NOFX's Fat Mike on Double Album: "Choruses are for the f*cking weak"
NOFX, for the better part of 40 years, have made a career out of being unapologetically themselves no matter the cost. Whether they’re taking aim at injustice through witty lyricism or opening up about the darkest traumas of their lives, the band — especially enigmatic frontman, bassist and chief songwriter Fat Mike — are in many ways the last remaining figures of true punk ethos and contrarianism. Earlier this year, NOFX shared that they’ll be disbanding in 2023 after embarking on a final world tour, where they’ll play every song from their prolific and genre-spanning discography. That includes their brand-new companion piece to last year’s Single Album, simply titled Double Album, where NOFX have made good on their promise of delivering the first-ever “good” double album.
With Double Album, NOFX succeed in their mission to create a compelling two-part release by foregoing elaborate story arcs or concepts, opting to stick to what they know best: humor and sincere vulnerability. Those attributes juxtapose each other brilliantly to display the band’s heartfelt message and agenda. Sonically, NOFX haven’t missed a beat. Their progressive and unconventional songwriting still feels fresh after decades together while retaining a great deal of accessibility with songs such as “Darby Crashing Your Party” and “Punk Rock Cliche,” the latter of which was originally written by Fat Mike for blink-182’s 2015 LP California that was scrapped at the 11th hour.
Lyrically, Fat Mike remains unafraid of offending the masses with tracks such as “Is It Too Soon If Time is Relative,” a song dedicated to the late Stephen Hawking, as well as “Alcopollack,” a hilarious love letter to their longtime booking agent while sparing no expense in documenting tales of debauchery. However, even with the humor and sonics of the record, Fat Mike continues to exorcise the darkest corners of his mind and addictions through vulnerability and self-depreciation, which are exhibited in true form on “My Favorite Enemy” and “Fuck Day Six.” While Double Album will not be the last record from NOFX before they break up (rumor has it they have three more in the can), it’s yet another reminder of their importance in punk and a celebration of their devotion to authenticity.
In an exclusive interview, Fat Mike opens up like never before to discuss the creation of Double Album, the method behind his unconventional songwriting and the imminent disbandment of NOFX.
Do you feel like you accomplished your goal of writing a “good” double album?
Would you say I did? [Laughs.]
I definitely think so, and the reason being is that you didn’t lean on an elaborate story arc or concept and instead just showed two sides of NOFX that we all love.
That’s very interesting that you say that. I hadn’t thought about it that way. This isn’t a Quadrophenia or whatever — I thought of it more as The White Album, but wanted to do it better. I do feel like I accomplished this, but I only think I accomplished it because I didn’t release [both parts] at the same time.
It has been interesting to read that you admit the songs on Double Album aren’t necessarily as strong as the ones on Single Album. In my opinion, they hold the same weight because you allowed yourself to have more freedom and fun this time around. Would you agree?
Well, you’re supposed to have more freedom doing a double album. When you have to make a 30-minute great album, you really put more into it, and now you have time to work on songs that are more runts of the litter. I’m just having fun writing songs about whatever I feel like, whereas Single Album was really serious and self-reflective. Releasing the two albums a year apart was fucking the right move.
On Double Album, you still dive deep into those self-reflective and vulnerable places with songs like “My Favorite Enemy” and “Fuck Day Six.” It’s commendable how open you are with your listeners, but is it ever scary knowing that so many people are depending on your honesty at all times?
It’s not scary at all. What I struggle with all the time, though, is that people don’t trust me — it’s the worst thing in my life. I’m absolutely honest all the time. I don’t tell lies and never have. This is personal, but my dad’s second wife when I was 15 came into the living room and saw my friend stoned and said, “You guys are stoned,” but I didn’t do drugs until I was in my 30s. I said, “I don’t smoke pot,” and she didn’t believe me and said, “You may fool your dad, but you don’t fool me. [From there], I said “Well, fuck you, c**t,” and she went upstairs and told my dad. For the first time ever, my dad shook me and said “You called my wife a c**t?” I said, “Yeah, I did. I told her I didn’t do drugs, and she called me a liar.” He let me go and went upstairs and ended up yelling at her for calling me a liar. It was one of the only good things I got from my dad, and since then, I cannot lie. When people don’t trust me, it breaks my heart. I have no other choice [but to] be honest with my life.
