“I try to keep punk rock punk. You’re not getting a nice story out of me.” The Fat Mike Interview

dec-2016-vandala-magazine-interview-noxHe co-owns one of the most successful independent punk rock record labels of all time; he has been a member and main songwriter of one of the most successful independent punk rock bands of all time; he wrote and helped produce a punk stage play; he’s now the coauthor of a New York Times bestselling oral biography of his band. His name is synonymous with punk rock royalty. He clearly is a man who needs no introduction, rendering this entire paragraph moot. He is, of course, Fat Mike. 

By Dustin Griffin
From December 2016 Vandala Magazine 
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I know you’ve been doing a lot of press lately. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the last time you were so willing to do interviews was the War On Errorism/Punk Voter era. Why have you deiced to do so much press for this album?

Fat Mike: Well I think between our book and the album, that I actually have things to talk about. Where when we took the eight year break, it was kind of when punk was getting big. And it was the same f*cking questions every day and people didn’t really know who the band was.

Well I want to ask about the album right off the bat. Because this doesn’t sound like a 13th album from a band that’s 33 years old. It sounds more like a debut album from a young band ready to take on the world. How do you keep the fire in your belly after so many years?

Fat Mike: Well thank you very much, that’s a very nice compliment. You know, part of my personality is always pushing the envelope. And it’s really hard to stay relevant after thirty years. And that’s why I did The Decline twenty years ago. But I wanted to do something no one else had done, and really push. And even though I think our last few records have been good records, this one it seems is really touching people, in a way none of ours have before. Its super cool and it’s because I had to go somewhere I’d never gone before, which is really personal and also try to write songs that don’t sound like NOFX particularly. And that’s what people keep saying to me, it doesn’t sound like NOFX, but it does sound like NOFX. That’s a good place to be. Because you want to branch out, but you don’t want to change your sound.

NOFX last ditch effortWell I think you’ve accomplished that this time around. Whatever you’ve done with your albums, there’s always that mix of originality and recognition.

Fat Mike: What a lot of people don’t notice about us, is our most popular songs don’t have choruses. Like ‘Linoleum’ or ‘Bob’, there’s no choruses. No band does that.

Yeah, no punk band. That’s more of a hip hop thing.

Fat Mike: Yeah. And also, like the chord progression in ‘Generation Z’, that’s a f*cking gnarly chord progression. Sixteen chords in the verse. Punk bands don’t do that, they use four chords. The only band that kind of does it is Bad Religion, in some of their songs.

Is that your daughter at the end of ‘Generation Z’? Doing the background vocals?

Fat Mike: that’s Darla and also Tony Sly’s daughter Fiona Sly. My stepdaughter reads the
poem at the end.

dec-2016-vandala-magazine-nofx

FULL PHOTO GALLERY HERE

Well what I love about this song, and about your band, is that I often think I know what direction a song is headed in, then it goes somewhere else. I think ‘Generation Z’ is a good example of that. ‘California Drought’ is another.

Fat Mike: I think ‘California Drought’ has a guitar rhythm that no one’s ever heard before. I could be wrong.

Yeah it’s weird. The timing is very, it’s almost disorienting.

Fat Mike: It took me an hour and a half of just sitting there drinking, with a guitar and a guitar amp, trying to come up with a new rhythm. You know kind of like how ‘Linoleum’ was twenty-five years ago. So I kept playing and kept playing, and then I heard it. Then it took me twenty minutes to figure out what I did. Then when I taught the band, the band was like ‘what the f*ck?’ I also threw in some ragtime chords in parts.

It’s nice that you can still surprise your audience half a dozen times in an album. It’s fun for the fans and it has to be fun for you as well.

Fat Mike: Thank you, that really means a lot to me. Our last album was not surprising, just a solid NOFX album, this one is out of left field.

nofx-bookYeah and after all you’ve done; the book, the stage play, the band, the side projects. It always seems to be embraced by your fanbase. Do you have the best fans in the world?

Fat Mike: Well, we do have good fans, but they don’t stick with us because of that. I think it’s because our book is brutally honest, and no one’s written a book like that. And we put out solid records. I mean I care a lot about putting out quality products. When we were talking about doing the book, I said that I don’t want to do a book unless we’re all going to f*cking tell everything. Because bands have all those stories, bands have amazing stories; it’s just that we’re telling them. We’re telling things that are uncomfortable, are going to hurt, and our kids are going to suffer. You know, my daughter might get teased, ‘your dad’s a piss drinker’. And the lyrics I sing are f*cked up. But it’s my art and I’m not going to tone it down for anybody. Because we care, we put out good stuff. And that’s why we did nineteen songs (for this album) and took six off. You want to put out your best shit. I put my heart and soul into writing songs.

