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Fat Mike: perceiving the laws of cause and FX.

LIKE IT OR NOT, there's no denying that NOFX is one of the longest running, most successful punk bands in history. Decried for almost every ill that their own subculture could imagine pegging them with--ruination of the entire scene, kicking off a band clone factory in the '90s, making a living off of music, or just plain suckin' something fierce--their gears keep cranking, touring and recording in what has seemed like an endless cycle for the past 23 years. Part good timing, part being born with a lucky horseshoe up their collective asses, part playing music that lots of people have wanted to hear, part sound accounting practices, NOFX continues chugging along, clever as ever. (Mike baited a girthy DJ to the back of their bus, knowing he wouldn't fit, and we all laughed when the guy's belly couldn't negotiate the double-wide bus bunks.) Here's the secret: pretending to be dumb gives 'em a lot of room to be smart.

Who's the enemy?

The enemy is not the conservatives of America; it's the religious people. I'm reading this book. It says not to be tolerant, even of moderates. How would you have a belief system, then?

I haven't gotten far enough to see if he's just against people having faith, but if you're part of any kind of organized religion you intrinsically have less respect for other people. I'm just trying to formulate some good stage banter instead of just saying, "If you believe in God, you're a total fucking idiot," which I have said before, and will probably say again. But with these Christian bands on this tour I'm getting really angry and offended. There's Bible study on the Warped Tour now, right?

Yeah. I went to the first one. I'm going to start going more. The Warped Tour--I have to be honest--freaks me out. I feel uncomfortable here.

A lot of people think it's this weird, corporate thing. You have to be on the tour to realize how chaotic and cool it really is. You can go to Sam's Town in Vegas and have a good time, or you can go to the Mirage and feel totally out of place. It is what it is. I love the Warped Tour--not so much playing it, but hanging out with cool people all day.

You've had your same road crew for 15 years.

Kent, Jason, Limo.

How important are they to NOFX?

They're super important. We didn't hire these people because they were super talented. It's just people who we got along with. They were in their mid-20's when they started working for us. We're all the same age. We met Kent at a small club in Vancouver. He was doing sound. J Acker was a Dogpatch Wino, so he'd known Smelly forever. He was our T-shirt guy, so you don't need any experience. Limo was a friend of Kent's. Timmy the Turtle was with us since '91, but he started working with Bad Religion. He was with us for about 13 years.

What do they do?

Kent's our manager/tour manager/sound man. Jason is a drum tech now, but he also does merch and takes care of problems, and Limo does monitors and stage. Limo plays keyboards now, too.

So it's like having buddies on tour?.

We're all best friends. We pay them ridiculously well, so it's not like they're going anywhere. Jason has been known to make over six figures on the Warped Tour alone, but that's because he does scams all over the merch world.

Such as?

I can't tell you ... he's a distributor of all kinds of goods. So, yeah, our crew; they're all part of the band, for sure.

Let me know if I have this correctly. You met El Hefe because he was a drug dealer?

No. He was in a band called the Mark Curry Band, and Mark Curry is a Dogpatch Wino. El Hefe and our drummer, Eric, lived in the same junkie house on Fountain, where it was eight dudes living in a two-bedroom house and no one had any money. Hefe didn't do drugs, but they were all drunks who lived there. When we needed a guitar player, he asked for a tryout. We all thought he was super funny, this Mexican with a pompadour wanted to try out for us. But he could play it.

Didn't he get arrested? Didn't the cops find drugs in his trunk?

Yeah. He got arrested for counterfeiting money. He was facing a 20-year minimum, but he got busted because he was buying pot and they opened his think. They had no probable cause to open his trunk since he was a buyer. They found the counterfeit money in the trunk and thousands in regular bills because they'd just got done walking up and down Haight Street in San Francisco. When the lawyer came in, he goes, "Yeah, you're facing a 20-year minimum." And he did that to finance his other band, Crystal Sphere, to put out their first seven inch.

How many toilet dispensers do you have in your home bathroom?

In one bathroom, I have four.

Why four?

I don't know. I'm weird. It's near my bar and it's the punk bathroom; there are punk flyers everywhere. And when we have parties, that's the bathroom everyone uses, so I thought four toilet paper rolls made sense. Do you load them with different types of toilet paper?

