Interview with Spike Slawson

I recently had the chance to exchange correspondence with a very cool and gracious Spike Slawson (Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, Swingin' Utters, Re-Volts, Filthy Thieving Bastards). If you're unfamiliar with any of these name-drops, you've been living under a very nailed-down rock for a very, very long time. Spike's a yinzer, believe it or not, so if you're thinking, Hey! I thought Artless Nonculture was strictly Cleveland to Pittsburgh area bands(?!), fear not. We ain't sellin' out just yet.

What was it like growing up in the Pittsburgh area?

My parents moved me there in the early '70s, so you can probably imagine what it was like (I guess they didn't notice all of the people headed in the other direction). I got beat up a lot.

What were some of your favorite things about the city?

Neighborhoods like Shadyside, Bloomfield, Friendship, Squirrel Hill. No other city that I know of has neighborhoods like those.

What was the first punk show you went to?

A friend of mine, Matt Weiner (he got beat up a lot, too) had some Dead Kennedys records that he turned me on to. Then, my friend Luis, who had moved to Pittsburgh from El Salvador, started going to shows at the Electric Banana, and eventually brought me to a show there, where I saw Black Flag and Saccharine Trust. That was my first show.

What year was that? Who was singing for Black Flag?

That show was in 1984. Henry Rollins was singing for Black Flag at the time.

Were you big into the scene at that point in your life? Were you in any bands yourself, here in PA?

I was not in any bands at that point. I went to whatever shows I could, though.

When did you relocate from the 'Burgh to California, and why?

I moved to Davis, CA with my parents in like, '86. The best thing about Davis is its proximity to Sacramento, which is actually a horrible thing.

Sort of a double-edged sword, huh?

Yeah It was OK, though, 'cos I was sorta close to the Bay area, where I got to go to shows pretty much every weekend.

What was it like working at Fat Wreck?

Working at Fat taught me some hard lessons about myself. When I worked for some money-grubbing shithead I would show up on time, and follow orders. When I worked for friends who, out of the kindness of their hearts, gave me a steady paycheck when I was flat broke, I would show up late (if at all), wasted, and hornery. Often I'd even accidentally send important packages to the wrong continent. I was a terrible employee.

Were you into bands like the ones on their roster before that point (like the 'Fat Wreck sound' so to speak)?

Not really, apart from some standouts. I preferred early east coast and midwestern hardcore/punk bands.

How long were the Utters together before you joined? Were you a big fan of theirs prior to joining the band?

The Utters were together for ten years before I joined. Yes, I was a fan. "Teenage Genocide" is still one of my favorite punk songs.

How long have you been playing the accordian? What other instruments do you play?

I have never played the accordion.

Sorry, I got you confused with Darius for a second. I just assumed it was you playing accordian on Live in a Dive, since Pittsburgh is infested with Polka enthusiasts... So, who's idea was it to start FTB? Aren't all the members also in Swingin' Utters?

Not everybody. It's Johnny, Darius and me, plus Randy Burk on the drums, and Nick Testa on guitar. Johnny and Darius came up with the idea.

Any plans on the Re-Volts playing in Pittsburgh, since the idea of the Utters playing here seems to have some kind of curse on it?

If somebody could come up with an efficient way to tour by train, we'd do it. Otherwise the costs of touring are too prohibitive to take on on our own. Just getting four or five people in the same rehearsal space for two hours is a challenge. That said, I would love for any of my bands to play Pittsburgh.

Tony Scambony from the band American Werewolves wants to know: "Where the hell are the Swingin' Utters?"

The Swingin' Utters are in El Cerrito, Santa Cruz, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, if that answers his question.

I know you're probably burned-out on talking about it, but what was it like for someone who still champions the Iron City from the other side of the country to get booed by 30,000 Pirates fans at PNC Park when the Gimme Gimmes played there almost 2 years ago?

For better or worse, it was one of the most profound experiences of my life. Considering the way we played that night, I can't say I disagree with the consensus. Anyway, I love the city, not necessarily the white-flight jagoffs from the suburbs that only come in for games.

At least you got paid a lot of money and only had to put up with booing and projectile-throwing for one of the three nights originally scheduled...

Yeah, I think we got paid for two nights. We got jerseys with our names on them, too. Got to eat Aiello's pizza. Somebody threw up in the bathtub of our hotel that night, as well.

Yeah, you're still a pretty well-known supporter of anything Pittsburgh-related. Is it true you have a Heinz ketchup tattoo?


Where is it?

It's on my left forearm.

Who are some of your favorite PGH-area bands, past and present?

Half Life, 99 cents, Circus of Death, The Cynics, Battered Citizens, Shape of Rage, Caustic Christ, Submachine, Donny Iris, Norm Nardini, etc.

Are you still friends with any of the guys you used to knock around with back in the day?

I still have a lot of old friends there.

Yeah, I noticed Jeff Lamm does your flyers sometimes.

Yeah. Jeff Lamm's shit is awesome. You can check it out at I think.

You're currently in quite a few bands. Swingin' Utters is predominantly a street-style punk band, Filthy Thieving Bastards are a folky, sometimes Irish-sounding acoustic punk band... Me First and the Gimme Gimmes turn classic songs from all eras into So-Cal style punk anthems, and the Re-Volts are kind of a throwback to the kind of hook-laden sound that was associated with Lookout! Records back in their heyday. Which of these is your favorite style of music to perform, if any?

Re-Volts, 'cos it's like an outlet for me. I get to play bass and scream. FTB, 'cos at this stage we've been playing enough that we've got actual chemistry -- a hard thing to come by considering the difficulty in getting people in the same room.

Any last words?

Good morning!
--Sam Sinister

Related links:

Swingin' Utters

Filthy Thieving Bastards

Me First and the Gimme Gimmes

Spike Slawson (Wikipedia)

More on the Gimme Gimmes at PNC Park