PC:What inspired the idea of Me First and the Gimme Gimmes? How did it all start?
Spike: For me, money- leisure; money and leisure was the first and foremost attraction for me. I say that because two other guys came to me, Mike and Joe came to me with the idea and they wanted to cover Lite-Rock songs. Every once in a while you’ll hear Punk bands doing one on a record, so we figured we’d do a whole record of them. The people asking me to do it with them were already in established bands. It started off as a hoot and progressively turned into a “Fuck You!” to anyone who’s in an original band just for its own sake. I don’t know, most original bands shouldn’t be around. And the songs had done well already, they were already ingrained in people’s minds, they’re these catchy melodies that you can’t get out of your head- so I figured, 7 cents a song… You know how every band puts out a T-Shirt with a stolen image, and every add in a skate magazine or something like that is a stolen image, I’ve got nothing against stealing these images- I think sampling is a good idea… I think this thing got popular because people like the idea of stealing.
PC:How do you go about deciding what the songs are going to be?
Spike:There mostly all singer/songwriters, and just simple, simple translations, easy chords…stuff easy to play live.
PC: Just out of curiosity, in the process of covering this stuff, have you found that other people are writing the songs? For instance, have you ever covered a Barry Manilow tune?
PC: Have you found that someone else was actually the writer for some of those classic songs?
Spike: Yeah, that does happen, but for instance someone like Barry Manilow, he writes the songs… But I don’t think that we’ve done anything that’s public domain yet.
PC: How many Me First records are there?
Spike: Well, there’s one record and some seven-inches. The seven-inches are simply named by the artist being covered. For instance, if it is a song by Barry Manilow on one side, it is simply entitled,”Barry”, and “Billy” for Billy Joel. The title of the full length is “Have A Ball”, it’s kind of a bowling theme.
PC: A bowling theme?
Spike: We had a league at Fat Wreckords. When I worked at Fat, there was a league for a while but then the lane shut down and everybody started golfing. I guess everyone just golfs now…
PC: So you don’t go golfing?
Spike: No, no…
PC: Do you guys do this because you like the music or is it only to make fun of it?
Spike:If it’s funny and people laugh at it, it’s totally due to the song and the way it was written, no matter how we arrange it, the songs written the way it was written…the people who wrote the songs may not have intended it to be funny but you owe as much to the songwriters as the people doing the song’s. It’s a little bit of both I can appreciate some of the stuff, but someone like John Denver…I don’t know. It’s in our own way a tribute, our own way…and I suppose the songs wouldn’t be funny if they hadn’t written them, other than that… Mandy wasn’t intended to be funny, it’s just fuckin’ lame.
PC: So, why did you start your KARAOKE night?
Spike: It’s another thing like the band that I didn’t start. I guess I should start getting some ideas of my own.
PC: Well, I’m interested in the reason why you head it up?
Spike: I love doing karaoke, it’s something not everyone’s into yet though. It’s like going to a particular dive bar, and then everyone starts going to that dive bar. I know it sounds so lame but you start drinkin’ with the particular people in that bar and it has a kind of unanimous feeling and your having a good time- it’s a little more entertaining. Karaoke lends a bar vitality that most bars, at least in this town, are severely lacking. What are you going to do if you go to a bar, whether you know 2 people or 20 people, you’re either going to say hi to 20 people or you sit and say nothing and get drunk. With Karaoke there’s participation, your buddies enjoy watching you or if your really good you’ve got the attention of the whole place.
PC: It becomes interesting.
Spike: That’s it…and it’s ego. I’ve been to Las Vegas doing it before with these guys who sing for real, they take it real seriously and do their dance moves and everything. So, there is an ego thing.
PC: There’s a whole underworld then, huh?
Spike: Yeah, it always strikes me as funny. I saw this one guy in Las Vegas, he sang some Fabulous ThunderBirds song and he looked like Jim Belushi. But, if you don’t go into real Karaoke bars with at least 20 people, there’s this overwhelming normalcy. Now, you can feed off of something like that and really fuck with the normalcy. It’s really interesting, one normal person can change the vibe of a whole bar- even if it’s only peripherally.
PC: I’ve noticed one thing you’ve done with this, is make it accessible to people who may have put there noses up to it previously, regarding it as “uncool”, Karaoke being relegated only to Vietnamese or Filipino bars, now whether or not Karaoke is or has ever been a cool or uncool thing, you’ve made this particular environment entertaining and OK to attend. It’s definitely more entertaining and enriching than simply sitting down just to get shit-faced only.
Spike: Everybody seems to get the humor behind me, it just sucks that sometimes it takes someone to do it before it catches on. We did this video compilation on Fat for the Peepshow and it was a Gimme Gimme’s song that we put on the Karaoke machine. It was the first time I had been to The Mint and it was a really, really good time. The Mint is a Karaoke bar on Market Street with a predominantly gay clientele. It makes it sound kind of like Ghetto tourism, you know what I mean? But it’s always more entertaining.
PC: Well… it can be an interesting thing to do.
Spike: Like in the Tenderloin, in pre-Stonewall gay bars, where everything isn’t okay, where they had never heard of Harvey Milk, there’s no windows, when they came out and were who they were and no one else was doing it. The Mint still has a little bit of that vibe to it.
PC: It’s a little bit darker.
Spike: It’s dark and you still get a feeling that even in the scene these guys are sort of social misfits, and that may or may not be for one reason or the other… These guys are dramatic, it’s kind of rad, their hearts are in it.
PC: What kind of clientele shows up here?
Spike: I don’t know. Maybe some of the people who show up here don’t want to make a real commitment, they may be a little more intimidated by a real Karaoke bar, maybe some where else you and your five friends may get ostracized. This is much more loose than another Karaoke bar you may go to, it’s all people their age, they’re not going to be challenged too much. Not in reference to the people here, but I despise people that are in their 20’s and stuck in a rut, they only go to certain places- I don’t know, I shouldn’t judge them, maybe I’m gettin’ that way myself.
PC: What variety of music do you have here?
Spike: It’s pretty small at the moment but we’re expanding, only stuff like 60’s or 70’s pop songs. There’s nothing here differing so much from other places, the songs are not run of the mill but pretty fuckin’ standard, but older popular music, not current Top 40. I keep buying CD’s but I think a strong core of what people actually know is what’s really important. We’re not ready just yet for the “All Glam” CD yet, we’re building up the catalog of what people all ready know first.
PC: I’m curious, do you think this exposes people to different kinds of music- whether or not they’ll even like it; if someone knows a song and performs it can people in the audience extract something from it, even if it’s just linking to music in an historic context?
Spike: Not always, sometimes. I’ve noticed that if it’s not your buddy, or somebody doing the song really funny, or doing a song that they haven’t thought of before, they’re just waiting for their turn.
PC: You’re also in The Swingin’ Utters …
Spike: Again, something that required absolutely no effort on my part, they asked me if I wanted to play this instrument, bass- I’m tellin’ you, one of these days my luck is going to slip.
Interview by : Sean Heskett (Primal Chaos)