Before sitting down with any artist for an interview, there’s an understanding that you almost never know what you’re gonna get from that particular person. You know, maybe a tour isn’t going very well or maybe they just went through a tough break up. Or, on the other hand, perhaps times have never been better and you’re about to talk to this band member at the height of their career. Essentially, it’s a coin flip.
That said, we don’t think anything or anyone could have prepared us for our time with one of punk’s most iconic and polarizing personalities: NOFX’s Fat Mike.
Known for his say-it-like-it-is attitude and sorta smart ass mentality, Fat Mike is, well, intimidating – especially for someone who has been a fan of his for years. However, we have to say, once you get the beloved bassist off stage with a cold drink in his hand talking about his feelings, he’s actually quite the gentleman. Case in point, what you’re about to read below.
While out at South By Southwest, we were able to grab a few minutes with Mike to discuss not only his band’s forthcoming book The Hepatitis Bathtub and Other Stories and their new untitled album, but also the mentality and psyche it takes to write both.
So, buckle up everybody. You’re about to enter the mind of Mike Burkett. After reading through our in-depth Q&A, make sure to pre-order NOFX’s tell-all autobiography and pick up tickets to see NOFX on tour here.
What was the initial push to release The Hepatitis Bathtub and Other Stories?
Fat Mike: Why did NOFX do a book? People think NOFX is a funny, poppy punk band. And, I guess we’re funny on stage [pauses to play with Fat Mike puppet], we have antics. [Laughs] Our band just thought after 33 years, people should know the stories we have and stuff we’ve been though. We’re very proud of this book because we all opened up, we all peeled off our skin for it. It’s a really dark and depressing book – it’s not what people expect. And what’s so weird is that everyone in my band has all been through a lot of trauma and had really terrible experiences as well as amazing experiences. After I read The Dirt by Mötley Crüe, I was like “Wow, this is a great book. I love that book. [But] man, what if we told our stories because our stories are really dark.” So, we spent the past four or five years putting together this book and we’re proud of it. It’d be great, forget buying NOFX records, if [fans] buy this book (especially before April 12th). We have a good chance at being on the New York Times Best Sellers list. That would be crazy. [Turns to Fat Mike puppet] NOFX, on the the New York Times Best Sellers list!
Were there any other books, other than Mötley Crüe’s, that inspired you to do this?
Well, I read a lot of Chuck Palahniuk [author of Fight Club; Invisible Monsters; Survivor; Choke] but those aren’t autobiographical [laughs]. And I read some Stephen King too. But no, we wanted to do the book because people think of us as a joke band. People will never look at us the same after this book and I think that’s cool. I’m reading The Misfits’ book right now and I want to know more about them. I want to know more about a band that meant so much to my life and I think our fans deserve to really know about us, to know where our lyrics come from, what we’ve been through – good times and bad. Our publisher was surprised about how many stories we told ‘cause we’re telling stuff we really shouldn’t tell – a lot of stuff we didn’t know about each other, which is really crazy.
Are you nervous giving fans that much access to your life and your personal stories?
I’m not really nervous. About a year ago, I just lost all my shame and all my pride ‘cause they were holding me back. There’s this one chapter about me cross-dressing and how I’ve done it since the first time I saw Rocky Horror –since I was ten or eleven – and it’s never really been something I’ve talked about before because I was embarrassed. [And now I’m] wearing dresses on stage and it’s awesome, I feel like a punk rocker again. That chapter for example, I want people to read it and go, “Oh, Fat Mike puts on panties and wears corsets? Maybe I want to do that too.” And it’s not weird ‘cause it’s not Bruce Jenner, you don’t have to be a transgender to want to wear women’s clothes for fun. Just go see Rocky Horror and put on some panties; they feel better than boxers. I think there is a lot of important stuff in the book: Eric Melvin, he talks about being molested when he was a little kid, how his friend’s dad molested him, and it’s so brave of him to say that. It’s important for people to tell these kinds of stories because it makes other people feel it’s okay that it happened to them or if they want to cross-dress. If a band you like says these kind of things, then maybe you’ll feel better about them. So, I really feel like we’ve written an important book. I wish I wasn’t so drunk right now, ‘cause I’m trying to make good points. Anyways, I’m proud of the book.
photo by: Montreal Gazette
You mentioned there are stories you haven’t heard from your bandmates before. Was it surprising to read some of them?
I didn’t know Eric Melvin was molested. You know, his girlfriend told me like 20 years ago, she said, “It’s weird, Eric doesn’t like me touching his nuts ever.” And I was like, “That’s weird. Eric, why don’t you like girls touching your nuts?” And he was like, “I don’t know, I just don’t like my nuts being touched.” And now I know why. It’s super weird, [they’re] people I’ve known for 33 years and I didn’t know stuff about them and they didn’t know stuff about me. It really brought us closer and everyone in the band really let it out. They let everything out.
photo by: Timothy Hiatt
Do you feel like after doing your play, Home Sweet Home, and now the book, you’re almost in a different state emotionally?
Well the play, that’s more based on my wife Selma and her life. I mean, I lived on the street but it’s a lot more based on her. Our new record [however] is very personal to me and the book too. And yeah, my life, all the secrets are out – it’s crazy.
Does it feel good having everything out in the open?
