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INTERVIEW – Spike Slawson, Me First & The Gimme Gimmes, September 2013

| 17 October 2013 | Reply

By Shane Pinnegar

Me First & The Gimme Gimmes have been giving their tongue in cheek punk makeovers to a variety of far straighter tunes for 18 years now, and in 2013 they’re heading Down Under for a run around the country and a few laughs.

Frontman Spike Slawson (also of Swingin’ Utters and Re-Volts) says the band, also featuring Fat Mile of NOFX, Chris Shiflett of Foo Fighters and No Use For A Name, and Joey Cape & Dave Raun of Lagwagon, can’t wait.

Me First & The Gimme Gimmes - Spike Slawson 01

“Well – not looking forward to the trip, [but] I’m looking forward to being AT my destination! [The trip] is crazy! But I’m happy – the weather is meant to be pretty mild when we’re there.”

The band’s most recent release, 2011’s Me First And The Gimme Gimme’s Sing In Japanese features five songs where Slawson had to do just that – sing in Japanese. Quite the feat for someone who had little grasp of the lingo.

“I gotta admit,” he chuckles, “I had, like, please, thankyou, I’m lost, and that’s about it – that’s all I’ve ever managed, I’m not even a consumer! But I did okay, man. Mike had a friend write all the songs out phonetically, so we just sorta listened to You Tube versions [of the songs] and tried to mimic, and pronounce [the words] as well as I could. Somebody said I sounded like an innocent man… I don’t know what that meant!”

Covering well known songs is one thing, but doing so in a different language is quite the feat. I ask Spike if that detracts in any way from his ability to deliver a strong punk rock vocal.

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“Nooooo, ‘cos you memorise it after you’ve done it a bunch of times,” he insists. “It’s kind of like… muscle memory. Well, not muscle memory exactly, but it takes on a life of its own and you’re just sort of a vessel. It’s somebody else’s tune and it was done before, so all the little accentuations and everything – it’s all there [ready to be copied].”

Slawson also says he wasn’t familiar with these Japanese pop songs before deciding to record them?

“No, none of them. Then The Tigers ended up being a cool little discovery, we’ve listened to other songs by The Tigers too and found some of their seven inches when we were in Japan. There’s this cool little record store in Kyoto that sells only vinyl, it’s got all these crazy Stones, Beatles records, crazy old pop records… like, the cool, original, Japanese lettering and lyric sheets. Lovely old trio groups from Mexico from the 50’s and 60’s… Great record store – and we found a bunch of that stuff there.”

Rumours that the band are planning on doing some more EPs in different languages, may not be completely accurate, though.

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“Well…” he says hesitantly, “…we’ve thought about it. We do have an LP in the works presently, and while I can’t give too much away about it, it does follow a particular theme. I can tell you that Cher is one of the artists that we will be covering on this record. Gloria Gaynor is another. I can’t give away any other names ‘cos I don’t want to spoil the surprise.”

All of the band’s records have followed a theme – Have A Ball 1 and 2 covered 60’s and 70’s pop songs, Are A Drag focussed on Broadway show tunes, Ruin Johnny’s Bar Mitzfah tackled karaoke favourites, Blowin’ In The Wind hit up more 60’s hits, and Love Their Country did exactly what it said on the tin: cover country & western songs. The themes extend to their EP’s as well, while …Sing In Japanese is all pop songs from the Land Of The Rising Son and …Go Down Under is five Aussie pop rock tunes by artists as diverse as Olivia Newton John, Air Supply and INXS.

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What could possibly be next? Disco, thrash, hair metal?

“Black Metal!” Slawson jokes, laughing. “I’d say more of the same, just different! People keep writing music – as long as they write it, we’ll cover it!”

“It’s actually easier than it would be to do, like, a rock or punk song,” Slawson says of the process of transforming a pop tune into a Me First And The Gimme Gimmes number. “Because you have to make it different. It’s obviously gonna sound different – there’s no way around that, and when it turns into something else that’s when you know that you’ve succeeded in finding a good, fun, song to cover.”

After almost twenty years on the road, Slawson says it’s more fun than ever touring with the band.

“Because there’s better chemistry, live and when we’re travelling” He explains. “When you’re stuck on planes and buses and so on, it’s good to have travel companions that you know and trust. In that regard I think it’s gotten somewhat better, and funner – and definitely the live set has got more fun ‘cos everybody knows where everybody else is going. Once you’ve been doing something for so long, if you repeat it, you can’t help but get better at it!”

He also expresses surprise that the joke is still continuing – successfully – so many years later.

“Every single time,” Slawson exclaims, “Well, I guess not because people keep writing music, against everyone’s better judgement, you know what I mean. They keep writing music, so there’s always new content for us. It’s the same sort of treatment, but if the songs are different, and theres a few layers of irony to peel back then I think that helps too.”

Me First And The Gimme Gimmes are well known as connoisseurs of a fine Hawaiian shirt, and Slawson is kind enough to give 100% ROCK MAG some advice as to what to look for.

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“I look for a nice design. There’s one company in Hawaii that does these silk Hawaiian shirts – what was that place called…?” he asks his girlfriend off the phone before returning. “Avanti, look ’em up man, they have some beautiful old designs, but they’re new shirts. Avanti, spelled like ‘forward’ in Italian. They have great shirts.”

The band were famously denied permission by The Eagles a few years ago to use their hit song Desperado for a video clip.

“I think it’s [fair game] in song recording, but whenever there’s video involved, that is completely different [legal] rights you’re dealing with,” he explains. “But seriously, the less associated with The Eagles that I am personally, the better.”

The Eagles management even bent over backwards to pass on a message to The Gimmes, taking the opportunity expressly to ensure it was known that they hate the punk cover band. Did they take the opportunity to send a message back?

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“Not me personally,” Slawson laughs, “Mike may have. He’s kind of more the vindictive type. But it’s good to know – we’re in good company, I would imagine!”

I close by asking Spike if he could magically go back in time and be a part of the recording of any one record in history – which would he choose. Because he does covers for a fun living, I include the proviso that it has to be a serious musical contribution.

“Wow man…” he pauses. “The first thing that comes to mind is Exile On Main Street, but that’s just because of the circumstances – sure, it’d be cool to contribute to but it seems like a crazy party! To be doing what they were doing, and using what they were using… it’s almost like the music was just incidental, and that’s what made it even better. It wasn’t everything – everything else was everything, then ‘oh yeah, you gotta go play some songs’. I dunno though, a record to contribute to. Either that or maybe Slade – Sladest?

Not an obvious choice perhaps for such a died-in-the-wool punk guy?

“Yeah, well… that’s my scene, you know what I mean! I did go to punk shows when I was a kid, and all that with my friends, but I’m more into glam and rock!”

Category: Interviews

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