For almost a quarter of a century, San Francisco’s Me First And The Gimme Gimmes have served as punk’s preeminent covers band.
Consisting of current and former members of Swingin’ Utters, NOFX, Foo Fighters, No Use For A Name, and Lagwagon, they’ve made a name for themselves for their stunning covers, fun-loving nature, and wild live shows.
Having last toured Australia back in 2017 in support of their Rake It In compilation album, the Gimmes are set to touch down in Australia this week for the 2019 edition of Download Festival, as well as a handful of sideshows.
In anticipation of their upcoming tour, we sat down for a chat with frontman Spike Slawson to discuss a number of topics, including how different audiences react to different songs, and what sort of celebratory event the band might crash for their next live album.
Check out Me First And The Gimme Gimmes’ cover of ‘Have You Never Been Mellow’:
Me First And The Gimme Gimmes are no stranger to touring countries like Australia, have you ever felt that different countries tend respond to certain songs better?
Yeah, generally songs that are from those countries, in the instances that we were able to do that. Like, say in Australia, I think they liked ‘Have You Never Been Mellow’, which I think that was Olivia Newton-John? I think it was her, but what we did was sort of a cover of a cover. We did the Feederz’s version.
I don’t know if you remember the Feederz, but they were a Bay Area punk band, and they had a hit song called ‘Jesus Entering From The Rear’. And they had a record where the cover was sandpaper and had a real coarse grit to it, and it was called Ever Feel Like Killing Your Boss? But they did a cover of ‘Have You Never Been Mellow’.
They did a show at Berkley – super P.C. Berkley, California; the land of feigned outrage. The singer of the Feederz, whose name – the best punk name ever – Frank Discussion, before their show he went to the animal morgue and he got a dead German shepherd stole to wear at this Gilman show.
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I think he had like other little dogs that he threw out to the crowd that were dead. But predictably the Berkley crowd was outraged and offended, but it’s gone down in the annals of Bay Area punk history; that song and that record.
But yeah, Australia responds well to that one, I think we did an INXS one that they dug, and we did an Easybeats [‘Friday On My Mind’] one that we did not play live and that we shouldn’t have put to wax either. Because the Easybeats’ version – as with all of their songs – is perfection.
When we sang in Japanese [2011’s Sing In Japanese EP] they seemed to enjoy that. I think when you show respect for… they’re coming to see you and they expect just a little bit of acknowledgement that you know where you are.
But Frank Discussion knew he was in Berkley, so they should have taken that as a token of respect and acknowledgement.
Check out the Feederz’s cover of ‘Have You Never Been Mellow’:
The Gimmes are a band that have a lot of very busy members, is it ever difficult to deal with bringing in different musicians to tour with from time to time?
Certainly, our managers and partners of the people that we work with and the people that work for us have a horrible time trying to coordinate these schedules and agendas and whims, but that’s show-business.
Is that something that has become harder to deal with over the years as members deal with their different bands, or has it become easier to manage?
The more money we make, the easier it gets. I hate to say it, but like, you know how Mick Jagger said that it was between ’70 and ’97 that you could seek out a living as a recording musician? Our first record came out in 1997, and nothing ever sold as well as that record.
As a musician, and I think there are all sorts of artistic mediums where the people involved would all say the same thing, that it’s really easy to conflate respect and love and acknowledgement with money. It’s a great motivator, but so is love and acknowledgement.
Especially for people with bruised egos such as us musicians that were often bullied and demeaned and belittled as children so that we become super-villains in our adult lives.
Going on from that topic and discussing how things have changed over the years, lately there has been a lot of talk from a lot of different artists that rock music is a dying genre.
With you guys playing Download Festival in Australia soon, how do you feel about the current status of genres like rock and punk?
I don’t really dwell on the current status because, to be honest, when I’m listening to punk I’m listening to older punk bands. That may answer your question without intending to, but in rock and roll and punk, are two things that… I think when punk is at it’s at its best, it’s just a blip on the rock and roll timeline, along with gospel, and R&B…
Like, that’s a long timeline. The progenitors and inventors, and those involved in the initial punk scene, it was sort of a return to roots rock and roll.
That was the energy that they were trying to get while other bands like Emerson Lake & Palmer and Yes and Jethro Tull, like they were like, “Come on man, let’s get back to Carl Perkins and Eddie Cochran and the good stuff.”
