NOFX… the men, the myth, the mildew…From their beginnings as a snot-core band in 1983 through personnel changes (they've managed to retain three out of the four original members) and personal growth, NOFX continues to evolve. With their new release, Ribbed, they've achieved their most powerful sound yet. Set to embark on a third European tour in April, we caught up with singer/bassist Mike and tossed around questions of philosophy and Fat. Interview by Emily Soares and Devon Morf.
MRR: Do you think that working with Epitaph has changed NOFX’s sound at all? The production values sound so high.
Fat Mike: I don’t think our sound has changed, but our music has a bit. Brett put a lot of money into the record this time around. We spent a lot of time in the studio. We didn’t necessarily want to, it’s just that my vocals were so bad we had to spend more time on them. I’d never sung so bad before.
MRR: I thought you sounded good.
Fat Mike: It sounds good now because I spent so much time singing a lot of different takes.
MRR: Who did all the band’s background vocals? At times it almost sounds like you had Sha Na Na in the studio with you. (laughter)
Fat Mike: Steve, our guitarist, did most of them. His friend Mark, and Brett did some. Just friends of ours, it’s not like we had professionals do it for us. We had a horn player too. We tried some new stuff on this album, but I think it turned out all right.
MRR: “Where’s My Slice” is a song many people might get misconceptions about. Would you care to expand on what transpires in that song?
Fat Mike: I wrote it about a friend of mine named Eric, this peace punk guy who lives on welfare lines and government checks. He doesn’t do shit and he’s always complaining about how the world owes him a living. He just drinks. He’s always going to demonstrations and complaining. The guy’s a bum. He’s living off the system, but he doesn’t do anything. The song is about him. You can also insert different groups of people into the lyrics and it fits in a general way. I suppose you could put women in it, poor people, some minorities, basically anybody that hasn’t gotten a fair shake. A whole bunch of different groups will fit. But I wrote it about a guy named Eric.
MRR: Speaking of peace punks, is your new song “Shower Days” NOFX’s homage to being crusty? (laughter)
Fat Mike: No it’s just personal. The other guys in the band take showers often. It’s just me who hates them. My girlfriend made a chart she put up in our bathroom. It tells me that every Wednesday and Saturday I have to take a shower. I have to shave too, and mark it off.
MRR: What about brushing your teeth?
Fat Mike: I do that every day.
MRR: Do you mark that off?
Fat Mike: No, no. (laughter)
MRR: Is your song about touring a love song dedicated to Erin?
Fat Mike: Yeah. It's kind of a calypso number.
MRR: So you’re gonna cash in on Operation Ivy’s success?
Fat Mike: Someone has to cash in on it…they didn’t. Hey, Operation Ivy were the greatest band, but they’re stupid for breaking up. Two of our songs are ska-ish, that’s not crossing over. We do a jazzy song too, “Together on the Sand.”
MRR: Are NOFX sexy, sexist or just plain horn?
Fat Mike: I’m the least sexist person, really, I make my girlfriend take out the garbage just as much as me. (laughter) I don’t make girls do anything I wouldn’t do. I don’t treat them special either.
MRR: What goes on in your song “New Boobs?” That’s another song that could be misconstrued.
Mike: “New Boobs” is about LA, Eric and Steve know all these girls that are getting boob jobs. It’s just like the thing to do. “Oh, Karen got a boob job last week.” It’s just so stupid. They spend $2000 to get their boobs enlarged or shrunken or whatever. That’s what the song’s about. I’ll tell you a story about sexism. There were these people in Frankfurt, Germany on our first tour of Europe…a big feminist group that got on our backs about our song “On the Rag” which I wrote about my old girlfriend. They yelled at us, and we argued, then finally we agreed that we wouldn’t play that song that night. We felt that was fair. So we’re up there, not playing that song, and these girls start throwing full bottles of beer at us. What a waste. (laughter) They started shouting at us, they unplugged the PA, then some big guy came after me and we got in a big fight. They were dumb, they were at all. Bigger bands, like the Accused or DOA, that have songs that are much worse, get to play, no problem. These punkers that are so hypocritically politically correct, love to pick on the little guys.
MRR: What about your song about some woman who was following the band around like the Grateful Dead.
Fat Mike: Some girl named Jenny from Lincoln, Nebraska started driving around and following us to every town. She was with our drummer Erik. He didn’t want to be with her. She had a Jimi Hendrix tattoo which was really stupid. Not the guy’s face, just the words, “Jimi Hendrix,” So she was a real pain in the ass. She was crying every night, creating a big scene, because we kept leaving. What did she expect, we were on tour for god sake!…Hey, Jenny! (laughter)
MRR: So what about this summer, will you be touring again?
Fat Mike: We’re going back to Europe in April. They’ll be a US tour in August. Europe should be a lot of fun. We’re going to England for the first time.
