NOFX's Fat Mike
Published Jun 26, 2011Truly a man who needs no introduction, NOFX frontman Fat Mike is a living legend in the modern era of punk. Proving that you don't need to overdose on drugs and die early or give up entirely in your old age, the 44-year-old born Michael Burkett continues to push himself hard in his music and other business endeavours without sacrificing his unabashedly punk lifestyle. While he loudly chewed his lunch into the phone, we caught up with Fat Mike about NOFX's upcoming Canadian tour, some new releases and what it's like to be a middle aged punk.
What are you up to today?
Working on bullshit. Getting ready for Punk Rock Bowling.
I wanted to talk to you about the Canadian tour right off the bat. It seems to be a huge success. I read on your website that you already had to move two of the shows to bigger venues. Why is Canada so ready for NOFX to come back?
Well the only shows that are getting moved to bigger places are cities we've never played before so we weren't sure where to book them. We haven't played London and St. John's in Newfoundland. We haven't played London in over ten years and we've never played Newfoundland so you start at a small club and move it up. Other than that we're playing the normal sized venues, so I don't think it's a big deal. Canada is one of our best markets but it's no better than Germany or Japan or the States or England or Australia.
A lot of Canadian bands complain that the cities are so far apart in Canada so it's more difficult to tour here. Do you find it a challenge at all?
No, you've just gotta fly from Toronto to Winnipeg. Once you do that you're okay.
What can fans expect you guys to be playing on this tour?
Songs. I don't know, I change our set list every time we come to a city. I change our set list every night. I have no idea. I eat dinner, I drink a lot and then I get the computer put in front of me. Our tour manager Ken says "Okay this is what you played last time we played in this city" and then I change it.
So at any given time are you guys ready to play any song?
No but we know about 90.
On your Twitter you mentioned that you're doing a golf tournament in Montreal. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
There's a golf club that I'm a member of, it's called the MGA. The Mediocre Golf Association. It started in the Bay Area and it's just a bunch of punk rockers that play golf maybe once every six weeks. We have big cheques, I have a big cheque on my wall. I won one of the tournaments. It's a big cheque but it's only for $1.36. Now there's chapters all over North America. There's a Quebec chapter, and we're missing the tournament here in San Francisco so we're gonna play in the Montreal one. Me and Kent are gonna play.
Do people come watch you play or is it just for yourselves?
People don't watch. That's weird. None of us are good. If you break 80 during a tournament you get disqualified.
The other thing I was going to ask you about is how's your punk vacation home doing?
Fuck, it's sweet! It's awesome.
Is it working out okay? Are people being respectful to the house or does that even matter to you?
Well they better be respectful! It's a thousand dollar deposit. It behooves you to take care of stuff. It's renting out about twice a month every month.
What kind of clientele have you had so far?
Black people. Mostly black people. Mostly we're getting rabbis. No, not really. Punk rockers! Actually punk kids can't afford it, it's for middle aged punkers. Punks with decent jobs. Five hundred bucks a night with a three-night minimum. But you know, it fucking sleeps ten people. It's got a fucking nine hole putting green and a fucking cave hot tub and a water slide and a beer machine and a fucking museum in there, you know? It's a cool house. You go there with nine of your friends. It's $2500 for the whole week. You go there with 10 people and that's $250 for the week, that's nothing! We have to charge a lot because you don't want people staying one night and fucking wrecking the place.
What gave you the idea for this?
Well you can get houses in Vegas for practically nothing and I live in San Francisco where it's foggy and kinda shitty all year long so I wanted a place that was an hour away where I can take my daughter and have a vacation. But I thought, you know what? I'm never here, I'm gonna make this the coolest punk house ever. I put up 2000 of my oldest flyers and turned it into a totally cool place.
So do you think in ten years you're going to have a chain of punk hotels or something?
Nope. Vegas is the only city it would work in.
Let's talk about the middle aged punkers with jobs you just described. Punk is still sort of thought of as a young people's music and yet you're a perfect example that it doesn't have to be. Is that even an issue for you anymore or do people accept NOFX as exactly what they are?
Yeah. Our crowds are older. Kids still like us but I don't think people have to defend themselves for liking NOFX. I mean, half the kids that listen to us don't even understand our lyrics probably. I mean, I did graduate college. I'm not writing fucking lyrics that the Red Hot Chilli Peppers would write. I've always thought we've written music for adults. Not when I was 16. You know what's coming out later this year, which should be interesting, is we're going to release our first EP that was never released.
Wow, can you tell me a little more about that?
NOFX have an eight-song seven-inch that was so bad we decided not to release it.
Why release it now?
Because it's funny now. It's bad musically. Fucking terrible.
What's it called?
It's called the Thalidomide Child EP. I'm not sure when it will be out but it will be out. I think it's going to come in a seven-inch box set but we'll see. I found it at Fat Wreck Chords. I found the original quarter inch tape. We transferred it to DAT and they were like "holy shit, this is terrible." I go "I know, that's why we never released it because it's terrible." And everyone at Fat Wreck Chords goes "Come on, we've gotta release it." So it's going to be an eight-song seven-inch and only one of the songs has ever been heard before. You'll hear. It's pretty fucking terrible. It's cool, it was recorded in 1984, so it's kind of cool. It'll come out sometime this year.
Do you have other NOFX releases planned?
We have a hardcore record. We've been trying to put this out forever but it's actually coming soon now. We have the test pressings actually at Fat Wreck Chords. We did ten cover songs of hardcore songs.
Wow, what bands are on that?
You have to figure it out because we don't list them.
What about a new NOFX album. Are you working on one yet?
The other thing I was going to ask you about was that Fucked Up once mentioned you were going to do a split seven-inch with them and that sort of fell through. I'm wondering what happened with that?
I'll tell you what happened. Nothing happened. We talked about it and then we never did anything about it. We discussed it. Damian asked me if I'd want to do it and I said sure, but then there's the part about actually having to do it. That didn't happen so much.
I was wondering if you'd care to comment about the whole Ben Weasel SXSW thing that happened earlier this year.
Wow you're trying to get a bunch of good shit from me aren't you! I made a small comment on Twitter I think. But, you know, what is there to say? He lost his cool on stage. He punched an audience member. I don't think it's horrible because he punched a girl. I think it's horrible because he punched someone who's smaller and weaker than him. If he punched a 6'5" girl I wouldn't have a problem with it. If he punched a 6'5" fucking wrestler girl, it's still not cool, but you know. I heard earlier in the night he called her a whore and then she started throwing ice at him. So he was just being kind of a dick the whole night. He was fucking bitching that I wasn't there. He was telling the crowd "our label president isn't even here, why should I be here?" It's like, dude, why the fuck would I be there? I live in California. My band's not playing, your band is playing. I should fucking fly out from California and watch you play? Fuck you! I'm not really a label president. I'm a fucking punk rocker in a punk band and I happen to own a record label that I go to a few hours a week. It's not my fucking purpose in life.
Have you talked to him since then or are you on bad terms with him?
I don't talk to him. I've got nothing to say to that fucking dude. The thing is, I didn't talk to him before. I haven't talked to Ben Weasel in ten years. It's funny, that guy from the Queers said, "How come you don't back your friends?" But I haven't talked to that fucking guy in ten years! He told Fat Wreck Chords, when we had to do a deal, he said, "I'd like all business matters to be run through my manager." So it's pretty clear he doesn't want to talk to us, why should we talk to him?
With that in mind, why would Fat Wreck Chords have put out the new Screeching Weasel?
It's a good record! He's a weirdo. I've always been a Screeching Weasel fan. They asked us to put out a new record. Sure, why the hell not? We used to put out their old records. As far as business goes, we've always had a good relationship with them. We sold a bunch of their records, we paid them, they were always happy with us, so they wanted to come back because we were the only label that never screwed them over. It was all fine and good, but I'm definitely not friends with Ben Weasel. In fact, I went to see them in L.A. and I went there early to say hi before the show, and they wouldn't let us backstage. They wouldn't let us fucking backstage because they were praying or whatever. They needed alone time before the show. So I don't know. Oh, I'm mistaken. After the show he did say hi for a few minutes, and that was the first time I talked to him in ten years.
Would you put out another Screeching Weasel record because you like the band?
