This interview original appeared in VultureHound Magazine #12 that you can read on all devices here
Since 1991, Mike Burkett, Aaron Abeyta, Eric Melvin and Erik Sandin have gone their own way, and lived life by their own rules. The four members of NOFX have suffered ups and downs along the way, with stories of pranks, drunkenness, suicide, addiction and many more. They have now conveniently written their stories down to give you NOFX: The Hepatitis Bathtub and Other Stories.
In a very rare interview, we sat down (at the other end of a phone) with lead singer and bassist, Fat Mike, with seemingly no subject off the table.
Firstly how’s married life treating you? It was a bit bizarre at the start of the year to see you on TMZ.
Married life is great. I mean, I’ve been with this woman for seven years, so it’s not new.
Did you ever think you’d been on the front page of TMZ?
No, I never thought that and I never thought I would be doing it in a latex dress, so it has been a really public year for me. I really have no pride and shame left, and it’s such a great place to be.
Free of all worry, to an extent?
Not worry, but I wear dresses sometimes when I go out. Like, when I’m going to the market or something. I wear skirts all the time, leather all the time. Just like I used to do when I was at home, I just dress like that now and it is just stupid that I was scared of that because ever since I was a kid I was scared to do it. I’ve done it in private, and you’d think a punk rocker wouldn’t have a problem, but the punk scene was super homophobic. If you had long hair you’d get your ass kicked in LA. You couldn’t go to the Rocky Horror Picture Show and then go to a punk show in the same night.
Does it show how much the scene has grown, and how accepting it has become?
I mean, it always was in most places, just not in Los Angeles, or New York, Chicago or San Francisco. It was all skinheads and gangs. You couldn’t be who you wanted to be. You could in the 70s, but not in the early 80s.
It’s nice that you can be yourself.
It’s awesome. I’m in a good place and I’m fucking sober now.
I’d noticed, I’ve been following you on Instagram. I know certain publications are suggesting it was rehab, but it was just detox if I’m correct?
Yeah, I’m home in San Francisco. I was in detox for six days, and it’s funny that Loudwire put out the story that I was checking into rehab on the day I was actually getting out. Yeah, it was just detox. I got a painkiller habit for a few months; I couldn’t stop so I went to a detox centre to help me off them medically. I always took breaks from drugs when I got off tour, I’ve been doing that for seventeen years. I go on tour for two or three weeks, come home and I sober up. There was no problem, but then I started doing pills and I couldn’t stop. So it’s not like I’m having some re-evaluation, but I do want to be sober for a while. I’m having a good time, I’ve been going to a lot of Buddhist meetings called Against the Stream and Refuge Recovery. It’s about being sober but it is more about being mindful – a good person and taking care of people – which is what I’ve done anyway. It’s pretty cool!
Sounds like you’re in a really calm place?
Yeah, not only that but I’m fucking writing like crazy. When you are doing stuff, like, I’ve been hiking every day and surfing and doing shit, you have all this energy. I get home and I’m tired, but I have some coffee and then I write for two hours.
Were the painkillers affecting your creative process?
It wasn’t painkillers. I was doing coke and drinking a lot. What’s fun about coke is that it makes me super horny right, so me and my wife were spending a lot of time in my dungeon. I could have been spending time in a more productive way, but not a more fun way. So now that we are both sober, we have to make time to spend in the dungeon, whereas we used to just spend a lot of time in the dungeon. Now we have to purposely go there.
So now you have allotted dungeon time, and then back to writing?
Yeah, because we have a lot of shit going on between our musical, at least the book is done!
How is the musical doing? I got the record of it way back when it was released, but how has it been received? It’s something that, fifteen years ago, you’d have been like, “Fat Mike’s written a musical!?”
Yeah, it’s been a long process. We opened in San Francisco and did three weeks, it was all sold out and got four out of five stars in the Chronicle; but four stars really bummed us out because we want to be five out of five. So we went to back to writing, and we’ve been doing table readings and we got a huge New York producer. He’s called Kevin McCollum and he did Rent and Avenue Q. He’s one of the biggest on Broadway. We want to open big! We don’t want any cracks in the structure, and since me and Soma hadn’t written anything like this before, our learning curve is a little slower. By 2017 we’ll be on Broadway!
That sounds amazing. The songs on the album I felt were really catchy and they told a clear story.
