[Photo credit: Joe Leonard]
When it came time to put together their 13th album First Ditch Effort, punk rockers NOFX found themselves in an odd spot. Having recently released their tell-all (and we mean all) book The Hepatitis Bathtub And Other Stories, the band realized that all their dirty laundry was out in public. So, no reason to not sing about it, and sing about it bassist/vocalist Fat Mike does. The album contains some of his most open and personal lyrics to date. It matches the music, serious and hard-hitting hardcore and melodic punk, exactly what NOFX do best. We got Fat Mike on the phone a few days before First Ditch Effort’s release, to talk about his lyrical intentions and how they tie into his much-publicized sobriety and why he’s actually nervous about the album coming out.
Why is it nerve-wracking for you having the album about to come out?
FAT MIKE: Just because this album’s different from a lot of our albums. So far, all of the people I’ve done interviews with have liked it a lot, but you never know what kids are going to think. I don’t take criticism very well. I’m fragile.
It’s interesting to hear you say that, because no one ever admits that they don’t like criticism of their work.
I tell Vanessa [Burt, Fat Wreck Chords publicist] to not send me even fair reviews.
Part of the reason why the album connected so much with me is because I’ve always maintained that your best work is your most serious and your most honest stuff. pretty serious and honest record. There’s not a lot of zaniness there.
Yeah, that’s what the album turned into. There were 19 songs recorded for it. After you record all these songs, you kinda see the shape of it, where it’s going. It could have been the zany album if I chose the six other songs that got dropped. But it had a really neat feel to it as is.
Why is it more serious?
After we released Hepatitis Bathtub, all my secrets were out there, and I got to sing about things that I wouldn’t sing about before. Also, I’ve always been in the studio recording albums sober. This time, I drank and used drugs the whole time in the studio. I was doing coke every day, which I think is one of the reasons why the record has a different feel, because I experimented more and I had more patience. I’d get to the studio at noon and fucking do coke and start drinking and pretty much drink a whole bottle of vodka by the night, and that’s one of the reasons we came out with a record that’s more serious. The bass lines in this album—I’ve never done bass lines like that before. I was really enjoying myself, and it was kind of challenging, as well. I’d have to do my vocal tracks early in the day because I’d be too sloppy even by early evening to sing.
“The thing is my drug habit wasn’t big, it was just daily.”
So where in the timeline is this, because you went into detox…
I went into detox for six days. The thing is my drug habit wasn’t big, it was just daily. I’m always too worried about dying or OD’ing. So I was doing like two Percocets a day; I know people that were doing like 15 or 20 a day. It’s just that I couldn’t stop, and I definitely couldn’t stop in the middle of a record or a book tour. It’s a funny thing:There are some songs about being sober, and there are two reasons for that. I did go through about a month six months ago where I was really trying to be sober, and I wasn’t drinking or using coke, but I was taking this Suboxone drug the doctor gave me. So I was sober-minded, but I was still hooked on a drug. So my intention was to clean up, but a lot of the songs were written because I had set my detox date so it wasn’t going to happen for a couple months. So it was like, “I am going to be sober by the time the record comes out.” [Laughs.] For the 17 years I’ve been doing drugs, I always quit for two or three weeks as I came back from tour, so I know what it’s like to be sober, or play sober. So, “California Drought” [a song on the album] is looking ahead.
“I don’t want to be a sober person, but I don’t want to be a drug addict.”
And how’s the sobriety now? Where are you at with that?
I had 85 days totally sober, but since then I’ve gone back to drinking at shows, but I’m off painkillers now, and I don’t think I’ll ever take painkillers again, and that was my problem. I don’t want to be a sober person, but I don’t want to be a drug addict. I managed to walk that line for a long fucking time; I just have to find out how to get back there. So I’m dipping my feet back in the pool.
The song “Oxy Moronic” sounds zany at first, but it’s a super-serious subject and one I’m glad you took on so strongly.
When the song came out, a lot of people were like, “Oh no, Fat Mike is going to be against drugs after being for drugs his whole life.” That’s why there’s a missing piece, and the missing piece was: I got addicted to painkillers, and I went to see a drug doctor who specializes in getting you off painkillers. And he said, “I want to put you on a Suboxone drug.” On the street, you can get Suboxone, and people take it for a week and that’s how they get off painkillers, but the doctor said, “You can’t get it for a week, you have to take it for three months, because that’s the program we run here.” I was like, “Three months? I thought it took a week.” He goes, “No, it’s three months, and that’s how you do it safely.” So, I said, “Okay.” Then I had to go see him once a week to get drug tested, so I was clean for those three months. Then at the end, I’m like, “Alright, how many patients do you have that this works for? How do you get off this? Because I’ve been reading up and this is harder to quit than opiates.”
“That song was originally a party song. Then this fucking thing happened to me, the doctor conned me to getting hooked on drugs. And I know a lot of people that’s happened to. And so then the song suddenly made sense to me, like, 'Oh, this a war cry. This is a fucking war against doctors and big pharma.'”
What did he say?
His eyes kinda darted away, it was a poker tell: He was lying to me. He said, “Well, a lot of my patients go back to opiates, and a lot of them stay on Suboxone.” I was like, “Oh my god, you just got me hooked on a different drug, so I can see you every week and you can make your fucking money.” So I got back on opiates because I had to go on tour, and I was like, “Fuck it, I’m going to get back on opiates.” Because that’s how you get off Suboxone, by taking opiates. So I did that. Because if I’m going to take drugs, at least I’m going to have a good time. Then I went to detox, and you know what the detox doctor said? He said, “I’m going to put you on Suboxone for seven days, and you’ll be fine.” And that’s how I got clean. I was so fucking pissed. That song was originally a party song. Then this fucking thing happened to me, the doctor conned me to getting hooked on drugs. And I know a lot of people that’s happened to. And so then the song suddenly made sense to me, like, “Oh, this a war cry. This is a fucking war against doctors and big pharma.” Instead of helping me to get off drugs, they just wanted me to get on other drugs. I firsthand experienced it, so I can sing about it. And the fact of the matter is, none of my friends have died from doing cocaine and drinking. They may become assholes for the night. But people die from pharmaceuticals.
“Happy Father’s Day” is another really open song, and lyrically, you’re not exactly trying to be poetic or beat around the bush. Was that a tough song for you to write?
It just came really fast. That’s why it’s so short. The more time I spend with my daughter and the more things we do together—we go on hikes and bike rides and shit—I just get more and more angry that I didn’t have any of that as a kid. I was totally cheated out of having a father for my life. So, no apologies, you know? I think it’s a good message, too. I really do. If you have a kid, it’s a responsibility, that even if you don’t feel like getting up or going to the amusement park, it’s like, you decided to do this.