Frank said, “Well they haven’t played together in five years, but I can ask them if you’d like me to.” So I guess it just came to that point of time after five years, and Gordon had called me and asked me if I was interested, and said “Yeah, I would be interested. What does Brian think? Would he want to do it?” And Gordon said, “Yeah, I think Brian’s gonna be on board with it.” And so I said, “Yeah, if that’s the case, yeah.” I’m really excited about it.
BG: So Brian and Gordon resolved the Wendy’s rift?
VDL: Yeah. They settled their lawsuit awhile ago. I mean that would’ve had to have happened in order for us to do this. I don’t exactly know all the mechanics of that, but at least they’re at the point where they can deal with one another and we can play together.
BG: You’re playing Summerfest. It’s been five years since you’ve played Milwaukee. How does that feel?
VDL: We played at all the different stages of Summerfest growth. From very early on – in the beginning of the eighties, mid-eighties. But we haven’t been at the Marcus Amphitheater in a long time, so that’s going to be fun. At first I wished that we would almost – I know that they don’t really do this, but I was wishing that there could be a way that we could play two nights at the BMO Harris Pavillion, the new stage. I really like that stage. But you can’t tell Summerfest how to run their business, and you know, fantastic that they think they can get us in there and sell the place. Between us and The Avett Brothers and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes.
BG: That sounds like a good bill.
VDL: Yeah, that should be a nice lineup. Maybe one of the more successful lineups, at least the main stage. Other than the Eagles and Tom Petty. But Tom Petty’s not bad. I wouldn’t mind seeing Tom Petty.
BG: Yeah, I’d see Tom Petty too.
VDL: Certainly before the Eagles. But you know the crazy thing though is not too long ago I watched on some channel, I don’t even know if it was PBS, but there was a two-hour documentary about the Eagles that was fascinating, I mean it was really, really good. I found myself understanding them quite a bit more once I knew their story.
BG: So what else do you have cooking?
VDL: Oh god, I’ve been doing so much production work, which has really been fun. The one I’m really excited about is a record that hasn’t come out yet; I produced a record for Neil Young’s sister, Astrid Young. Astrid’s quite the bassist, guitarist, keyboard player, and a great songwriter. She’s a great vocalist too. She’s sung on a lot of records uncredited as a backup singer. When she managed a lot of recording studios in L.A. in the ’80s, she’d get called in to do background vocals and stuff, and that record I’m just really excited about because her and I are playing bass and drums together. That record’s really gonna knock people out.
And then you know the group I play with in town, Nineteen Thirteen. We have a single that is finished that is going to come out in July, I think – right before we play Bastille Days. We’re working toward a full-length record, which will probably come out sometime in winter. And then I have a blues trio called Lorenzo Menzerschmidt, and I also produce the recordings, and that record’s actually starting to take off. And the Femmes, of course. But the Femmes is a very limited thing. We just decided to do events, so it’s not like we’re gonna ever going to do a big long tour.
And I have other session work. I play drums for people or do production work. I play with this group, the Whiskey Bells. They asked me to come in and do some more work on a Christmas record that they’re gonna be working on in the next month or so. I’ve got writing stuff I do. As an actor, I’m constantly trying to seek out roles. There’s a series that I might actually be auditioning for. It’s nice. I’m happy. Self-employed and doing OK.
Victor DeLorenzo will perform with Nineteen Thirteen at the Jazz Estate Thursday, May 23. The show is free and begins at 9:30 p.m.