LOS ANGELES, April 28, 2014 — Spike Slawson is the lead singer of the punk rock super cover group Me First and the Gimme Gimmes. He is also the former bass player for Swingin’ Utters. His other groups include Re-Volts and Filthy Thieving Bastards. Slawson also has a new venture called Uke-Hunt, which as you probably guessed is ukulele based music. Spike Slawson took some time to speak with Wells On Music regarding the new Me First and the Gimme Gimmes album, a new Re-Volts album and forming his new project, Uke-Hunt, which releases their debut 7” on April 29 on Fat Wreck Chords.
Scroll below video to read the interview.
Kevin Wells: Me First and the Gimme Gimmes are going with diva covers on this new album. Who comes up with the themes?
SS: Everybody kind of throws ideas in and then, I don’t know. With Mike being the label, I think he sort of has…I just like to say I have veto power. That’s about the only power I have. I guess every lead singer kind of has veto power because if they don’t like it, it’s not gonna be good.
KW: Once there is a theme in place does everyone come to the table with song ideas?
SS: I don’t know. It’s been a while since we’ve had a theme where I liked the source material, you know, that I listened to on my own.
KW: You didn’t have a favorite diva song that you have always wanted to cover?
SS: No. After hearing the Lady Gaga song, I really dug it. I have respect for her. She writes most of her own s**t and, you know, she’s kind of the s**t, whether she knows she is or not.
KW: Let’s talk about Uke-Hunt. How did that get started?
SS: I’ve had the name as an idea for a while. I had to learn to play the part for an R. Kelly cover we did. I had to learn how to play the intro to that song, which on the recording is done with a ukulele. I think Chris [Shiflett] played it. So, I had to learn it and then I just kinda kept doing it. I stopped drinking about eight years ago and nobody else did. So, it was just kind of my anti-drug on the bus in the middle of tours and s**t. When everybody else carousing and drinking and cavorting, I would just sort of retreat into the ukulele.
And then I just learned a bunch of songs and started playing with a friend of mine I had been playing with in a different band. He and I went out to Fisherman’s Wharf last year and started really practicing. It was actually a Port of San Francisco administered program where you have to pay dues every month and you have to pay insurance. That’s the dirty little secret. The insurance is something like $250 or something like that you have to pay per year and it’s $50 a month. And then you go to these meetings and you get these spots assigned. Then we would go out to Fisherman’s Wharf and try to scare up a little dough and in the meantime just practice and try to be a better band. It definitely helped.
I don’t know if you’re familiar with San Francisco public space.
KW: I used to work there.
SS: Yeah, it can be a challenge. I mean, just to stand still much less play music. I don’t know. I guess you can say Los Angeles is too. Or you can say it’s even worse. There are just straight up mutants down there and the blocks are too big so you can’t get away from them when people start f**king with you. But here at the wharf, it was these salty wharf rats. I mean, in and out of the program. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Anti-Semitic Elmo.
KW: I have not.
SS: He was up there. He was not in the program, needless to say. He’s the guy they caught in Central Park, the dude in the Elmo costume, and the police accosted him. There’s this video, like a cell phone video, of him with the Elmo mask off, but with the suit on screaming anti-Semitic slurs just sort of at the cops, sort of at anybody who will listen in Central Park in New York City. But the funniest thing about it is that it’s Elmo, but this really creepy Elmo. As it turns out this dude did this weird sort of interactive porn site, where he hired all these Cambodian girls, I guess on a sliding scale, you know, you could pay for time and sort of cruel acts, like fake torture and you know. You haven’t heard about this guy?
SS: It made big news for a while because it was the same time that the Spiderman down there stole like $6000 from a tour bus operator or something like that. Do you remember that?
KW: I haven’t heard about any of this.
SS: There was a Spiderman down there on Hollywood Blvd. near Mann’s Chinese Theatre. He just hijacked $6000 from one of those star tour buses.
SS: Yeah, so there were all these bad street performers like Bad Superman and Bad Spiderman and Anti-Semitic Elmo. And he was up there, dude, and he actually talked to me once. He said he wasn’t gonna be forced off the wharf. He said he was being persecuted by the people from the port. And that’s just one! Then I get peckerwoods from San Quentin, like crazy drunk, literally crazy. You know, you lived up here. So it’s like really good practice. So that’s kind of how it started.
We got this guy, Jamin, who plays kind of everything. He plays saxophone and melodica and whatnot. We got him and this other friend of ours, Joe Reposo. He used to play in RKL. He plays with the Real McKenzies and Lagwagon sometimes. He’s a really good bass player. He plays stand up too. And then Randy, our percussion guy had been going out to the wharf with a different group and suggested that we do it.
We did it under a compromised name, Uke Hammer. Of all the things tourists could see out there, and did see out there, there was an agro clown that would yell at you. He was part of the program actually. And there was this dude who just hides behind the bushes and just jumps out and scares you. He’s got this whole shtick. He was not part of the program. And then just drunk crazy people screaming obscenities and Anti-Semitic Elmos, but Uke-Hunt was too heavy to fly for tourists. They couldn’t handle that. I made the concession and we went out there and played. That’s essentially how the group came together.
