Spike Slawson has been plenty busy this year. He is touring a bunch with Me First and The Gimme Gimmes and the band released Rake It In: The Greatestest Hits via Fat Wreck Chords on April 7th. Slowly, but surely Spike has also been working on the next Re-Volts release and has some touring plans for his Uke-Hunt project. So editor Ricky Frankel talked with Spike about the new Me First and The Gimme Gimmes record, why TMZ decided to publish the band's rider, what it is like to tour with Bad Religion's Jay Bentley on bass as opposed to Fat Mike, the progress he has been making on the upcoming Re-Volts material, Punk Rock Bowling and a lot more. Read or listen to their conversation below or on iTunes.
Photo Credit: Denise Borders/PunkWorldViews.com
Have Me First And The Gimme Gimmes ever gotten a reaction straight from the artist that the band has covered?
The most notable one that I can think of is when we requested a sync license, you see like you got to get permission to do videos whereas I think sound recordings are covered under like satire under like intellectual property law like I think they are, it’s kind of jungle as far as I can tell but you definitely when you want to do a video to any song, as misguided as that desire maybe, you have to get a sync license from the group and so our choice for a video for a song from the Love Their Country record, we made the dubious choice of "Desperado" and so we contacted the Eagles' management and they responded really quickly and they said no, like emphatically no, and further more the band wants you to know that they hate your version.
[laughing] Oh my god. So how did you guys react?
Well, sometimes it’s worth getting up in the morning, you know what I mean? Sometimes you know that’s a gift from heaven, that’s a red badge of courage you know. It’s like we got booed by 25,000 suburban like Pittsburg area people at a ball park one time and the present tense, I am not going to pretend that it was like fun or like a positive experience or anything like that but looking back on it, had they done anything else I would have felt insulted, considering they are like you know what I mean? Considering that collective sensibility that you are dealing with like they weren’t even Pittsburghers man, they were Western Pennsylvanians in for like a fireworks night. They were like Rascal Flatts fans, you know what I mean? And had they done anything else, had they like cheered or applauded I might have seriously started like reconsidering my choices in life and in music but the fact that they booed just was kind of like positive reinforcement for me and then that was the same with the Eagles or their management, you know what I mean? That’s the only one that I know of.
That’s actually pretty funny. So that brings me to my next question, when you said it’s usually covered under parody — has it ever been a difficult process to have to license these or you guys are covered under parody?
Well, it’s yeah, its covered under parody or satire I assume and then I think the label has some sort of deal where they keep something like on retainer or on reserve, you know to pay any “licensious” song writer or family of said song writer, if that makes sense.
So just in case?
It sometimes makes sense to me, yeah, well because if somebody gets mad they can sort of make your life uncomfortable no matter what the law is.
That’s kind of a law, that’s what's so unfortunate and then they put that lady on TV whose tits got cut off by accident and then everybody remembers, oh yeah we need lawyers, you know what I mean? You know like every time they try to reform towards law that’s what they do and even I kind of shut up like, “Oh yeah, that’s right her.”
What theme have the Me First and the Gimme Gimmes not done for an album that you would want to do in the future?
You know like I would actually prefer to double down on the AM Gold, like if I were just to write something up into the sunset and not necessarily like one full length adhering to one particular theme but like several 7 inches say it for example, it would be to continue in the AM Gold fame and maybe show tunes. That seems more of a natural fit for us that anything else we did, not to say that there weren’t songs here and there that would stand out but as far as like thematically I think the like part of the genius of choosing those songs, it wasn’t mine, I can say genius because it wasn’t any of my doing but it was other people picking the songs that I didn’t like but I was able to put like love and humanity behind, does that make any sense?
And real bitter irony too. Like there is an irony to it because I don’t like the… like I don’t hate Barry Manilow as a person and I don’t feel that strongly about his body of work, but like I don’t like it. But I really enjoy playing those songs live and like John Denver songs too which I would feel the same way, in spite no means my favorite artists or composers but something about and that was where, because the band just plays as well as it can play. And so the selection was kind of where the art or the science or whatever kind of lived and that was more like Mike and Joey picking songs, because had it been me I would have just picked the songs that I liked which is not ultimately how the thing works. Does that answer your question? Now I forget what the question was, again.