No. Definitely no. The thing is, when we got them for the new record we also bought all their old records. So we may be putting out their old records still, but I have no interest in doing anything with them now.
So you mentioned earlier that NOFX isn't working on a new album yet, but there obviously still will be more new NOFX albums. How do you keep writing new material and do you ever feel like you've run out of songs?
Yeah, I feel like that every day, that I've run out of ideas, but somehow I manage to come up with new ideas. I have been working on other shit.
With that in mind, what does a day in your life look like in terms of a working day?
[laughs] Today I woke up and drove my daughter to school at 7:30. Came back, had some tea. I'm working on a project with my girlfriend. We're writing a story for something together. I worked on that for an hour, then I did an interview and had this other interview. After this interview I go to Fat Wreck Chords because we're making some t-shirts and we have a meeting about our hardcore seven-inch. But I only go to work for maybe two or three hours a week. After that I'm going to the salon to dye my hair because I have a tour starting soon. Tonight I pick up my daughter at 5:30 from piano class and we're going bowling because we need to practice for Punk Rock Bowling.
So you're busy with a lot of projects.
Yeah. And I also produce too. I've been helping the Cobra Skulls out a bit with their record. I'm producing Old Man Markley later this year.
My last question would be, at this point, what would it take for NOFX to be done?
To be done? Fuck, we have way too much fun to be done dude. I always looked at it like when Bad Religion quits we still have another three or four years because that's how much older than us they are. The thing is, you don't just quit. Jack Nicholson doesn't quit acting. You don't quit when everything's good and fun. What are you supposed to do, stay at home? We're travelling the world with our best friends having the time of our lives. It's not like it gets old, it keeps getting more fun.
If that's the case, then why do so many younger punk bands just put out a few small releases and break up just as they're finding their footing?
It's not like that. Bands start and if they're good they do okay for a while and then people get bored of them and they quit because things aren't as good as they used to be. It took us eight years before anyone liked us, and kids do not have the attention spans that we used to have, and they don't have the fucking work ethic either. They want everything to happen. Bands want to get big. "Hey we're gonna start a band to get big." And if it doesn't happen they fucking quit because they're not lifers. The eight years no one liked us we kept doing it because we're alcoholics and we just did it because it was fun. We're punk rockers. Nowadays they don't think about it like that. They think about making it, they don't think about doing it because they love it.
Does that mean even if you lost everything you'd keep doing NOFX because it's fun?
Well yeah, but it's not going to be fun for me if we can't afford a bus. If I have to fucking drive across Canada in a van, I'm not going to do it. But, you know, in some places our crowds aren't as big as they used to be and in some places they're bigger. The ebbs and flows of that, that's fine. But I still think we put out decent records and we're still popular in most places we go in the world. Last time we played in Rio, there were only 1,800 people. The time before that there were 5,000. But it's like, who cares, it's still 1,800 people! It's still awesome. But you know, if it gets down to 100 people then there's a problem.
Is there anything else you wanted to add?
I was gonna say something about how I made the list of the biggest meltdowns. (http://exclaim.ca/News/listing_em_off_10_insane_onstage_meltdowns) Just so your readers know, I had that planned for a month and I did do a secret performance of that a few days before that. I played in front of seven people in San Francisco. So I knew exactly what I was doing. There was no meltdown. It was pure performance. That's what I was doing.
You totally got the last laugh then. Where did you get the idea for that, and were you exorcising personal demons up there or was it all personal?
No, it's all true stories. But Vanessa, my publicist at Fat Wreck Chords, was like "can you do something at SXSW? Can you play acoustic?" I said okay. I was just thinking about it and I decided I didn't want to just play acoustic songs, I wanted to do something memorable. So I went up there and told the most horrific stories of my life. They weren't all the most horrific, some of them were kind of funny. But I told some of the most horrific and some shocking stories. But they're all true.
The people you did it for in San Francisco, did they know it was just a practice run?
Yeah. It was just friends of mine. I said I'm going to do this and I want to do the whole show in front of some people and see if I can do it and how it works. After that show they were just as shocked as the people at SXSW. They were like "no fucking shit! Really?" Even people that were close to me, they knew some of those stories but they didn't know all of the stories.