I can see that, but has it ever felt like a sacrifice or a weight to carry to live up to what people are expecting from you?
Abso-fucking-lutely, I have a lot of weight on my shoulders, and it’s totally bearable until people don’t trust me. This [conversation] is like therapy for me right now. [Laughs.] People don’t understand my agenda, and I was once told by a therapist that I was seeing that no one would ever understand me and that I would always be alone. Boy, did that hit me hard because I don’t want to believe that, but I do [agree] that no one will understand me. I act in good faith all the time. People are like, “Why is he so rich and so successful?” I say that you can be a capitalist and never fuck anybody over. I make music and records that make people happy. The more joy you bring to the world, the more successful you are. Stupid people think they need to step on people to get up the ladder, but you don’t. You just need to put up your own ladder. I’m in the business of telling people to find their passion, and it doesn’t have to be normal because there is no such thing as normalcy. I’m gonna teach people how to be happy. People don’t know what makes them happy — they know what distracts them from happiness.
On Double Album, you’re proving once again that you are not afraid to take risks, and in many ways, you are one of the last living punk icons who still has the punk ethos of being contrarian. Is that something you thought about with this record?
I don’t think of that for records and stuff, but when I did War On Errorism, it was clear where we stood [on George W. Bush], but there were of course bands that didn’t stand by me, which I thought was weird. I grew up going to “Rock Against Reagan” [concerts], and now it was so surprising [to see] when I stood up against Trump, I got so many haters. What a terrible country we have become, but at least we make good movies. [Laughs.]
I have been debating how far I should go [now] because there is [a lot] of antisemitism. The upper class gets people like Kanye West, or people who are malleable, to talk shit about Jews or anyone. I will talk shit to anyone who believes in God, but I don’t mind if you have faith. You can’t have freedom of religion if you put down women or are against homosexuality — fuck you! You can’t let people have hate speech.
Switching gears, what initially stood out after listening to the opening track “Darby Crashing Your Party” is that NOFX can cover so much diverse ground in terms of genre within the framework of punk rock, but you also are able to disguise a ton of complex musical theory and chord changes within your songs that people would never expect. What drives you as a songwriter to never settle for the obvious?
I love this [conversation]. It’s the same theory I have behind stand-up comedy where you have to say something that no one expects, and it’s the same thing with a chord that no one expects. This is art, and this is legacy. I’ve never cared about writing a popular song, and that’s why NOFX has rarely had choruses. Our biggest songs [like] “Linoleum” don’t have choruses –– those are for the fucking weak and for the people who want a radio hit. I just want to tell the best story that I can.
You have recently announced that next year, which also happens to be the 40th anniversary of the band’s formation, will be your last. Was this on your mind for a while?
Yes, that’s true, and everyone in the band was not into it, but it’s not on their shoulders. I don’t enjoy shows like I used to–– I just have to get loaded because we’re just entertainers. I’ve got other shit to do, and though I built NOFX with no pigeonholes, we talk 30% of the time we are onstage to make people feel at home, but it’s been 40 years, and I’m done playing punk rock. We played Edmonton and Toronto, and those were our last shows there, and a lot of people said they were the best shows we ever played because we gave it our 100%, which I can’t say for every show. For this last tour, I’m excited because we’re playing all of our records and every song that we ever wrote. I want people to be so stoked and go out on such a high note. I’ve never been so excited to do a tour, and this truly is our last time playing live. It’s not a joke. We’re not a nostalgia act, and how great is it that people actually care about our new albums? Single Album got [some] of the best reviews we ever got.
With all of that said, have you thought about what you are going to feel like on that final night you are onstage with NOFX for the last time?
No, I won’t be able to make it through the first song –– I’ll have to take a bunch of MDMA, but I [do] play good on that. People always say that my band changed their lives, and they always say “thank you.” That’s the best thing you could ever say instead of asking for an autograph. We haven’t sold 20 million records, but we have real fans. We’re so fortunate.