Uke-Hunt Makes First Ottawa Appearance on Friday

June 2nd, 2015 by  |  Published in Interviews, Show Announcements

Uke-Hunt - promo

Spike Slawson’s voice is one that most people who grew up listening to punk-rock in the mid-nineties would know well. A veteran of bands like ‘Swingin Utters and Filthy Thieving Bastards, he has featured on over 30 records in the last 18 years, not including special appearances. This week, Ottawa music fans will get the chance to see and hear him in a new context—paired with a ukulele.

His first band, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, gained popularity covering mainstream songs in a skate-punk style. Their cover of John Denver’s “Country Roads” popped up on mixtapes everywhere, including the tape decks of more than a few of my own friends.

Slawson’s new band is Uke-Hunt (say it out loud a few times fast). In it, Slawson eschews his punk-rock past to cover an interesting selection of old pop tunes in a more relaxed tempo. I got the chance to talk to him recently in advance of his appearance in Ottawa at Ritual on June 5.

It’s nice to meet you, Spike. Thanks for talking to Spotlight Ottawa.

Yeah, I’ve been to Ottawa. We played Barrymores once and I got punched in the nose in five-below-zero weather in Ottawa.

That surprises me—you’re a fairly big guy.

Not really. It was a Boston band called Reach for the Sky, and they didn’t really mean to do it, to be fair. The drummer and the singer were fighting, and I think it was the singer who started flinging a plastic merch tub lid, and it broke and got all jagged. So I ran in between, and so from one side I caught the jagged merch tub lid across my face, and on the other side I caught the dude’s fist. And then I just stood there with blood pouring out of my face. But at least it was warm! There was a bright, blinding light, and then…yeah.

That’s a surprising Ottawa story. Most people criticize Ottawa for being the city that fun and chaos forgot.

Well it was actually behind Barrymores. It’s actually like a circus act, the way the loaders take the face amps and cabinets down the grating. It would literally ride the heels of their combat boots down that icy ramp. So I don’t know how, or why they did it that way. But yeah, that’s what I remember best about Ottawa. That, and this little market not too far from the capital building. So there you have it—Ottawa. The outsider’s persecutive.

So let’s talk about Uke-Hunt!

I’d love to!

You start your tour tonight. Have you had many chances to test any new songs that aren’t on the self-titled record?

We have. We played Cincinnati last night, and we pulled into Pittsburgh a few days ago and we practiced, and ate pizza. We got the van and all of our merchandise together, and then drove to Cincinnati. So we do have some new ones that we’ve been working on as well. It’s an eclectic mix.

It’s been a long time since “Dear Spike.” Do you still get nervous when you’re debuting new songs, or is it just another day at the warehouse?

Note: Before Slawson joined the Gimme Gimmes, he worked in the Fat Wreck Chords warehouse. During that time, ska-punk band the Aquabats wrote a song about him called “Dear Spike.”

Well, the warehouse has changed into a pizza parlour, but yeah, I still get nervous. Every day, for one reason or another. It’s probably because I overthink things. My wife says I am my own worst enemy.

You’ve been on 30 records now, in the last 16-17 years. And that’s not including EP’s and special appearances on friend’s records. That said, where the heck do you find the time to play Depeche Mode on the ukulele?

Well, there’s always time to make a little extra scratch. But monetarily speaking, we didn’t do all that well when we went off to play. But as far as practice, you can do no better. When you’re playing a club, you’re theoretically playing for people who are inclined to pay attention to you and it’s like a captive audience. So you already have them in the palm of your hand, and the battle is already half-won.

But when you’re playing in a tourist area like where we were up in Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, there’s so much going on and people are on their way to doing other things. It might have added a little bit of disposable cash to throw your way, but for them to actually pay attention to you is a different matter. And then the fact that you’re surrounded by drunken, wharf locals—that can be kind of intimidating too.

So you have to work that much harder, and you have to sort of keep your shit together when you’re in adverse situations. That’s really good practice. And once you’ve done that, a club show isn’t even up there. People are there to have a good time, and you just try not to get in the way.

About that Aquabats song; back in the day they wrote this song about how much they appreciated you as an employee, but then you’ve said in the past that you’re actually a terrible employee. And meanwhile, if somebody is looking at your discography alone, it seems like you’re this workaholic savant. So where are you at now? Are you working as hard as it seems?

Yeah, sometimes it definitely seems to be feast or famine. As I’ve said, I’m a pie man and that takes up, you know, upwards of three days a week of my time, about eight or nine hours at a time. As far as the Gimme Gimmes, we don’t even practice, you know what I mean. We play a show here or there, but we haven’t been on tour since, I want to say the beginning of 2014 or something like that. So it’s definitely been a while. And then a one-off show every once in a while. So it doesn’t really take as much time as it looks, or seems.