MRR: They have a lot of beer there, you guys should probably do pretty well there.
Fat Mike: Yeah, but I don’t drink that much on tour.
MRR: Come to think of it, you came back quite slim from Europe last time. They must not have been feeding you well enough.
Fat Mike: Oh, they feed you great in Europe. Lots of pasta, lot’s of vegetarian food.
MRR: That must have been hard on you.
Fat Mike: No, actually at most of the clubs we played at, everybody was a vegetarian. So they would have a big thing of spaghetti and a huge bowl of vegetarian sauce and then right next to it a smaller one of meat sauce. That gave that to us, which was nice of them.
MRR: So what’s next in terms of projects, are you going to do anything on your own?
Fat Mike: As a matter of fact, I’m starting a record label called Fat Records. I’ll probably put a NOFX record or 12”…a couple of 7”s. I’m gonna put out a band called Slang who have 3 members of RKL. So that’s my next project.
MRR: You just graduated from college.
Fat Mike: Yeah, I’m a college graduate from San Francisco State University. Just graduated today. Now I’m a professional punk rocker.
MRR: So will NOFX be leaving Epitaph to be on Fat Records?
Fat Mike: We’re not really leaving Epitaph. I’m putting out a seven or eight song 12” for NOFX. We’ll see how it goes, we may do another record on Epitaph. It’s a good label.
MRR: I know you want to be a professional musician, but in the punk scene there's such a stigma attached to selling out, would you like to continue putting out your own records?
Fat Mike: Yeah, we’re not gonna go to a major label, it’s either Fat or Epitaph. Sure I’d like to make a living off this but we’re just playing shows. Like Fugazi, they make fucking tens of thousands of dollars. But it’s because a lot of people come to see them. They don’t have high door prices. They’re not selling out, but they’re making, or could be making a living off of it. Then Bad Brains, they go to Europe and charge $25 a show. There’s a difference between bands like Fugazi and Bad Brains.
MRR: What’s the song “Moron Brothers” about?
Fat Mike: It’s about our drummer Erik and our roadie DJ. They really do stuff like that. At parties they piss in people’s ice trays and put them back in the refrigerator. Crazy things like that. Feed your dogs Ex-Lax so they shit all around the house. They even tattooed on their toes “Tits & Booze.” \So anyone reading this, don’t ever let those two tattoo you. They’ll tell you they know how to do tattoos and they’ll do one on you but they’re not very good. They bring a tattoo gun on tour with them and give tattoos to people. Erik showed some guy this good tattoo he has and said DJ did it. So they guy’s all. “Cool, can you do this on my back?” DJ’s all, “Sure, no problem,” so DJ put an “SK,” on his back. It looked exactly like a “5K.” His initials are “SK,” but it looks like 5 kilometers.
MRR: Do they get paid for this?
Fat Mike: No, but Erik did a Misfits skull on one guy and it looked really, really bad. They were drunk with a tattoo gun. So they’re the moron brothers.
MRR: Is one of you’re new songs you sing about something like, “There’s no lesson to be learned if there’s nobody here to learn it.” Are NOFX actually getting sensitive or peace punky?
Fat Mike: Oh, no. Not at all. It was either Stephen King or Harlan Ellison who wrote a story about everybody dying of the flu. So it’s like all that nuclear power, peace punk stuff is bogus, it’s just a virus that killed everybody.
MRR: Let’s talk about something controversial. How about the Persian Gulf?
Fat Mike: I won’t go. I already have a plan if they start a draft.
MRR: What’s that?
Fat Mike: Move into my mother’s house… and not leave. (laughter)
MRR: I recently heard criticisms along the lines of, “ The singer NOFX is an asshole.” How do you respond to that? (laughter)
Fat Mike: I don’t know. I’ve met some politically correct people in San Francisco and they kind of think I’m an asshole, but that’s because they’re dumb and don’t know me. All of those people that are trying to be politically correct disagree with my lyrics, but I don’t think they’ve thought about what they believe in very much. Mykel Board is the coolest guy in the world. Most of the things he says are logical and make a lot of sense. He doesn’t side with anybody. He sides with what makes sense. That’s what I try to do. A lot of people try to take sides on issues that are stupid.
MRR: So what do you think of the scene in general, do you think there’s more of a political allegiance among a bunch of bands?
Fat Mike: It’s the same old thing. There’s all the vegetarians in San Francisco and all the politically correct people that like to limit themselves too much. Certain clothes, certain foods; you’ve got to try everything.
MRR: I heard that the band had a strong pro-homosexuality stance on their last US tour…
Fat Mike: I’m not pro homosexuality, I’m pro sexuality. People should do whatever feels good to them. What people don’t need to do is label themselves a certain sexuality and limit themselves to one sexual orientation. There was this one place on tour where we met all these stupid skinheads. Not that skinheads are stupid; but these particularly stupid skinheads would go to this gay bar and look at all the fags and then pick someone out and beat them up or something. So we got into this big fight with them because they had gone to this bar and come back, and said, “Oh, look at those guys kissing, gross.” But from what we understood they used to go there all the time. We kind of got the idea they kind of enjoyed looking at these guys. Because they would go there a couple times a week. It definitely appeared that they were attracted to the place.