Plus, whether your daughter gets teased or not, which I would hope isn’t the case, what if you hadn’t released this book, or toned it down for her sake? When she’s older she might wonder why you wimped out and gotten more upset with you for holding back.

Fat Mike: Yeah and I told both my daughters, that when you turn eighteen you can never read this book, because, they don’t want to read it. You know what’s cool is, my daughter Darla, she’s twelve and she saw us play in L.A. last year and I was dressed in slutty clothes and she said ‘Dad, I know you wear dresses, but you look like a stripper’. And my step daughter, for father’s day, she gave me some high heels and she wasn’t kidding, it was a serious gift. How awesome is that? Because she was brought up in a polyamorous, BDSM family.

NOFX Edmonton 2016

FULL PHOTO GALLERY HERE

So it’s the norm.

Fat Mike: Yeah, but it’s not just the norm, it’s like living your lifestyle openly and freely. It may seem weird, but it should be the norm. We’re the ones living how we want to live. It’s other people who are afraid to live out their fantasies; those people are the ones who are weird.

And that freedom leads to best selling tell all books and honest, emotional records that really strike a chord with people.

Fat Mike: And it’s not just one song, a lot of times people will tell me what their favorite song (on a record) is and so far, it’s been every one of these songs have touched people. ‘Transvest-Lite’ has really moved people, it’s made a lot of dudes feel like they’re not alone. That was the hardest song for me to write.

Really?

Fat Mike: Yeah because, I talk a lot about BDSM sexuality, but being a cross dresser I’ve always been really private about. So that was a hard one for me.

Well speaking of hard songs. I know a lot has been written about ‘I’m So Sorry Tony’, but reading about Tony in the book and then listening to this song, I’m wondering if it gets harder or easier to talk about him as time passes?

Fat Mike: I don’t really know, I will tell you this: his death was the worst death in my life, the hardest. I wrote those lyrics six times and I changed them six times because I kept sending them to Bridgette, his wife, and she kept saying, ‘please don’t sing this’. Because I was just so honest about this, and she didn’t want it to get out there. And as it turned out, it turned out to be a really personal song and some of it’s about me. Instead of just talking about how he died, it’s about how it affected our daughters. Because our daughters are best friends. And when I’m around Fiona, there’s just a sadness when she sees me hanging out with Darla.

The song really makes the listener feel like they knew Tony better than they did.

Fat Mike: We lost a lot of people in punk rock, but he was different. He was such a sweet guy and such an amazing songwriter. It’s such a tragedy because people realize what a great songwriter he is a lot more now. One of the last things he said to me was ‘Mike, why is Joey (Cape) doing so much better than me, with his solo stuff? My songs are so good.’ And I go ‘I know dude, they are, but Joey, personality wise, he relates to people better’.

He’s like the class clown.

Fat Mike: That’s right. And Tony’s lyrics are so brutal. He’s talking shit about his marriage and horrible things he went through. His wife hasn’t even listened to his solo records, she can’t do it.

That’s hard.

Fat Mike: On one of No Use For A Name’s last tours, they had a stop in Regina and the show got cancelled because of lack of interest. They sold something like ten tickets. And he called me and said ‘what are we doing wrong?’ It was just heartbreaking. So yeah, he had some rough times and we were very close. And I wish I was closer towards the end because he was having a rough time.

People are reacting to this album as if it’s the first time NOFX has released deep, emotional songs. But you’ve always been deep on your albums. Coaster was the first time I was really taken aback by some of the sadness on that record, and your last album had some deep stuff on it as well, this might be your most vulnerable album, but it certainly isn’t the first. Do you feel that way?

Fat Mike: Totally. I think its funny how people are like ‘you guys have always been such a funny punk band. And, we’re funny on stage, but our records, 90% of the songs are serious songs. Social commentary, telling stories that have meaning. I’m actually working on a book explaining 100 of our songs, because people have all the wrong ideas about our songs, they don’t know what they’re about, or what we’re trying to say, so I think it’ll be an interesting read.

I’d read that.

Fat Mike: But there are brutal songs on our albums. We’re a punk band, not a pop band and that’s the difference. It’s way better to write a song that touches 10% of the people that hear it, than to write a song everybody likes. Songs on this album, like ‘Happy Father’s Day’, people are like ‘yeah, f*ck my dad too’. Just because you share the same blood doesn’t mean you owe those people shit. That’s why, I lost both my parents, but when Tony died, it hit me way harder.

And what’s the coolest thing about the Ramones a lot of people don’t get. It was poppy and upbeat, but those lyrics Dee Dee was writing? Brutal.

