Published on the Music.com.au | 25.09.13
Published in The Music (NSW, VIC) | 02.10.13 | Issue # 8
& The Music (WA) | 09.10.13 | Issue # 9
Battling homeless folk and an anti-semitic Elmo for spare change in a post-apocalyptic San Francisco is all in a day’s work for Me First & The Gimme Gimmes frontman Spike Slawson. Daniel Cribb chats with the vocalist about the irony of punk rock and getting hate mail from iconic band Eagles.
A well known San Francisco tourist attraction and great family getaway, Fisherman’s Wharf is the perfect location to set up shop as a busker. When he’s not rocking out and partying around the world with punk rock supergroup cover band Me First & The Gimme Gimmes, vocalist Spike Slawson usually takes to the area with his solo project, Uke-Hunt, to play some easygoing covers on his ukulele, surrounded by balloon animals, clowns, graffiti artists, and another unusual occupant. “Anti-semitic Elmo was out and he was out sort of trolling around. No joke, I met him – look him up. He talked to me; it was really freaky. He’s got a video called Welcome To The Rape Camp and he dresses up in a fucking Elmo suit and high-fives kids; he’s twisted,” Slawson says, trying to decide whether or not to watch World War Z with his other half. The film’s post-apocalyptic zombie-fuelled essence wouldn’t be too far from the Wharf’s darker side.
“Sometimes you go out there and it’s like a horrible splash painting, like something out of The Bible. There’s a lot of freaky people in this city, San Fran is getting to an apocalyptic level of this crazy drunk or otherwise addicted homeless people, and you have to play in the middle of it and keep your stick together, which is really good for disciple, so that’s what I’ve been doing.”
Over the years, Slawson has toured constantly in numerous bands, most notably Swingin’ Utter and Re-Volts, but as of late, he’s been in San Francisco more than anywhere else and focusing only on Gimmes and Uke-Hunt: both acts that don’t tour all that regularly. “I haven’t been playing with the Utters for a couple of years just because I love San Francisco and they just love travelling. They love driving all the way across the country to play a first show in Massachusetts, and I can’t do that anymore. As much as I hate to admit it, it’s not in me to drive across the country for three days straight,” he explains.
Anyone who’s witnessed Slawson onstage, holding the microphone a metre away from his face and yelling down it with perfect pitch whilst jiving around, would agree he’s a great frontman, and with his unique and diverse voice, it’d be criminal for him to make a complete departure from the music industry. So with Gimmes only touring occasionally, it’s not surprising that he’s branched out into another project. It makes sense to assume Gimmes don’t tour too often because its members are so busy – the band’s usual line-up consists of Fat Mike (NOFX) on bass, Chris Shiflett (Foo Fighters) on guitar, drummer Dave Raun and guitarist Joey Cape (Lagwagon) and Slawson front and centre – but Slawson reveals another reasoning.
“The difference between doing your own songs and covers is, theoretically, your own songs come from this special place and once you get it right it feels really good to express and natural and rewarding, whereas, playing covers, touring for more than a few weeks is just not feasible because it just gets sort of old for us, but playing with a different cast of characters kind of keeps it interesting.”
Having such close ties to the punk rock scene for years and somewhat withdrawing from the touring aspect of it over the past couple, Slawson’s developed a new outlook on the genre. “In this day and age, listening to punk itself requires a few layers of irony. It’s not 1976, and there’s no garbage strikes in my city, and the main thing I complain about in this city is how god damn expensive it is… approaching [punk] with humour definitely helps me. It helps me deflate the people that take punk a little bit too seriously.”
Taking on country, show tunes, ‘60s hits and more on their past records, they also released the Go Down Under EP in 2011, which took on INXS, The Easybeats and more. But not everyone finds Gimmes’ approach to humour appealing. “We asked Eagles if we could do a video for Desperado – God knows why, not my idea – but we asked the Eagles management and they responded with a resounding ‘no’, and furthermore, they hated our version. Their management wanted it known that [Eagles] hated our version. I consider that a red badge of courage; give me a medal.”