The punk scene across America was dominated by a few bands back in the early/mid 1980s: you’re talking about a time where Circle Jerks, Minor Threat, Black Flag and the Dead Kennedys were ruling the scene, this small unknown punk band called NoFX popped up on the scene and attempted to make their mark!
Jump forward over 30 years and considering NoFX are still around making music to this day, you would be of an uncommon opinion if you were to say that they were unsuccessful! After going through a couple of band member changing in the early years, the original trio of Michael “Fat Mike” Burkett (Bass/Vocals/Keyboard), Eric Melvin (Rhythm Guitar/Accordion/Backing Vocals) and Erik “Smelly” Sandin (Drums) came back together before being joined by Aaron “El Hefe” Abeyta (Lead Guitar/Trumpet/Backing Vocals) in the later part of 1991. Since then, NoFX have gone on to release another 10 studio albums, as well as a tell-all book called The Hepatitis Bathtub and a behind the scenes series called NoFX: Backstage Passport.
So what was left for Fat Mike to do from a musical perspective where he could still leave a mark after all these years, considering from a personal standpoint he also has a very successful record label in Fat Wreck Chords? Fellow punk fans, may I introduce you to the Punk In Drublic Festival: an all-day punk rock festival COMBINED WITH beer tasting, which works its way down the west coast of America over six dates in September/October. Did I also mention that there is a specially crafted beer there that Fat Mike himself designed for people to enjoy!
OVERDRIVE sat down with Fat Mike to discuss the upcoming Punk In Drublic Festival: what better place to start than with Fat Mike’s motivation behind combining punk music and beer into this all day experience:
“Well it’s just three people: it was Cameron from Brew Ha Ha Productions, Jon Reese and me. They’d done something like this in San Diego and wanted me to get involved to book it in L.A but I thought ‘we should really tour this’ because originally I wanted to have a lot of bands; but then we kind of thought ‘what sort of festival would WE want to go to and how many bands would we want to see? Let’s make it 21 and over, as we only really need five bands; plus let’s throw in free beer tasting and make it only on weekends!’ It sounded like so much fun and I’d go to it. What we did was designed a festival where I would go to it as a fan; I don’t want to go to festivals in the summer where it’s really hot, which is why we designed this to be in September/October. I think it’s going to be a good time! I had so much doing the Warped Tour for so many years and getting to play with so many great bands; but this is something I would go to and enjoy myself. By putting my friend’s bands on it; you know, Bad Religion are some of my best friends. Then you add Flogging Molly and Less Than Jake; yeah that’s what I want. When we used to do Warped, part of our deal was that Bad Religion HAD to be on it; we wanted to tour with Bad Religion and that was the best way for us to do it. We haven’t toured with Bad Religion in so many years and we’re excited that we get to again! You know what’s really cool about it for the bands too? When you’re on tour for three or four weeks, you get burnt out and start to think ‘this is a job…’; this is only on weekends and NOT every weekend, so when we get to do this it’s like a mini vacation whilst on tour, so we’re not burnt out and ready to go. Just going on tour in general is hard, especially when you get to be our age; it’s nice to just get out on the weekend and have a really good time, which makes it really fun for the bands and I think it really translates to the fans as well.”
NoFX are going to be sharing the stage with some other iconic and well loved punk bands during the Punk In Drublic Festival; fans who attend are going to be fortunate enough to see Goldfinger, Bad Cop/Bad Cop, Less Than Jake as well as having either Flogging Molly or the iconic Bad Religion co-headlining alongside them! Fat Mike explains how talks went down in regards to getting Flogging Molly and Bad Religion to play, as well as how little convincing it actually took!
“You know, I just called and asked if they wanted to do this; I actually talked to Flogging Molly in person! Our managers took care of everything else, but there wasn’t a lot of arm twisting. We just did Flogging Molly’s cruise last year and like I said, us and Bad Religion love playing together.” This interviewer mentioned how he was privileged to get to see both Bad Religion and NoFX tour together for NoFX’s Coaster album and that it was phenomenal to get to see two iconic bands from the punk scene of late the 80s/early 90s and Fat Mike mentioned how “that tour was super awesome; it was great and there were huge turn outs! We’re both from the eighties as you know; we just didn’t get popular until the nineties (laughs). We weren’t popular in the eighties and we were unliked by everyone but we were around; we could have just not been around in the eighties and have just done just fine (laughs again) It would probably been best as it most likely hurt us putting out all those shitty albums; in our case we had to improve on everything!”
