Talk about murdering ballads. For more than a decade covers-only outfit Me First & The Gimme Gimmes have massacred mainstream radio hits, turning the lampooning of golden oldies into a relatively fine art. And with an emphasis on fun, the toughest challenge for this Californian punk supergroup is finding a hole in their schedules to get together.
"And they're covers too so you can only do it so much every year," says singer Spike Slawson on the phone from hometown San Francisco. "But we rent a nice rehearsal space here and practise for about three hours and then hit the road or the plane or whatever the case may be."
Shortly after their formation as a casual party band in 1995, Swingin' Utters singer Slawson, NOFX bassist Fat Mike, guitarist Chris Shiflett (Foo Fighters) and Lagwagon's Joey Cape and Dave Raun on drums recorded the aptly titled Have a Ball, an album covering classic 60s pop standards that sparked further demand for their hilarious karaoke-punk send-ups.
Five themed albums all on Mike's Fat Wreck Chords have followed including 1999's cheesy show tunes set Are A Drag and 2003's R&B tribute Take A Break, each record featuring the band in matching suits performing punk riff parodies.
"I think Pretty Vacant into Vanessa Williams is kinda funny," chuckles Slawson.
The troupe's latest instalment, 2006's Love Their Country reprises a dozen country-pop staples we've grown to love (or loathe), applying the wrecking ball to songs originally performed by Kenny Rogers, Garth Brooks, Hank Williams and Dolly Parton. For Slawson, a trained violinist, such selections are simply fresh ammunition for his all-star cohorts.
"Some of our picks are awful, specifically mine, and they end up being terrible!" he laughs. "Everybody pretends that it's democratic but then we realise our horrible pick and then we just ditch it. There's a lot of elimination if you know what I mean.
"There were some real standouts of all the stuff we did," he adds. "I was listening to Loretta Lynn and Porter Wagoner and they're just amazing songs. You think you love the song and that you want to pay tribute to the song and you think the best way of doing that is by covering it but often it is not the best way of paying tribute. This is something you only discover later on."
With little interest in feedback from the original artists - "I'm just happy to pay the publishing rate" - Slawson says the country material is more attuned to what the band is suited to playing. "That country beat, that's where the rock beat comes from you know. But the R&B records really gave me a clue as to how much rhythm counts."
A new album of rock ballad remakes, tentatively titled Have Another Ball is slated for 2008.
"I heard a Frank Stallone song from the film Staying Alive and it starts off like a sports broadcast, you know, like one of those upbeat songs. But then Frank Stallone starts singing! It's on side two of the soundtrack. Side two is where that soundtrack starts to shine by the way."