KW: Was it a tough sell trying to get Fat Wreck Chords to release a ukulele album?
SS: No, in fact, Mike was the one who bugged me to get it together.
KW: Will you be doing any touring this year?
SS: I’d love to. Yeah. I’d love to.
KW: But nothing is planned?
SS: Nothing planned as of yet, but I love places near water. [laughs] I’d love to tour those places. It’s the rest of it that’s kind of a drag. You know, like the Great Lakes, either coast, I’m with it, but the rest of it, I don’t know.
KW: Is there a full-length record from Re-Volts in the works?
SS: Well, I’m working on bunch of songs. I don’t know if it’s a full-length yet, but it’s, I’d say, nine or ten songs. It’s just shy, like a song or two shy of a full-length. I don’t know what it’s gonna be, if it’s gonna be 7”s because I love those, or an EP or something like that. Something should be out, I hope, by the end of the year, but it’s on my dime. It has been for a little while. So that makes it a different kind of proposition. When someone else is paying, you’re just in there experimenting and s**t, but when it’s your dime, you want to know exactly what you’re gonna do when you show up. You play shows to save money to do it. And then people can’t play the show. You know what I mean. It’s getting to be that age where finding collaborators is really hard and living in a city where it’s really difficult. People down there [in L.A.] are really lucky to live there. No matter how expensive Silver Lake gets, there’s always a new place to go. There’s always some new Eagle Rock or Glendale or f**kin’ Pasadena or something like that. It seems you can always find musicians to collaborate with down there. Does that make any sense?
SS: My only issue with it is a lot the stuff people do down there is too commercial, but I don’t know. There’s always been a lot of good bands from down there and I think that’s why. People can afford space and afford time to get together. Up here, that’s changing. We’re dead smack in the middle of the new tech boom right now and it’s f**kin’ crazy. The Mission is like a different place. The conversations that you hear compared to what you would have heard ten or 15 years ago. Like ten or 15 years ago, there was a chance that you’d run for your life. And now, I can’t even begin to describe it. They’re insufferable. Did you see the video of the people protesting the Google bus? They stopped the bus and held it up for a while.
KW: I did see that.
SS: This dude gets out and says, “If you would work hard like I do, you could f**kin’ afford to live in this city.” He’s probably lived there for like eight months or something like that, just literally oblivious. If I didn’t love it so much, it wouldn’t make me so mad because it is a great city.
KW: Why did you decide to part ways with Swingin’ Utters?
SS: They just traveled too much and it was time for me to start making plans, like life plans, working on stuff like Re-Volts and Uke-Hunt. Things that I control the terms. I decide if we leave, you know, what we do. I just kind of felt like I was, you know, there was a lot of traveling and a lot of things where you drive from San Francisco to Poughkeepsie, New York for our first show. I don’t know. I just couldn’t do that anymore. I love it here, like I was saying. I love San Francisco. I wanted to stay and enjoy it rather than Terre Haute, f**kin’ Indiana or Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, you know? You can have it. I never have to go to those places ever again and I’ll be alright.
KW: Are there any Re-Volts shows coming up, perhaps in the LA area?
SS: If I’m gonna generate interest in it, I gotta give people a template, including the other musicians. [laughs] They’ve been kind of playing in a vacuum for a while, which is good because it means you tighten your s**t up live and it gives us a chemistry and an energy of its own, but now I need to make it sound like I want it to sound and have something tangible. A vinyl release, be that a 7”, 10” or something like that before I start worrying about shows. I’d love to come down to L.A. again. That was really fun. You know Johnny Madcap and the Distractions?
KW: I know the music.
SS: They’re from down there. They booked us on a show at The Redwood, downtown.
KW: That’s a fun bar to play. It’s like if the Regal Beagle where inside of a pirate ship.
SS: It’s a cool room. It looks kind of like a porn set or something like that. And then downtown, it’s like leaps and bounds. I can’t believe how great downtown is.
KW: Yeah, Downtown LA is crazy how much it’s changed.
SS: It’s better than it was even five years ago and it’s better than it’s gonna be in five years unfortunately. I have a sinking suspicion, but yeah, I’d love to come down there as long as I don’t have to play, I don’t man, I hate playing out west down there. I really, really do. We played the Henry Fonda Theatre one time and that was nice. It’s a cool theatre and it’s in a cool location.
KW: It’s a sneaky big venue. It looks a lot smaller from the outside.
SS: I like the way it sounds, but also it’s kind of accurate. If I can stay east of Western Ave., I really like Los Angeles, more and more too.
Uke-Hunt’s debut 7”, The Prettiest Star, will be available from Fat Wreck Chords on Tuesday, April 29. Uke-Hunt’s self-titled debut full-length is slated for a June 10 release on Fat. You can pick up the new Me First and the Gimme Gimmes record, Are We Not Men? We Are Diva!, on Fat Wreck Chords on May 13.
Kevin J. Wells is the Sports Editor for Communities Digital News. He also writes about Major League Baseball, punk rock music and food. Kevin plays guitar in the Los Angeles punk band Emmer Effer. Follow him on Twitter @WellsOnBaseball