Interview: Inside Uke-Hunt with Spike Slawson
Over the course of 17 years and eight albums, Spike Slawson has been the voice of Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, the preeminent masters of taking softer, poppier, sometimes older ditties and giving them fresh, energetic (often times funny) punk rock interpretations.
With his latest project, Uke-Hunt, Slawson is exploring a softer, summery side as the ukulele-wielding vocalist that gives songs made famous by the likes of Depeche Mode (“Enjoy the Silence) and Ramones (“Needles and Pins”) a bit of a Hawaiian-feeling punch.
“With the Gimmes, you have to pick songs that are not necessarily rock n’ roll songs, because you’re playing them in a rock-type idiom,” says Slawson when asked by Riffyou.com about how he chooses songs for Uke-Hunt to reimagine. “In this case, it’s almost the reverse, because you can take a heavy rock song and turn it an opposite direction and there becomes this irony that, to me, is essential to any cover version…without making it feel like a tribute version. I don’t like tribute bands.”
Slawson notes that it’s also important to not pick tunes in which the Gimme Gimmes could have on its radar. Beyond that, it all comes down to plucking out his favourite songs, then seeing how they work with a ukulele.
But, what really makes Uke-Hunt – a band that also includes Jamin Barton, Randy Burk and Joe Raposo – truly unique for Slawson, is being able to approach these songs with a sense of levity and seriousness – rather than take the piss out of them, which is something generally done by the Gimme Gimmes.
“That’s a fine line, for me,” replies Slawson when asked how he goes about the challenge of keeping a Uke-Hunt song on a straight path, without making it laughable. “I don’t know if it’s a conscious decision at any point of the process. I think it’s more about hoping something works out. It’s more so the art of the accident, I guess. Or, a series of accidents that if you apply artistic principles to them, rather than visualizing an outcome, you instead try to create the circumstances to make an outcome that makes sense to you…once you actually hear what it is.”
With the Self-Titled Uke-Hunt album (available through Fat Wreck Chords) almost a year old now, Slawson is already eyeballing the next offering. He’s thinking it could be an international album in which he takes a swing at songs performed in a number of foreign languages. With the ability to mimic German and his “rudimentary” knowledge of Italian, what could possibly go wrong?
Time will tell, but at the moment, Slawson remains impressed by his band’s ability to take complicated songs and give them a simpler, heartfelt take.
“We don’t have a recorded version of it, but we’re doing ‘Too Hot’ by Kool and The Gang,” says Slawson. “Initially, I thought it was terrible and we’d overdo it…but it worked. [The original] has weird instrumentation like saxophone and bass. It’s surprising how much you can do when you’re not in a band where everyone is stepping on each other. It’s also good to be in a band that has a light load.”
He concludes: “To be honest, a lot of rock bands have [all this equipment] they fart around with and I think it makes them feel more secure…in their manhood. [But] I don’t think you should bring anymore than you need.”
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