Interview: Spike Slawson (Me First and the Gimme Gimmes)

“In that mythical era known as the 90’s, five brave young men emerged from the legendary halls of some of the mightiest bands on Fat Wreck Chords with a single mission: make all the rest of these dildo punk bands covering popular songs obsolete. They crowned themselves Me First and the Gimme Gimmes and the world rejoiced.”
Me First and the Gimme Gimmes are back with their first full length album in six year ‘Are We Not Men? We Are Diva!’ Vulture Hound caught up with lead singer and front man Spike Slawson to talk about the new album, side projects and The Aquabats.

You guys have just come off the back of world tour, how was it?

It was good, fun.

We saw you in Birmingham.
 
Yeah, that was the last date of the European Tour.
 
After which you went to Japan?
 
Yeah, we played a couple of West Coast shows here in the States and then we went to Japan. It was just three shows, but we snuck a little extra time out there. It was certainly worthwhile.
 
So how did the new material go down on the tour?
 
Pretty well all considered, because generally that’s not what people want to hear. Yeah, I think it went down pretty well.
 
Does it make it easier then because your new songs are cover songs, that the audience already recognise them to an extent?
 
Absolutely, I would agree with that assessment. Completely! They are already familiar with it, if even only vaguely. But they know it so its easier, like if you sing along. New original songs that nobody has ever heard before there’s a weird sort of like group think going on, a lot of people looking at each other seeing how to react. Where as with songs they already know, they already know it. Its a lot easier for everybody.
 
There does seem to be a stigma attached to new songs.
 
Absolutely, especially with bands where the better their older songs are, the less receptive people are to hearing their new stuff.
 
With regard the new album, the theme is obviously Divas. Was that an easy decision to make?
 
Well everybody brings something to the table, and then it kind of gets whittled down. Mainly by the person with the narrowest sensibilities which is Mike (NOFX and Gimmies Bassist). The kind of narrowest pop sensibilities, which our case is a kind of blessing. But then naturally as the singer, I reserve a degree of veto power which I enjoy because if I don’t like it then its not going to sound good. You can fake it on the guitar, but I don’t think you can fake it as a singer or on the drums.
 
Are there any artists that are off limits, that you would never touch?
 
No, its more genres I would I say. Like I don’t see any point in doing hip-hop, I don’t see any point in doing punk or hard rock. There are even some that we have done that I would say are off limits, because I wouldn’t have done The Easybeats*, I definitely wouldn’t do that a second time because I love them too much and the song comes across as a bit of a “piss take” to use one of yall’s words. Certain bands I don’t feel comfortable doing. If it like AM 70s Gold type music I’ve got no problem lampooning it, but not if its band that I dig, but if ain’t broke don’t fix it.
 
Looking at the track listing, you’ve used the term “Divas” quite broadly.
 
Absolutely, I wouldn’t class Karen Carpenter in that category. If anything she is the opposite of a diva I think, she was more of a kind of moody introvert and not a diva at all. Obviously she had self esteem issues, but I think we had been meaning to cover that song anyway. And there were some omissions, like there is no Britney. But absolutely its broad, but at the same time it is narrow too.
 
Have you got a favourite track that is on the album, is there one that stands out to you?
 
I like the Barbara Streisand track** and Cher’s Believe, I would have to say those two are my favourites.
 
One more on the new Gimmie’s album, who is the biggest diva in the band?
 
Tough to say, because I can’t really be objective but I’m told that I’m definitely in the running. But I’d have to say Mike, but I guess you could say he’s earned it. If only through popularity and time in the business. Yeah, I’m going to have to say Mike, its the easy answer but that’s how it goes.
 
Coming about to the new project Uke-Hunt , how did that come about? And can we expect an album, or is it just the 7”?
 
