Dude, I’ll admit it, there’s no credibility in liking NOFX. They’re critical kryptonite, easy to attack and mock. Two things endear me to them. 1.) When White Trash, Two Heebs, and a Bean was initially released, it hit me perfectly. Melodic, funny, fast, understandable. Plus, the ladies seemed to like it more than Crass for making out to (an important lesson for any single punk). I eventually wore out that tape. I bet I could karaoke that whole fuckin’ album and barely realize it. 2.) One of the last fights I got into, I totally won at a NOFX concert. It was in Ventura, probably around a decade ago. Das Klown opened. Some dude picked me out randomly (didn’t see him very well. I wasn’t wearing my glasses and taking photos), and he intentionally hit me square in the face, but this dude hit like his fist was a squishy package of hot dogs. I landed a couple of shots before the bouncers threw me out. I walked back to my truck, put on my glasses, put on a hoodie, showed my camera pass at the window, and got back into the show within five minutes. Good times.
I’m a loyal guy, especially to music that was right for me at the right time. Fat Mike, the lead singer and bassist of NOFX pretends he’s kinda dumb, but he’s not. He and his wife, Erin, have made Fat Wreck Chords one of the most successful, truly independent punk labels in the world work for quite some time.
NOFX has released quite a few records.
They tour a lot. They’ve even been to Asia and South America.
This interview was conducted in the summer of 2006, yet it’s oddly relevant.
Interview by Todd Taylor
Todd: Who’s the enemy?
Mike: The enemy is not the conservatives of America. It’s the religious people of America. I’m reading this book. It says not to be tolerant, even of moderates.
Todd: How would you have a belief system, then?
Mike: I haven’t gotten far enough to see if he’s just against people having faith, but if you’re part of any kind of organized religion, you intrinsically have less respect for other people. I’m just trying to formulate some good stage banter instead of just saying, “If you believe in God, you’re a total fucking idiot,” which I have said before and will probably say again. But, with these Christian bands on this tour, I’m getting really angry and offended.
Todd: There’s bible study on the Warped Tour now, right?
Mike: Yeah. I went to the first one. I’m going to start going more.
Todd: The Warped Tour, I have to be honest, freaks me out. I feel uncomfortable here.
Mike: A lot of people don’t and think it’s this weird, corporate thing. I think you have to be on the tour to realize how chaotic and cool it really is. You can go to Sam’s Town in Vegas and have a good time or you can go to the Mirage and feel totally out of place. It is what it is. I love the Warped Tour—not so much playing it, but hanging out with cool people all day.
Todd: You’ve had your same road crew for fifteen years.
Mike: Kent, Jason, Limo.
Todd: How important are they to NOFX?
Mike: They’re super important. We didn’t hire these people because they were super talented. It’s just people who we got along with. They were in their mid-twenties when they started working for us. We’re all the same age. We met Kent at a small club in Vancouver. He was doing sound. J. Acker was a Dogpatch Wino, so he’d known Smelly forever. He was our T-shirt guy, so you don’t need any experience. Limo was a friend of Kent’s. Timmy The Turtle was with us since ’91, but he started working with Bad Religion. He was with us for about thirteen years.
Todd: What do they do?
Mike: Kent’s our manager slash tour manager slash sound man. Jason is a drum tech now, but he also does merch and takes care of problems and Limo does monitors and stage. Limo plays keyboards now, too.
Todd: So, it’s like having buddies on tour?
Mike: We’re all best friends. We pay them ridiculously well, so it’s not like they’re going anywhere. Jason has been known to make over six figures on the Warped Tour alone, but that’s because he does scams all over the merch world.
Todd: Such as?
Mike: I can’t tell you… he’s a distributor of all kinds of goods. So, yeah, our crew; they’re all part of the band, for sure.
Todd: Let me know if I have this correctly. You met El Hefe because he was a drug dealer?
Mike: No. He was in a band called The Mark Curry Band and Mark Curry is a Dogpatch Wino. El Hefe and our drummer, Eric, lived in the same junkie house on Fountain, where it was eight dudes living in a two-bedroom house and no one had any money. Hefe didn’t do drugs, but they were all just drunks who lived there. When we needed a guitar player, he asked for a tryout. We all thought he was super funny: this Mexican with a pompadour wanted to try out for us. But, he could play it.
Todd: Didn’t he get arrested, though? Didn’t the cops find drugs in his trunk?
Mike: Yeah. He got arrested for counterfeiting money. He was facing a twenty year minimum, but he got busted because he was buying pot and they opened his trunk and they had no probable cause to open his trunk, since he was a buyer. They found the counterfeit money in his trunk and thousands in regular bills because they just got done walking up and down Haight Street in San Francisco. When the lawyer came in, he goes, “Yeah, you’re facing a twenty year minimum.” And he did that to finance his other band, Crystal Sphere, to put out their first 7”.
Todd: How many toilet paper dispensers do you have in your bathroom at home?
Mike: In one bathroom, I have four.
Todd: Why four?
