Me First and the Gimme Gimmes cover Japan tunes

by Shawn Despres

Special To The Japan Times

Punk cover band Me First and the Gimme Gimmes are touring Japan to promote their new EP “Sing in Japanese” this month. Comprised of players from famed punk and rock acts NOFX, Lagwagon, Swingin’ Utters, and Foo Fighters, they will play Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka before performing at Yokohama’s sold-out Air Jam 2011 festival on Sept. 18.

When told that some overseas musicians have called off tours because of the problems from the Great East Japan Earthquake in March, vocalist Spike Slawson says Me First and the Gimme Gimmes never considered not coming.

“I can’t believe some bands canceled their tours,” says a shocked Slawson. “We’re the greatest cover band of all time, and will not let a little radiation deter us from performing our plagiaristic duties. Japan deserves no less. And perhaps it deserves even slightly more.”

Formed in 1995, over the course of five full-lengths the band have turned show tunes and numbers from artists such as Elton John, Cat Stevens, Boyz II Men and the Dixie Chicks into raucous, stage-diving anthems.

Set to drop Sept. 13, “Sing in Japanese” is the second in a series of “world” EPs the group are creating. Each album features the quintet blasting through hit songs from one particular country. The series debuted in January with the Aussie-themed “Go Down Under.” “Sing in Japanese” is their first stab at singing in a foreign language, and there are plans for EPs of Italian, Spanish, French and German covers.

“We have discussed the idea of doing language specific records for certain countries for a long time,” says guitarist Joey Cape. “Japan was at the top of that list. The Japanese have been very loyal to Me First and the Gimme Gimmes.”

Running just shy of 16 minutes, “Sing in Japanese” features six tracks from the likes of 1960s Group Sounds band The Tigers, ’70s folk act Kaze, and ’80s/’90s punks The Blue Hearts.

“We listened to a lot of popular songs from Japan, and picked the songs that work best for what we do,” says Cape. “There’s a criteria: We have to think the song is good, it has to be catchy, and it has to work as a punk song.”

A Japanese pal of bassist Mike “Fat Mike” Burkett wrote out all the tracks’ lyrics for Slawson. The singer then watched YouTube videos of the originals to help him master his Japanese pronunciation.

“Sing in Japanese” was recorded and mixed in May. As a sort of quality assurance check, the band screened their newly finished material for a makeshift panel of “experts.”

“A half dozen of Fat Mike’s Japanese friends came to the studio and listened to the songs,” says Slawson. “After a short, awkward silence, they burst into riotous laughter, and haven’t stopped since.”

Me First and the Gimme Gimmes will play The Tigers’ “C-C-C” and a couple other selections from “Sing in Japanese” during their upcoming Japan dates. Slawson is confident he will be able to recall all the Japanese lyrics. He makes no promises for other songs, though.

“I won’t need a cheat sheet, except possibly for some of the English songs,” he says. “I’ve memorized the songs phonetically, completely divorced from any arbitrary semblance of meaning. It’s going to be just pure, random emotion.”

Me First and the Gimme Gimmes play O-West in Shibuya, Tokyo, on Sept. 14 ([03] 5784-7088); Club Quattro in Nagoya on Sept. 15 ([052] 264-8211); and Sept. 16 at Muse in Osaka ([06] 4391-3030). All shows start at 7 p.m. and cost ¥6,000 in advance. For more information, visit www.hipjpn.co.jp.