ME FIRST & THE GIMME GIMMES Raking it in

They’re one of the funniest bands in the world, as their best of collection Rake It In: The Greatestest Hits from earlier this year attests. Featuring a rotating cast of Foo Fighters, NOFX, Living End, Bad Religion and Lagwagon members (and more!), punk rock, all covers supergroup Me First and the Gimme Gimmes make their long-awaited WA return at Capitol this Thursday, October 12. KAREN LOWE chats to funnyman frontman Spike Slawson about what we can expect. 

For those that don’t know, Me First are a cover band that turn pop songs into punk. How did the idea to do this even come up and did you expect to still be doing this 22 years later?

I think (NOFX’s Fat) Mike was pretty crucial with that part. He definitely thought that this had potential to be a retirement plan. It will have to because I have no other plans so it better be good.

You guys are about to tour Australia for Rake It In: The Greatestest Hits. What are some of your favourite memories of Australia?

Oh man, record stores. Lot’s of record stores. We got an original print that they do down in Melbourne, somewhere outside of Melbourne of the original Junk Yard cover art. That was a cool memory. I’ve got that framed in the house so that’s really nice. What else? Got lots of stuff – great food and it’s also really hard to find a bad cup of coffee too I noticed. I mean, I guess if I looked hard enough, I’d find one but food and coffee. Went to Bon Scott’s Memorial out near Perth the last time and we played a show somewhere outside of Perth and it was literally like it was raining bogans.

Have you got anything special lined up for Australia? For example any Aussie bands that you haven’t previously covered?

We are certainly playing some new old ones – songs that we have never played in Australia before and we have a local along with us – Chris Cheney from The Living End and he’s playing the shows with us so it will be great to have him along. I think the inter-personal and the inter-continental chemistry will be delightful. It will be a delight to behold.

How did working with Chris Cheney come about?

I met him a few times through my band and we had a few tours scheduled that our guitarist could not do, and Chris Cheney was one of the first people I thought of and coincidentally, he did two and a half weeks, thereabouts of shows with us – American shows and it was a lot of fun. He’s a great guy to travel with.

You’ve also got Frenzal Rhomb’s Lindsay McDowell for the New Zealand part of the tour?

We’ve known him forever. We’ve known him since the first time we came to Australia, even the first time they came to the States maybe and did some shows. We actually played one show with him, God… the first or the second time we were out there and he did really well. We hadn’t even played together once and he did almost a full set and yeah, he worked out perfectly.

Ask Lindsay about Bunbury – he’ll have some stories for you…

(laughs) We’ll trade Bunbury war-stories.

Are there any artists that you refuse to cover? Either for personal reasons or because their songs are either that good (or that bad)?

I don’t know that I will ever do songs from that ’66 era – the rock and roll era – because I like those songs too much and I think they are already done. Like that Easybeats song that we did – I don’t think we did that song any favours so I don’t know that we would do any songs from that time period any more. It’s not that they’re sacred but it’s more that we couldn’t do anything better to them. That’s why it’s difficult to pick songs. It’s literally the only hard thing about doing this – everything else is easy. You just have to pick the right song…in theory.

How do you guys choose the songs? And how much work is involved to re-arrange them to suit your punk style?

Mike is really good at arranging the songs and he’s really good at picking the songs and I just kinda do my thing. You don’t really worry about what you are doing. You worry about how you are doing it and that can always involve trashy outfits, kind of in the schlocker style, an American version of schlager culture – trashy, very shiny…

I know that Australia’s also just like us and no strangers to trash culture so I think that it will resonate very well. Everyone’s gonna have a good time and we’ve got a new wardrobe by Audra Angeli-Morse and she is a fashionista genius.

When you are doing covers, you are more worried about the show, the vibe and how good of a time rather than your own songs where some may stare at their navels or a speck of dust on the ground. You know what I mean? Coz they’re all wrapped up in what they are doing and what they’re doing to the world where instead, if you’re playing, you’re on stage and people are paying for it, then I think you have an obligation to do something more.

It’s always good as well when the band interacts with the audience…

Yeah exactly and then taming some of the other crowd. You’ve got to select who you actively engage with because I don’t want to engage with some of the bogans that were falling out of the sky.

Are there songs that you have attempted to cover that you’ve had to scrap because they just didn’t work?

I don’t remember any off the top of my head because there have been so many that you try but some of the ones that we shouldn’t have tried have wound up on records but that’s because we do a lot of themes so we had to find songs that fit.

Seven inches – that’s a lot more fun for me and you can be a lot more choosy about what you throw on there. You can set your goals a little bit more reasonably; it’s easy; effective; better.