Yes. George Bush toilet paper. Different colors, too. I've been thinking about what's taken down the biggest punk rock bands of all time, and I've come up with one conclusion: it's accounting. Dead Kennedys, Black Flag--those bands became crippled and can't reform or tour with all available members. How did NOFX and Fat Wreck Chords circumvent that? You guys have been around long enough that someone could come out of the woodwork and say, "Hey, you fucked us."

You'll never hear from anyone that I screwed them as far as Fat Wreck Chords goes, 'cause I never have. That's my business model. Here's a good story, speaking of the Dead Kennedys. Jello Biafra called me about five years ago, and said, "I'm being sued by the Dead Kennedys. What kind of royalty rate do you pay NOFX?" And I told him what we pay NOFX, and he goes, "Well, that's certainly not going to help my case." Jello Biafra paid the Dead Kennedys what a major label would pay a band back then, which is not a very good royalty, and when they switched to CD it never got raised. So, he went to court and he lost. That's all I can say.

I'm not trying to villify the Dead Kennedys. I just think it's something that few punks think about. They think about "fuck the government," or "fuck the pigs," but they don't realize that the day-to-day stuff on how you manage yourself is just as important.

Luckily, for me and Fat Wreck Chords, the first five or six bands we signed were successful. So I never even had to consider being sneaky. Luckily I never had to think of any crafty ideas how to screw bands. One fact that I'm proud of, which is really stupid and no one would care about, but we're the only bigger record label that's allowed to still advertise in Maximum Rock'n'Roll, which is really strange. Lookout! can't advertise, Epitaph can't, Nitro can't, Kung Fu can't, Alternative Tentacles can't--any of the bigger old school labels. Whatever it is, they always had their criteria for not letting labels advertise and they could never get us on anything, but I think they wanted to plenty of times. Tim Yohannon was always like, "Can't do. You're always walking that line." I'm really proud of that. It seems minute, but I think it's pretty cool.

Is it difficult to separate your private and public life? I've heard, on several occasions, where you'll say something on stage and when you read it, you'll say, "Man, I wish they didn't write that down."

I have a problem with it. I really can't keep my mouth shut.

What's the worst trouble it's gotten you into?

My drug life. My sex life. Secrets about my parents. I've said it all.

I asked you this question nine years ago, and you made fun of me, but I didn't know the punchline because someone else had given it to me to ask you. What's the square root of 144?


Then you said, "Hey, asshole, I'm a college graduate. Why'd you ask me that question?" Here's why: that is an answer that Black Flag couldn't provide when they were interviewed.

That's great. I just wrote this thing for the newsletter for Fat Wreck Chords on the plane. Against Me! brought a weight bench, so I wrote this whole thing about how the term "six pack" is supposed to lead to discussions on Black Flag and beer, not abdominals. And "cut" isn't something you should use to describe a man, but it should be what your drugs shouldn't be. "Weights," you shouldn't be talking pounds; it should be ounces and grams.

When was the last time you felt, "I'm not like most people. The life that I lead and what I've made for myself, I'm almost completely different than 98 percent of the population"?

I talk to bands about that all the time, how we're the luckiest--not even 2 percent--but 0.2 percent. Not only do we live in a civilized country, but we're the wealthiest 5 percent of that, and we have the best job of all those people. We even have better jobs than actors. We, probably, have the best job in the world. It's the only job you can get wasted and go to.

And people appreciate you for it.

They expect you to. Actors and other people in the arts, you're not supposed to go to work wasted. You get in trouble. We work an hour a day, three months a year. It's really the best job in the world. I say that all the time to bands who are bitching about something. "You got raspberry vodka instead of blueberry? And you're yelling at someone over it?"

What reality checks do you have for yourself? Do you conscientiously remind yourself of that?

You have to. Everyone's got problems. It's all relative. My wife and I will argue about stuff. We were having a period--after we had a kid--maybe a year, when we were really arguing a lot. And we got over it and realized, "This is ridiculous. We shouldn't argue about anything." Pretty much, I'm happy all the time.

Do you feel lucky?

Of course. But one thing is--I'd give up music or fame or any of this shit. The best thing in my life is sex with my wife. People are like, "Isn't it great, being on stage, people cheering?" I'd rather be fuckin'.
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Author:Taylor, Todd
Article Type:Interview
Date:Nov 1, 2006
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