The latest episode of the Chris Hardwick-hosted Nerdist Podcast featured the prodigal sons of Milwaukee music, Violent Femmes. Like the vast majority of the 700-some Nerdist episodes before it, the 77-minute recorded discussion was fun and delightful, but—whether the band knew it or not—pretty informative. Between the joking around and the end-of-episode performance (which starts with about six minutes left), the Femmes and Hardwick sprinkled in plenty of Milwaukee-specific information, including that apparently the band our city is most proud to claim doesn’t even necessarily consider itself a Milwaukee band. Here are some things we learned over the course of the episode.
Gordon Gano doesn’t consider himself to be “from Milwaukee”
Around the 12-minute mark, Hardwick asked the band about its Milwaukee roots. Gano seems quick to say he moved to Wisconsin when he was 10, started the band when he was 18, and moved by the time he was 20.
“My extended family is not from there. My father went there for his work. And now, for forever, in the whole world, I’m from Wisconsin because, you know, that’s what it says when somebody looks up the bio, that’s where I’m from,” Gano says. “Now that’s where I’m from because of the group, and that’s fine.”
Band mate Brian Ritchie offered a similar take, too.
“So the band started in Milwaukee, and so we’re considered a Milwaukee band, but none of us live there, and haven’t been there in a long time,” Ritchie says.
When Hardwick talked about The Bronze Fonz, Gano said he’d never heard of it before.
Brian Ritchie has heard of The Bronze Fonz, and he isn’t a fan.
Though he now lives in Tasmania, Australia, Ritchie considers himself the one “true Milwaukeean” in the band. He quickly bolsters his assertion by registering a complaint against the polarizing Happy Days landmark.
“Oh, the art community are up in arms about that. Like, we don’t spend any money on public art, then when we do, it’s the Fonz,” Ritchie says around the 14-minute mark. “That’s one of the problems about being from Milwaukee is that people will say, ‘Wow! So that’s, Laverne & Shirley, right?’ And it’s like, ‘Well, those are actually fictional characters.’ A lot of people, they think it’s a documentary.”
He later alleges that Happy Days hangout Arnold’s was based on Kopp’s.
Ritchie’s last job before the band’s success was at the Milwaukee Public Library, where he first took an interest in his current home of Tasmania because of a book her read about Australian actor Errol Flynn. Beyond the Femmes connection, Wisconsin and Tasmania also share another very specific thing in common.
“There’s only two places in the world that call these things Bubbler, and it’s Milwaukee and Tasmania,” Ritchie says.
He also referenced a (hopefully no longer practiced) library policy where books that weren’t checked out for five years were thrown iaway. Ritchie says he once salvaged a metal-covered bible while working there and gave it to Gano.
Speaking of libraries, Gano credits the Oak Creek library for exposing him to great music during his youth.
“I heard so much music living in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. Just at the public library, that’s where I heard most of all my David Bowie, and Zappa, and Velvet Underground,” Gano says. “It was amazing, and yet the community was—imagine Oak Creek, Wisconsin, and you’ve probably got it right.”
Hardwick loves Milwaukee.
He praised our city’s engaging audiences (while admonishing the weather) and even called Milwaukee and Minneapolis “great comedy towns.”
“I think Milwaukee is a fantastic town. Milwaukee and then also over in Minnesota, Minneapolis, great town. My theory is that it’s so fucking cold most of the time in those towns, that people actually go watch shows and they are engaged because it’s too horrible to go outside most of the time. Milwaukee and Minneapolis—Minnesota and Wisconsin—are both great comedy towns, I think.”
People apparently love fucking with Violent Femmes playing in the background.
“One of the recurring ones is ‘I lost my virginity while listening to you music.’ Usually “Added Up” that’s [mentioned], many, many times,” Ritchie says. “And then a girl came up to me recently and said ‘I was conceived while my parents were listening to your music.’ And I’m like, ‘How do you know that?’ ‘ Well, they told me!’”
You probably won’t hear a more fun and honest long-form interview with Violent Femmes. And you certainly won’t hear another interview with the host of MTV’s Singled Out singing a verse of “Blister In the Sun” at the end.