By Graeme Wiggins
VANCOUVER – When punk rock super-group/cover band Me First and the Gimme Gimmes debuted in 1995 with their seven-inch, Denver, and its two John Denver covers, it would have been hard to imagine they’d still be kicking 20 years later. Featuring a veritable who’s who of prominent punk musicians from the Fat Wreck Chords roster, including label head Fat Mike from NOFX, the band seemed like mostly a bit of a gag — funny and entertaining, but not exactly likely to have longevity. Two decades and six albums later, Me First are back with a new greatest hits album, Rake It In: The Greatestest Hits, and an accompanying tour.
For singer Spike Slawson, 20 years of history has made the band more fun, with a caveat. “The crowds have gotten bigger, which makes it harder at first and easier at the end, if that makes sense,” he says. “It’s harder to stand up and face them, but once they like you it’s like a drug that would be impossible to synthesize chemically. Especially for a lot of musical types who were a sort of pariah milquetoasts growing up when they’re shown appreciation and adulation in a live scenario. It’s very profound.”
Picking which songs to cover is mostly a democratic process. While every member can veto song ideas, a number of the chosen songs don’t necessarily appeal to Slawson, and he likes it that way. “I don’t know if it’s a layer of irony that gets put on it when the guy that tries to sell the song doesn’t really like the song but somehow it works. There’s some kind of tension. I think most bands when they actually achieve what they set out to achieve like 100 per cent, they probably wouldn’t be as popular or as resonant than if they had just tried and maybe made 60 per cent of the way or less. Supposedly the Talking Heads wanted to sound like a Motown band. If that were the case, they would probably still be playing in bars.”
Not all songs work out and that sometimes means dropping a favourite. For Slawson, deciding which he was most disappointed to drop was easy.
“The Easybeats. It doesn’t work for us because The Easybeats did it perfectly,” he says. “There’s nowhere to go but down from The Easybeats’ version of ‘Friday On My Mind’ or anything else they did.” According to Slawson, finding and putting together songs has gotten a little more difficult over the years too. “It’s gotten harder because we don’t live in the same town anymore so it’s not something that just sort of organically comes up from us playing together all the time. I think a lot of bands that have been together 20 years don’t play together all the time either. Considering how many fucking best-of records we’ve put out, I guess it’s kind of gotten harder. If that’s any indicator.”
While the process might take a bit more work, the live show is something different altogether. It’s clear from his voice that, despite some negative experiences (“I had a whole gallon jug of piss thrown on me once. So they’re not all positive!”), he’s just as excited to play live as he’s ever been. “To me, live keeps getting better. You can put the truth to the lie of the recordings. You can bring the fire in your guts and ridiculous costumes. The music is secondary to the energy and spectacle. That’s the fun — dancing around and sweating and getting my ya-yas out. I love playing live; that’s kind of the whole point of it for me now.”
Me First and the Gimme Gimmes perform May 3 at the Commodore Ballroom.Commodore Ballroom, Me first and the gimme gimmes