Fat Mike: Oh yeah, ‘53rd & 3rd’ and ‘KKK Took My Baby Away’, I mean we all know what that’s about. But it was hidden more.

It was hidden beneath poppy hooks, but anyone who picked up a lyric sheet and read it, I mean, Jesus Christ Dee Dee.

Fat Mike: Well yeah and that’s what we grew up on. Germs lyrics and Suicidal Tendencies lyrics. I mean lyrics used to be f*cked. Dead Kennedy’s ‘Stealing Peoples’ Mail’. Punk rock was inventive and I try to toe that line. I try to keep punk rock punk. You’re not getting a nice story out of me.

That’s interesting because even when I think back to albums like So Long and Thanks For All The Shoes, it’s the funnier songs that immediately come to mind, but there is a lot of dark material on there.

Fat Mike: ‘Dad’s Bad News’ and ‘Falling in Love’ and ‘Kids of the K-Hole’. A lot of songs on that record are brutal. But yeah ‘Monosyllabic Girl’ is on there too. So there’s a couple funny songs, but that’s a f*cking gnarly album lyrically. ‘Eat The Meek’, that’s f*cking serious. Even if you look at the song ‘Don’t Call Me White’, that song is hella serious. And a lot of people may say it’s not PC, but it’s stuff I was doing in debate class in college, and we were debating whether African Americans should get reparations for slavery. That’s what that song’s about. And does calling someone black have a negative connotation? I don’t think so. I don’t call black people African Americans, because I’ve said that too many times and people are like ‘I’m from Jamaica’ or they’re Nigerian. And then there was some American that introduced Nelson Mandela as African American, which is hilarious.

Yeah that’s smooth.

Fat Mike: I also know a lot of South Africans that are white.

The song ‘Oxy Moronic’ is probably the most classically NOFX song on the record. When the album first dropped, it was a witty, funny song with double entendre’s and some nice observations. Then a few weeks later, you open up Fat Mike’s Instagram and he’s posting videos from detox for prescription pill addiction and abuse. And you say ‘my God, this song isn’t funny at all’.

Fat Mike: It was interesting because I started writing the song and it was kind of a party song. And I was just using those words as like a fun NOFX song. And then I had my drug problems and I realized how I got totally conned by this doctor. I mean I’ve been doing drugs for seventeen years and it’s been ok. And the only time I got really f*cked up was when I tried to get off drugs by seeing this doctor. I just told this story to The Observer, the British newspaper, they’re doing a story about big pharma. Long story short, I went to see this doctor to get off these drugs and he put me on Suboxone, but would only put me on it if I did a three month program. I said, ‘three months? I’m only doing two pills a day’. I was just trying to quit safely. But it was a con, he just wanted a new patient for the next three months, so he put me on this pill. And the same thing happened to my wife. They put her on Suboxone for two years and she didn’t need it. So I went to another doctor and he said, ‘I’m going to put you on Suboxone for one week and you’ll be off’. And then I had three months sober, it was that easy. But doctors, they want patients to be life patients. It’s money and it’s such a scam. But I don’t want people to think that I’m anti-drug now. I blame pharmaceutical companies for making drugs that are harder to quit than heroin. The same people that make Oxycontin make Suboxone. They make the thing that hooks you and the thing that gets you unhooked, which you then get hooked on.

They don’t teach doctors natural medicine in school, they teach them pills.

Fat Mike: To treat the symptoms, not the disease. But if you can you should check out the lyrics for ‘Generation Z’, in the booklet. There’s twice as many lyrics, some hardcore shit in there. But what’s interesting about this NOFX record is it’s the first record I recorded and I was f*cking loaded every day, doing painkillers and drinking from eleven in the morning to one in the morning. That’s why I think the album’s a little different. I was having a good time, but also having a rough time.

Heading for bottom.

Fat Mike: Yeah, but I wasn’t going to hit bottom. That’s why, while I was recording I actually had a date set for when I was going to go into detox. Because I wasn’t going to get addicted to this shit, that’s not me. After every tour I would be sober for two weeks. So I didn’t really hit a bottom, I just wanted to get off pills.

NOFX has some great things to pick up. First of is the must read book “NOFX: The Hepatitis Bathtub and Other Stories” which we gave a 5/5. Also recently released is their latest album “First Ditch Effort “.

For more information and to follow them online visit:
Website: www.nofx.org
Facebook: www.facebook.com/NOFX
Instagram: www.instagram.com/nofx
Twitter: www.twitter.com/nofxband
Label/Tour Dates: www.fatwreck.com
Music Videos: www.youtube.com/fatwreck

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