Now, these punks [have] left me feeling that way because there was this kind of polished quality to it that sounded very middle-class and sounded more like a Toyota commercial than like, some teen-aged kid with an identity crisis.
So the state of, I don’t know, it seems to me like most of the good punk or rock and roll bands are of the – for lack of a better term – of the garage stripe, like those are the bands that sound like… they sound like real rock and roll.
But then again, I’m almost 50, so what sounds like real rock and roll to me, maybe it is just fetishising a period of time in the past that was before my time even.
I guess I sort of just like individual bands, and I think it’s just been atomised into individual experiences and individual bands, and then like, festivals, like that’s the only network I can see. Other than that it’s just a way for cynical people to make money.
Check out Me First And The Gimme Gimmes’ cover of ‘Country Roads’:
You say that you mainly prefer bands from the older era, but are there any current bands that you really enjoy and admire?
I like Shannon And The Clams, they’re actually coming to Australia around the same time as us, just at different times in different cities. You should definitely see them if you get a chance. I Like Ty Seagall, the Oh Sees are good… The Chats are actually coming here to play the Burger Boogaloo, because that ‘Smoko’ song really took off over here.
It’s actually really surprising how popular The Chats have become around the world.
It’s amazing, but I think a lot of it has to do with the fact… I can’t tell if its ironic or an un-ironic embrace of the bogan identity with the mullets.
Like, those dudes are bogans, man, but they’re not… I want to believe they’re not like, chauvinistic rednecks, and I don’t think that they are, but they’re beer-drinking, fun-loving bogans. And I think that’s something that resonates as being essentially Australian.
Oh, there are plenty of fans here who are unable to tell if they’re genuine or putting on an image as well.
[Laughs] That’s great, like urban bogans, like urban sophisticate bogans. That’s sort of a cool development. I was also told by my wife that I like Drunk Mums too, oh and Private Function, that’s my man Chris [Penney]!
They were from Melbourne, they’re still from Melbourne. But that’s more un-ironic bogan-ness, and they actually supported some Gimme Gimmes shows, and our crowd seemed to really dig them. For the same reason, I’m guessing, just the unabashed…. I’m sure the people that are doing it aren’t even sure if it’s ironic or not, and that’s what makes it so cool.
I love The Saints, but they’re not from now, and – who else – The Scientists, Jesus, they’re playing all over the place now. See what I mean? Those are the bands that get people out. If you’re talking about rock and punk, only grey hair gets people out any more, because it somehow seems official.
I think it’s that all these young people know somewhere in their souls that we’ve moved out of the world of rock and punk fire, like we no longer are there and you need these old soothsayers to remind people and give them a vague notion of what that fire feels and sounds like.
Check out Me First And The Gimme Gimmes’ cover of ‘Mandy’:
It’s currently been five years since the last studio album from Me First And The Gimme Gimmes, are there any plans for a new album in the future?
We’ve been recording, we’re taking steps. But there’s a lot of disparate personalities and agendas and whims, and we’re wading through those. But it’s a slow, deliberate process and I think we’re going to have to some good stuff come out of the other end.
I always thought that we didn’t explore the ‘AM rock’ catalogue as much as we could have, like on our first record. That sort of urban, or rural, contemporary music that was just ubiquitous in the ’70, and there’s just so many of those songs… like the Reservoir Dogs soundtrack, I almost feel like we could do that.
But we’re doing a lot of songs from that era, because it just seems to be the best kind of chemistry, and that chemistry being that Joey [Cape] and [Fat] Mike actually seriously dug those songs, like Neil Diamond and Barry Manilow songs.
But in my household, my mom made sure that I only listened to The Beatles, The [Rolling] Stones, and The Yardbirds. So John Denver and Barry Manilow was like a betrayal, so having to walk those songs along to where I could either ironically or un-ironically dig them was the tension that resonated.
Have you ever had any artists absolutely love, or absolutely despise your cover of their songs?
We asked the Eagles if we could get a sync license, which is what you need if you want to do a video, because you need to sync the words to the guy mouthing.
And they denied, through their management, they denied our request and then furthermore their management wanted us to know that the band, it was very important that the band expressed to us how much they disliked our cover of the song.
So that’s like a red badge of courage right there for a fledgling punk covers band… even though I think we were four or five records in at that point.
