What started off as a hardcore punk band in the early ’80s slowly developed into the poppy skate punk band that many punk fans were rocking out to by as late as the ’90s. The band even went as far as to write a book illustrating the ups and downs of a punk band climbing their way to success all on their own. NOFX will be signing copies of their book The Hepatitis Bathtub and Other Stories at 6 p.m. on Sunday, April 17, at Changing Hands Bookstore, located at 300 West Camelback Road in Phoenix. That same day, the band will play Marquee Theatre.
The really interesting thing about this is not necessarily the development of their sound, so much as how they went about it. In a time when other punk bands and bands associated with the genre, like Bad Religion, The Offspring, Green Day, and Rancid, were jumping at mainstream record deals and MTV, NOFX went about garnering popularity its own way.
“I was happy for my friends in Green Day and The Offspring,” says bassist and singer Michael John Burkett, better known as Fat Mike. “But I didn’t think it was the route that NOFX should take, because I didn’t think we’d be successful in that arena, and I didn’t want to be in that arena, either.”
About five years in, however, the band found themselves in the studio with Brett Gurewitz of Bad Religion fame, working on their first full-length, Liberal Animation, which came out in 1988.
“Brett was in Bad Religion, my favorite band,” says Fat Mike. "When he said he’d do our record for $675 in three days, we were pretty excited.”
Underground success followed for the band, buoyed by some airplay on Los Angeles radio station KROQ. The band wouldn't really get a taste of mainstream success until the early-'90s punk boom.
It's intriguing how long it took the band's 1994 classic album, Punk in Drublic, to be considered successful. Unlike how quickly The Offspring’s Smash blew up on Epitaph Records that year, Punk in Drublic was released on the same label, and took a long time to sell 500,000 copies.
“It wasn’t successful,” says Fat Mike. “It turned out to be, but none of our records broke through. It took eight years to go gold. So, eight years, and it didn’t hit the charts once. There was no excitement at any time.”
NOFX was receiving offers from major record labels between the exposure of punk to the corporate mainstream and their own evolution as a band. They would eventually turn down major labels as well as MTV. The band briefly entertained the possibility of life in the corporate world, but it didn't stick. The band remains independent to this day.
“We didn’t like it,” says Fat Mike. “We met with one major record label and I had a really bad taste in my mouth and we never did it again. So, what did I make of it? We’re a good band, and labels wanted to capitalize on us and probably drop us two years down the line. But we made the right move.”
And they would be right to make that claim. NOFX has put out 12 independent studio albums on top of the dozens of EPs and live albums they have released over the decades, a number of which have had impressive record sales even if they didn't hit the chartts. They've even had singles get airplay on major national radio stations. The band has managed to develop an amazing amount of popularity both in the punk scene and the mainstream and, more importantly, has done so consistently over the years. It’s not the classic songs here and there, after all, that have kept NOFX vital. It’s all the crazy ups and downs leading up to the good, real music that pulls listeners in, making for some spectacular performances at packed-out shows.