Mike: I dunno. I’m weird. It’s near my bar and it’s the punk bathroom and there’s punk flyers everywhere. And when we have parties, that’s the bathroom everyone uses, so I thought four toilet paper rolls made sense.
Todd: All different heights?
Mike: Different places.
Todd: Do you load them with different types of toilet paper?
Mike: Yes. George Bush toilet paper. Different colors, too.
Todd: I’ve been giving some thought to what’s taken down the biggest and most powerful punk rock bands of all time and I’ve come up with one conclusion: it’s accounting. Dead Kennedys, Black Flag. Those bands became crippled and can’t reform or tour with all available members. How did NOFX and Fat Wreck Chords circumvent that, because you guys have been around long enough that someone could come out of the woodwork and say, “Hey, you fucked us.”
Mike: First of all, you’ll never hear that from anyone, say I fucked them as far as Fat Wreck Chords goes, ‘cause I never have. That’s my business model. It’s real simple. Here’s a good story, speaking of the Dead Kennedys. Jello Biafra called me about five or six years ago and said, “I’m being sued by the Dead Kennedys. What kind of royalty rate do you pay NOFX?” And I told him what we pay NOFX, and he goes, “Well, that’s certainly not going to help my case.” [laughs] Jello Biafra paid the Dead Kennedys what a major label would pay a band back then, which is not a very good royalty, and when they switched to CD, it never got raised. So, hey, he went to court and he lost. That’s all I can say.
Todd: I’m not trying to vilifying the Dead Kennedys. I just think it’s something that few punks think about. They think about “fuck the government”, or “fuck the pigs,” but they don’t realize that the day-to-day stuff on how you manage yourself just as important.
Mike: Luckily, for me, Fat Wreck Chords, the first five or six bands we signed, were successful. So, I never even had to consider about being sneaky. Luckily, I never had to think of any crafty ideas how to screw bands. One fact that I’m proud of, which is really stupid and no one would care about, but we’re the only bigger record label that’s allowed to still advertise in Maximum Rock’n’roll, which is really strange. Lookout! can’t advertise, Epitaph can’t, Nitro can’t, Kung Fu can’t, Alternative Tentacles can’t. Any of the bigger old school labels. Whatever it is, they always had their criteria for not letting labels advertise and they could never get us on anything, but I think they wanted to plenty of times. Tim Yohannon was always like, “Can’t do. You’re always walking that line.” I’m really proud of that. It seems minute, but I think it’s pretty cool.
Todd: And they probably hate you for it, too.
Mike: Yeah. [laughs]
Todd: Is it difficult to separate your private and public life? I’ve heard, on several occasions, where you’ll say something on stage and when you read it, you’ll say, “Man, I wish they didn’t write that down.”
Mike: I have a problem with it. I really can’t keep my mouth shut.
Todd: What’s the worst trouble it’s gotten you into?
Mike: My drug life, my sex life. Secrets about my parents. I’ve said it all somewhere.
Todd: I’ve asked you this question nine years ago, and you made fun of me, but I didn’t know the punch line, because someone else had given it to me to ask you: What’s the square root of 144?
Todd: Then you said, “Hey, asshole, I’m a college graduate. Why’d you ask me that question?” Here’s why: that is an answer that Black Flag couldn’t provide when they were interviewed.
Mike: [laughs] That’s great. I just wrote this thing for the newsletter for Fat Wreck Chords on the plane. Against Me! brought a weight bench, so I wrote this whole thing about “‘six pack’ is supposed to lead to discussions on Black Flag and beer, not abdominals. And ‘cut’ isn’t something you should use to describe a man, but it should be what your drugs shouldn’t be. ‘Weights,’ you shouldn’t be talking pounds, it should be ounces and grams.”
Todd: When was the last time you felt like, “I’m not like most people. The life that I lead and what I’ve made for myself over the last twenty-plus years, I’m almost completely different than 98% of the population.”?
Mike: I talk to bands about that all the time, how we’re the luckiest—not even 2%—but .2%. Not only do we live in a civilized country, but we’re the wealthiest 5% of that and we have the best job of all those people. We even have better jobs than actors. We, probably, have the best job in the world. It’s the only job you can get wasted and go to.
Todd: And people appreciate you for it.
Mike: They expect you to. Actors and other people in the arts, you’re not supposed to go to work wasted. You get in trouble for that. We work an hour a day, three months a year. It’s really the best job in the world. I say that all the time to bands who are bitching about something: “You got raspberry vodka instead of blueberry? And you’re yelling at someone over it?”
Todd: What reality checks do you have for yourself? Do you conscientiously remind yourself of that?
Mike: You have to. Everyone’s got problems. It’s all relative. Me and my wife will argue about stuff. We were having a period—after we had a kid—maybe a year, we were really arguing a lot. And we got over it and realized, “This is ridiculous. We shouldn’t argue about anything.” Pretty much, I’m happy all the time.
Todd: Do you feel lucky?
Mike: Of course. But one thing is—I’d give up music or fame or any of this shit. The best thing in my life is sex with my wife. People are like, “Isn’t it great, being on stage, people cheering?”… I’d rather be fuckin’.