Most people would know Brian Ritchie as the bass player for Violent Femmes. Now living in Tasmania, Ritchie is a keen advocate of the Australian way of life, so much so that he became a citizen last year.
‘I have always really admired Australia and enjoyed being here, and have been coming to Australia for almost 30 years. I finally got fed up with the US system and I decided to make a move to what I thought was a better environment.’
Ritchie is an intensely creative and unconventional person. Since 2012 he has been touring as the bassist in Australian surf instrumental band The Break, composed of former Midnight Oil members Rob Hirst, Jim Moginie and Martin Rotsey. As it turns out Ritchie was a huge fan of Oils.
‘‘They were the first Australian band – their sound couldn’t have been anything other than Australian. ACDC could have been American, Easy Beats could have been English. Midnight Oil couldn’t have been anything other than Australian.’
So how did Ritchie find himself an ex-Femme amid the Oils?
‘I was friends with Midnight Oil for many years and we are associates and we have done shows with them and it was natural when they were looking for a bass player that I should join.
‘We put the music together communally – its a very natural process.’
The Break have just finished recording their new album, [ITALIC]Space Farm,[/ITALIC] the follow-up to [ITALIC]Church of the Open Sky.[/ITALIC]
‘We jam and record the songs while we are writing – what you hear is pretty fresh off the press, because there are no words. We look at it from a cinematic point of view – trying to paint pictures with the music. There is quite a bit of improvising, similar to jazz, I guess.’
Like his fellow Break players, Ritchie is a lifetime artist on a continual growth curve of inspiration.
‘Playing is the main thing, that is what separates people who continue to play music for many decades from those who don’t, usually because they love music or they are desperate, and we’re not desperate. Music is a love affair and if you want to have any relationship to last that long you have to re-invigorate it.’
Part of Richie’s re-invigoration is his sojourn into Japanese classical music. He is proficient at the shakuhachi, a Japanese bamboo flute.
‘I teach that, I have a jazz band, called the Japanese Improvised Orchestra, from the conservatorium, from about five to nine people.’ Since 1998 he has collaborated with American shakuhachi maker Ken LaCosse, developing a wide-bore style of shakuhachi called Taimu.
Ritchie is also the curator for the Mona Foma Festival in Hobart.
‘We just won the Helpmann Award for best contemporary musical festival. It’s a big job, a lot of dialogues – sometimes there are themes but I don’t articulate them, I don’t even mind if people come up with their own themes. We also have art curators, we emphasise multimedia shows and sound installations.’
The Break will be playing Bluesfest so expect to hear some new tracks from [ITALIC]Space Farm,[/ITALIC] along with their usual rips, swells and chants. You can also catch them onstage performing with the Sugar Man himself, Rodriguez.