It does feel good – especially the cross-dressing thing. The cross-dressing thing was my last hurdle. It was something I’ve always been embarrassed of and it’s so crazy to be embarrassed of that. [It all started when] I was in Luxembourg and I was wearing a pink nightie in my hotel room with my lady and I said, “I’m just going to wear this tonight to dinner and to the show.” And she goes, “Really? You’re just gonna wear that?” And we walked down the street and I felt like a punk rocker again with my mohawk and my pink nightie and everyone was looking at me. And I was like, “Man, this feels good.” Like these, I’m wearing leather shorts right now. I’ve been wearing these for three months ‘cause I like wearing leather. When I get home, I’m like Mr. Rodgers. I come into my house and put on my leather shirt and my leather coat and put on some leather boots ‘cause these are clothes I feel comfortable in.
So, touching on the new album, when can fans expect to hear new music?
It’s funny, ‘cause we did a song called "Sid & Nancy” about Sid Vicious and Nancy Reagan. And two days later, after we announced it, Nancy Reagan died which is really funny. But that’s kind of a silly song. Our new record will be out in June which is kinda weird. Our book is coming out, our single – the “Oxymoron” single – is coming out, then we have our record coming out. So we kind of did everything at once. We don’t plan it that way. When we do a record, we don’t do a big tour, we just kind of do whatever we want. It just so happened that it’s been three-and-a-half years, it’s time for a record. And this is the most prepared I’ve ever been for a record. We wrote 20 songs originally and we’re down to 12 now. And you know, after you’ve been around 20 years, you gotta try and do something that will make people pay attention. So, just like the book, what I did on this record is I say things that our producer was like, “I’m so surprised that you’re actually going to sing that on a record.”
What do you think made you want to go that route?
Well, I always – like when we did The Decline – I want to do something original. And, you can’t just say “I’m gonna write a better album” because you can’t write better albums. It doesn’t happen like that. You don’t know if it’s gonna be a better album until way later. I think Wolves in Wolves’ Clothing is one of our best albums but people think not so. And our last album, Self-Entitled, got great reviews and I was my least prepared. I barely made it, I got 12 songs, this one I had 20. How I made this record different is it’s so personal. I had a really tough time, especially the Tony Sly song. The song is called “I’m Sorry Tony” and it’s about him but it’s also about how I let him down because I could have been a better friend. And, you know, our kids are best friends and his death makes me look at my life differently ‘cause I can’t do that to my kid. But I still drink and I still do drugs – not like I used to – but as you can see this record to me is a heartbreaking record. So yeah, I’m proud of it.
Were your bandmates surprised with the new songs?
Well, we jammed all the songs, most of them. But they didn’t know all the lyrics, they can’t hear the lyrics. But there’s one song, “Oxymoron,” I spent probably 30 hours writing the lyrics. You know, I remember singing it [and thinking,] “No, it could be better.” So, five hours that night. Five hours the next night. Five hours the next night writing lyrics because I wanted it to be perfect. Lyrically, I’ve never come close to this record. I don’t know how catchy it is or whatever, but this record hurts me.
It almost seems like this time around this record is more for you and you’re less worried about what the fans will say.
It is. Absolutely. I mean I always worry about our fans. In NOFX, people don’t really realize this, but we have very few choruses. Our biggest song “Linoleum,” no chorus. “Bob,” no chorus. Most of our songs have no chorus ‘cause I like that. When you’re not writing to have a radio hit, you’re writing for the art. And this record, I want people to like it, but I wrote stuff in there that hurts. Stuff that you shouldn’t say. [Pause] I wrote stuff about some of my friends that fucked up our relationships. But you know, you have to push, it is art. And, my engineer said, “I can’t believe you’re gonna actually fucking sing that” and I was like, “I’m doing it right.”
It’s interesting that once you’ve been in a successful band for so long and you get to this point – or even this age – it’s such a pivotal time where you can either choose to become comfortable with mediocrity or progress forward. And for you, it seems like you’re on an upswing being more vocal with your feelings and what’s going on around you.
Yeah, I haven’t cared so much about songwriting as right now. I’m not trying to put out a record, I’m trying to do something no one’s done before. I wrote just under 50 songs for Home Sweet Home and it’s whittled down, and the new NOFX record, and I just keep writing like crazy. I read something about Stephen King where he said he writes every day. And the problem with this is, and this is personal too, this is the first record I’ve ever done while drinking and using drugs. I always get sober to do our records. This time, I’ve been drinking and doing coke and I’ve got to places that I wouldn’t have got to if I didn’t do that. And that’s how I can do ten hours in the studio then go home and write for five hours. And, maybe I’m fucked, maybe the record isn’t very good and I’m just fooling myself [laughs]. You never know how good a record is until about six months to a year. [But] all I can tell people is that I peeled off my skin.
Well, we’re sure once fans hear it they’ll appreciate it. It’s a new NOFX record, what’s not to like?
Well, I remember when Coaster came out – which is a pretty decent record – and the Loved Ones’ record came out and they got better reviews than we did. And I was thinking, “Fuck, I mean The Loved Ones are okay, but you can’t win after fuckin’ 25 years.” No matter what you do, people aren’t going to give a fuck. It’s just, “Oh, another NOFX record. Who cares?” This one is different.
It’s weird how some fans won’t care as much about an established band’s new record as much as they used to earlier in the band’s career.
The artists also don’t care as much. Like our last record, I didn’t care as much. Self-Entitled, it turned out great [though]. But this record, I fuckin’ agonized over and it shows.