That’s funny because there are eighteen songs on the album, twenty-eight songs in the musical, and six songs from the album have been dropped already. So if you have the album and you see the musical, you are going to hear more songs that you don’t know. We saved a lot of the funny songs for people to see live because you can’t hear a song twenty times and then still laugh. A lot of the best songs we saved too, because I want the show to be an experience. I wanted people to come in like they didn’t already know it.
There is no point having a show if people know what to expect.
Yeah, like the Green Day musical is kind of pointless because everyone had heard everything already and knew the story.
Before we go into the book, and what’s happening with NOFX at the moment? I wanted to see where you are politically because when I got into NOFX it was 2001 so the first album I heard was ‘War on Errorism’. At the moment, America faces the prospect of Donald Trump. Do you echo most people’s thoughts in that he’s a massive bell end?
Totally! You described him perfectly, he’s a massive bell end! I will say one thing; people are super scared that he’s going to destroy the world or something. I don’t have that feeling. There is no way he can be a worse President than George Bush was. At least he is a smart man, and being a megalomaniac, he wants people to like him really bad. In fact, he thinks everyone loves him. I don’t think that he’s going to do something that terrible. He doesn’t want the world hating him, so I feel a little solace in that.
He just seems to change his opinions on a whim.
I’m going to say something that is going to freak everyone out; intelligence is changing your opinion. That’s what intelligence is! When George Bush says, and he actually said this: “I’m going to listen to your arguments, but I’m not going to change my mind.” Now, that is the definition of an idiot. Someone who is so small minded that they can’t change their mind. Trump is a fucking jerk off, but I don’t fault him for changing his position. The thing is, he has such little experience that he doesn’t know anything. So if says some stupid remark and someone says, “Hey Don, you are totally wrong about this,” and he goes, “You know what? I take it back,” that’s actually thinking, and we are so used to presidents that don’t do that, we think it’s wrong. But it is actually correct thinking because it is learning. Big surprise everyone, don’t give him shit for that. But do give him shit for being a totally fucking douche bag.
Is it something that ever makes you think about reviving Punk Voter?
No, because Obama was a great man, and he’s done everything he could to make the world a better place. But George Bush ruined the world for everybody, and because of his lack of interest in politics or in being President, he let the military take over. Now, the country is run by corporations and the military, so what the fuck difference is it going to make whose President? The President has no power. But when I did Punk Voter, I think that could have changed the world. If we would have had John Kerry in the presidency, or if Al Gore had a term, there would have been no fucking war in Iraq. There wouldn’t have been because Iraq never fucking attacked us! Dick Cheney made that war happen! So it did make a difference. Right now, I don’t think it makes a difference, but I think everyone should go out and vote for Hilary because I think she’ll be a better president. Before I thought it was a world changing event, now it’s a bad president or a really bad president.
I was listening to ‘War on Errorism’ this morning, and ten years on a lot of those songs still seem relevant, it feels like stuff is still the same.
That’s because ‘War on Errorism’ wasn’t an album about George Bush at all. Just because his face was on the cover, it really wasn’t about him. The first song I wrote about George Bush was ‘Idiot Son of an Asshole’, but that wasn’t on the record, and then there was the song ‘USA-holes’, that was about George Bush. My lyrics have always been political. ‘The Decline’ was political; our first fucking seven-inch was political; we’re a political band. ‘War on Errorism’ came out in political times, when I was political. It wasn’t per-say about George Bush. When I sang ‘The Decline’ I was very upset with the prison system in the U.S., because that was our worst problem when Clinton was in office. That’s why it is such a drag that Al Gore lost. He lost because of a blowjob, which is why I blame this world going downhill on Monica Lewinsky. That bitch saved a fucking dress, which led to the demise of the Western world.
You guys have sat down and written a book which is a fantastic thing for fans and people who are interested in Punk rock. At what point did you decide that this was something you wanted to do?
Well, I read Motley Crue’s book ‘The Dirt’ and I really liked it. It made me cry at one part and I just thought, “Shit, we could do this better,” because our story hasn’t been told. I don’t think there has been a band that had eight years of no success and then got as much success as we did. Yeah, you read about Henry Rollins ‘In the Van’ but this is different. Normally, bands that people don’t like, don’t stick around for very long and we’ve been here for thirty-three years.
Never gave up?
Yeah, and people say, “We should just keep sticking with it,” and I say, “No, you have to get good,” it isn’t sticking with it, because we stuck with it for eight years, and then I heard Bad Religion’s ‘Suffer’ and went, “Oh right, we need to write good songs.” You have to stick with it and become a good band. The problem is, every band thinks they are good, if they didn’t they wouldn’t keep doing it.
