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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Sunday, April 20, 2014

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In Music

Brian Ritchie (PHOTO: Eron Laber of Front Room Photography )

In Music

Ritchie and his wife, Dr. Varuni Kulasekera (PHOTO: Eron Laber of Front Room Photography )

In Music

In Music

In Music

In Music

The Violent Femmes. Photo credit: Jim Herrington (PHOTO: Eron Laber of Front Room Photography )

Milwaukee Talks: Brian Ritchie


The Violent Femmes' Brian Ritchie is one of a handful of Milwaukeeans whose music is internationally known, but he still can fly just under the radar in his hometown. Sure, he's recognized often, but he says that's less because of his notoriety as the bassist of Milwaukee's most famous band, than due to his living here for 30 years. Even though it's been a few years since the Femmes have put out an album, the band still tours -- and sells out -- constantly.

This Friday, the band is playing a concert at the Pabst Theater to benefit tsunami victims. Ritchie's wife, Dr. Varuni Kulasekera, has a personal connection to the tragedy, and the band is donating all proceeds to charity. Ritchie is performing in a second, solo show for the relief effort Feb. 11 at Artasia Gallery.

We caught up with Ritchie and his wife in this latest Milwaukee Talks to chat about his career, the Femmes and his willingness to help raise money for a good cause. We sat down at his apartment in the Shorecrest Hotel, which, Ritchie points out is, much like his occasional bandmate and neighbor Sigmund Snopek's pad, "but smells much better."

OMC: How important is it for the Violent Femmes to be involved in this benefit?

BR: We're very stingy with benefit concerts, which is nothing to be proud of, but in this particular case, everyone is doing something, and we have a personal connection. I think it's quite natural to do something. We can't imagine what it must have been like in that tsunami.

OMC: You're donating all the proceeds to charity, right?

BR: It's great, everyone is donating everything. The Pabst is donating, the stagehands are donating and our crew is working for free. We'll raise tens of thousands of dollars. That money will really have an impact over there.

OMC: Sammy Llanas of the BoDeans is opening for you. You guys don't play together often, do you?

BR: We've played together maybe three times in the last 25 years. It will be great. He didn't hesitate to lend his support.

OMC: Are you excited for this concert?

VK: I'm really excited. I'm excited that Milwaukee really got together to help.

OMC: What's your personal stake in the tsunami relief concert, Varuni?

VK: I'm Sri Lanken. My sister and her husband are there. Our friends and family members saw their lives just swept away.

OMC: Do you have any trips planned to southeast Asia?

VK: We're hoping that after the band finishes its Australian tour, we can go to Sri Lanka.

OMC: The Femmes do have a huge base in Australia, don't they?

BR: Well, we were one of the first international alternative -- I have to turn back the clock to remember what the terminology was back then -- New Wave, I guess -- bands to go over there. So they really have a warm spot in their hearts for us, and we've been pretty devoted to going to Australia and New Zealand. In fact, New Zealand was where we got our first gold record. We love them, and they love us. But I wouldn't say it's much different than what we get in the States or in Europe.

OMC: It seems like you're always on the road. Do you still get energy from touring? Do you still like it?

BR: That's the main reason I stay in the band, because I like traveling and I like playing music. It's still fun just thinking about it.

OMC: I know I've seen the Femmes live more than a dozen times, and with very few exceptions, you guys still sound great and you still sound like you're into it. Is that true?

BR: Oh yeah, I mean we're all into it. Gordon is really consistent, and Victor was chomping at the bit to get back into the band.

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