INTERVIEW: Me First & The Gimme Gimmes

Published in The Music (NSW, VIC, QLD) on, Sept 2017

Why They Choose To Put Tours Before Albums

Punk rock and politics don’t always go hand in hand, as Me First & The Gimme Gimmes vocalist Spike Slawson tells Daniel Cribb.

“My fear of heights was triggered,” Me First & The Gimme Gimmes ringleader Spike Slawson recalls of a balcony filmed acoustic session with The Music during the band’s 2013 Aus tour.

There’s been a number of touring line-up changes within the group since that stint, with The Living End’s Chris Cheney now locked down on guitar for the band’s 2017 Australian tour. With “better outfits, funnier jokes, and more compelling dance moves” on the menu, the tour also celebrates the recently release Rake It In greatest hits record, which marks a massive 22 years for the band. “It’s kind of bizarre,” Slawson tells. “It’s kind of like a blur; it seems to have happened very quickly.”

They’ve survived two decades of a rapidly changing music scene, and are one of a handful of ‘90s acts who can still sell out Australian tours, which Slawson partly attributes to the atmosphere they create at each gig.

While, as individuals, each member of the band (which currently also features Lagwagon’s Joey Cape and Dave Raun, alongside Bad Religion’s Jay Bentley) has strong political views, a Gimmes gig is a chance to temporally forget your troubles and some of the world’s issues, and have some “dirty, trashy fun”.

“I definitely think there’s a place for political statements in music and art, but I think if people are going to be serious about something, they’re going to be motivated by more than just one guy yelling in a song,” he explains.

“Punk culture informed my political outlook, so maybe it will for other people to, but I don’t always necessarily agree with it either. It doesn’t make any sense for us to be overtly political.”

Anyone familiar with the band’s extensive back catalogue of covers albums will confirm there’s little room a political agenda. Although fans had a steady flow of Gimmes albums over the years – most recently 2014’s Are We Not Men? We Are Diva! among some EPs – we might not see another for a while. “Playing shows is more fun,” Slawson says. “I like playing these songs live and telling jokes and dancing around and if recording some songs gives you the opportunity to do that, then that’s kind of what it’s good for.

“If you don’t have 12 great songs to put on a record, why bother? But if you have two or three good ones, why not do a 7-inch and go play those songs somewhere.”

When and if the band manages to assemble its all-star, original line-up (which includes NOFX’s Fat Mike and Foo Fighter’s Chris Shiflett) for another release, we might see a change in format their previous efforts. “I would like to cover a variety of genres and have it be more centred around events – weird live shows like weddings or communions, things of that nature,” he tells.

It’s a similar format to the band 2004 live album, Ruin Jonny’s Bar Mitzvah, recorded at Fat Mike’s accountant’s son’s bar mitzvah. “The great thing about playing events like that is you’re always going to have an older generation or even people your age that are going to want to have nothing to do with it, but are just indulging their kids, so there’s this weird, awkward tension.”

There mightn’t be any new music from Me First & The Gimme Gimmes within reach, but you can expect some punk boogie gems from Slawson soon. “I also have a band called the Re-Volts, which is original material… we’ve been playing some shows around town and working on a new record, which we should have out next year.”



Published in The Music (QLD) on, Sep 2017

The Real Reason ‘The Soup’ Was Cancelled

Making fun of the Kardashians for a living doesn’t end well, as Community star Joel McHale found out. He tells Daniel Cribb why being a celebrity is so strange.

“I watched Game Of Thrones last night, so I’m happy about that,” an upbeat Joel McHale begins, pacing around his home in the sweltering LA heat.

“There was one season where I was like, ‘Uh oh, it’s losing me – they’re writing too many checks they can’t cash.’ And boy, did they. It’s one of those things that happens every ten or twenty years where the entire world goes, ‘We all get it, we all believe the show is ours, personally.’ I’m going to be sad when it’s gone.”

While US comedy Community – in which McHale played the charming Jeff Winger – mightn’t have had the entire world on the edge of its seat, by the end of its sixth and final season, it did have a cult fan base just as invested and broke many a heart when it wrapped in 2015. With that said, there’s still hope for a film, although at this point there’s “nothing on the books”.

