NOFX’s Fat Mike Discusses Celebrating 25 Years With Fat Wreck Chords
NOFX have been a staple of the melodic hardcore punk scene for over 30 years now, and in that time, frontman Mike Burkett -- a.k.a. Fat Mike -- has owned and operated a successful record label that's approaching its 25th anniversary this summer (Fat Wreck Chords).
The label has seen the release of some of the punk scene's greatest records from bands like Lagwagon, Screeching Weasel, Anti-Flag, Masked Intruder and NOFX themselves. Mike is known for his crassness and utter lack of giving-a-s--- when it comes to his demeanor; however, his dedication to flawless punk music is unmatched. Leading a band that released a record like 1994's timeless Punk In Drublic is proof enough.
We had the chance to chat with Mike about Fat Wreck Chords' success and 25th anniversary, as well as many other things including the future Broadway debut of his punk rock musical Home Street Home. Check out our exclusive interview below:
What's the key to owning and operating a successful record label for 25 years?
Well, it's different for everybody. For Fat Wreck Chords I really think it's trying to do one thing right, you know? Keeping it a punk rock label. We never tried to expand into other styles of music really, just a little here and there, but basically every band we've signed I had to like and they had to be affiliated with the punk rock genre and just good music. I never wanted to fool anybody. A lot of labels put out two good songs on a record and when you buy the record it sucks. I don't let bands get away with that s---.
What do you hope to accomplish on the Fat Wreck Chords upcoming anniversary tour?
What inspired it was just NOFX talking about doing different shows with Rise Against and then we said, s---, we should put some other Fat Wreck bands on ... plus it was our 25th anniversary, so it just kind of came together organically. Epitaph [Records] did one last year that I went to and I thought, "This is really fun." They only had four or five bands on theirs, but I figured we should do a whole weekend thing in San Francisco and then we're going to take it on the road. One thing about Fat Wreck Chords is that all the bands know each other and everyone is friends with people in the label. Bands are not a product for us, so taking them on tour will be a s---load of fun for us. The other thing about a Fat Wreck Chords tour is that we really only sign bands that are alcoholics and drug users. There are very few bands that aren't those type of people, which is why the Fat tour is really fun. There might be a sober section of 10 people but then there's 150 drunks, and that's the kind of label I wanted.
Are you playing a mix of songs or mostly the early stuff?
I change the setlist for NOFX every night. It was funny though, we were playing Punk In Drublic in England and halfway through I asked who wanted us to finish the album and people yelled but then I asked who wanted us to play new stuff and more people were yelling. That is surprising, but I think NOFX has been able to keep the quality of songs up all these years so that's why you hear stuff like that. People want to hear our new songs.
Did you consider bringing back some of the bands that were first signed to Fat Wreck all those years ago, like Propaghandi?
Yeah, Propaghandi are playing in San Francisco, they just didn't want to do the whole tour. It's super cool because Propaghandi left the label awhile ago, but we still seem to do things with them because they're still friends. Except for Screeching Weasel, we've stayed friends with every band that has left the label. I think, anyway.
You've produced your share of records since opening your doors 25 years ago. Would you say that you're easy to work with in the studio?
Oh, I'm really easy. I always give bands the final say. I'm a song producer, so I don't really get sounds, but I help bands with melodies and lyrical ideas. I always say, if you don't like the direction we're going in, just say so and we'll do something else. I do like producing and I've been doing it for so many years, although I only do it once or twice a year now. If a band isn't into it, I'll just say, "You know what, do it yourselves, no hard feelings," because I don't want to work with a band that doesn't want my knowledge.
You've talked about listening to the Descendents' album Milo Goes to College when you were younger. Without it, would you have been as inspired to be where you are today?
Yeah, for sure. What really changed the course of NOFX from being a hardcore band to a melodic hardcore band was Bad Religion. Descendents, they had a part in my childhood, but Suffer by Bad Religion was really the record that inspired me. All it did was remind me how much I love Bad Religion. I had been seeing and listening to Bad Religion for awhile then -- How Could Hell Be Any Worse? is one of my favorite records, and NOFX was listening to FU's and Subhumans and Gangrene, and you know, American hardcore bands. Our tastes didn't change, but we just started to think more melodic and that's really how we got our sound. I think it's really funny when people call us a pop-punk band or something. If you listen to a song like "Linoleum," that's f---ing hardcore punk.
Do you think the political themes on albums like The War on Errorism are relatable to our current state of the government?
Yeah, just because George Bush is on the cover doesn't mean it's only for that time. I think every song on the record relates to the world and the political system in America. They're not dated, and a song like "The Idiots Are Taking Over," that's just going to happen to the world under any circumstances. It's just because poor, undereducated people have more kids, that's how it is. If you live in a democracy, what happens is that uneducated people vote, and you get mediocre leaders. You know, I've always felt that way. I had a political science teacher that used to say, "I should get 100 votes, I've been studying political science all of my life, why do I get the same vote as you f---ing freshman?" [Laughs] And I've always thought I like that. I like to think that everyone should vote, yeah, but the more educated you get, the more votes you should have. Going by regular democracy and majority rules does not work. It's not fair if you live in a place with uneducated people. The Supreme Court finally made gay marriage legal -- I mean, Jesus Christ, how long did that take?!
[Your guitarist] Hefe plays trumpet on the occasional NOFX song ... what prevented you guys from ever becoming an all-out ska band?
Well, the problem is that Eric Melvin isn't a good enough guitarist to do ska. He can do reggae okay, but ska is kind of hard. You know, we've been playing ska for years and years but we're a hardcore punk band. We've switched between different styles here and there but going ska? No f---ing way. And you know what, Operation Ivy were just so good at it that you just can't get any better. They took a style of music and perfected it, kind of like Nirvana did.
What inspired you to do a musical like Home Street Home at this point in your career, and will you ever bring the show to the east coast?
Yeah, it's funny, I'm working on it right now and I took a break to do this interview. The plan is to open it up on Broadway within a year. So, right now we're working on it still. We did three weeks in San Francisco and it all sold out and it was great, but we still feel that we could do better. Once you go to Broadway, you better be ready, it better be good. We are 90 percent there, some reviews were 4/5 stars, and we're just working to get 5/5 stars.
You've been vocal about your S&M practices in the bedroom and your abuse of alcohol and drugs. What makes you enjoy being a masochist? Do you ever think about being gentler with yourself?
[Laughs] I don't know, I'm funny like that, I don't even shower. I shower about once every two weeks. The body is a temple right? I do take care of myself though, I ride my bike almost every day and I eat right. I eat really healthy, and I think you just need to balance it out. Who wants to go through life only doing one drug like alcohol or only having one kind of sex? Life's too short, you have to get weird. If you don't get weird, you're weird. Me and my fiancee Soma, we've been having sex for six years and it's always different, it's always something new. People don't do that. Last week we celebrated six years and we had the best sex of our f---ing relationship. So, I'm not the weird one, I'm the normal one.
If you had to choose one album, unless you think it hasn't been released yet, which album is your Mona Lisa of NOFX albums?
It's tough, it's tough, but I'd have to go with So Long and Thanks For All the Shoes. I also like Wolves In Wolves Clothing a lot. Very underrated.