You answered it, don’t worry. So the next question is on April 7th Me First and the Gimme Gimmes will release (but this probably will be out by the time the album is out) Rake It In: The Greatestest Hits, why was now the time for the band to release the greatest hits album?
We have been a band for about 20 years now, we hadn’t done anything that was sort of self-described as such as like the best director, best of record that where we have come to as a touring, live playing band is like a sort of review, like almost like a Vegas review of like this sort of big song list that we got. And these are the songs that we keep coming back to when we play live and we have been having a lot of fun and more and more people have been coming out, certain places like Europe in particular and in a few weeks we are going to start taking it out to our home continent and hopefully we will have the same sort of fun and success here. But it’s all kind of based around what like this list that we have called out of the bigger song list, like some of our favorites especially to play live and then just some surprises here and there like “City of New Orleans,” which we hadn’t thought for a long time and then somebody listened to it and said, “Hey, you know let’s throw this on the ‘best of.’” Yeah, you know by turns you can either look at it as a cynical ploy to make money from a dying industry or you know as a represent well because the title itself like it’s pretty cynical. You know what I don’t mind…
I think people like even the consumers might be self-conscious of it and not mind, it’s like there is that whole cash from chaos thing back in the ‘70s too and nobody seems to mind that.
That sold them even more records and they were making fun of selling records I guess you know but no man, it’s kind of where we are at it’s like these are our favorite songs to play and we wanted to show up our new outfits. [laughing] That’s, and they are featured prominently on the new record, yeah we got like and we can’t take credit for that. Our sartorial player is due to our wardrobe specialist Audra and her genius vision of American Schlager, you know that’s a theme Schlager is the theme that I might do a whole record on but I think it would only be popular in Germany and Austria, maybe parts of Switzerland. But no, it’s like weird, it’s like an American version of Schlager, that’s the closest thing that I can kind of describe it as, I don’t know if you are familiar with German Schlager culture or Schlager music.
It’s a way to describe pop, you know. It was this kind of German pop that was like really like almost self-consciously trashy but also really shinny and a lot of sequins and like different colors of “la mae,” Cuban heels, stuff like that and just really German pop music. But then now if you were talk to people like say at a Gimme Gimme’s show in Germany or just some Turbojugend guy or something like that you know what I mean? Like somewhere, in the vicinity of your frame of reference musically and then you talk to them about certain Schlager acts and like the way that they enjoy this music is without merely as much irony as you and I might expect, you know what I mean like they love it — kind of like people like me and you that might watch the Kardashians you know what I mean? Pretend to give it like five layers of irony and sarcasm and cynicism, but still you turn it on every day and watch it because it’s just like this beautiful train wreck. Not necessarily the Kardashians man, I think the golden age of reality TV was probably that second season of like Jersey Shore, you know what I mean? Like real life or something like that where it’s just like you can almost be proud of it because nobody nowhere else in the world is doing that or at least not as well and that’s kind of like Schlager is like a distant parallel, with lot of crucial differences but at the same time like it’s German Schlager culture is — check it out, Heinom was I think he qualified as a Schlager artist.
I will, yeah.
Thomas Dieter Kuhn, that’s another new guy, he is the guy that like that everybody like young and old like love this guy now and like I said without, not nearly as ironically as you would expect. Like really you just straight like, “No, we just love this guy.” And supposedly he dresses like he perms, curls into his hair, I think he even puts on like a hairy chest, like a fake rug on his chest, he has gold microphone and shiny silk shirt and stuff and that’s to perform. But then he shows up to the show in like a black lips shirt and Chuck Taylor's.
And then that’s how he leaves and just changes into this crazy persona and they love him, Germans love him like he is on postures on the sides of buildings. So he not only has this sort of like pop appeal but he also has this weird like niche appeal too.
So do you see this release as something more for diehard fans or more something that could be used as like an introduction for younger punk fans?
I would almost say that like diehard fans that have everything, they would already have those stuff and aside from like if they wanted to have just add it to their collection resentfully like, “Goddamn, they had to put something else out and I had to buy it.“ But aside from that I would say like to diehards, there might not be as much in it as there would be for sort of people that might be new to it. It does what iTunes does — parses the best from… Why not do it ourselves and maybe try to sell an entire record? We will see about that but, disruption, like it has got to be good right for somebody.
So were there any, so for your last release were there any covers that you wanted to do for Are We Not Men, We Are Diva that didn’t make it on?
No in fact, we were like, we were trying really hard to fill the record out and like not issue with themes because it is just kind of like it is weird what happens when people get together and play music it never happens the way you expect it to or maybe want it to like I heard, I think I read somewhere or I heard from somebody that read somewhere that the Talking Heads, what they wanted to sound like was Motown band. They wanted to sound exactly like Motown-era soul band. They couldn’t so they now we have the Talking Heads, whether you like them or not, they are not my favorite band in the world but I understand why people like them and I acknowledge their body of work and their historical and cultural relevance, but they envisioned themselves being apparently and that’s why they are this unique thing and occupied a space in history. If that make any sense. So like you can only sort of do this song five people together playing music in the room can only sort of do what they do which is why say that the selection process was , that was where the real creativity was. I don’t know if I have answered your question.
I thought I had read that Fat Mike had said the lot of the songs also just didn’t, lot of songs that they considered just didn’t have like an actual chord progression. It was just kind of like pop crap so, I thought that’s why like a Britney Spears song for example didn’t make the record.
Right, but man like “Poison,” that song, I fucking, I love that song. I am not going to cover it in layers of irony or sarcasm or anything like that. I love that song, I know she didn’t write it. but like her she was the one that performed it and did that kind of rag weird video too, but that didn’t work either because it has got that specific —like any pop song kind of more recent or sort of R&B inflected, which sort of by definition means that like really well established rhythm pattern is there and that does not always translate, usually like the AM Gold stuff, that’s either too like four, four time you can double up or like nothing at all. It is in time but there is no discernible drum pattern to it, that’s generally the stuff that when we play it, it sounds different enough, it sounds like a new song, like the other stuff it doesn’t, it sounds like you are taking a few step backwards, but songs like Britney Spears, but then we could have gone back and done thing like “Eartha Kitt.” A lot of the other guys in the band that is not necessarily a nerve in their frame of reference or somebody that they would consider diva. I don’t know, and again, it is like the parameters of the themes can sometimes, they can either be too narrow or be too stretched too far. I think where we really hit our stride was very early on with things like Show Tunes and AM Gold and those are consistently people’s favorites like when we play live.
So you guys are getting to hitting the road soon, you guys are touring without Fat Mike and substituting with Jay Bentley from Bad Religion playing bass. What is the difference when touring with Jay and when touring with Fat Mike?
That’s an interesting question. Yeah Fat Mike that everything about him is kind of larger than life and I think the most, that puts a lot of pressure on him and so I think he is trying to at least for the time being probably only for the time being to travel a little bit less because it really fucks with your perspective and your sense of self and it is hard to stay centered. This is a very strange environment and also he is really busy. So if that gives you, f that gives you any idea, if that gives you a discreet idea of touring with him as opposed to J ay Bentley. Jay Bentley is just like he is one of those Southern Californians, I don’t know if you are from there…
Yeah, I am.
So there is a kind of southern it is generally native Southern California, it is not like the some kind of bullshit the people imported but he fits like an archetype that I have come to appreciate over the years, over the time that I have spent in California and it is just that laid back and smart, gracious, gentlemanly, but when it counts like a wild animal on the stage. You can tell that he is enjoying himself.
Two whole cooked chickens.
Oh, cooked chickens, okay.
Mind you, like it is more funny if you don’t specify. I don’t know man.
It was just a weird story!
Yeah, you weren’t, it is just kind of builds up over the years, you know what I mean? It does seem weird when you are adding these things but then when you look at it 10 years later it does and that’s great.
Oh, god, I was just thinking like, “How is this a story? Like what does is matter?”
It’s our culture man like it is a and we are exporting it. You think Brexit would have happened without an American reality TV culture.
I had never actually considered connecting the two.
Yeah. I don’t know the last time you were out there but like over the last 20 years, just the last 20 years and then lot of people, because that’s as long as I have been like traveling there, but other people who’ve been there I am sure would put the timeline a lot longer, but there has been a real dumbing down of English culture and I think people would say it has got it has got really pronounced very recently in the last decade or two and a lot of people out there ascribe it to American reality show culture because they are really popular out there. Their version of Jersey Shore is the show called Geordie Shore. The Geordies are the people that live up and around New Castle.
Oh, I think I have seen that, like on YouTube.