With regards to the writing of the book, you all did it individually, then sat down with Jeff and all gave your piece. Was it a case of Jeff going away and writing it, and then you got the book complete, or did you get the first edit?
I got it sent early, but just me, though.
So you were the one to say, “This can stay, this can go,”?
I didn’t take anything out. Well, I took stuff out but not because it was too raunchy or anything. I took out the stuff that was boring.
I imagine there was a load of stories, so it could have been much longer and bigger?
Yeah, there were some really good stories but they didn’t really fit in. How it is written now, is pretty cohesive.
Essentially, there is space for another book if you ever wanted to do it then? Or was it a one-time deal?
Well, we all thought it was a one-time deal because we all opened our hearts. There is nothing that isn’t in there. It’s funny because the publisher wouldn’t believe me. I said, “This is going to sell well. Do me one favour, make sure you don’t run out,” and they would not fucking listen to me. They only sent five-hundred to England, and after the first week, Amazon said, “We need another five-thousand,” but they put them on a fucking boat, so it took them three weeks to get there.
Looking at Amazon reviews, it has been really well received. Only six percent of them are four stars, everything else is five.
I’m so fucking happy about it, but with everything I do, I wait until the product is at a point where I’m happy with it. That’s why the musical has taken so fucking long because that will be my only fucking musical. I’ve been working on it forever and once you put a musical out you don’t change it.
In regards to the press and how honest you’ve all been, was that hard for you to be that honest, or did you know it had to be warts-and-all, or just not bother doing it?
Yeah, we weren’t going to put out a book that most bands put out, and I really think we broke the mould with this book, I think we are setting a bar. I could be wrong, but people don’t talk about getting arrested, or a rape they saw, or how they were abused as kids. We would have written a great book without Erik talking about his molestation, but we made a pact. Like Smelly would never talk about Courtney Love in any interview; he’d be like, “Shut up you guys,” but he talks about her in the book. We all knew that we had to make something that was honest and true; you don’t get there by hiding stories.
Has it made you closer as a band, or were you already as close as you could be?
It actually has. Everyone feels a little closer now, especially after doing the book tour because we’ve never hung out as much before because we had to drive to bookstores every day in a mini-van. Usually, it would be me and Melvin going to the party room, Smelly goes to the sober room and we see each other on stage. So we’ve been spending a lot of time together. I actually added one chapter, and that was the ‘me cross-dressing’ chapter. Before the book went to print I was like, “Shit, I’m kind of a public crossdresser now,” and I felt that could be the most helpful and interesting chapter for some people because there is no one taking that stand right now. Like Laura Jane Grace and Caitlyn Jenner, right? Transgender is really popular right now because people feel comfortable doing that, but now I feel like if a guy wants to try on his wife’s knickers she’s going to be, “Oh, you want to be like Laura Jane?” or, “Oh, you’re a transgender,” but really it’s like, “No, I just kind of want to wear your clothes.” You can have fun, and it’s not such a big deal. I think guys might be more scared to do that now because of all the transgender stuff, but if someone like me says, “Fucking have fun and don’t sweat it. If it feels good, do it.”
Making it less of a cliché?
Yeah, just like Rocky Horror did for me as a kid. Don’t dream it, be it. We used to dress up as Rocky Horror for Halloween, but you can’t just dress how you want to. You don’t just see guys wearing a dress or a skirt, you don’t see that! I’m not putting on makeup or shaving, I’m just having fun!
Watching interviews where you are wearing a dress, there is kind of a, “Look at me, I’m wearing a dress!” You are just in a dress and that’s it!
Yeah. I mean, I do dress up like a girl sometimes, me and my wife do that. Like she’ll dress me up and we’ll have lesbian sex and shit, full makeup and everything and we’ll go to dungeon parties. But I don’t really go out like that because people are like, “Are you trying to be a girl?” And I’m not passable. But I really do like putting on a dress, it’s fun!
Each to their own?
Yeah, and people haven’t fucking done that since the Seventies, there haven’t been people just having fun with it.
You mention punk rock in the Seventies, and I was looking at bands that Fat Wreck Chords have signed in the last few years. How are things over at Fat at the moment? Pears put out an amazing album this year, you must be happy to have signed those guys?