We’ve got a whole record that’s coming out June 10th that is all done. With this album, you discussed song selection earlier, this more reflects my personal tastes. Its me bringing songs to the table, if I were the table. There’s The Kinks on there, there’s Dave Clarke Five, Depeche Mode. I’m not a huge Depeche Mode fan but certain songs worked out really well for the idiom. Which kind of developed with me and a drummer going out to Fisherman’s Wharf to busk, and its crazy out there. So we had to work not only out general discipline, but we got to work out the songs with a lot of distractions because there’s a lot of crazy people here and they’re so vocal about it. There is an American comedian who said once “there’s a lot of people out there with imaginary friends, but you would think they’d invent one that they actually liked,” and there’s a lot of that in San Francisco and we are out there in the middle of it trying to busk and trying to get our thing together musically, so to speak. Then we invited a guy that plays saxophone, and he plays on a bunch of songs that are on the record and he plays with us live, and then a bass player because we figured we needed some bottom end. And then I don’t know if your familiar with the Dance Hall Crashers from fifteen years ago, this girl Karina that sang with them, she also plays vibraphone so she played on the record. But she hasn’t come and played with us live yet, because she’s a busy lady. Certain songs fit that idiom and certain songs do not, and also there the strum of the ukulele or at least there’s a way that I know how to strum the ukulele I’m pretty limited. Like I wouldn’t call myself a great ukulele player, but there’s certain songs that work and certain songs that don’t. But the record more reflects my personal taste.
 
Are there plans for a Uke-Hunt tour?
 
I certainly hope so, that’s the plan. I love the record, but over that last fifteen years its harder and harder to sell records. I’d would love to be able to sell a bunch of these records and I try to keep a positive outlook, but records generally these days more of a way for people to identify with you enough that they will come to see you live. So if your looking for dough, then you’ve got to travel, and the good thing is that I love to travel.
 
Rumour has it that The Aquabat’s song “Dear Spike” is actually written about you, is this true?
 
See I don’t know, I heard that too and then I looked that up but I don’t know if that’s the case.
 
But it is true that you used to work in the postal department of Fat Wreck Chords?
 
I did, I did! And I would sing along to Stevie Wonder records whilst I was there, and then Mike asked me to be the singer in his cover band. Which at the time, like he was right too. His rational was really solid. I’ll even go a little bit further I think most of 90s punk is a bit terrible, and the best song on all of those records were the covers. And that’s the way Mike presented it to me, and I said “all right I agree” and he asked me if I would sing for his cover band.
 
So the origins of Me First and the Gimmie Gimmie’s is you singing along to Stevie Wonder in the post department
 
Yes, basically Stevie Wonder and Alice Cooper and whatever else was on at the time.
 
As a band the Gimmie’s have a very visually presentation, is that something you look to change every night? For instance when we saw you, you were wearing the white trousers with Hawaiian shirts.
 
No, that’s how we go we but do we change Hawaiian shirts though. Its my wife Audra that all credit is due, for dressing us and our style and visual presentation. When you are able to put on a costume its a liberating process, I think it helps you perform better. If you just go in street clothes, there are some bands that and still manage to do that and that’s part of performance is that there just so schmoe, and they just walk on with a bunch of other schmoe’s and this magical chemistry come together. But personally I like to see visual presentation.
 
I think the presentation, is enhanced by the strength of your personal performance and the way you conduct yourself on stage.
 
The costumes a big part of it, being able to put something on like a costume or a mask is liberating. You feel the freedom to do things you wouldn’t normally do because you are this other persona.
 
Is there anything else you wanted to add?
 
Well I’ve got an originals band called the Re-Volts, that we’ve been working on recordings forever, in between working on other things. Its very much a labour of love, and something I’m doing on my dime which is another reason its taking so long but were hoping to have a release by the end of this year. I’ve been working with Jack from One Man Army and some other folks. We’ve been working on it for quite a while, but we are hoping to have either a full length or a series of 7”s by the end of the year and its different a more of a rock ‘n’ roll feel to it.
 
But you have released Re-Volts material in the past?
 
Yeah, in 2006 we did an EP which came out on a 10” just self titled, that had six songs. We don’t play out all that much, but we try to make it count when we do.
 
‘Are We Not Men? We Are Diva!’ is released on May 13th on Fat Wreck Chords, and Uke-Hunt’s single ‘The Prettiest Star’ is released April 29th with a self titled album on 10th June and all we be reviewed at a later date.
 
* The band covered The Easybeats song ‘Friday on My Mind’ for the ‘Go Down Under EP’ (2011)

  • ** A cover of Striesand’s ‘The Way We Were’ features on the new album.