NOFX, Fat Mike And The World’s Best Job
First Ditch Effort, the latest effort from the veteran pop-punk act NOFX, finds frontman/bassist Fat Mike exploring issues of self-loathing and mortality. The approach he took on NOFX: The Hepatitis Bathtub And Other Stories, the band’s memoir, influenced his approach on the album. The strident album opener “Six Years On Dope” features a mix of spoken and sung vocals and sounds like a Bad Religion tune on steroids. We phoned Fat Mike, who was in Cincinnati working on his musical Home Street Home, to talk about the album.
I think of you and of NOFX as a symbol of independence and punk rock authenticity. Is that something that you’re conscious of?
I don’t think about it. It’s just something I do. We put out our own records, but we didn’t put our own book because we wanted to get on the New York Times bestseller list. It’s hard to do that on your own. I’m also having a hard time doing this musical because you can’t go to Broadway on your own. You need to work with other people.
What inspired you to take the DIY route?
I always thought it was a smart way to do it. I knew that we weren’t a band that was going to be a commercially viable radio band. Once we figured out that we could sell this many records and only draw so many people, why share the money with anybody else? A lot of bands want to see how big they can get. We wanted to see how happy we could be. That’s what we accomplished. We did it right, but only for us. Green Day did it right for them, but we did it right for us.
Did you set out to write songs that were more melodic?
When we first started out, we were terrible. We were a hardcore band and I had no idea how to write a melody. When I got Bad Religion’s Suffer in 1988, that’s when I remembered the punk rock group that I grew up on. Instead of sounding like a New York hardcore band, we thought we should sound like a L.A. melodic band. We’re still a hardcore band, but our music is just melodic. Why we’d do it? Just because we can. Songs are better that way. Melody makes songs better — not every song — but you can’t argue against that. The most memorable music has melody.
Did you draw from punk or from pop?
Pretty much punk. I learned a lot in [Me First and the] Gimme Gimmes because we learned a lot of pop songs. I learned some cool chord progressions. But I listen to punk rock 90 percent of the time.
What was it like growing up in L.A.?
You should check out our book because the L.A. punk scene was the most violent scene to ever exist. It wasn’t just going out to hear some great music. The chances were that you would get beat up or involved in some kind of a fight. There was always sketchiness. L.A. had so many gangs and L.A. is so spread out that if you came from the Valley to a punk show downtown you brought 30 or 40 of your friends so you knew those people and everyone would land in some spot where the punk show was. It wasn’t a united scene. It’s the only place in the country where Discharge would play and there’d be 3500 people there. If you have that many people from that many different cities, it gets violent.
It wasn’t like that in San Francisco?
No. I moved there in 1985. I hardly ever saw fights. It’s a smaller city and everyone knows each other.
Talk about the process of writing NOFX: The Hepatitis Bathtub and Other Stories.
I read a few books — the Mötley Crüe book The Dirt and Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk. I thought we had a different story. I told the band that if we told all our stories we would have a real interesting book on our hands. We weren’t thinking New York Times bestseller but it hit for three weeks. The reviews have been really good so we’re pretty happy about it.
Did you write it yourself or work with a co-writer?
We worked with the guy who filmed [the documentary series] Backstage Passport. He interviewed us and then he put it together and we edited it. It’s all our stories. We modeled it after The Dirt, but anyone who reads it will think it’s dirtier than The Dirt. Mötley Crüe told the stuff you expect. The stuff we talk about is really dark. There’s murder, rape and molestation and lots of heroin and drug dealing and things you don’t think of when you think of NOFX. People think we’re a fun band, but in the ’80s we used to sell acid on tour. Our drummer was a junkie for six years. We had one guitar player who would rob people’s houses when we were on tour, unbeknownst to us. There’s a lot of dark shit in there.
How did the band persevere?
We don’t know how we got through those first six to eight years when no one liked us and we weren’t making any money and there was no future in punk rock. Once we got into ‘91, I remember one year we made eight grand and thought we could live off that. Then, we got bigger and bigger each year. Why would you quit doing this when you have the best job in the world? Punk rock is the best job in the world. You play five nights a week for an hour and 15 minutes. You don’t have to practice very much. If you fuck up, nobody cares, and it’s actually kind of charming. You don’t have to answer to anybody.
How did the book contribute to the songwriting on First Ditch Effort?
Since we told all our secrets, I just felt more comfortable singing about things I might have had trepidations singing about. The last song I wrote, “I’m a Transvest-lite,” was about cross-dressing, something I kept private. But now, all my secrets out there. Fuck, after this book and this record, I have no pride and no shame and that’s a great place to be.
Do you think the country is more open to things in the book and on the record?
Some places in this country. Blue states. That’s what’s interesting about life in general and communities. When you live in a city, people are generally nice to each other. They’re a lot nicer than if you live in the country where people are scared of each other. When you have to live on a block with people of different races and orientations, you suddenly realize everyone is the same. Even in red states there are pockets of blue, which are the populated areas.
We have this idealized notion of life in the country.
It’s weird being in Texas last year. We were at SXSW and it was the first time I noticed that people carry guns everywhere there.
What was it like to work with Cameron Webb (Motörhead, Alkaline Trio)?
It was great. We had recorded with him before a couple of times here and there. We love to work with Bill Stevenson but he only had three weeks to make the record. I didn’t want to rush it. Cameron wanted to spend the next two months on it, so we could think about it. I was strung out on drugs at the time, and I wanted to take my time too. It worked out well. It’s a different album musically and lyrically and production-wise. We recorded some of it at his place and some at my place, Motor Studios.
The song “Ditch Effort” was the result of the band jamming. What’s the story there?
We never jam. I teach them songs and we record them. With that song, I came with a riff and we were in the same room and played it and it was cool. We used those drums from the demo and not from the studio recording.
Is “I Don’t Like Me Anymore” really about you or is about a persona?
When I was using drugs and waking up in the morning and looking at myself in the mirror, it was like, “Oh man.” I would get up and snort a line of Percocet and coke, and I didn’t like myself. I never hit a big bottom like people hit rock bottom. It became a daily routine and I didn’t want to be that person. It’s not like I really fucked up in my life. I still made this record and wrote a musical and did a book and did a book tour. I was a functional drug addict. I never did that much drugs either. I did enough to where it kept me happy but not to the point when I was all fucked. It’s hard when you have lots of money. Towards the end, I hired this guy who came on tour with us and held the drugs in a safe. He’d only give me a certain amount. It’s pretty smart.
Was it difficult to break your drug habit?
It wasn’t that difficult. It was six or eight days that were pretty lame. During a lot of that time, I was hiking and surfing and exhausting myself, and that helps. If you had to lie in bed for eight days and just feel how bad you felt, that would suck. I was like, let’s walk for ten miles. You stop thinking about it after a while. It’s like that. It’s more like having the flu. You feel like shit but you want to go do something anyway.
How many of the new songs do you play at the show?
We’ll play for or five of them. We haven’t practiced yet. We don’t practice before a tour. For this tour, we have no practice. We have one sound check. It’s up to each band member to learn the songs. We won’t play them great for a while but we will play them.
Upcoming 2016 Shows
@ House of Blues (Cleveland, OH)
@ Sokol Auditorium (Omaha, NE)
@ Liberty Hall (Lawrence, KS)
@ Gas Monkey Live! (Dallas, TX)