MRR: So what’s your overall view of NOFX in the big picture?
Fat Mike: We’re progressing but we’re not changing our style.
MRR: Where do you see the band five years from now, do you see punk as changing?
Fat Mike: I don’t think punk changes very much. I think it’s getting bigger than it ever has. Bands like Bad Religion and Fugazi are selling tons and tons of albums. I don’t think it’s changed much, I just think that bands are getting better. I think this band, Snuff, I saw are great…Green Day are pretty great. Back in LA in the early 80’s bands were great, like Agent Orange, Social Distortion and Bad Religion. I guess there were 5 or 6 years where the bands just got bad. They started getting faster but not good. Maybe from ‘84-’88 bands were getting worse.
MRR: We talked a little bit about your feelings on politically righteous bands and individuals, but where do you stand yourself as far as political position?
Fat Mike: I try to be very irreverent. I take a political stance but I’m more of a reactionist. I believe in morals but most of society’s mores are total bullshit, like all the sexual mores.
MRR: You mean in terms of conservatism?
Fat Mike: Yeah, like picking out certain sexual acts to be illegal, like that guy in Atlanta who got 18 months for having oral sex with his girlfriend. California is pretty conservative, but SF is really cool. So my political stance is that I don’t have a political stance. I just take charge of what I believe in. I’m consistent in that way. But I don’t have to be consistently on the liberal side. A person can consider themselves left wing and they’ll always stay on the left wing whether it’s right or wrong. It’s like the pay to play thing. Should some club let some stupid band play their place where 5 people will show up and they’ll lose $300? No. A band has to get a following, and you have to pay to do it or play parties. We used to play parties when we were a smaller band. It wasn’t any problem. It’s free. Pay to play makes total sense. Open up a club that doesn’t do that and you’ll go out of business, unless you can get a big headliner every night.
MRR: So the more objectionable thing is more the club’s, a place like the Stone for Instance, general attitude?
Fat Mike: At the Gilman St. shows they try to make sure there's a fair amount of good bands to draw people. They can’t book four bad bands in a night cuz no one will go.
MRR: NOFX did a song on pornography called “Vanilla Sex,” could you comment on it?
Fat Mike: Well, to get out of college my big thesis paper was on pornography. It was a 30 page paper. The problem people have with pornography is that it can be violent and often degrades women. But violence and degradation against women is much more prevalent in the mass media. Millions of people are exposed to the mass media. Movies like Gone With the Wind depict rape in a totally positive light. Values are instilled within us at a very young age when you’re watching TV. By the time you’re 18-21 and read pornography you already have your values instilled in you. If you’re gonna attack something, attack the violence and degradation against women, not just because it’s X-Rated.
MRR: What do you think of censorship, particularly in reference to 2 Live Crew?
Fat Mike: I hate that band, I think they’re really terrible, but that’s beside the point. I think they should be allowed to play but I think they should pay clubs that are 18 years or older. I think that’s totally fair. They should only be able to sell records to people that are 18 years or older. They are just as pornographic as any dirty magazine, so only adults should be allowed to see them.
MRR: Isn’t that a double standard in terms of them being called sexist as opposed to all the other sexist stuff that goes on?
Fat Mike: There should be a sticker on their record saying you have to be over 18. If they rate X-rated movies why not rate records. If it’s an X-rated song, you should be over 18 to get it. I don’t necessarily believe that one has to be 18 to look at pornography, but I don’t see any reason why movies and magazines can be rated while music while music can not.
MRR: Do you anything wrong with the fact that nobody objects to sexism in music until the point where it becomes explicit?
Fat Mike: Yes.
MRR: So you’re saying that since you think 2 Live Crew are such an explicit example that there should be some form of control instituted?
Fat Mike: Absolutely. They should be able to play whatever they want to but artists and musicians seem to have this feeling that they’re better than everyone else and that this feeling that they’re better than everyone else and that censorship shouldn’t apply to them, but it should. A song can be X-rated just like a movie can. “Artists” have to be just as responsible as other people. They are a part of this society and they should have to live by the same rules that we all have to live by. So they shouldn’t bitch about being labelled. If a kid can’t see an X-rated movie they shouldn’t be able to hear an X-rated song. I don’t see any problem with that. Magazines are rated, movies are rated, books are rated, why the hell can’t records be rated? Art even? I wouldn’t want a six year old to go see the Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit, that showed a photograph of some guy’s dick nailed down to a board, and some fist fucking scene. I saw it, but I’m over 18.