Have any of the artists ever contacted you? Either to tell you that they love the cover or that they would prefer you not to cover their songs again?

The Eagles sent us a cease and desist once on a record and I think we have a lawyer on retainer, well I know we have a lawyer on retainer to handle such emergencies but I think it’s covered under satire on record I believe with a sync license.

Mike wanted to do a video of Desperado. I guess he probably had some idea of us in cowboy hats and I dunno so we asked The Eagles or their management if we could get a sync license to do a video of that song and their management responded and said “not only do NOT do this. Not only will we not allow that but the band wants you to know that they hate your version.” so that was an important moment for us.

You guys would have seen so many things while on tour. What are some of the safer stories that you can share with us? Either bad or good?

There’s so many that it’s hard to take just one or two. Ok…well, when we went to Adelaide, we were looking for certain combustible substances, don’t tell anybody and it’s not something that I suggest that anybody do but the person that helped us find some, he came out to us and brought us said substances and said “here’s a little something extra in case you guys are keen.”

It was the work of the girl that gave him the stuff so I opened it and it was a little glass box with some stickers of Hello Kitty and stuff on it so I thought oh cute! I opened it up and there was a hypo, an arm strap and a spoon in it so I just kept passing it around the car. I didn’t say anything and you would just hear the gasps. Talk about a gateway drug man! I don’t know if you can print that.

You guys have toured with many acts now. Who have been some of the worst? And who have been the most fun to tour with?

Kid Congo and the Pink Monkey Birds was amazing to tour with on many levels because they are a great band first of all and great to watch. Kid Congo do Gun Club songs and it’s good to talk to him about that period. He just wrote a book about that period in Los Angeles, his relationship with Jeffrey Lee Pierce – of forming the Gun Club; what LA was like back in that time and I can’t wait for it. To watch him do those songs live and his own new songs is great too. That was a high point.

The worst, I don’t know. I usually try to forget the worst. You know sometimes, if I already know they are bad, I don’t even show up. together PANGEA, they did that same tour with us that Kid Congo did and Chris Cheney was on that tour too – they were really nice.

You have also formed another cover band Uke Hunt. Tell us a little bit about that project.

I started playing the uke for one particular song – the R Kelly song and just kept fucking around with the instrument in my spare time, got a couple of songs together and my friend Randy that I had played in a band with before got together and he had us busking out in Fisherman’s Wharf out in San Francisco.

You go to this building at Pier One and sign up with this guy named Rick Malloy and you’ve got to register with the Port of San Francisco – this crazy port authority that operates on the port and you gotta go with them, you gotta buy insurance, you gotta get out there and then deal with the San Francisco street life which I don’t know if you’ve ever been here but it’s challenging for sure! It’s oppressing, outrageous and sometimes full contact too so playing out there and staying focused was a real challenge so that was the genesis of the band.

Our friend Jamin Barton came out with the saxophone, harmonica and stuff like that and now we are playing with a guy named Atom Ellis – he’s a really great bass player.

What else to say? We are touring the East Coast at the end of October/beginning of November going first to Canada and then down the East Coast for some shows.

You also have two other bands, Filthy Thieving Bastards and Re-Volt. Are they both still going and if so, will we see any new music from them soon? Or even in Australia at some stage?

Filthy Thieving Bastards haven’t played in quite awhile and I don’t know if we will but I am definitely still very much involved with Re-Volt which I’m still working on and recording six or seven songs and they should be out next year ideally. They’ve been taking awhile but I’ve got more focus and more help and it should be a cool punk rock record.

And yeah we’ll bring it to Australia sometime.

When you are not researching bands for Me First or touring, do you get to go and check out new punk bands? Who are some of your favourite up and comers?

I kinda like Royal Headache from out there. I love The Saints. I heard The Scientists are touring after we play; after our tour and that’s very exciting. Who else, I love Slade, Judah – that’s a band out of Rome that’s really good, Cheap Time – another good band, American Death Ray yeah the list goes on. We could be here forever. Check them out if you haven’t already oh and Eddy Current Suppression Ring – that’s another Aussie band that I love.

After this tour is finished, what’s next on the cards?

We are looking at a Japanese tour sometime in April and settling down to do some recordings and hopefully some new releases. We are hoping that we can do, ahh I don’t know if you know what a quinceañera is but it’s a really big day in a Mexican family when a girl turns 15 years old and they throw a huge party, they have bands and food and we were hoping that we could be one of the bands one day and then we would have a video of comedy, awkwardness, some Spanish songs because there’s a lot more to us now than just the stuff that we’ve recorded. We like to put on a show.

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