This interviewer made a comment about how those ‘shitty albums’ were a learning curve to help NoFX get to where they are today. Granted this is the same band that has not only put out an album called I Heard They Suck Live!! (1995), but also followed it up at a later date with They’ve Actually Gotten Worse Live! (2007); so it’s a part of the NoFX experience to get a ‘shitty performance’ as NoFX get up on stage to have fun and just don’t care. Fat Mike further elaborated on that in great depth:
“What’s funny about that is that people see us as a funny band, or as kind of a joke band and we’re not that at all; we just like to have fun on stage. You know, 95% of our songs are pretty serious! This world is absurd and you have to try and make it a better place, but you have to have fun; you only live once and don’t want to look back when you’re eighty and wish you had done things differently. Shit that scares me; I’ve fucking done everything I want to do I think (laughs). To have seen my daughter grow up, I wanted to see that happen because when you get to see life through someone else’s eyes it’s pretty cool. I also have a step daughter but she just moved out to go to college.” This interviewer asked what she was going to be studying and Fat Mike replied with “I don’t know as she hasn’t started yet; she’s American and we don’t really pay attention to that kinda shit, we just go to college as there’s nothing better to do (chuckles)” before we were exposed to a bit of an unexpected insight into the history of Fat Mike.
“I didn’t go to college to study anything; you just couldn’t make any money playing punk rock and the other guys in the band had jobs, Plus at the time, college was only $600 a semester so what the fuck; I finished college! Now, getting out of college you don’t have the options anymore; I have a sister who’s thirteen years younger than me and when she got out of college she got two jobs, one at Subway and one at Blockbuster Video. You know, that’s what a college degree will get you these days.”
Touching further on the current stage of the world, Fat Mike wasn’t shy in expressing how he portrays what he sees:
“The world is getting kind of horrible; I feel like the 90s was the best decade that humanity will have ever seen! The last song on the last album, I mean that; I really feel that my daughters will live in a world that’s completely different from this one. Tomorrow in San Francisco, there’s a fucking Nazi march; you know, like what the fuck! I’m not even sure what to do; me and Sturgeon from Leftover Crack were thinking about just making our own swastika t-shirts and joining the march (laughs) You know, infiltrate! We were just thinking about having a good laugh about it, you know a couple of Jews walking down the street talking about hating Jews; you don’t want to get too far into that party because what are you going to learn from a bunch of fucking morons? A lot of these Aryans are separatists; a lot of them just want to kick the shit out of each other but a lot of them are just separatists which is just totally retarded. It’s like in S&M; I could be getting beaten by a woman for half an hour with a bullwhip but if she steps on my toe she will say ‘sorry did I hurt you?’ (chuckles wholeheartedly). You know, it’s like with restraints; they’re meant allow your arms and legs to be very comfortable whilst you’re getting this shit beat out of you!!”
Knowing that Fat Mike was teaming up with Brew Ha Ha Productions, it was only logical that the brewery chosen to create Hoppy Lager would have their work cut out for them; that’s where Stone Brewing accepted the challenge and rose to the occasion! Fat Mike explained how Stone Brewing came on board, as well as how much input he personality put into the creation process:
“It was Cameron from Brew Ha Ha who came to me about doing the Punk In Drublic show, both he and Jon came to me about doing the L.A show. Then Cameron got Stone on board, so I had a meeting with them and they asked what kind of beer I wanted; I said ‘I don’t want a real heavy beer; I want something that is as light as possible, but with the taste of an IPA (Indian Pale Ale). You know, for an all day festival I wanted a beer that was light and easy to drink! It turned out real good; I got to put the hops in and I got to push a button too!” When this interviewer mentioned how it was a smart idea to make a lighter beer so people could drink all day and not miss out on the musical aspect of the festival, Fat Mike chuckled and threw in how that would be the case “unless you bring in some sort of amphetamine; then you’re gonna be pretty sloshed by the time we go on.”
At each show along the Punk In Drublic festival, there are going to be unique cans of Hoppy Lager that have the location and date of the festival; this interviewer was curious whether fans would be able to take a sealed can home from the show, as a piece of memorabilia to add to their collection. Fat Mike elaborated “I don’t know, but I know that liquor stores are going to be carrying cans all over the place. Basically, we don’t want cans at the shows; especially in Australia where you don’t want so many projectiles.” This interviewer followed up with a comment about how he personally collects unique and special cans/bottles, to which Fat Mike added that “if you collect cans, I have a can of peas back from the 60s if you’re interested (laughs) But you know what I do have; I have a can of Duff beer from Australia.”
With Punk In Drublic being in its inaugural year, it made perfect sense to work down the West Coast of America and test things out. For those who live more central or on the Eastern half of the United States that means you unfortunately miss out, unless you’re willing to take a cross country vacation! Thank the punk/beer gods though, as Fat Mike explained that “we’re looking at expanding across America next year and Canada” before shedding light for those overseas who were upset they couldn’t attend: ”In regards to expanding it internationally, hopefully we do get to expand it to Australia! We might be down there before that happens though, only time will tell.”