“Obviously most of the cast is pretty dang busy right now,” he says of co-stars Alison Brie, Donald Glover and more. “What’s cool about the show is it continues to have fans – thank god – and I that speaks to the genius of Dan Harmon’s writing and some of the performances.

“My kids are watching it now, which is pretty strange. They know Gillian [Jacobs] and Alison, and I made out with them a bunch. I was like, ‘Is that weird?’ And they’re like, ‘It’s a little weird.’ I’m like, ‘Okay, just so you know, we all pretended we had other names and that was on a sound studio.’ And they’re like, ‘Dad, stop talking, we’re trying to watch.'”

You might be under the impression so far that McHale spends a lot of his time watching TV, but it’s the exact opposite. During his ten-year stint as a writer and the host of E!’s The Soup, he consumed enough pop culture to last a lifetime, but since it was suddenly and surprisingly cancelled in 2015 after 22 seasons he hasn’t had much time.

McHale first saw the writing on the wall when the network asked them to stop making fun of E! juggernauts the Kardashians, which is what they had been doing his entire tenure on the show. “More so, E! got out of the comedy business when Chelsea [Handler] left and, sadly, Joan [Rivers] died,” McHale explains. “We were the last man standing.”

A sea change in management also led to a shift in the show’s business model, which wasn’t sustainable in the long run. “We used to re-air in America like 12 times a week and as soon as we became a union, they had to pay all the writers for every episode and we went from 12 re-showings down to one.

“That did not fit their model and that was the end. We were doing perfectly well in E! ratings; we did great compared to other stuff on the network.”

He’ll have plenty of time to catch up on TV during his flight to Australia in September. “What are you talking about? Are you telling me it’s a long flight? I feel like it’s about 4–5 hours, something like that,” he jokes.

“Coming to Australia, I feel like I’m going through a wormhole it’s so long. I will tell you secretly – I mean, it’s not a secret because you’re recording this and you work for a magazine – but I love Australia. The only thing that confuses me is putting mayonnaise on lobster, that doesn’t make any sense.”

McHale’s glorious return will see him undertake his first full national tour of Australia. “I am all over the map, you will have a hard time getting me offstage,” he tells. “I talk about a shit ton of different stuff, that’s why the show is called – A Shit Ton Of Different Stuff With Joel McHale… it’s not called that.”

It would be a fitting title, given McHale does have a lot to say, proven through the release of his first book, Thanks For The Money: How To Use My Life Story To Become The Best Joel McHale You Can Be (“I think everyone will agree it’s the greatest book ever written.”), which dropped last year.

“I did not want to do a regular celebrity biography – not that there’s anything wrong with those, but I kind of feel like you have to have an insanely compelling story to be able to fill up an entire book, so I filled up half a book; that’s about as interesting as I get – one-half of a book.

“It is kind of a self-help book, but moreso a send-up of other celebrity books and it talks about how ridiculously insane it is that, for whatever lucky reason, when comedians or actor make enough money to live, all of a sudden people start giving them stuff for free. It makes no sense, it’s silly and it really is a strange thing.”

Although it’s hard to believe given his recent on-screen credits alone on The X-FilesThe Great Indoors and brief stints on Rick & Morty and BoJack Horseman, that he wouldn’t be able to fill an entire book with engaging stories. In Thanks For The Money, McHale talks about Community co-star and comedy legend Chevy Chase, who is widely known to be difficult to work with.

Despite their differences (some documented through humorous anecdotes in the book), McHale is portraying Chase in an upcoming film about Doug Kenney, the founder of the highly influential National Lampoon’s comedy empire. “We just did reshoots,” McHale reveals of the David Wain (Wet Hot American SummerRole Models) directed A Futile & Stupid Gesture, starring Will Forte as Kenney alongside Emmy Rossum, Seth Green and more. “Not only is [Will Forte] so good, he’s a total asshole,” he says. “WAIT! He’s the opposite; he’s probably the nicest person I’ve ever met. He’s so nice that it’s off-putting.”

Kenney also wrote the iconic Animal House and produced Caddy Shack, “and then he died – he fell off a cliff in Hawaii,” McHale adds. “I play Chevy Chase, who was his best friend; they were the best pals. It’s kind of the story of his life, which doesn’t get a lot of press as to what he did and what he accomplished in a very short period time. He died when he was like 30.

