NOFX have certainly had a busy few years. Between releasing their 2016 album First Ditch Effort (their thirteenth overall album), they've released an extremely detailed autobiography entitled The Hepatitis Bathtub, and managed to tour extensively. Earlier this year, NOFX bassist and vocalist Fat Mike revealed that the band would be playing host to the 'Punk In Drublic Craft Beer and Music Festival', a unique festival that mixes beer tasting with punk rock. This short run of shows features five to six of the best punk rock bands in the game (other than NOFX, acts have included Bad Religion, Flogging Molly, Goldfinger, and Less Than Jake), while letting fans sample over 100 different kinds of craft beer. "It's the show that I would want to go to, and that's what we did," Fat Mike states in a phone interview with Shameless.
We spoke with Mike about how the festival came together, the process of songwriting for a band like NOFX, and how things managed to get worse after George W. Bush.
While this is a festival named after the Punk In Drublic album, and the festival is in the spotlight for NOFX right now, you guys released an album last year called First Ditch Effort. Given that there was a gap between First Ditch Effort and Self-Titled (2012), when did work on the new album officially commence?
How long was it? Three years, four years?
Yeah I think it was three, four years. Self-Titled was out in 2012, and this was one was out in 2016.
Yeah, that’s kind of long for us. Usually, we release one every three years or so. I don’t know, just busy with life, you know. Between those records is when I got really involved in the BDSM scene. I’m married to a dominatrix. Maybe I spent a little too much time in the dungeon having fun, instead of writing songs. (laughs)
Given that there was that gap of time, would you write songs here and there, or did you guys plan out a time and say “hey, let’s go in the studio and write this album?”
I just write songs whenever I feel like it. Generally, I don’t finish them, so I’ll have like thirty songs on my phone. When we’re getting ready to record an album, like when I know we’re getting ready to record in three or four months, then I’ll start finishing them. We had way more songs than what came out on the record. We had ten songs that we didn’t use.
It’s funny. I write “verse”, “chorus”, and then I just leave the song. (laughs) Because I kind of know what it’s about, and I know where I want to go with it, but then I just don’t finish it.
NOFX is thirteen albums deep into their career, and you’ve been around for, what I would say, are rather important moments in modern rock music. What would you say you’ve been able to take away, both as a songwriter and a musician, since the band began in the 80s?
Well, it’s kind of strange. People don’t really consider us a political band, but we always have been, ever since ’85 with our first EP. It’s just because we’re funny onstage. What I think is interesting is that I wrote the song “The Decline” in 1997, 1998. It was about the state of affairs in America, and all of the things that were bad about it. And that turns out to be the best year since then. And with songs like “The Idiots Are Taking Over”, which I wrote in 2004 I think, it’s more relevant now than ever. I mean, things just keep getting worse and worse and worse. People are like, “how did you predict this?” I was like, “I didn’t predict it! Things were shitty then too, it’s just getting worse.” I mean, who would have thought it could get worse than George Bush.
I don’t think anyone thought it could get worse after George Bush. (laughs)
So that’s what’s interesting about it: writing political lyrics over four decades and seeing your lyrics, the things that you’re bitching about in the late 80s and 90s are the same fucking things, they’re just worse.
I remember the day after the election, one of the first songs I went to was “The Idiots Are Taking Over”, and songs like “American Idiot”. I was listening and thinking, “I don’t know if it’s a good thing that the lyrics are still supposed to be this accurate after all this time. (laughs)
Right. It’s very strange. The new album was written before Trump, but the last song [on First Ditch Effort], “Generation Z”, was really about…it’s kind of like what I believe. I don’t think there’s a possible way that my kids won’t see a completely different society. I mean, I really think it’s going to be a feudal society, all based on money. It’ll be just a completely different society, I mean, just based on water shortage alone. But beyond that, I think that Fukushima is probably going to be the end of that. People don’t seem to pay attention to Fukushima, but I follow it. It’s bad.
There’s a lot of shit going on right now. I guess on a happier note, let’s talk about the festival.
Yeah, how about the festival? How about we have some fun before it’s all over?
You’ve probably been asked this quite a bit, but how did the idea for the festival come together, and how long did it take for it to go from a concept to a reality?
Well, the original idea was from Cameron with Brew Ha Ha Productions. He was doing Beer Fest, and he’s an old punk fan. He got together with John Reese from SGE, and they wanted to do a beer festival with punk bands. They made a list of people apparently, and they told me that I was the only person that would be right for this festival.
The idea was to do twenty one punk bands, twenty one beer companies, and have it 21 and over, and have it be in LA. I was like, “I don’t really want to do that, have this big festival with the Punk In Drublic name, and then have it fail, or not do that well.” This was about a year and a half ago. We kept talking about it, and then I said, “let’s just have five bands, six bands, and why don’t we try touring it, playing on weekends?” It turned out that the first show was ten thousand people. It was fucking amazing. It was awesome! Everyone had such a good time. It was over by nine.
The first band played in front of six thousand people, because everyone was there early for the free beer. It’s the perfect afternoon. It’s the show that I would want to go to, and that’s what we did. I was like, “this is the show that I want to see. I want to see my favorite band, Bad Religion. I want to see all solid bands, and I don’t want to see more than five bands.” I don’t want another stage or have to run between stages. And the bands play short sets, because I don’t like seeing bands play for a long time. (laughs)
And as we’ve been going, I’ve gotten to make the rules. I made a rule that between bands, we don’t play punk rock over the PA, we play a little Herb Alpert. It’s nice. You get an ear cleanse, and you don’t get bombarded with fucking loud music.
I’ve seen that at shows before. It makes you almost a little more appreciative getting that break in between bands. You’re not hearing a punk band on stage, and then hearing the Spotify playlist of “Popular 90s Punk Bands” in between. Like you said, it’s a nice break, an ear cleanse.
Yeah, and you’ll go to some other festival, and when the band you’re watching is done, you’ll hear three other bands playing. You can’t get away from the noise.
What do you hope fans take away from NOFX, whether they’re coming to the Punk In Drublic festival, whether they’re seeing your live show, or just listening to your records, after all these years?
I think our message is to be a good person in a society, be a good person to each other, but don’t follow any rules and have as much fun as you want by being a good person. You know what I mean?
My lyrics kind of express my lifestyle. I’m a good parent when I’m around my kids. When I’m not, I’m hanging out at fucking dungeons doing the dirtiest things imaginable, and doing drugs. I mean, especially with drugs, society sees something wrong with them, and there isn’t anything wrong with them. It’s your actions when you’re on them. It’s all about actions. It’s not about what you believe in. You can be a Christian, that’s fine. But it’s your actions that define that. What you can take away from NOFX is this: have as much fun as you can, live in the moment, and be good to people.
Last question: really broad, but what does music mean to you?
Well, music to me means something a lot different than it does to anybody else. Music is a game. It’s a game I play in my head. I’ve always played games in my head, from poker, to Monopoly, to Risk. And music is my game. It’s about how I can write the most original, unique lyrics over the most original chord progressions and making it catchy. When I’ve done that, that’s my game and I win the game. When I write something that’s trite and boring, or done before, I lose. And that’s why our last record was so personal, because that’s the only direction I can go. You have to find different directions to go, and our last record was all about me.
Punk In Drublic Festival hits the Bay Area at Concord Pavilion in Concord, CA on October 14th, 2017. You can purchase tickets by visiting www.punkindrublicfest.com.
This has been another Shameless Promotion.