See, the Eagles, that’s why punk happened. You can do cocaine, drugs, you can do all these, just don’t write ‘Hotel California’. Don’t do that.
Check out Me First And The Gimme Gimmes’ cover of ‘Desperado’:
Next year is the band’s 25th anniversary, do you guys have any plans to celebrate that at all?
I don’t know, like, the fact that you brought it up is the first that I’ve really sort of pondered that topic. I honestly don’t have an answer, like, who knows, maybe some of these serious bands will be involved in a touring cycle, they’ll tour the world for a year-and-a-half, and we’ll miss our 25-year anniversary.
Maybe a live record, what do you think about that?
That would be very cool, it’s definitely been quite a few year’s since Me First And The Gimme Gimmes did one of those.
Yeah, I mean [2004’s] Ruin Jonny’s Bar Mitzvah was good, I wanted to ruin a quinceañera; that’s what happens when a [Latina] girl turns 15. And I thought, “What a great idea to ruin.” Like, that awkward sort of tension, it can make for…
Like, when we were recording Ruin Jonny’s Bar Mitzvah, when we were playing that live show, it was excruciating and those excruciating moments were what wound up being the funniest pieces – at least to me – while listening to it.
I mean, half the crowd was completely disinclined to liking us at all, like they were covering their ears. But then the bar, they were serving mugs of wine, big root beer float size mugs of wine, and then within half an hour everyone was into it.
People were coming up singing songs, little kids in yarmulkes were slam-dancing, and I think that we could get a similar reaction at a quinceañera. Maybe even better.
We could learn some Spanish songs, I think my Spanish pronunciation has improved over the years that I’ve lived in California. I actually have a new Panamanian boleros group; Los Nuevos Bajos. That’s not even a joke. We’ll be releasing a video and seven-inch very very soon, within the next month or two.
Check out Me First And The Gimme Gimmes’ cover of ‘I Believe I Can Fly’:
One of the most popular songs that you guys have covered is R. Kelly’s ‘I Believe I Can Fly’. Do you feel that the current controversy with him will have any bearing on your performances of your song?
I had thought about that and honestly, I don’t see why we would change course sort of mid-voyage. I don’t know what to do about that. I mean, do you seperate the art from the artist, like there’s some Gary Glitter songs that I’m never going to stop listening to, you know what I mean?
‘I Didn’t Know I Loved You (Till I Saw You Rock And Roll)’? That’s like one of the heaviest rock and roll songs ever. You know what I’m talking about, like I’m not going to stop listening to that.
And then like, [musician and The Runaways’ manager] Kim Fowley was accused of some pretty heinous shit, but have you heard ‘Motorboat’? Are you going to stop listening to that song? It came from him, but it’s not him.
Is there anything special that Australian fans expect from your upcoming tour?
Some new songs that haven’t been in regular rotation, and some songs that have a specifically local appeal. Local to the continent of Australia, or the area of the antipodes, but they’re things that we haven’t done before.
And given that we were just in Australia not too long ago I was guessing it’s incumbent on us to change things up a little and vary our presentation and content somewhat.
Check out Me First And The Gimme Gimmes’ cover of ‘Never Tear Us Apart’:
Me First And The Gimme Gimmes Australian Tour 2019
Friday, March 8th
Supported by Von Stache and Surviving Sharks
HQ Complex, Adelaide, SA
Sunday, March 10th
Supported by DickLord and Von Stache
The Tivoli, Brisbane, QLD
Also appearing at Download Festival
Saturday, March 9th, 2019
Parramatta Park, Sydney, NSW
Monday, March 11th, 2019 (Long weekend)
Flemington Racecourse, Melbourne, VIC
Download Festival 2019 Lineup
Justice For The Damned
Eat Your Heart Out
The Beautiful Monument
Sum 41 (Only Aus Shows)
Pennywise (Only Aus Shows)
Thy Art Is Murder
Twelve Foot Ninja
Ozzy Osbourne (Only Aus Shows)
Slayer (Final World Tour)
Judas Priest (Only Aus Shows)
Alice In Chains
Rise Against (Only Aus Shows)
The Amity Affliction (Only Aus Shows)
Halestorm (Only Aus Shows)
Me First And The Gimme Gimmes
The Fever 333
War On Women