We recently headed out to Denver to check out the absolutely awesome Riot Fest, and while we were there, we caught up with a few of the guys from Me First and the Gimme Gimmes. Frontman Spike Slawson and guitarist Joey Cape spoke with us about poor planning, their other projects, gentrification, and one of the worst shows they ever played. Read the full interview below.
Zumic: Have you been watching any of the other bands at Riot Fest?
Spike Slawson: No, it's just too big and spread out. I would see the Wu-Tang Clan and Die Antwoord. Those would be two things I'd be interested in seeing.
Yeah, Die Antwoord was nuts, man.
Slawson: They are nuts. They're fuckin' rad for sure.
Joey Cape: I watched the Descendents at both shows, yesterday and Chicago. And I watched Samhain.
Slawson: Oh yeah, I'd like to see that. Supposedly, they're touring on Initium, they're just gonna do Initium. I'd see that 'cause I don't like any of their other records.
Cape: They did that and they did some other songs after.
Did they do any Danzig or Misfits material?
Cape: I left. But it was cool to see.
Slawson: I love Initium. I love that record. I've played it since it came out. I'd see them do that, but I don't like November-Coming-Fire or any of that stuff. It's not really my bag.
Cape: I wanted to see The Cure, both last night and in Chicago, but I'm too old. I get tired at like 9 o'clock.
They played a super long set. It was crazy.
Cape: Yeah, like two and a half hours. I never would have made it.
Slawson: I heard The Bots are good, too. He wants to see Cerebral Ballzy.
Cape: Somebody told me I Am The Avalanche is good.
Yeah, they're both based out of Brooklyn.
Cape: I might go see The National tonight. I'd like to see them just once. I like the records a lot. They don't seem like a band that would be that exciting live. It's just a nice way to put it, 'cause you know those really slow kind of bands. But I'd like to see it once.
So, how do you like the festival environment as opposed to traditional club shows?
Slawson: I like traditional club shows, but the crowd here is really cross-pollinated, so you get to play for a lot of people that you wouldn't normally get to play for. And if you're trying to promote a record or other projects, there's really no substitute for here. So from a purely business, dollars-and-cents perspective, yeah festivals are great, but I like burning up little rooms.
Cape: I totally agree with Spike. I'm much more comfortable in a club. It just feels like the synergy is closer and better. You're not so far away from people. If there's any advantage, it's what we just spoke about: When you play a festival you get to play with bands that you would never play with in a club setting. I mean, we're not gonna tour with The Cure ever.
Speaking of promoting records, Divas came out this year. How'd you land on the theme? What was the process behind that?
Slawson: Uh, I don't know.
Cape: I don't either.
Slawson: Pretty much [Fat] Mike calls a lot of process of elimination shots. Picking a theme was a process of elimination, just like picking songs to adhere to that theme. It's a good way to narrow the field, but I would much rather do songs that I like and then invent a theme around it.
Are the songs on the record songs you actually like in any form or facet?
Slawson: None of 'em.
Not even one!
Slawson: I probably haven't liked one song on a record -- like the original song -- ever.
Slawson: I don't like light rock, man.
What about Love Their Country? That was full of pretty good songs.
Slawson: Yeah, alright. Hank Williams and Johnny Cash and Loretta Lynn and stuff like Dolly. I can dig that.
Cape: I know you like "Sunday Morning Coming Down." Kris Kristofferson. You love that song.
Cape: It's a great song. I'm with Spike kinda halfway on this one, because I myself am kind of a pussy. And I really like the light '70s stuff. I will put that on in my house still. Spike's more of a rocker than I am.
Branching off of that, are there any untouchable songs or genres for you guys?
Slawson: I wouldn't do hip hop.
Cape: Yeah. Funk, metal, hip hop. Like, anything that just wouldn't work -- I mean, our sound is really not all that diverse.
Slawson: No, it's defined by geography and how well we can all play.
Cape: If anything, we have somewhat of a philosophy in the band, that's like an anti-philosophy or work ethic. If we start playing a song and it's like 10 minutes of work, somebody -- most likely Fat Mike -- will say, "Yeah, I'm done."
