NOFX’s Fat Mike: “Eagles told us our cover of their song was the worst they’d ever heard”

In Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?! we quiz a grizzled artist on their own career to see how much they can remember and find out if the booze, loud music and/or tour sweeties has knocked the knowledge out of them over the years. This week: NOFX frontman Fat Mike.

1
How many sheep are on the cover of the CD version of NOFX’s 1996 album ‘Heavy Petting Zoo’?

NOFX, 'Heavy Petting Zoo'

“Three?”

WRONG. It’s four.

“Close! A store in France got shut down because they put the poster in the window. My mind is fucked-up, because I came up with the idea for the artwork [showing a sheep getting fingered by a man on the CD edition, and the same bestial couple 69-ing on the vinyl]. It was our first record after punk broke in 1994, so while everyone was commercialising, we put out something to hurt record sales.”

2
In 2004, NOFX posed naked on the cover of Alternative Press in a parody/show of solidarity with the band then know as The Dixie Chicks (now renamed The Chicks) for their George W. Bush-backlash-responding Entertainment Weekly cover. Name any of the three slogans that covered your body.

“Opiate of the masses? Sluts? Pervert? Man! I did lose brain cells!”

WRONG. You could have had: Dry Mouth, Free Beer and Free Dumb. During the 2004 election, you set up PunkVoter to try and help remove Bush from office. Are you tempted to revive it for the November US election? 

“Times are different now, because you could debate George Bush supporters. It would take me about 45 minutes, but I could convince them to vote Democrat. But you can’t convince a Donald Trump supporter – they’re insane and won’t leave his side. So I don’t think it’ll help having a PunkVoter right now, ‘cause everyone who has a brain and cares about other people will vote against Trump, but there’s no convincing Trump supporters. It’s crazy times – we live in an upside-down world. What scares me is electronic voting machines, because Trump will do anything to win and could cheat.”

3
NOFX and Frank Turner have just released the split album ‘West Coast Vs Wessex’, featuring covers of each other’s songs. What is the capital of Wessex?

“Wessex is a territory south of London, right? Should I know the capital?”

WRONG. It’s Winchester. How did the collaboration come about?

Frank and I have always gotten along very well; we like touring together. I was watching him at a festival thinking: ‘Man, these would make great punk songs!’. When he came off stage, I said ‘let’s do a split cover album’, and he’s like: ‘Brilliant! Let’s do it!’ We partied a little bit the next day, and set up a date. We didn’t talk about which songs we’d cover — we just did it. We’re both pleased: neither of us outdid each other and we both gave it a big effort. It’s a fun listen.”

Have you been working on new music in lockdown?

“Yeah, I have. I have a new NOFX record in the can that’s been waiting to come out for months, but we decided to put out the Frank Turner split first. And then I have another 20 songs in the can, because what else is there to do during COVID? I’ve been recording like crazy in the studio in my house. My music’s getting darker as I get older. We released the song ‘I Love You More Than I Hate Me’ as a taster, and it’s a totally depressing song. Lyrically, I’m not writing the fun songs anymore!”

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4
What is the name of the uncle who provides guest French vocals on your punk covers supergroup Me First and the Gimme Gimmes’ 2004 live albumRuin Jonny’s Bar Mitzvah’?

“Gah! He’s the large guy with the grey hair – he’s dead now. I don’t remember his name.”

WRONG. It’s Uncle Roger.

“It was my favourite record I’ve ever played on. There were all these old Jewish men trying to slam-dance and it was total chaos! We wanted to do a live album, but of songs we’d never played before. We were asked to do this bar mitzvah by a kid called Jonny Wixen. We weren’t going to do it, but then asked: ‘Can we record a live album there?’ When he said sure, it all worked out. Hopefully the next live album is going to be us playing a bris [Jewish circumcision ceremony]!”

Any feedback on any of your covers from the original artists?

“The Eagles manager once called us to say: ‘They want you to know it’s the worst cover they’ve ever heard’. You can’t ask for more than that!”

5
What was the original Moby Dick-referencing pun opening to NOFX’s oral history The Hepatitis Bathtub and Other Stories?

“Call me Pissmael.”

CORRECT. A reference to how it opens with you as a teenager drinking urine. You’d later get banned from a venue during 2010’s SXSW Festival when you pretended to spike fans’ drinks with pee

“I mean, pee is sterile! The Health Department investigated, but I’m used to getting in trouble.”

That was during a Cokie the Clown show, where you dressed as a clown and flipped your punchline-friending persona by telling dark stories from your past, including the alleged assisted euthanasia of your mother. Were those shows cathartic?

“No. You’d think they’d be cathartic, but it’s very hard for me to do because I’m just bringing up all the fucking terrible tragedies of my life. I’m glad I did it, though. Those shows are crazy. I’d open with the a capella song ‘Bathtub’ and you could hear a pin drop – no-one was drinking or looking at their phone. Everyone was just listening and standing there. It was perfect awkwardness.”

