Kings of candor
NOFX’s Fat Mike chops down Bush and explains why the band is still at it after 20 years
Over the course of our static-filled 20-minute phone conversation, it’s clear that NOFX singer and bassist Fat Mike is content living the double life of a reckless punk rocker and a father and husband who’s concerned about the country’s current state of affairs.
But even this guy, who in 2004 mounted a campaign to keep Bush out of the White House, can take only so much.
“I’m a big fan of Democracy Now, and I like to know what’s going on in the world, but you can’t listen to that shit every day. It’ll drive you fuckin’ nuts.”
You can’t say he hasn’t tried to make a change, launching PunkVoter.com and heading the release of two Rock Against Bush compilations. And the band’s 10th full-length, Wolves in Wolves’ Clothing, continues in the tradition of 2003’s War On Errorism, with Fat Mike’s barbed political and social rants rumbling underneath frenetic riffs and pop hooks.
Yet there’s another topic that has been rousing Fat Mike’s ire these days.
“It’s not Republicans and conservatives that are ruining this country, it’s the religious right,” he offered. “Because you believe in God, and you have a house of worship you don’t have to pay tax? Shit like that pisses me off.”
Even in the heat of addressing weighty issues, the sardonic sense of humor in his lyrics remains consistent: “They got a mandate, they don’t want man-dates / They got so many hates and people to despise,” Fat Mike sings on “Leaving Jesusland,” where “they want life canned and bland in the fatherland.”
NOFX’s anti-establishment stance goes further than politics and dates to their humble beginnings in Orange County, where Fat Mike, guitarist Eric Melvin and drummer Erik Sandin recorded their first demo (produced by Germs drummer Don Bolles) in 1983—the same year Return of the Jedi hit theaters, and the year McDonald’s introduced a tiny, molded piece of mystery meat called the Chicken McNugget. Ironically, the man in the White House at the time was also disdained by many in the punk culture (see Reagan Youth).
NOFX released its debut EP on independent Mystic Records in 1985 before signing with Bad Religion frontman Brett Gurewitz’s Epitaph Records in 1989. In the early ‘90s, Fat Mike started his own label, NOFX added a second guitarist in El Hefe, and 1994’s Punk in Drublic went gold while the band resisted the temptation to follow Green Day and The Offspring to what some consider that elusive major-label utopia.
Now, nearly a quarter-century older, the members of NOFX find themselves the reluctant elder statesmen of punk rock. And at age 40 (that’s 280 in punk years), Fat Mike still refers to himself as a “lifer” and doesn’t think punk rock has straight-lined yet.
“I think punk rock is healthy and well,” he said. “It’s just some bands under the guise of punk rock, or whatever they want to call themselves, have brought it to a commercial level and exploited it, which is fine, I got no problem with it. But there are plenty of clubs where I live where you can see a good underground band play in front of 100 drunk people, and everyone’s having a good time. That’s what punk rock is in my mind—good music played by bad, wasted musicians.”
Fans will get to see first-hand what it’s all about soon enough as NOFX continues working on a DVD that will capture life on the road, which Fat Mike boldly compares to The Dirt, the tell-all book that details Mötley Crüe’s ‘80s heyday when coke, booze and groupies were as abundant as the dimples on Vince Neil’s present-day ass.
When asked how NOFX has managed to stand the test of time, Fat Mike says the band simply goes about things the right way—touring only three months out of the year, and mixing in plenty of golf between gigs.
He adds that after 24 years, the members of NOFX still genuinely like each other, and there’s respect between them and their fans that not many other bands have managed to accomplish.
“We don’t bullshit them. We don’t put on some bullshit show and we don’t do a routine. We go on stage and get very drunk and have a really good time.”