NOFX's Fat Mike on Cokie the Clown, Drinking, and Occupy Wall Street
NOFX has been a mainstay of punk rock for almost 30 years. The band has gained notoriety for its antics and activism, recently getting banned from Emo's in Austin because frontman "Fat Mike" Burkett tricked the audience into believing he served free tequila shots mixed with his own urine.
When Fat Mike isn't busy working on the next NOFX album, running Fat Wreck Chords, and raising his daughter, he is dedicated to the Occupy Wall Street movement.
We recently caught up with Fat Mike to discuss belonging to the one percent, drinking on tour, and performing as Cokie the Clown.
NOFX is scheduled to perform at Marquee Theatre on Saturday, January 7.
Up on the Sun: I read that you guys like to keep your tours short. What is the purpose of your upcoming West Coast tour?
Fat Mike: We haven't played the west coast in about three years. I keep our tours short because we're alcoholics and after two weeks of partying a lot, we need to dry out. In our 20s it was easy to tour for six months, [but] after two weeks I'm sick.
NOFX is one of the greatest success stories of punk rock. You guys have been going strong for almost 30 years...how did you do it?
I think our records have been pretty solid, but I think mostly it's just because we have a really good time, and like I said before, being alcoholics keeps it fun.
When we come on stage, we're drunk, we're having a great time and I think that shows that people believe us. It's not like we're just doing a show after thirty years. It's not like we're just becoming a caricature of ourselves; we're actually drunk. We're actually having a great time, we're not just pretending to.
What does that make Cokie the Clown?
Oh, Cokie the Clown, he's a caricature (laughs), obviously. He's not really my alter ego, it's just a character. It's just someone I wrote a song about and I became him.
Yeah, and then I heard about the whole South by Southwest debacle.
It's so crazy because a lot of people don't understand that it's all performance art. I had everything planned out and it worked perfect. I was so surprised at how big it got nationally in TMZ and stuff. It was some idea I had and a lot of people thought I was depressed and lost my mind. I just put on a show, it was simple.
Are you guys still banned from Emo's?
Well, yeah, but it's a venue we never play at anyway. It's too small.
What do you think you'd be doing now if NOFX never got off the ground? I went to college and got a degree, but I also went to real estate school, so I would probably be a real estate agent.
What was your experience like working on The Other F Word, and how has becoming a dad changed your career?
They just filmed me for a day. It wasn't intensive working on that movie, it was three years ago. How it changed me is when I'm not on tour, I sober up. So, all the time I spend with my daughter, I'm sober dad.
You guys have long been an outspoken band. What issues concern you the most right now?
I'm backing the Occupy movement. I know that cops are shutting it all down, but if you read the 10 things that have been posted that the occupy movement stands for, I think they're all reasonable. I think they should put the Glass-Steagall Act back in place, I think they have to hold banks accountable for ripping off America. I think people should squat their houses and not leave when they get forclosed on if they were issued the head of house in the first place. It seems like Americans are getting really screwed right now. There's no regulations in government, other than they have to make an amendment to the constitution that makes computer voting machines illegal [and use] paper ballots like every other country in the world.
What were your Occupy San Francisco and Los Angeles shows like? Do you plan on doing any more Occupy shows in the future? (Check out our sister paper, LA Weekly's coverage here)
We did plan on doing more, but they keep shutting them down, so there's really no venue. The LA one was just awesome. There was a lot of people there and it was such a good movement, such a good peaceful movement, but I don't know, they just shut it down for some reason. I think the movement is still going to go strong, it's just turning into something different. I was so impressed that 600,000 people opened accounts at credit unions in the month of November. They shut down their big bank accounts and opened them up to smaller banks to help people. That was a huge win already, doing that.
That's a way to screw the big banks and to help out your community. That's what we're asking for, stop supporting these huge corporations that don't care about you. You have other options. It's not a movement...it's not like voting against Bush or [stopping] the war in Iraq...it's small steps to achieve the goals of having a fair society.
I also think it's interesting that you identified yourself as belonging the one percent, yet you're helping out.
Yeah. Michael Moore was the first one to say it, like 'Hey I'm part of the one percent, but I'm here and I'm helping and I love this country and people.' Capitalism doesn't have to be 'Fuck everybody else,' it became that in America. Capitalism can be fine as long as you treat your employees well, and that's why there's so many rules put in place during Roosevelt's era, so that people were treated fairly and all those rules have been taken out. Clinton took out a lot of the regulations in banking. It wasn't Bush, it was Clinton, which sucks.
What do you think of Spotify?
I'm hoping Spotify is going to be a good company and treat artists and labels well. They can't do it now, they can't afford to because everybody has Spotify for free. Spotify is so good. I don't think it's that good for the free version, but if you pay ten dollars a month, which is reasonable, you get any fucking record you want and they sound great. So it's such a great deal and they do pay labels and artists, but I'm hoping they're going to start paying more as they become a more wealthy company.
They paid Fat Wreck Chords....they paid us well over $100,000 in royalties, so they are paying, it's just you only get a cent from a song. If you get 10 cents from an album and the album gets downloaded a thousand times, you make some money.
If you just listen to a NOFX record, Heavy Petting Zoo 20 times, you get paid every time. It's not like you download it once and you don't have to do it again, you have to download it every time.
I know you didn't do interviews for awhile, so I'll ask this point blank. Why did you take my interview?
I took your interview because our show in Phoenix is selling like shit. It's like the worst city in the country. It's got such a depressed economy...fuck. I'm just looking to get some press in Phoenix and fucking sell our tickets. Sure, it's half sold out, but most of our shows sell out. My manager was like "Hey, Phoenix isn't selling out, what's the problem? You should do an interview." So I did an interview.
Well, thanks, I appreciate it. I also appreciate you guys still playing here in spite of SB 1070.
What's going on there?
A lot of artists belong to the Sound Strike and are boycotting Arizona because of SB 1070, our controversial immigration bill. The kicker is, we didn't even vote for the legislation.
Well, a lot of people don't come to Arizona anymore because no one goes to shows anymore, because no one has any money and no one lives there.
I see Phoenix as being the next Detroit. If you're a college student or retired, it's a pretty good city.
Was "The Decline" written as one song, or a bunch of pieces put together? I know you guys sometimes play an abridged version of it, do you ever play it in full?
Yeah, we play it in full. I think we're going to do that in Phoenix.
What went into the process of writing that song? Did you plan on it being this epic, eighteen minute...
Yeah, yeah. I set out to do an 18 minute song and that took me about 6 months to write.
You guys have a pretty impressive body of work. Are there any songs you're burnt out on that you don't play live often?
You get burnt out on a lot of songs, half our songs I'm burnt out on. That's why we change our set-list every night and we know how to play about 100 songs. So, we change it and I gotta play 'Linoleum,' I gotta play 'The Brews' sometimes, I gotta play 'Bob' sometimes, but I don't mind. It's kinda what you do. As long as I have 10 other songs that are fun to play that we haven't killed yet, it's fine.
What would you say, just looking back on your work, is the album you're most proud of?
I think Decline might be our best album, best piece of work, but it's not really an album. I like So Long, and Thanks for all the Shoes, I think that's our catchiest album. I'm really proud of Wolves in Wolves' Clothing, I think that's a great album.
Are you working on any new material?
Yeah, I'm working on a new NOFX album right now and I just did a soundtrack to a fetish film, which is really cool. It's called Rubber Bordello.
When's that coming out?
February. It's an old ragtime soundtrack.
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