Yeah, even like the minimal inhibition that the Jersey Shore people had towards like, just like attacking one another, the Geordies like they show no compunction. They just like are all in with like feet, teeth, shivs, you know what I mean? I'm sure they don’t show all of that, like they are animals man and their culture seems to be like sinking into this like reallyAmerican kind of dystopia. And then austerity measures to help you with, like you make people suffer for reasons they like had nothing to do with and only maybe peripherally understand. It creates a kind of disconnect. What was the question?
[Laughing] Well, I was asking like, how did all teams you got a hold of the Gimme’s writer and publisher how did that happen?
Oh, yeah. Why people, why people respond to certain things? Because our expectations have been, have been tweaked and attenuated and distorted and perverted by our like weird mirror, by the weird cracked mirror we hold up to ourselves, I think. Then we convince ourselves that we want it, because if we didn’t want it why would we be getting it. It’s just really weird like bleached assholes, you know what I mean? Like okay, you think you like my shaved nether region? You know what? I am going to bleach my asshole and you are going to convince yourself that you love it. And everybody else is going to convince let them and say it is the shit, but in actuality it is fucking abomination like if you look at it — like I don’t mean it that way, I don’t mean in any kind of moral way, I just mean like step back humanity and look at yourself, man. It’s fun to look, but that’s the thing just like no matter how involved in it or how invested in it you are when you look at it on TV it is still fun to watch and ridicule.
So it is just the self perpetuating, so yeah, we want two chickens man. We want to chickens and what else did it say?
I don’t have it in front of me ,but looked like Jameson, vodka, I think that would be standards stuff
Sure, sure, yeah, yeah, that’s normal but look at like what Danzig wanted working for famous didn’t want his riders get like he wanted young women like well versed in eastern European literature from certain period, you know what I mean? Otherwise, I don’t know where we are at and where we are going man, but we keep having babies. I keep telling them that they are pretty enough for the too fat — or they don’t have enough money. It is beautiful, it is a feels like fall of Rome or something like that right now.
I know The Re-Volts were back in the studio fairly recently and…
Just the other day in fact!
Oh, very nice! And I know they have played a couple shows in Northern California. What progress has been made on the project since those announcements and what news can you share at this point?
We are close to like completion as far as like tracking is concerned which is a great thing to be able to say because it is really a long time because I have been doing it my own dime and like we said before like LA is the San Francisco of the 90’s and that’s because like everybody from San Francisco fucking moved down there and kind of colonized that part like east of western and rest of the river and the reason they did that was like starting with the first tech boom like that’s when the prices here got just crazy and then the second tech boom they got absurd and then I think you would notice like demographically and as far as the costs — like LA got more expensive around then, too and kind of got like what the first wave of well just for the sake of argument say San Franciscans kind of colonized downtown — now downtown is like, at first it was like walking on moon, you know what I mean? Like I am not supposed to be here man, you know what I mean? And then now suddenly it is what it is like East Village in New York or something really, really strange, but ultimately positive because you see people and fucking Dodgers hats now whereas like when I first started going to Los Angeles — like LA was just a slum that was next to Hollywood which was also a slum, but still it was like the [center] of activity. That’s a weird thing. So it is hard to find people to collaborate with in San Francisco or serious people and also San Francisco has always been the place unlike Los Angeles and this is actually something I prefer about down there, one of the few things is that ambition is not ridiculed down there, whereas up here ambition is ridiculed so that like the people that belong and feed into and sustain themselves sort of like status quo. They are free to have that, if that makes sense.
Because they ridicule people’s ambition, especially creative ambition and then you know what happens when you do that? You get sub-planted by people who don’t ,by these evil rich cunts that don’t. These are very ambitious people that are up here right now and they want all your shit, they don’t want to live in Pacific Heights anymore. They want The Mission, you know what I mean? Like they are going to stuck creeping in the fucking Tenderloin now, you know what I mean? I don’t know. So it is hard to find likeminded collaborators these days.
The East Bay is your best bet.We are still here. There are still people with unique rent situations or like have enough income to be relatively independent, but like we can’t leave or I we’ll never be able to come back.
When you said you were tracking is that for a full length or an EP for the revolts ?
