Posted November 20, 2013 by Jeff in Tunes

San Francisco Giant: Fat Mike reflects on NOFX’s 30 years

NOFX by Katie Hovland
NOFX by Katie Hovland

Not just another snotty punk band, NOFX isn’t your average melodic hardcore group. These guys can write some great songs — as is evidenced on the terrific 2004 comp The Greatest Songs Ever Written (By Us). Their latest single, the hard-driving “Stoke Extinguisher,” is the title track on a terrific new EP that features their cover of “The Shortest Pier,” a tune on the tribute The Songs of Tony Sly. NOFX singer Fat Mike put together the tribute to the late Sly. He spoke to us via phone from the BDSM dungeon he owns.

Talk a bit about the Tony Sly tribute.
I put the comp together because even though No Use for a Name had sold shitloads of records, years had gone by since they sold lots of records. Their big records were sold in the ’90s. His solo albums only sold 10 or 20,000. 12 Song Program is the best album I’ve ever put out. I wanted the world to know that we just lost a great artist. I wanted people to hear his songs. I called up a lot of bands and asked them to do his solo songs. People responded in the same way I hoped they would and didn’t know he had so many great songs. Now, more people will hear this than ever heard his solo stuff. It was nice to call the bands. Most of the time, I picked the songs too. I didn’t force it down anyone’s throat.

The opener “Biggest Lie” is really beautiful.
That’s from the last No Use record, Record of the Year. Karina [Denike] picked that one on her own. I was like, “Really?” It’s a really fast hardcore song. She made it so amazing. I think it’s the perfect opener. I told her I was opening the record with her. I know her name isn’t as big as Rise Against, but it’s all about the record.

This marks NOFX’s 30th anniversary as a band. Did you do anything to celebrate?
No. I mean, I celebrate after every show. Maybe that counts.

I know on your website there’s an account of your first practice. What do you remember of your first practice?
It’s funny. I totally remember it. I remember thinking our guitar player should really buy a guitar amp. I didn’t know anyone in the band. They just called me because they heard I played bass. It was weird showing up not knowing anyone. I went to see Code of Honor later night. That’s about it.

Did you have any sense it would be a relationship that would last this long?
Of course not. I didn’t even think we’d actually play a show. But me and Eric Melvin started hanging out right away. We wouldn’t practice, but just skateboard.

The difference is that these bands want to get popular. The goal is to be a rock star. Our goal was to play a party and maybe get laid.

Did you have any songs written at that point?
None. After practice we had two songs done. It took us quite a while. I always tell new bands that want something to happen that it took us eight years before anybody liked us. These bands are talking about a year or two. These new bands are like, “Shit didn’t happen for us. We’re getting new members and changing our name.” I’m like, “You’ve been around for 14 months. What the fuck?” The difference is that these bands want to get popular. The goal is to be a rock star. Our goal was to play a party and maybe get laid. That’s the biggest difference between punk bands these days and those days. The motivation is totally different.

Can you pinpoint when that changed?
It was probably when Nirvana broke and people started thinking they could maybe make a living doing it. In the ‘80s, nobody could make a living. There were two moments I remember as far as record sales go. I remember this band called Verbal Assault. They sold 10,000 records. This was like ’88. We were blown away that you could sell 10,000 records. Bad Religion sold 12,000 of Suffer the year it came out. We were blown away by that. That was about the number that Fugazi could do. If you could do 10,000, you were kings. What does that mean? You make no money and maybe draw 500 people at shows and sell out CBGBs. That was the big goal. Nirvana was the first band that could play a whole song that was three chords and it was fast and angry and the lyrics didn’t make any sense and it worked. They had punk sensibilities.

When you started out, there weren’t many bands playing what is commonly called pop-punk. What inspired you to play that style of music?
I must disagree, sir. We’re not pop-punk whatsoever. We have melody. The term that was coined in the ’80s and ’90s was melodic hardcore. We’re fast hardcore. Pop-punk was Green Day. That’s what the old L.A. punk sound is. It’s Bad Religion and the Dickies. It’s really fast melodic punk rock. Lyrically, pop music is bubble gum lyrics. We have nothing to do with that. We have socially offensive and political lyrics. I’m not going to sing a song about a girl. I sing songs about two girls but not one.

How different was San Francisco from L.A.?
I moved to San Francisco in 1985 because L.A. was too violent. My good friend got stabbed in the lung for no reason at all. I didn’t like it. I wasn’t going to die because I wanted to go to shows.  San Francisco had a big skinhead problem, but you wouldn’t get shot or stabbed. As long as you knew you could merely get beat up, it wasn’t so bad.

I hate to surprise you with this but I do make six figures. I’m a one percent-er. But I’m down with the 99 percent.

How can you afford to live in the city? It seems like everyone who lives there has to make six figures.
I hate to surprise you with this but I do make six figures. I’m a one percent-er. But I’m down with the 99 percent. One percent in this country means that you have a double income of over 260 grand. It’s not like Rockefeller money. San Francisco is probably the best city in the world. Not if you’re poor. But it’s so tolerant and bike friendly. Great food. It’s a nice place.

Do you have good major record label stories?
There’s only one. We took a meeting once and it left a bad taste in our mouths. It was Hollywood Records. They told us that if we took a deal with Epitaph, we’d be second fiddle to the Offspring our whole lives. We were like, “We’re better than Offspring; they just sell more records. Fuck you.” The Offspring went that route and we took our route. They sold more records but who the fuck cares? We got paid a good royalty and got popular. We do it ourselves now. Right now, we have done seven records on Fat Wreck Chords and eight on Epitaph. I would never switch careers with the Offspring. No fucking way.

What made you not want to do interviews for a period?
It was when punk rock was breaking. It was always the same thing. It was about what did we think about riding the pop-punk wave. No one asked any good questions. I was just over it. We weren’t using the newspapers or magazines. They were using us. I started again when I was trying to get John Kerry in office. I wanted to start doing interviews for a purpose. A lot of good that did.

When did you get political?
I was always politically minded but not active. When Reagan was in office, that’s when I became active and realized how fucked we were. We’ve gotten more and more fucked as years go on. But then you watch a TV show like Boardwalk Empire and you realize it’s always been corrupt. You just have to deal with it. They’ve just learned how to do it better. Right now, I’m convinced that Obama isn’t in control of anything. The military is in charge of everything. There’s a picture after they got Osama bin Laden and everyone is sitting around this table and they guy at the head of the table is the second in charge of JSOP. Obama is sitting on the side. That shows what this government really is. It slipped out of George Bush’s hands.

With so many songs, what do you put on your set lists?
I change the set every night. The band never knows. We know about 100 songs. It keeps us off our toes because we fuck up a lot.

Bands don’t offer last one year, let alone 30. What’s been the key to your survival?
We just got lucky. We have a good bunch of dudes and there are never any arguments or fights. We feel fortunate we get to do this for a living. I write the songs and there’s no argument there. That’s what usually breaks up bands. Everyone else isn’t concerned with writing songs.

You should write a book about the band.
We’re working on one. It’s awesome. It’s not what people expect at all.



Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected].