On their latest, Are We Not Men? We Are Diva!, the self-described “beer-hall Pussycat Dolls” of Me First and the Gimme Gimmes tackle 50 years of lady hits, from Barbara Streisand to Lady Gaga.
We asked band mastermind/guitarist Fat Mike (also of punk legends NOFX) his thoughts on covers, why tribute bands suck and how to make Celine Dion cool.
What’s the difference between a cover band and a tribute band?
They’re completely different. It’s like mimes and clowns. Tribute bands try to dress up as the artist, to be them. That’s bullshit.
So you’re a cover band.
And we’re the best of the best. Just sayin’. Well, and Nouvelle Vague ... our perfect counterpoint. That’s it.
What was difficult about songs by women?
It took a long time to weed through the newer stuff: there are SO many bad songs. Britney Spears: couldn’t find one. Couldn’t find a good Pink song. Or Beyonce. A lot of modern music is dance, with no real melodies or chord progressions.
What wouldn’t you do as a cover band?
We would never do dance or EDM songs. Or rock songs, actually. You can’t take an AC/DC song and make it better. They nailed it.
Do you end up having more respect for the artists you cover?
Yeah! Barry Manilow had some really well-crafted songs. I mean, awful instrumentation, but the melodies and progressions are great. And a song like “Mandy”... how many modulations can that guy do?
Do you enjoy the songs you cover?
Absolutely. They’ve made me a better songwriter. And it’s made me appreciate showtunes more. Frank Lloyd ... I mean, Andrew Lloyd Webber. Ha, almost said Frank Lloyd Wright. That’s funny. Anyway, showtunes writers, those guys are something else.
What’s the most important thing about a cover?
The singer. Our singer, Spike, has perfect pitch. And his range is incredible. I get tired of punk bands slaughtering great songs — and I’m speaking as the singer of a punk band. Spike does the songs justice: all we have to do is be in tune.
You usually just speed through your songs; this time out, you slowed it down.
Spike’s weird. I think he has Asperger's. Every album he comes to the studio and refuses to do something. This time it was fast songs. Sometimes, he doesn’t want to do “ahhhs,” only “ooohs.” But that’s why this time, you’ll hear us doing a Celine Dion song like if the Dropkick Murphys had done it. Sounding like a bunch of Irish guys standing around.
How is the Me First audience different from your day band (NOFX)?
There’s some crossover. But at our shows, we’ll get stewardesses, people with long hair, just random people. We actually do a good job breaching the generation gap. People bring their parents.
Maybe an '80s record. Or a Beatles one. We might do one for each country we tour: Italy, France, Germany.
So you’re going to tour again?
Sure. No. Eh, we might. We’re all in other, um, real bands. Though it’s weird when your joke band becomes bigger than your real band.
You could argue how two white guys appropriated blues and soul classics for laughs. Or you could credit Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi for reminding the world of the joys of Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes and Big Joe Turner. Just steer clear of their post-1982 (when Belushi died) offerings.
Best cover: "Soul Man"
This sadly obscure mix of '90s bands both great (Tool) and revered (Failure, pictured here) only released one album, but it’s damn near perfect, a cornucopia of '70s and '80s hits re-imagined for the alt-rock generation. Steely Dan never sounded this good.
Best cover: "Dirty Work"
And a few more....