The Violent Femmes release new album We Can Do Anything on Friday (4 March) – their first full length record in 15 years – but you can listen to the record in full now via Q. Additionally Gordon Gano has written us an exclusive, track-by-track guide to the album that you can read below.
We Can Do Anything
I like that there’s a song called “Memory” that says “I Don’t Remember” and I played around with the song title and thought maybe at one point I think I had called it “I Don’t Remember” and then maybe I didn’t remember that I called it “I Don’t Remember” and maybe called it (“Memory”)…I don’t remember. Also that’s the song that sounds like something I might have written very recently as somebody who’s getting to a certain age. I actually wrote it, rather than as a 50-something year old looking back and having these thoughts, as a 30-something year old thinking about some things in my 20s.
I Could Be Anything
I wrote this song thinking of it as being for a cartoon for children and yet also for something that adults would enjoy. And it’s all there except for the visual at this point. But maybe somebody will tackle that. I think it would be a wonderful animation if somebody was ever to do that.
Issues tells a story and then there’s something that happens which one of my fellow songwriters said “Oh, the reveal.” So I’ve learned that term now. Now I recognize when I hear it on television or in a movie when somebody will say that. I knew the idea of it, just not that there’s that one word for it. And I wonder how much it comes across fully, with the lyrics, the shift and the change. I think that if anybody is paying attention to it, that you can hear it. I like the progression and not knowing what’s going to happen in the song and not expecting what happens.
There’s a certain key to what, to me, the song is about which I’m starting to realize nobody’s getting, ha. And that’s ok. Maybe the last person that I said what’s the key for why I wrote what I wrote, which to me makes the whole song understandable and not just a bunch of silly nonsense, I could tell how disappointed they were – shocked and disappointed. Shocked is ok sometimes, but the disappointment, that’s not so good. The people I was writing the song with, when I mentioned it, their response was “I LOVE YOU” – ha.
What You Really Mean
Written by my sister, Cynthia. I’ve loved this song ever since I heard it. She wrote it, recorded it at least 30 years ago, and at one time I tried to get somebody to record it without any success. And then I thought, why don’t I do it? And it’s one of my favorite songs on the whole album, maybe my favorite one. I think it’s the most beautiful sounding thing that we’ve ever done in Violent Femmes. I’m sure people at times will think that I wrote it initially. Everybody in and around the group thought I had written it, until I had to put in album credits and say it was from my sister, actually. But I’d be very pleased if that was everybody’s favorite song, the one I didn’t have anything to do with writing. I think I missed the emphasis of the end where it flips it around and the narrator is saying that you’ll see what I really mean. I didn’t emphasize that enough in how I sang it and how we arranged it.
That title was suggested by the people that I was working with writing the song. All the songs that are the co-writes – Issues, Foothills and Holy Ghost – I wrote almost all of the lyrics and I think that’s why it just flows and works with everything because it’s still coming from me as the lyricist primarily. Foothills was suggested as the title and I never would have thought of that, and in fact in the band, Brian Ritchie said why is it called that? Why not call it something that makes more sense, more obvious, like “I Don’t Know Why” but actually when that came up in discussion, when we were writing the song, everybody has that as an Eagles song. So I thought, yeah, Foothills, it’s simple and unexpected and one word and I live close by foothills.
Traveling Solves Everything
The idea for this song when I first started writing it was when I was in a time of turmoil. I was in a hotel and my whole life was coming apart and somebody spoke to suggest why don’t you just get on a train and go travel, just start heading it doesn’t matter where, just do it. And I thought that was very interesting and I did not do it, but I wrote the song. I find it also interesting because there is a philosophy or idea or a catchphrase for it, that changing solves nothing, something like wherever you go, there you are. But I think that sometimes it is important to change environment, even just the experience of movement, of traveling. I think it’s quite an interesting idea and certainly was a lot of fun to record with all the different shifts and changes that happened when we had our full expanded line-up playing that song live together.
The song has a bit of a shocking end if somebody is paying attention to the lyrics. It’s a song that I’ve had for a long, long time. We even played it live a couple of times in Violent Femmes concerts, and I’ve played it in some solo concerts, going back 25 years ago, and more recently than that. And there’s always been somebody in the group that didn’t want to do it, because they’ve found that of all the songs that I’ve written, they found this one to be the one that was truly objectionable with its lyrics. But this time, finally, it exists so people can make up their own minds about it if they like it or not. There was also a coda cut from the song, and I think the coda, the little tag at the end, gives how I originally wrote it and had originally performed it, more a sense of this being some idiotic fantasy as opposed to this is a direct narration. I think now, actually, it probably is more vicious with its ending by cutting out that end part, which I don’t think was the intent of the people that were expressing their reservations about ever doing this song.
I think that this song expresses something that’s really not a good philosophy. It’s really poor, very poor, but it hasn’t been expressed too often and there’s a reason for that, I bet. I was feeling it a little bit of that when I wrote it. So many of the songs are not fully autobiographical but some are more so and some are much so and some not at all. So this one related to a thought that I was having and then I just expressed it more fully in a song. I wouldn’t write this song today. I think it’s nice to have and the way that we as a group arranged it and changed it, I had a different groove when I wrote it, I like the way we’ve done it on this recording.
I’m Not Done
Both Brian Ritchie and I thought that would be nice on the song order to end a collection of songs and an album with a song saying “I’m Not Done” and to me this song just relates to my roots of early Johnny Cash growing up hearing that kind of music. To me this totally has that sound and approach.
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