Absolutely, and they are the coolest guys too. I think we’ve had a run of good bands; I really like Get Dead and their album is really good. I can’t believe that Fat Wreck Chords is still doing well, and it is all due to people caring about it still and I also think it is due to the fact that I kept it what it is supposed to be. I said this right when I started the label. I told my ex-wife, “This is going to be bands that I like,” because it is my name on the label. It’s not Lookout Records, it’s Fat Wreck Chords. It’s my name and it has to be bands that I like. Take; they signed bands from the DC area, I wouldn’t do that because I’m signing bands that I like, and if you like my taste in music you’ll probably like a lot of the records that we put out. I didn’t think about it back then, but that’s how you make a label that will last because people know that they can trust it. I never signed an Emo band, and I never signed a fucking Metal band. Sick of it All was as far as I went and that’s because they are friends of mine and I love seeing them live, and they are fucking cool dudes.
Are you fully involved in signing and scouting every band?
I’m not the scout, but I sign every band. Every band has to go through me. I’m the one who calls them and I’m the one who hangs out with them. It’s funny, there has only ever been one band that I haven’t met or talked to, and that’s CJ Ramone.
I’d have figured that would be the one person you did want to hang out with as much as possible.
Right! We just haven’t run into each other, but I should have called him, though. I met him in the old days, but I didn’t hang with him. I used to talk to Joey and Dee Dee more because back then it was, ‘Who wants to meet this guy?’
The one guy that was never on any of the t-shirts.
Yeah, actually that’s funny!
In terms of Fat, something I didn’t realise is that you didn’t put out a NOFX album until ‘War on Errorism’. In hindsight, are you happy you moved away from Epitaph? Did it just organically happen? Would you ever take NOFX back to Epitaph?
Actually, we did go back. We did the Greatest Hits on Epitaph, and just did this box-set on Epitaph, and just actually talked to Brett about doing a record on Epitaph, but it’s not going to work. These days they really can’t offer anything that Fat can’t. Maybe ten years ago they could when they were really breaking bands. But now I look very fondly back on the Epitaph days. We had no bad experiences. When I started Fat and I offered NOFX an incredible offer and I thought to myself, “This is great, there is no way Brett will match it,” and Brett fucking matched it. Not only matched it, he beat it! Both me and my lawyer were like, “This is impossible,” and his lawyer in our meeting said, “Brett, you can’t do this. You will lose money if you do this,” and Brett said, “I don’t care, I want NOFX on Epitaph,” so we signed for two more records. We did ‘Pump Up the Valuum’ and ‘So Long and Thanks for all the Shoes’ and that was great. Then when the record industry started going down a little bit, I made NOFX a really good offer, and he was like, “Yeah, you’re right I didn’t make money.” What was so cool about NOFX, was that originally they were like, “What are you going to give us that Epitaph doesn’t?” And I said, “Nothing, but I’m going to make more money instead of Brett,” and that was good enough for them, and that’s how I got ‘War on Errorism’.
What’s the deal with new NOFX music? I read that Smelly said that it was being mixed, last I read.
Our record is in the can, it finished and sequenced. A few people have heard it, I’m really stoked because you never know how it is until a few reviews have come in and you’ve lived with it for a little while. But the first reviews have been awesome and it’s a different record to anything we’ve ever done, which is cool.
When you say different, do you mean musically or lyrically?
Lyrically for sure, it’s kind of a sister to the book but more me. This is the first record that I’ve done on drugs. I was on coke, drinking and on painkillers the whole fucking time. What that did was it made me way more open. Like, Fletcher from Pennywise sings on a song and I played him the album and he was like, “Mike, I can’t believe you are singing these lyrics!” That’s kind of a cool thing to hear from him.
Are they going to be hard songs to perform live?
Not for the band, but personally, I have a song, ‘I’m So Sorry Tony’, which is my apology to Tony for not being a better friend toward the end. Also, I have some guilt because I introduced him to one of the drugs he ended up dying on. Like, five years earlier I said, “You should try this,” and that was one of the drugs in the cocktail that killed him.
Before we go anything you want to say?
I wanted to give a shout out with regard my sobriety, because I get hundreds of kids saying, “You can do it,” or, “I’ve been through it.” I thought I’d get a lot of people saying, “You pussy!” But everyone has been really supportive and it really helps. The Punk scene is a really special place, and people say there isn’t one or that Punk’s dead. That’s such bullshit because it is a really caring community of like-minded people.
Huge thanks to Fat Mike for being so honest and open, and you can grab a copy of NOFX: The Hepatitis Bathtub and Other Stories: here.