You usually play in punk-rock bands, but Uke-Hunt is a bit of a diversion. Is it an idea that you were kicking around for a while before you started doing it?

Well it all kind of came from the name, and then I just do everything else to the name. The players, and their skills, in kind of an aesthetic sense, you know what I mean. All of that kind of fed into what it was. It wasn’t really a conscious decision, other than the fact that I liked the name, and I wanted to share it with people.

Even though Uke-Hunt isn’t a punk band, there’s still something subtly subversive about the song selection.

I hope so!

You cover the British Invasion, but you don’t do the Beatles. You’ve done Michael Jackson in the past, and you’ve covered Skeeter Davis, one of the first successful female solo country artists. Did you intentionally pick the songs that way, or were they songs you just grew up listening to?

They were just songs that I really liked. Weird, outsider pop songs. Weird subject matter, that’s just one of my favourite things about songs from the sixties and seventies. Certain songs from certain artists, like Gary Wilson and I don’t know, even some Peggy Lee songs. There’s something just like, really weird in the subtext. More than often, it’s right up front. Like that Alone Again (Naturally) by Gilbert O’Sullivan, this crazy depressing song about both of his parents dying. I like stuff like that. But even insider pop, there’s a lot of that that’s really good too.

To me, the irony of the record is that there’s nothing ironic about it. You’re covering the oldies with a ukulele, but there’s nothing snarky or comical about the way the songs are presented (other than the band name). So it sounds like a much more serious record than any of Me First’s. Is this record the first look at Spike Slawson’s future as a musician?

(Chuckles) I don’t know. Yeah, you can say that. The song selections are definitely more suited to my personal preferences than say, stuff that I did with the Gimmes. And then, I also feel like there are a lot of heavy rock bands, you know what I mean. And not enough just rock and roll bands. To me, rock and roll bands have a lot more to do with the drummer, and the way the drummer plays. Not how loud the drummer plays, but how good his or her time is. And it definitely has much more to do with that than how big the guitar player’s amps are, you know what I mean? I definitely wanted to hit the road with something again, because I hadn’t in a while. I stopped playing with the Utters, the Gimmes don’t tour all that much. And it’s nice to play intimate little bars and settings. And if you get girls dancing, then that’s pretty much it, you know what I mean? That’s the accomplishment.

Speaking of Me First, I saw you guys at Rockfest in Montebello last year when you had Scott with you (Shiflett, of Face to Face/Viva Death), and it seemed like you guys were having just as much fun as you ever have. Would you still be doing Uke-Hunt if the members of Me First were available to tour more often?

Well yes, absolutely. Because of the song selection and how it was ultimately executed. I gear it a lot towards my own tastes.

Going back to the Swinging Utters—and I don’t want to bother you too much about your other bands—do you feel like you just had nothing left to say in that context?

You know, it was just that they were travelling too much. I love San Francisco, you know. I like spending time with my wife. And they were just going on these long tours. Like, we were living in California and the first show would be in Poughkeepsie, New York, and they would drive. And they still do so. Those 15-hour travel days, I don’t know if I have many of those left in me, you know. And especially if we’re talking about the North American continent, because there’s just so much, like I hate to call it flyover country because I know that people live there, but I don’t want to be there. I don’t ever want to have to go to some of those places ever again.

I hear you. There are places in my own city that I don’t even want to have to go.

(Chuckles) Yeah, exactly. And they go through all of them. It’s also a dollars and cents kind of thing. Like, the longer you stay out, the more likely you are to play really shitty, poorly attended shows. But they’re having a good time. They’ve got a lot of responsibilities at home, like, they do have kids, and soul-crushing jobs and such so then it’s nice to get out on the road. But I don’t know, I like my home better.

Just for fun, if you had to choose between the Swinging Utters, Filthy Thieving Bastards and Re-Volts (all Slawson bands), which band would you cover in Uke-Hunt?

Probably Re-Volts.

They’re my favourite band of yours! But you’ve got this great six-song record that is kind of its own island, way back in 2007.

(Laughs) Yeah!

It sounded like you were free to just play in that band.

Yeah. And for a while we had two guitar players, so I was free to sing un-trapped from an instrument. I wouldn’t say I prefer to do it, like I love playing on the ukulele, but it’s tough. For a long time before you really get it, those elements suffer.

Is there any chance that you guys will ever get together to do that again?

We’ve actually been working on stuff. So, yes absolutely. There’s stuff, and we’re just a few elements away from mixing. But as far as a timetable, I have no idea. Just because it’s finished when it’s finished. But it is there, there are real tracks and we plan to finish it.

That’s incredible news!

Yeah, I’m happy about it too. And they sound really good, too. I’m excited about it, but I also have to be patient about it. It’s hard, because it has been a long time.

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