Do you worry about cancel culture?

“No, because we’re comedians. It comes down to intent – nothing we ever do is mean-spirited or hateful, we just want to get a laugh. [After the backlash two years ago] we were putting together a record of just banter and stuff we’d said onstage called ‘You Think Vegas Was Bad?’ (laughs)”

6
How much did you offer to pay an audience member in a tie-dye t-shirt to leave a NOFX show in 2015?

“It could have been $100?”

CORRECT.

“That’s what it takes to get a fucking hippy out of the show! I settled on giving him $20 to take his t-shirt off and have that removed from the building.”

7
Which Le Tigre song references the NOFX track ‘Linoleum’?

“I don’t know the name of it, but it’s the first track on their debut album – and their best song.”

WRONG. It’s ‘Deceptacon’, which includes the lyrics: “Your lyrics are dumb like a linoleum floor, I’ll walk on it, I’ll walk all over you’. It’s thought to be a response to NOFX’s Kathleen Hanna-dissing song ‘Kill The Rock Stars’.

“That was all a weird deal. In Hawaii, their [Bikini Kill] show got cancelled because our show was the same night, and we put them on the bill and paid them double their guarantee, and they were just really mean to us. Afterwards, I said ‘good show’ to Kathleen and she looked at me like an asshole and didn’t respond, just because we draw a rough crowd. But we tried to make them feel at home, and they weren’t nice to us.”

Ever had any other responses from the musicians you’ve mentioned in your songs?

“I don’t know, but after talking shit about Avenged Sevenfold for years, I played golf with their singer Matt Sanders yesterday, and we get on great. We have a new song they play on. That’s a funny marriage of two bands, but it works – unlike most metal bands, they’re sweet guys, and not full of themselves.”

Anyone you regret talking shit about? Do you feel now that a song like ‘Creeping Out Sara’ [written about meeting Tegan and Sara and full of crude, reductive jockish stereotypes about their sexuality, which he later defended as satirical] was misjudged?

“But I don’t talk shit about them in that song. I talk shit about me. They called me after they heard the song and told me they thought it was hilarious, but then there was a backlash from their fans and they called me two days later asking for an apology. So I actually did write an apology, even though I never apologise, and I talked about how I’m in the BDSM world and could understand their upset because I’ve felt marginalised too. They said: ‘Can you take the part about BDSM out of the apology?’ and that angered me. I was like: ‘Fuck this! I’m done apologising for shit!’.”

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8
On the 1998 Vans Warped tour in Houston, Texas, how much money did you throw into the crowd?

“$2,500.”

CORRECT.

“We told the audience it was $5,000, but who’s going to count singles when they’re flying through the air?! It was too hot to do a show outside, so they put us in a place where they auction off cows and it was the worst-sounding venue I’ve ever been in. I felt I should give money back to the fans because it was a terrible show.”

“That tour was the greatest ever. One year, us, Bad Religion, Less Than Jake and Joan Jett would park our tour buses together and we had an inflatable pool. Life doesn’t get better than hanging out in a pool with Joan Jett!”

9
The original cover of NOFX’s 1990 EP ‘The P.M.R.C. Can Suck On This’ contains a picture of which televangelist that Elton John is writing a musical about?

“Tammy Faye Bakker.”

CORRECT. She’s pegging her then-husband Jim Bakker. Did she ever see it?

“It’s unlikely, because we only made 500 copies and sold them on the road. In the van, we had pens and hand-drew and numbered every label.”

You’re a high-profile ambassador for the kink community…

“No pride, no shame!  When I was 18 and started doing kinky stuff with my girlfriend, I was so scared and in the closet for so many years. So now I see it as a mission to help people and make them feel OK about it – all guys want to get ass-fucked or something in their butt. That’s where the fucking prostate it! It’s the same with cross-dressing – now I’m public about it, I’m so much happier onstage. The first time I went through Heathrow in a dress, I was super-scared but it was super-fun. I’m glad that the western world is becoming more open about these things, and that my daughter gets to grow up in a world where difference isn’t marginalised as much. For Father’s Day, she bought me heels. How cool is that?!”

10
Who invaded the stage at your 1996 Bizarre Festival appearance?

Courtney Love.”

CORRECT.

“That was the first festival we ever played – playing in front of 10,000 people, with Hole and The Offspring opening for us, was a fucking trip. That was when punk broke, but it hadn’t hit anybody yet. Getting to put on that festival was because Germany was the first place NOFX got popular.

“Ever since ’91, NOFX’s career slowly got bigger and bigger, so when punk broke, it just got bigger a little faster. We never saw a big chance like a lot of bands did. We never opened for anyone, we just did our shows. Blink-182 once offered us $1 million to open for them – and we said no. We never signed to a major. I directed the band in a way that would make for a long career.”

The verdict: 5/10 

“I’m very happy with that score.”

NOFX and Frank Turner’s ‘West Coast Vs Wessex’ is available now. 

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