Interview: Fat Mike of NOFX
“Down With The Ship”, that’s a true story, that’s just an analogy for how I felt about Fat Wreck Chords, four years ago, when things were going really badly for us, and I was ready to just cash out. I’m kind of hard on myself, but there were a couple years where we were losing so much money. We also had eighteen employees. When we started doing things right, and not spending so much money on band advances, and marketing, and today we’re down to five people, now we’re making money again. Not very much, but…
Yeah, at one point, I was just like “Fuuuck.” Not that you can really sell your label, because no one wants to buy labels anymore. But the idea was just to have our warehouse full of stuff, put the music up on iTunes, and not put out any new records. That’s what a lot of labels did, that’s what Lookout! did, that’s what Nitro did, that’s what Kung Fu did. You don’t have to keep going. Though I really enjoy having a label, I really like the bands we put out.
You have said that you do this simply to put out releases by bands you enjoy. There’s no desire to discover new frontiers in the music industry? The compact disc is 30 years old this month, download sales & streaming appear to be killing physical media altogether. Any particular ideas about the industry’s future?
I don’t know. I’m going with what we’ve been doing. We’re doing great on our vinyl right now. And I think there’s always a place for a record label. It’s like a screening; if you get signed to a label, people think your band must be pretty good? You can’t go to fuckin’ myspace and listen to a hundred thousand different bands.
The song “Cell Out” on this album, that’s based on a true story as well?
Yeah, it’s based on two true stories, it didn’t all happen one night. You know, there’s actually more to the story I didn’t put in, because no one would believe it. It’s one of those things, you can’t put something in a song that’s too unbelievable, because people will call bullshit on it. That night, I was watching a band, I can’t remember who it was, and I felt something on my face. I wiped it off, I felt it again…some girl was squirting milk out of her tit, onto my face. Yeah. And that’s the girl who ended up giving me shit, calling me a sell out. It was so ridiculous, people wouldn’t believe it…that shit just doesn’t happen, you know?
[Laughing] There’s some weird fuckin’ people up in San Francisco. What is the sound effect you put on that song? Did you use some kind of bass fx pedal? Is it a synth?
That’s a keyboard, it’s just what I heard in my head.
You confirmed on Twitter that “I, Fatty” is about Fatty Arbuckle and his biography of the same name. Was this written in conjunction with “I, Melvin” off the last live record?
Well we did “I, Melvin”, and then I saw the book, I, Fatty, my girlfriend bought it for me, it’s a really cool book. So I thought it would be cool to write that song, because people are gonna think that song’s about me, because of the title, and it’s not. I like bugging people like that. When we did that last live album, we ended with “The Decline”, but you only get to hear like twenty seconds of it. That bothered a lot of people, I think it bothered everyone who bought that record. I guess that’s what punk rock is, really…it’s bothering people.
Sometimes you’ve gotta needle people to know where they really stand. The Cokie Concert, that wasn’t merely about bothering people, but it was certainly part of the experience, and as it turns out, you learn a lot about other people when you mess with them.
Yeah, Damian from Fucked Up was there, and he said: “That was the most fucked up thing I’ve ever seen,” and I loved that. It was about doing something that hasn’t been done before. And juggling. I told a story about how I helped my mom die, and then I juggled.
I’m still wondering why your song titles are written as “Cell Out” or “This Machine is 4”, is that to bother people as well?
Well it makes things more interesting. Like “This Machine is 4” is a super cool song title, because you look at it, and you have no idea what the song’s about. It’s kind of like how I like going to see a movie, I don’t like to see previews at all, I just hear something’s good and I go see the movie.
That actually was the first song I heard off this record, without knowing much of anything about it. For me, it holds up as the Self-Entitled track that’s the most familiar-sounding, as compared to the band’s recent output.
Yeah, the only thing about this track that’s a little different is I intentionally tried to write songs that have some choruses, because I never do that. It’s pretty rare when a NOFX song has a chorus that repeats. If you go back, all our big songs, like “Linoleum” and “Bob”, they don’t have a chorus.
I’ve noticed that, playing along on guitar over the years. There are more things to memorize, because a lot of your songs continue to change the whole way through.
Yeah, that’s a thing about NOFX that people just don’t copy. All the big bands, Bad Religion, Rancid, Dropkicks, Flogging Molly, whatever- it’s all choruses, every song. I just think it’s harder to not do that. It’s easy to write a chorus; it’s almost like, cheap? If you make a movie, you don’t go back to the best part three times! On TV, the little black kid, every episode, had to say, “What’chu talkin’ ‘bout, Wills?” That’s a chorus! I don’t wanna do that, I want new material.
I never thought of it that way.
Like Louie, with Louis C.K. Every episode of his series is different from the last, completely.
That’s very true, you never know what’s going to happen on that show. It’s risky, because with that style, he does have some misses, but when he hits, he really hits.
I feel like I’ve gotta ask you about that frat kid in Tennessee who did a party enema with a box of Franzia. You must’ve caught that?
Yeah, we got some national coverage!
He held a press conference last week to deny the whole thing, but for the most part, he seemed preoccupied with making sure everyone knew that he wasn’t gay.
What a joke that is. Nothing gay happens in fraternities! Pretty much, if you join a fraternity…you’re gay. You’re not only gay, you’re into gay BDSM. You volunteer for all this hazing, all this naked paddling by other dudes. Are you kidding me?
Speaking of BDSM, what’s the recovery regimen for a middle-aged man who endures so many beatings, not to mention the heavy drinking & drug habit? And don’t say ‘more kinky sex and booze and pills.’
Hey, you get cuts and bruises, you heal. Body’s designed that way. I’ve been doing this since I was 18, you get used to it. One other thing about the party enema…those are fun! If you do ‘em right…
Oh yeah, I meant to ask, when did you first encounter this concept?
I heard about it from some band, some old L.A. band, uhh…fuck……really trying to remember that name. Old band from Long Beach. Anyway, they told me about how they’d do that, they’d do beer enemas, and when people would pass out at parties, they’d just let it go, all over their faces! I didn’t actually try doing one until a few years ago. My girlfriend, she enjoys, uh…giving them. But you can’t do it with hard alcohol. It’ll fuckin burn your asshole.
Any news on Backstage Passport 2?
It’s all on film, we’re just editing it.
And someone’s putting out a book of NOFX stories in the future?
Yeah, that’s a gnarly book. Wayyy gnarlier than anyone expects. We’re hoping to have Backstage Passport 2 out before next Christmas, and the book’ll probably be after that.
Before you go, I’m on my way to L.A., what’s a spot I should check out while I’m there?
You know, I’m not the one to ask, I’m too old. I hang out in my dungeon.
And I do ‘hang out’ in the dungeon.
Nobody does puns better than NOFX.