This March Milwaukee multi-instrumentalist Jeff Hamilton marks 11 years playing with the Violent Femmes in venues all over the world. His resume also includes playing with Beatallica, the Probers, True Heart Susie, and the US Band. At his Hamtone Audio studio he has produced and engineered countless sessions in his 25 years of operation.
In March, the Violent Femmes will release ‘We Can Do Anything,’ the band’s first album of original material since 2000’s ‘Freak Magnet.’
The current Femmes entourage includes founding members Gordon Gano and Brian Ritchie along with drummer Brian Viglione (ex Dresden Dolls), John Sparrow (cajon , ex The Danglers drummer), Blaise Garza (saxophones) and multi-instrumentalist Hamilton. Kevin Hearn of Barenaked Ladies added accordion, keyboard and background vocal tracks to the mix Hamilton said the Femmes Viglione played a crucial role in getting the band into the studio. Hamilton got on board when Viglione and Martin Vissi had started on the session in New York City. Eventually the album would be recorded in New York City, Nashville, Hamilton’s studio in Milwaukee and the legendary studio, Village Recorders in Los Angeles. It was mixed in Boulder, Colorado by John Agnello (Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr.)
Hamilton, who produced the Femmes cover of Gnarls Barkley’s, ‘Crazy’ talked about how the recent album came together.
“Gordon had a cache of songs built up over the decades,” Hamilton said “and wanted to record some of them. This started with the Happy New Year EP released last year. That was a great experience, and ice breaker for all of us. That greased the wheels to do this full length.”
Anyone lucky enough to have witnessed the Femmes in their unhinged heyday can vouch for just how dynamic a tight-rope the band was capable of walking. The good news is they took this aesthetic into the studio again.
“He (Gano) approached Ritchie about it,” Hamilton said. “But because Ritchie isn’t a fan of making tedious studio records anymore, he suggested an all live approach. That’s been my philosophy of recording for years, so everything just clicked. The whole band has been performing now for 10 years in various permutations, even during the hiatus; so this current lineup is very tight musically.”As Exhibit #1 of his declaration, Hamilton cites the title track.
“Musically one of my fave tracks is the title track,” he said “actually titled ‘I Can Be Anything.’ It’s a very complicated track with many different feels and grooves and sections. At one point, after not getting a complete take, I frustratingly suggested we do it in pieces and splice it together later. The room had a palatable air of disappointment. The next take we did was the song in its entirety, and is what is on the record! The energy jumps out of the vinyl!”
This was all live with six or more musicians in the room.
“Gordon would show us the songs, and we would lay it down right then,” Hamilton said “That simply doesn’t happen these days. It’s a lost art for sure. Everyone has to be on their game and also gel as a unit for it to work. It did!”
Hamilton says the band worked in six to eight hour sessions on off-days during the band’s tour, and that the album features the bass, guitar and snare drum classic sound the Femmes pioneered, and unveiled to the world on their 1983 debut album.
Hamilton also mentioned a guest spot by Milwaukeean Paul Cebar.
“During a session with Brian Ritchie at my studio,” Hamilton said “Brian had run into Paul at a coffee shop and invited him down to hang at the session. In between setup I heard Paul noodling on a guitar and told him that he should play that on one song. He was honestly surprised at that, but did lay down a great 12 string guitar track with a do-wop feel that fit “Foothills,” perfectly.”
Cebar’s seminal records, ‘Upstroke For The Downfolk,’ and ‘The Get Go,’ were produced and engineered by Hamilton.
In recent years the founding members have been in the news for their ‘disagreements,’ but Hamilton says the experience was a positive one.
“It’s no secret of the sometimes tumultuous past this band had,” he said. “These sessions were not negative in any sense of the word. Joking, creating and general camaraderie was the modus operandi. My role as a producer is to keep the peace, and everything focused. Thankfully there weren’t any TMZ/VH1-worthy moments (laugh).”