After the Femmes Are Over
Victor DeLorenzo is glad to be gone from the Violent Femmes, building a different life with two newer bands.
The Violent Femmes may still be around, but the group’s last connection to its old hometown ended last year.
The folk punk trio that used to play on the corner of North and Farwell came back together for one more try last year, but that split headliner gig with the Avett Brothers at Summerfest was to be the last time that Gordon Gano, Brian Ritchie and Victor DeLorenzo graced their hometown stage together. For DeLorenzo, the only founding member of the band still living in Milwaukee, leaving the Femmes and coming back has happened before, but this time was the end of the road.
“Definitely more finality to it [this time]. I didn’t really see where it could go,” says DeLorenzo from his East Side studio. “I was always hoping to the end that maybe we could get together and create some new material, maybe rebuild the friendships, and go out in more of a hero’s stance rather than just something to placate the history of it all.” It has already been 14 years since their last studio album, Freak Magnet, and with the lawsuit between Gano and Ritchie still in recent memory, DeLorenzo says “I just couldn’t trust the other two guys anymore.”
All things end. People change. Things run their course. By 2013, DeLorenzo had already moved on. “It turned out to be something I didn’t really want to revisit. It was too hard on me mentally and physically. And I’d established enough new things to do.”
There wasn’t a tinge of remorse in his voice when he spoke of his former band, now continuing on with Dresden Dolls drummer Brian Viglione. His responses to the inevitable Femmes questions are well-rehearsed by now, but you can tell they’re genuine. De Lorenzo is plenty busy these days, drumming for two bands, chamber rock trio Nineteen Thirteen and the blues group Lorenzo Menzerschmidt.
Nineteen Thirteen, which DeLorenzo considers his main outfit, has been picking up steam with two Wisconsin Area Music Industry or WAMI awards won in 2014, one for best jazz artist and one for cellist Janet Schiff, who won strings player of the year. It’s a unique group with an ethereal sound and curious instrumentation. There’s Schiff, playing a cello augmented by a slew of electronic aids, and two drummers, DeLorenzo and Scott Johnson. The highly unusual instrumentation, with Johnson bringing a full kit and DeLorenzo with his signature minimalist setup, presented its challenges, but now it’s turned into a positive.
“The unique challenge of it probably dissipated about a year and a half ago, and now we find that it’s very liberating.” The redundancy allows both members to take turns being more experimental, and there’s plenty of experimentation and improvisation in their style. Another unique element of the group is a complete lack of vocals, which DeLorenzo likes because he “doesn’t have to deal with anybody’s point of view.”
His new acts aren’t the only things that are keeping DeLorenzo busy. He’s a longtime producer, with 35 records in the past 30 years, most recently with Astrid Young’s new album One Night at Giant Rock released this June. His own self-titled solo album, nine years in the making, was released last year. The solo album is a percussion-driven, avant-garde affair fitting DeLorenzo’s unique style.
He’s not, by the way, a lifelong drummer. The native of Racine started as a violist, and only picked up the drums as a teenager when he bought one to help out a friend going into the military. “I had it in my parent’s basement for about two weeks and I’d walk by them. I didn’t even know how to set them up.” A different friend came by later to help him do that.
His early years also included a detour into acting with Milwaukee’s now defunct experimental theater group, Theatre X. Meanwhile, DeLorenzo developed a unique musical style that blends rock and jazz elements, most notably extensive brushwork in a venue where it’s rarely seen, punk rock. His son, Malachi, carries on the legacy as the drummer for Langhorne Slim.
DeLorenzo has been successful to the point where his East Side property has a back house that serves solely as a music studio, but there’s still a humility and concern for other artists that comes through in his comments. “The idea of a starving artist should be something that doesn’t exist anymore,” he says. “I believe people should be paid for what they do, no matter if it’s in the arts or the banking industry.” Meantime, DeLorenzo remains grounded in his home town, while the other two members of Milwaukee’s most famous act have moved on, their legal spat still unsettled, to other cities.
Nineteen Thirteen’s next show is at Bastille Days Thursday July 10th, 7:00pm at the Madison Medical Beaux Arts Stage, after which DeLorenzo will be joining Astrid Young on tour in Canada in support of the new album. Later this fall, Nineteen Thirteen will hit the studio to work on a new album.