Punk Off Their Asses
Most punk bands that have been together for over 20 years start faltering as they age. The new material is pretty good, but doesn't compare to their old output. They used to be pretty debauched, but now have spouses and houses. With the upcoming release of their tenth studio full-length, Wolves In Wolves Clothing, NOFX are proving that they are still one of the most relevant musical forces in the modern punk scene. While the band's ubiquitous nature has not left them unscathed by punker-than-thou critics, their unwavering dedication to the ethics of the scene that spawned them puts them in a league of their own. Refusing to sign to a major, and releasing records through indies Epitaph and Fat Wreck, continuing to put out seven-inches, and getting inhumanly wasted on a daily basis are just some of the ways the band manages to stay punk in an increasingly corporate music environment. Of even greater importance is the band's musical legacy, which has shaped the evolution of oft-maligned pop punk since the release of Ribbed in 1990. While their Warped Tour peers are mired in heartache and self-indulgence, NOFX are setting up voter registration booths and preaching political reform. They've spawned countless imitators, many of whom have abandoned the punk ethics the band have always stood for, but for 23 years, NOFX have stuck to their guns, riding out punk's mid-‘90s surge into the mainstream only to transform from sophomoric drunk-punks into surprisingly outspoken (but still drunk) politicos.
Erik Sandin, Eric Melvin, and Mike Burkett gather for the first practice of their as-of-yet unnamed punk band in Los Angeles, California. Eric, who doesn't own a guitar amp, plays through a stereo. "We were fucking horrible," says Mike Burkett, known today as Fat Mike, the group's bassist and vocalist, "And I thought our drummer, Smelly [Erik], was really weird." The band decide to ape Boston punkers Negative FX and name themselves NOFX, partially due to the fact that, at the time, everyone in the band but Mike was straight edge. While a guy named Steve is originally tapped to be the singer, he doesn't show up to any practices and quits after the band play their first gig without him. As Mike recalls, "I was outside beer-bonging a 40-ouncer of Olde English 800, and our drummer says, ‘This band Justice League will let us use their gear. We can play four songs.' We only had four songs, so it was perfect." Later that year, the band is approached by Don Bolles of the Germs to assist in recording a nine-song demo, which Mike describes, along with most of the band's output from the ‘80s, as "fucking horrible."
"It's fucking horrible," says Mike, in reference to the band's first seven-inch for Mystic Records. They also put out the seven-inch So What If We're On Mystic? Embarking on their first American tour, four people are present for the band's stop in Detroit; all of them leave after the first song. "We kept playing. There was a bartender and a soundman, and we figured we'd just practice. Because lord knows, we needed to practice," Mike laughs. "It was a dollar to get in, so they gave us four dollars and we had to siphon gas to get to next city." While attempting to cross the border to play with Death Sentence in Vancouver, the band is forced to turn back when they don't have the necessary work permits to enter the country. After dropping off their gear in Seattle, they arrive in Vancouver, where Death Sentence refuse to share their gear. As Mike recalls, "We just played snooker and went home." On New Year's Eve in Texas, Erik leaps off his drum kit to fight some skinheads, forcing the owner of the club to pull out a shotgun.
Mike begins attending San Francisco State University, and Erik quits the band. Bringing in Scott Sellers on drums and vocalist Dave Allen, the new line-up goes on tour without ever having a single practice. This new incarnation of the band fares no better than the first. "It's unbelievable we stayed together, given how much people didn't like us," Mike says. On St. Patrick's Day, Allen is killed in a car accident, an event that Mike describes only as "weird." Dave Casillas joins on guitar, and Scott Sellers is briefly replaced by Scott Aldahl, before Erik is talked into rejoining. By this point, though, he is a full-on heroin junkie. "It was really hard for him to quit every time we'd go on tour," Mike says. "He'd go through with withdrawals, but nothing too bad because he drank so much anyway and scored any kind of pills he could find."
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