In The Firing Line: Fat Mike
As part of a new series DAVID SWAN puts NOFX frontman Fat Mike In The Firing Line to talk selling out, sex dungeons and Cokie the Clown.
When I reach NOFX’s Fat Mike (aka Mike Burkett) he is visiting a sporting goods store with his daughter, and admittedly not in the best of shape. “I was just in the bathroom with a terrible case of diarrhea,” he says, laughing. It proves very telling that we start our conversation in the toilet: because that’s where it remains for the next 20 minutes, as the 45-year-old singer regales me with stories spanning his nearly three decades in California’s punk scene.
Is it difficult to stay relevant in punk the older you get?
Not really, because the punk scene just keeps getting older and older. I mean you go to these fucking festivals in England, like Rebellion Festival, and it’s like 100 bands playing that are older than NOFX. Punk rockers are old – they don’t seem to grow out of it. And in San Francisco I go to punk shows and it’s old people, it’s just like old fucking drug addicts on drugs. So kids get into punk, but punk rock is old.
Given that Bush got re-elected did Rock Against Bush fail?
It didn’t fail because we got a couple of hundred-thousand people to register to vote, and it made a big difference in the 2006 elections when the Democrats totally took over. In Montana, there was one girl who got enough votes through her college campus to swing the election and Montana got their first Democratic congressman ever. We made a big difference. We lost because Bush fucking cheated, and America’s full of a bunch of idiots. Electronic voting machines are why we lost.
A lot of what you fight against is related to US politics, don’t you think things are a lot worse elsewhere?
Oh no, things are the worst here. Of course, of course things are worse somewhere else. But you know, I’m not going to sing about fucking African drought, when it’s not what my life’s about. The people who are buying my music – I want to sing about something they can relate to. I’m not going to sing about house prices in China [laughs]. What’s the point of that?
Do you like America?
Yeah, I think it’s probably in the top 10 places to live, as far as countries go. I prefer Australia.
What is it about the media or journalists that makes you so hesitant to do interviews?
When punk rock took off in the mid ‘90s, it was the same questions every day. And mostly about what I think about Green Day and Offspring getting big. It was all these pop magazines wanting to talk about punk rock and “catch the wave”. They didn’t care about my band – they just wanted to sell magazines. And what was happening was that people were not printing what I was saying. They were putting in the answers they wanted me to say. I was tired of being misquoted and they weren’t asking anything important; they weren’t asking about my lyrics, just what I thought about pop and punk rock becoming big. It became so dumb that I started lying, all the questions were the same, and I was just sick of saying the same fucking stock answers.
Given so many of your peers were “selling out” at the time, were you tempted to as well?
Yeah, we had about a four-month period where we had offers from major labels. Meeting with them left a bad taste in my mouth, so we didn’t do it. But we had about four months where the band talked about it, and I came to the realisation that if we go our own way we’ll have a longer career, and be happier. And I convinced the band – actually I manipulated the band – into agreeing with me [laughs]. We completely made the right decision.
You’ve made jokes about Tom Gabel transformation to Laura Grace, on Twitter – what are your real thoughts about his decision?
Actually I just texted her last night, I’m incredibly happy for her. I live in San Francisco and I know quite a few transgender people – so for me it’s not that shocking. It was just a matter of time before someone I knew in the punk scene did it. I think it’s great, and I’m really happy with how supportive the whole scene has been to her.
Oh, and Fat Wreck will be releasing a special edition of Against Me as the Maternal Cowgirl sometime next spring! :)
— Mike Burkett (@FatMike_of_NOFX) May 10, 2012
Do you ever feel like you’re running out of topics to rebel against? Are you ever just rebelling for the sake of rebelling?
Lyrically, it gets hard to write about stuff. I have written some songs that I didn’t need to write. But there’s something about just being offensive to society that I really like. The norm is just so boring. But I do most of the things I do because they’re fun.
Is the song ‘She Didn’t Lose Her Baby’from the new album about anyone specific?
It’s about a friend, well an ex-friend, and it’s pretty much right on – she was a meth-head and they took her baby from her.
What about ‘Ronnie and Mags’?
It’s about Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. There’s sexual overtones to it which sure aren’t true, but it just made it sound a little bit more fun.
I know you’re with your daughter, is now a good time to talk about your sex dungeon?
Yeah, let me get out of the car. Hold on. OK, so you want to know what’s in my dungeon?
There’s a sling with suspension, a suspension bar where you get tied up and suspended from the ceiling or hung upside down or something. There’s a cage which fits two people, not that comfortably, but it does fit two. What else? There’s racks and racks of evil tools, evil implements of pain and destruction. There’s a gynecological chair, if you need that. There’s, I don’t know what they’re called [those things] to hold bags of saline. There are scalpels, closets full of all kinds of outfits – tons of hoods, gas masks [laughs]. It’s a huge, 800-square-foot dungeon in a downtown apartment. Like a loft. [Calls out to family] I’m going to stay out here you, guys.
Do you still do drugs and if so which ones?
All of them [laughs]. I don’t smoke a lot of pot, and I don’t do as much drugs as I used to. Actually since [No Use For A Name singer] Tony Sly died I’m doing a lot less. I just did a Me First and the Gimme Gimmes tour in Europe and twice I did a little bit of coke, but I’m doing a lot less. I do ecstasy, coke, valium, painkillers; but you know I don’t do painkillers on tour because it helps with my voice. I like valium before a show, it just makes you more fucked up. And Jameson and soda and vodka and soda. One thing I’d like you to know about drugs, is that I didn’t start doing drugs ‘til I was 31. I took care of business and made my fortune, and then started doing drugs.
“I took care of business and made my fortune, and then started doing drugs.”
Memo to all the wannabe rock stars: wait until you’re 30.
Yeah wait ‘til you fucking take care of business, then it’s time to party.
What’s the story behind Cokie the Clown and is it irresponsible to promote drug use when you have you so many teenagers looking up to you and your band?
It was a performance, and I sang all these terrible songs and told all these terrible stories I’d been through, as a sad clown. I thought it was a pretty original piece of art. People didn’t know what to make of it – they thought I was kidding at first. I told them about this rape that I witnessed – that I didn’t stop because I would’ve been killed by the people that were doing it. I talked about killing my mother, because I did kill my mother, she was dying of cancer and asked me to kill her. I had a roommate who hung himself, and I got him down even though he was dead. I told all these stories, the most personal stories of my life, and I did some juggling too [laughs]. People did not know what the fuck was going on. But all the stories I told were true. I talked about drinking my girlfriend’s piss for the first time, on a balcony in downtown LA. I was lying on a fire escape and she was pissing in my mouth, it was dripping down, on the street. So yeah, I told a lot of personal things in my life.
Did you need that mask of a clown, to tell those stories?
I don’t have a problem telling you, do I? No, I just thought I should have this really depressing clown: like this really sad clown, singing sad songs and telling real stories. It’d be something that no-one’s ever done before. Especially since the stories were true. And I have a song, too, about killing my mum. I don’t know if we’re ever going to release it. It’s called ‘La Pieta’. It describes exactly how I did it.
Last two questions, when’s the band going to tour Australia and when are you going to call it quits?
Well I’m going to say “no idea” to both of those questions. For A and B. Actually, NOFX are going to quit three years after Bad Religion quit, how’s that?
NOFX’s new album ‘Self Entitled’ is out September 14.
Photo credit: Heidi Takla