“While Richard Pryor was changing one kind of comedy and Monty Python was changing another kind of comedy, in America, comedy changed drastically because of him. He’s kind of like the Alexander Hamilton of comedy in America; he made it up out of nothing.”

INTERVIEW: Michelle Johnson and Amine Ramer 

Published in The Music (QLD) on, Sep 2017

How To Get Your Music On ‘Better Call Saul’

The unsung heroes behind Breaking BadWeeds and more, music supervisors and consultants Michelle Johnson and Amine Ramer tell Daniel Cribb why we might be hearing more Aussie acts on screen after BIGSOUND.

Listening to music and watching TV all day might sound like a dream job, and on the surface, that’s what the role of a music supervisor and consultant appears to be, but as New Zealand-based BIGSOUND speaker Amine Ramer (Faking ItWeeds) is quick to point out, it goes far deeper. “I don’t want to be Debbie Downer and tell people how much paperwork is involved, but I probably will a little bit,” she laughs.

Likewise, US talent Michelle Johnson – who is also heading to Australia for the first time for BIGSOUND – says it’s “a lot of work”. “But I really do love it and it’s really fun to do the various creative work and I honestly have fun nerding out on budget stuff too,” she’s quick to add.

As Ramer explains, it’s important to understand and have a passion for film, TV and music and how they relate to each other as well as studying up on the music industry. “With more people entering the industry, a lot of things can go wrong,” she says. “I’ve heard so many stories where people will fight to get a song then they’ll be told after the song is in the film that the band said it was their song, but it turns out it’s a cover song.”

Which bounces off Johnson’s comments in regards to diving headfirst into Spotify binge sessions. “It’s always good to know as much about music as you can, not just the current music but old music – even if you don’t like it,” she explains; no doubt advice she utilised while working on Breaking Bad and is continuing to hone while working on prequel Better Call Saul. “If there’s a genre you don’t like, learn about it because you will be tasked to find music in that genre one day.”

It can be a hard balancing act in terms of choosing a song that won’t bore but also won’t take away from the story unfolding. “As a viewer, if I don’t notice the music in a film, that usually means it was so perfect that it just moved the scene through or it was so perfect for the scene that you may respond but you’re still fully involved in the visuals,” Ramer explains.

In all of the aforementioned shows, both Johnson and Ramer played a key role in moving the story forward. “It’s impossible for me, working as a music supervisor, to not think of music in terms of what show it would work on,” laughs Johnson. “Besides the fact of, ‘I dig that song’, I’m always thinking, ‘That song would be great on Love or that song would be cool on Grace & Frankie or that would be cool for Better Call Saul.’ Each show has a different need and so you’re always compartmentalising your taste for that show.”

“I’ve been ruined,” Ramer laughs. “Even the radio, my brain is set on hardwired to think, ‘That songs worked there, or it didn’t, that would be great for a montage scene.’ It’s on automatic now when I listen to music. I have to go to live performances to just hear the music sometimes.”

Which is where conferences like BIGSOUND come in handy. “I love listening to independent, new and emerging artists because you find some of the best music,” Johnson says. “[Independent bands] are always a great well that we visit because a lot of times we are looking for more affordable music to licence and that comes from newer, independent artists. We’re always willing to look at that.”

With so many acts on this year’s BIGSOUND bill, there’s every chance Ramer and Johnson will be making notes for potential placement down the track. “Going to something like [BIGSOUND], you are going to hear things that haven’t been sent to you, or seeing how the audience responds to a song might change your mind about how you initially heard it,” Ramer adds.

So, what can the BIGSOUND buzz bands do to ensure they maximise their chance of scoring a place on a show like Better Call Saul? “The best way is to get in through independent companies that know how to service to music supervisors, just because we’re such a fast moving industry,” Johnson explains.

“It’s not only just hearing something and going, ‘I love it, I want to use it,’ and then hitting them up about it – you have to then make sure that they have their shit together, too,” Ramer adds. “It’s an investment in a sense of wanting it bad enough that you want to use it and have the band get out there that way, but also being careful that you’re not going to get yourself in a situation.”