Yeah, fuck it. Scrap the whole project.
Cape: Sometimes Spike and I would like to put a little more effort into it, but I don't think that's ever gonna happen.
Slawson: And I don't know that you and I are necessarily right about that, you know what I mean? Because when you think of the big picture, you hardly ever get together. We didn't practice for these shows.
Cape: We never rehearse.
Slawson: And we didn't practice for the Pittsburgh Pirates -- we just played a show at PNC Park. My hometown. It was fireworks night and we hadn't played together for a year or so.
Cape: That was one of the worst nights of my life.
Slawson: We got booed by 35,000 people, while there were fireworks going off from the middle of the baseball field and out on barges and off of buildings. In my hometown. It was like a weird dream.
Cape: They gave us custom Pirates uniforms to wear and they hated us.
Did you play a whole set?
Slawson: We played like 8 half-songs.
Cape: I was literally waiting to see torches. And the worst part was that at the very end of it, we had to exit into the dugout, like underneath where the teams go. And we had to go into this narrow corridor in the middle of all that.
Slawson: This perfect storm of just booing... In my home. In my home city.
Cape: Poor Spike. I felt really bad for Spike that day.
Slawson: It was terrible. So, we're never gonna be prepared enough to play complicated stuff -- that was a pretty simplified set -- but we don't ever practice, so the simpler the better. And if it works out and it sounds good...
You guys open a lot of your songs with intros to classic punk songs before breaking into the cover. Are there any that you've been itching to do?
Slawson: Nah, we just kinda all get our phones and see which one works.
Like, "Is this in A"?
Slawson: Yeah, or if it's in the same time signature or tempo.
Cape: Yeah, I don't think a whole lot of thought goes into almost anything we do. It kinda just happens. I do think that there's arguably something good about that. Because I don't think the records would sound as -- I don't wanna say natural -- but it took a while to figure out that it's best if we don't try to do that.
Joey, you have your solo stuff and Lagwagon. Spike, you have The Gimmes and Uke Hunt. And you left the Swingin' Utters 2 years ago?
Slawson: Yeah, something like that. After 13 years.
So do you have anything going other than Uke Hunt?
Slawson: I have a band called The Re-Volts. That's all original material. We've been playing live, but we've been working up a record forever. For like a year. We need other instruments, and the Bay Area... there's no more musicians there.
That surprises me.
Slawson: Well, I mean, there's some out in Oakland still, but everybody's getting priced out. It's happening. It may already have happened. San Francisco used to be artists and musicians, that was what you identified it with. Now, it's a bunch of really rich kids that talk the same talk. Like, that's the problem. They talk your talk, but they're taking your city away from you.
Cape: I'll tell you, though, The Re-Volts are a really good band. I love his band. I think my favorite band that he's been in is Re-Volts.
Are you singing in it?
Slawson: Yeah, singing and playing shaker.
Cape: It's cool to hear him singing in a band that's doing a punk rock thing that isn't a cover band. Although you had that other band with those Italian guys.
Slawson: Yeah, just to get together and do something. But that was a lot of covers, too. We had like 4 songs that we had together originally, but it never really amounted to anything, 'cause Italians are kind of hard-headed.
Last question. This is the important one: If you had the choice be invisible at night or fly but only when it rains, which would you choose?
Slawson: Invisible at night.
Cape: Invisible at night. Flying in the rain sounds kinda awful.
Slawson: Yeah, I live in a weird city. It's not one of the most dangerous cities as far as murder rates or anything, but there's a lot of really crazy people out.
Cape: Especially since a year or two ago.
Slawson: Yeah, now there are marks. I don't know if Brooklyn is that way, but in San Francisco now, all it means that all these rich people moved in is that there are marks. It's different than it used to be -- like kinda sketchy or sketchy-adjacent. So these neighborhoods that used to be bad, now they're really bad. West Oakland is another example. It used to be really bad, and then it got nicer when artists and musicians moved in, and then techie kids moved in because the artists and musicians moved there, and now they're looking down at their phones with headphones in and...
Well, that's a good place to end it. Thanks a lot for talking to us.