Think "cover band" and you're hit with horrific flashbacks of slicked-back cheesy crooners at weddings belting out Lady In Red. The furthest thing from punk rock, right?
That's what makes Me First and the Gimme Gimmes such a gleefully guilty pleasure.
The twisted brainstorm of NOFX bassist Fat Mike, No Use for a Name's Chris Shiflett and singer Spike Slawson, a pal who once worked at Mike's Fat Wreck label, the Gimmes were born back in 96 in San Francisco when the boys followed their dream of giving ultra-corny pop ditties a punk rawk makeover.
At first, explains Shiflett, the band (which also includes Lagwagon singer/guitarist Joey Cape and drummer Dave Raun) was a goofy hobby, a way of snagging free drinks while playing shithole bars for their buddies.
"We never thought we'd put out even one full-length, and here we are four albums later," says Shiflett on the line from California.
"The crazy thing is we'll probably all end up doing this till we're little old men. It's like a vacation from our other bands. There isn't the same pressure - 'This is my aaaart!' - cuz we're just destroying other people's songs!"
Destroy? In a manner of speaking. What the Gimmes do is strip away the excess from hooky pop classics, leaving a pogo-perfect three-chord skeleton and harmony-heavy sing-along choruses. At times, their chirpy punk versions even improve on the originals.
Take their latest disc, Take A Break (Fat Wreck), a set of revamped soul and R&B standards, where the Gimmes' zany take on I'll Be There hints at the tune's creepy, stalkerish undertones, and Slawson's heartfelt belting on Natural Woman puts even Aretha to shame.
"It's a celebration of black artists," Shiflett proudly asserts. "All of our albums are about paying homage to these great songwriters, even though we totally wreck all of their tunes.
"We've never gotten any feedback," adds Shiflett, "but I'm pretty sure our shit doesn't reach people like Elton John. Sir Elton's on a whole other level."
He says the key to a classic punk cover is simplicity.
"That was actually a problem with this album," says Shiflett. "There are so many layers of emotion on a good R&B or soul song, and when you strip it down, you mess up the vibe."
Speaking of messing up, the disc's first video just happens to be for the band's cover of alleged statutory rapist R. Kelly's inspiring I Believe I Can Fly. In it, the boys, decked out in snazzy 60s wedding band suits, run wild in San Francisco while a slew of karaoke fans croon the ballad at a club. And, hey, the lyrics light up on the screen so you can sing along at home!
An added twist here is the dizzying array of performers who make karaoke cameos, including Dave Grohl (of Shiflett's other band, the Foo Fighters), Sum 41's Derek Whibley, Jello Biafra (who flaps his arms while sporting a fez) and a bored-looking Paris Hilton.
"They invited a whole bunch of people who were in town on the Warped Tour," Shiflett says. "The only one that weirded me out at first was Paris."
So, is the blond socialite, like, a big punk fan?
"I don't want to start a rumour here, but I've heard she's dating the singer from Sum 41."
And are the guys gonna contribute a portion of the profits to R. Kelly's legal defence fund?
"He's doing fine without us. We're gonna try to focus on keeping Joey away from the young ones."