NOFX's Fat Mike on Taking Drugs, Being a Father, and Joining the Mile High Club
NOFX, with Fat Mike second from right.
You may not have been alive in 1983, when punk rock icon NOFX was started in Berkeley. That was nearly 30 years ago, after all, and the world was a very different place: Ronald Reagan was president, "big" East Bay punk bands like Rancid or Green Day didn't exist, and Thriller was only a year old. Since then, while you were learning to walk and talk and shit politely, NOFX sold more than 6 million records. It put out a ridiculous number of fast, sarcastic, often gut-bustingly funny songs about topics like discovering one's lesbian side, George W. Bush, being called "white," and drugs and alcohol. (Drugs and alcohol being a favorite, both as song topics and activities.) NOFX refused to join a major label, and actively discouraged its songs from getting on the radio. It grew a gigantic fan base anyway.
And while the band retains its independence today, some things have changed: Frontman Fat Mike, for example, is a father (and a golfer). He's also the head of Fat Wreck Chords, a San Francisco punk label that's home to artists like Rise Against and Me First and the Gimme Gimmes. Ahead of NOFX's two (sold-out) shows at the Fillmore this Friday and Saturday, we called up Fat Mike to talk about fatherhood, his label, and recreational pharmaceuticals.
How's the tour been so far?
It's been excellent. Not a lot of sleep, but a lot of drugs, lots of sold-out shows.
Touring and partying are kind of synonymous for you guys, aren't they?
Yeah, it kind of keeps it, uh, not a job. This really isn't a job, it's like a marathon.
But it's a fun marathon with partying?
Well, yeah, that's what makes it a marathon -- I have to figure out how to stay up all night and still get up in time to soundcheck and eat dinner and play a show.
You've played all over the Bay Area. What's your favorite venue?
Slim's is our favorite probably, historically. They stopped doing this, but they used to give us kegs of beer for out back in the alley when we had shows there, because our guest list was so big that we just threw parties in the back.
Lookout! Records closed for good at the end of last week. Any thoughts on that?
I didn't know that.... Well, Lookout! went downhill ever since Lawrence Livermore quit, if you ask me. That's when they had different people signing bands. Lawrence Livermore signed all the greats. It's nothing new. Labels are going to constantly go under, because it's a tough business.
How is your label, Fat Wreck Chords, doing these days?
We're doing okay. We don't spend a lot of money marketing, we hardly spend any money recording, we have a pretty small staff now, five people. And part of our business model is having bands like Rise Against and Against Me! and Gimme Gimmes and NOFX, bands that sell a lot of records. So we can afford to sign a lot of smaller bands.
Are you involved much with the day-to-day?
No, I go into work maybe once a week for a few hours. I have way too many other hobbies and fun things I gotta do. Fuck, I'm 45, you know? Going to work is just totally ridiculous.
What are your hobbies these days?
Well, I have a daughter, so being a dad, and golfing, and gambling, and drug-taking, and I just made a fetish film with my girlfriend. I did the soundtrack to that, too. All kinds of shit.
So how is Fat Wreck doing well when many other labels are struggling?
The other thing is just that we don't spend money marketing bands. I have a studio in San Francisco, the bands come in, they record for real cheap, we put out the records for cheap, so a band can sell 10,000 or 20,000 records and we can still make a profit. We're not looking to make a big gold record. We're not looking to break bands. I just like putting out bands -- the only thing I really do at Fat Wreck Chords still is signing the bands. And the other thing Fat Wreck Chords has done is we've never followed any trends in music. We've always been a punk rock label.
So you played both Occupy S.F. and L.A. What was the difference -- what was the contrast?
I was just hanging out at [Occupy S.F.] one day after going to the farmer's market, and I talked to a couple people -- I go, 'Hey, can I come by and play here?' And they said sure. And so I just the next day me and Eric came and played. So it was a small show. But [when] we went to L.A., I Twittered it like a week in advance, so there was like 1,000 people there. And that was awesome. The L.A. one seemed to be a lot more well-run, too. When I was at the S.F. one, I saw two fights break out. There were so many fucking street people and drug addicts there. I do totally support them both. It sucks that they shut down a movement.
Next: Fat Mike explains what he'll tell his daughter about doing drugs.