This interviewer unfortunately missed out on the most recent NoFX show to Australia, so hearing that they might be looking at gracing our shores soon most definitely got the blood flowing with excitement! Fat Mike went on to say about the most recent trip to our shores that “I didn’t have the best time on that tour; as you can tell by the video where I got in that fight with the kid. What I’m looking for is a trip like when we came down with Bad Religion!”
This interviewer is old enough to remember when Fat Mike was an active force in trying to get people to vote against George W. Bush Jnr; he even went as far as to produce not one, but TWO records that were filled to the brim with fellow all-star bands in support of PunkVoter, the organisation Fat Mike founded! Many of the songs on the Rock Against Bush albums were previously unreleased, which just added to the impact that those albums had on the music scene at the time. Having already received an insight into Fat Mike’s opinion about the current state of the world, this interviewer was curious as to whether PunkVoter could possibly make a comeback to try and open the eyes of Americans again? Fat Mike stated that “I’m not interested in doing that; when I did Rock Against Bush, it was two years before the upcoming election to educate people to get to vote against him. Trump’s in power now; I don’t think he’s not going to make it much longer, definitely not four years. Most of the country despises him, so why waste my time?”
This interviewer mentioned how he read a while ago that PunkVoter was no longer on Fat Mike’s priority list, but how he wasn’t sure if it would come up again if Trump looked at making it to the end of his four year term: Fat Mike explained how “it just made sense back then; I also spent a year and a half of my life in public service trying to make the world a better place. It’s not that I wanted to be doing it, I thought it was my responsibility to do it; you just can’t educate a Trump supporter, it’s impossible. With Bush, I actually managed to change the mind of some Republicans and get them to vote against Bush: it takes over a half hour to an hour to explain why his policies are bad. Now with Trump, his policies are so fucking bad from the get go, you just don’t even bother; you’re just dealing with people who don’t know what they’re talking about. I’m busy enough with this musical I’ve been working on forever, as well as producing records. I produced the new Bad Cop/Bad Cop record and I think that record has so much importance towards women’s rights and what’s going on right now; I still feel like doing statements but it’s not my life.”
Getting to speak to Fat Mike, this interviewer wanted to ask one question about the band and the insights they have allowed their fans; what was the inspiration behind releasing The Hepatitis Bathtub and Other Stories after fans had already been allowed behind the scenes with NoFX: Backstage Passport? Fat Mike was more than happy to elaborate further:
“Well the Backstage Passport series is only touching on one thing; that’s just us on tour. I really felt the NoFX story is one that hasn’t been heard before. We’re kinda the most improved band because of where we came from; you know, most bands don’t spend eight years with nothing and then get big, eight years is a long time. If bands these days don’t get big within a year or two, they give up and start a new band. Also, our history is pretty fucked up and weird; it’s weird that all four guys in the band had really and pretty crazy childhoods. I told the guys how I think we should do a book but only if everyone is willing to tell all the stories, not just the ones that make us look good.”
This interviewer was excited to buy a copy of the book as soon as he could (that four week wait for overseas delivery was the most excruciating thing ever!), only to have to send it back as it was damaged! Thankfully the second copy wasn’t damaged, as there was no way I could have handled having to wait a third time; I’ve already read the book multiple times and loaned it out to friends so they can get to experience the full NoFX story as well, as it is one that people must read about! This interviewer loves to read auto-biographies that don’t pull punches and don’t hide anything, but his mind was amazed by the level at which the Hepatitis Bathtub raised the bar in a way that has not only never been seen before, but might not ever get reached again. Fat Mike was completely blown away to hear that feedback, as his first response was to say “thank you, that’s very nice of you to say.” Fat Mike then went into further detail:
“That’s what we tried to do; why do it if you can’t fucking do a really good one? I read band biographies myself and they don’t put in the real rough stuff; either the stuff they’re embarrassed about or the shit that’s just too hard! That’s what is fun about our book; everyone says how they were shocked and it wasn’t the book that they were expecting.”
This interviewer mentioned how he has read some really amazing autobiographies (Corey Taylor, Marilyn Manson, both Tommy Lee’s and Motley Crue’s The Dirt) and that Hepatitis Bathtub was on a completely different level and raised the bar for autobiographies in future; Fat Mike first responded how “I’m glad you liked it so much” before mentioning how “we received a really big compliment from the guy who wrote The Dirt; he loved our book and told us so, which is really nice because that’s a great book too. It was sad reading about the death of a daughter; having a daughter that was heartbreaking for me!”
Punk In Drublic kicks off in Tacoma, WA on September 16th.
REGARDING TICKETS AND INFORMATION TO ALL PUNK IN DRUBLIC FESTIVAL DATES, CLICK HERE!