An Interview with Fat Mike of NOFX: Punks In Punks’ Clothing

An Interview with Fat Mike of NOFX: Punks In Punks’ Clothing

—by , August 12, 2015

08-12 AQ Cover - NOFX 0 Band Shot (Photo by Ben Garcia)

Over 30 years after the beginning of legendary NOFX and 25 years since the launch of his wildly successful label Fat Wreck Chords, Fat Mike still shows no signs of watering down his no-apologies punk demeanor. In honor of Fat Wreck’s quarter-century of business, NOFX, alongside multiple labelmates such as Lagwagon and Masked Intruder, will trek across the country on a three-week tour before peaking into a two-day celebration in San Francisco near the tour’s end.

Reaching peak commercial success in the mid-‘90s with the now seminal album, Punk In Drublic, NOFX have long remained a staple in the punk scene. The band keep their sound rooted in the earliest days of the genre with unashamed sloppiness and a dutiful maintenance of their ideals and wild sense of fun.

While NOFX started in 1983, Fat Wreck was born seven years later in 1990 to Mike and his (now former) wife Erin. Together, they created one of the most impressive punk labels to date, releasing content from The Descendents, Propagandhi, No Use For A Name and of course, NOFX. The label has also curated impressive compilations, including Rock Against Bush Volumes I and II. This political presence remains obvious while looking through the label’s notable discography.

We were lucky enough to interview Mike before the tour began and chatted about the legacy of his work and his most recent project, the musical Home Street Home.

What sparked the idea to play Punk In Drublic in full starting a while back?

Well people like that record so we know a lot of the songs. The real reason is sometimes when you have a show where ticket sales aren’t that good so you gotta play a record so more people come.

Would you ever want to play other records in full?

You know, our records are really too hard to play. Maybe we could pull them off but we can’t play all our songs, they’re too hard. But we know about 100 songs.

You’ve said in the past that “The Decline” is your best piece of work, why do you feel that way?

Well it took me six months to write one song. And when I was done I’d say we recorded it and were about to press it and I went back and fixed all the parts I didn’t think were good enough. [And] it’s our longest song.

Are you still doing work on Home Street Home? I saw you had a few shows already.

 Yeah we had three weeks in [San Francisco.] We’re workshopping it right now at the office in L.A. Hopefully it’ll be on Broadway in six or eight months.

What was it like to see it come together after so many years?

It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I’ve had to chop about 25 songs and it’s pretty incredible because no other art, you know, movies don’t take this long, records don’t take this long, books don’t take this long. Five years is about minimum for a musical. And it’s just a lot of fuckin’ work. It keeps getting better and you don’t know it’s done until it opens.

What was it like to immerse yourself in that Broadway world coming from the punk scene that doesn’t tend to crossover too much with that realm?

I don’t know, I just always liked musicals and Rocky Horror changed my life and then Hedwig And The Angry Inch changed my life. And Green Day came out with a musical even though it wasn’t really a musical, it was just a record on stage with some people dancing around and singing. And I just thought punk rock has to be represented in that art form. And, you know, I started writing some of these songs 18 years ago. And five years ago me and my fiancée really started kicking ass on it. It takes a long time.

How has punk changed for you over the last 30 years?

Well punk rock, like real punk rock, got big in the early ‘90s. But you can still go to a show… and still see 40 people there and the band is terrible, drunk and the punk scene hasn’t changed that much, punk just got big [and] mainstream. The actual punk scene hasn’t changed.

Are newer punk bands as political as they were back then?

Maybe not. The 1990s were pretty political. It just seemed like in the ‘80s everybody could be against Reagan. But nowadays if a band really wants to get popular they stay away from politics because it hurts your career. In the ‘80s, early ‘90s, there was no career.

I saw on Twitter the contract you wrote up for Pears, are those always done so casually?

No, I mean there’s four or five more bands that we don’t even have contracts for. Like Good Riddance have been on the label for like 20 years, 19 years, and they don’t even have a contract. So some bands we do a lot, some bands we do nothing and it doesn’t really matter. Bands have been under contracts and want to leave and we just say, “Well, then leave.” We have other bands.

It’s been a while since you guys reconfigured the record label. Looking back, was it the right decision to scale it back so much?

Well yeah, if you want to stay in business you scale back. I’m still fucking stoked that we’re still in business. It’s just a hard business right now, but we seem to be doing pretty good. It’s because we’ve really stuck with doing punk rock right. Like KFC. Just good punk bands and then people believe in you. It’s like changing the style of music with the trends, people don’t believe in your label anymore.

Do you guys like playing festivals or having shorter tours more?

Well the tour is only three weeks because we have kids and we’re old.

Is that how touring is different than it was 15, 20 years ago?

I guess. We have more fun now.

Why is that?

Well I started doing drugs when I was 32 so that’s more fun. We just do what we want now and we know how to do it right. And it’s just really nice to have fans that have been seeing you for 30 years. It’s rewarding.

When you were first starting out did you ever think you’d cultivate that kind of a fan base?

Nope. We were an extremely terrible band when we started and we were just doing it because what’s better?

Obviously your daughter knows you’re involved with music, but does she have any understanding about Fat Wreck’s legacy yet?

No, but what she doesn’t know about me, she’s going to find out over the next few years. So it should be interesting.

 

NOFX will be performing on Aug. 13 at the Gramercy Theatre, and on Aug. 14 at the Stone Pony Summer Stage and Aug. 15 at the Festival Stage at Penn’s Landing for the Fat Wrecked For 25 Years tour. Their most recent release, Self-Entitled, is available through Fat Wreck Chords. For more information, go to nofxofficialwebsite.com.


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