It is an EP. I think we are going to do it like a similar format to last one like a six song 10-inch record. I like to way that stands out and I just kind of like the time of an EP — about half hour or just under, I think that’s what people’s attention spans are at and it gives you something, to me it like narrow the field you are more likely to and this solely like a practical consideration but you are more likely to sell something because it resonates more as a thing. That’s one good thing about innovation and disruption in the way music is bought and sold. It sort of separates the weak from the chap but one good thing like singing is a universal basic income, you know what I mean? Which that goes for all industries that are being disrupted or have them since 60’s or 70’s is that theoretically if people had a universal basic income to fall back on it is like man you guys have been doing records like one or two good songs on them and charging like $17.00 for CD’s and even more for LP’s. Now I don’t have to buy all your shitty fucking songs. Maybe now you attenuate your expectations and your ambitions and your like sense of yourself as a musician or an artist and concentrate on the stuff that’s good — attenuate your ego little bit and maybe not release quite not so much stuff, but concentrate more on what’s good. Does that make sense?
Like it reduces peoples superfluous output I think, like birthday party for example. Not every song on a birthday party record is great, you know what I mean? Like not every song from a birthday party would like I listen to on its own, but when you put a birthday party record on like from start to finish you enter this weird like fucked up world and it changes you just maybe even imperceptibly and that’s what a record is supposed to be and I think people sort of lost sight of that. All records are supposed to be concept records or else they were eventually it was always going to happen one way or another. Do you remember “home taping is killing music?” Do you remember that whole campaign? I kind of felt the opposite. But now, you know without a universal basic income you kind of up shit’s creek. Butt then there are people who have been disrupted and out-innovated that are in much worse shape. I grew up in Pittsburg in 70’s so like I think that’s a lot, that’s so much starker case you know.
Much more serious, much more what’s the word? — Much more sympathetic, does that make sense. Or like LA. LA is manufacturing base. To one degree or another it happened everywhere but Pittsburg it just so happens was one of those cities where like so much of the economy and so much of peoples lives was wrapped up in the steel industry that when it just kind of like bottomed out you know. But then saying that it bottomed out gives people a pass it’s like saying that Neo-Liberalism isn’t a decision because it is a fucking decision, but we can talk about something else. So, yeah new Re-Volt’s tracks. We are working on it. I think we got some great songs, we have been playing the songs live, a lot of fucking time to consider what songs we like, what we like about and have culled it down to the 6 or 7 I think we might have a B side for a 7-inch too.
Oh very cool!
Cool. Then what does the future hold for your Uke-Hunt project like touring, any a new release on the horizon?< b>
Yeah, I’m actually hoping that we get to tour back East a little bit later on in the year like October. We were talking about setting some shows up, going up into Eastern Canada, coming back down the coast into the States, New York etc. And my idea for a while now has been to do like an international record of it’s like Germans songs, Italian songs, Spanish songs. Especially Spanish just because like that, I have never been to South America with the Gimme’s or with anybody else, so I would love to go and Spanish is like English maybe even more so as far as like the people that listen to music in Spanish. Like that’s a big world. I don’t want to say “market” because it sounds very cynical but you know and there it’s really weird how that works, when you go someplace and talk to people in their language or sing in their language, especially when they are used to listening to music only in you know one foreign tongue, they really appreciate it. Plus there are some great international hits that can only be sung in their original language, it only makes sense.
Right, so I got a couple of more questions left and then will finish up. Me First And The Gimme Gimmes will be playing Punk Rock Bowling in Las Vegas this May. When you are there, what is your favorite game when you’re in Vegas?
My favorite game? WHEEL! OF! FORTUNE! I think it is [laughing] probably my favorite slot. I don’t really gamble so much anymore like, I like Black Jack but I don’t really have the money to lose. So what I have end up doing — I take a walk or two up and down Fremont Street because, because that’s kind like the West Coast kind of entropy you know that I have learned to love and appreciate like the Tenderloin, Skid Row, East Hastings Street, you know what I mean?
City Heights like it has that like Tijuana [feel]. It’s in the prism of Las Vegas too, so it kind of adds like a whole different thing to it. Fremont Street is like, I hate the strip, but I actually kind of like Fremont Street.
Yeah if you had told me 20 years ago, I would have said, “You’re crazy.” But now I kind of like it, it’s part of the west, it’s got like an urban, dare I say urban like western kind of quality to it, does that answer the question?
Liberace Museum? Nowhere else has a Liberace museum.
So Spike, thanks so much for doing this. Before we end this is, is there anything else you would like to add that maybe we didn’t touch upon?
No, I think we covered it. I think I over-covered it at some points.