NOFX’s Fat Mike Defines Selling Out, Talks Punk vs. Metal + Calls Out Henry Rollins
A Fat Wreck is a documentary detailing the independent label Fat Wreck Chords, which was started by NOFX mainman Fat Mike in 1991 alongside this then girlfriend Erin. We caught up with Fat Mike to discuss the documentary and in this second part of our interview (first part here), we asked the icon what his definition of selling out is, being honest with the bands on his label and the sometimes subpar records they deliver, why he prefers the punk community over metal's subculture and why he feels Henry Rollins ruined Black Flag. Check out the conversation below.
In A Fat Wreck, it was funny when Chris Shiflett (Foo Fighters, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, ex-No Use For a Name) said around 1996 a kid came up to him and asked, "What's it like to be in a corporate sellout label like Fat Wreck Chords?" You seem to be the only one who is qualified to speak about what selling out is, because, by all accounts, you never have. What's your definition of it?
I would say that selling out is when you think you know what's popular and you change your band's sound to fit that. I wouldn't say it's going on a major label or something like that. Because just going on a major label means you want that kind of career. You want that kind of distribution, like, you know bands don't sign with Fat Wreck Chords for Gold records.
You don't sign to become commercial success. You're signed to us because they like the bands on our label and they want to be part of it, which is so awesome to be able to do that. It's so awesome to have a label that's still -- we can still get bands to sign without offering money.
What you guys have is that you get honest bands. That's not what a lot of other labels have. When you do sign to an indie, it's because you want to put your heart into it and you don't want to alter your sound.
Yeah sometimes. But sometimes I'll tell bands things that majors won't. Like, I'll say, "I'm not going to put out this record because I don't think it's good enough yet." Where majors will be like, "Oh, there's three good songs. We'll put it out." But I like having a certain -- I don't want to fool people. I like to put out quality records. You can't always do that.
What's it like when you do hear a record from a band and you think it just sucks. You're known for being honest, but do you have any reservations about approaching them?
Yeah, well, I've had a lot of experience with that. Not a lot, but you kind of have to read the bands. We just put out a — one of the few bands we dropped was Bracket. And I used to love Bracket, and they just — they really dropped their punk sound and they weren't a band that ever sold records anyway, and they didn't tour, so I'm like, "You know, I don't like your record and financially we're losing money. You guys are bros, but I don't want to put out your records anymore."
Where another band, like, maybe Avail, I was like, "You know, your records on Lookout were better. Why are you giving us this record that isn't very good? Can you make it better?" And then they got offended and ended we up putting it out anyway, and — but they don't like it as much, so I try to be honest, but I don't want to hurt people's feelings. If it's not going to do any good, why be honest?
It comes down to this. If a band sends me a demo, I'm honest. If they send me a finished record, I'm not that honest.
Because you don't want to hurt their pride and all the effort they just put into it?
Yeah, and it's already too late anyway 'cause — one thing I've learned is that every band thinks their new album is their best. Almost without a doubt and when I do with NOFX, I usually wait six months before I put any judgment out on it. And you know, my job is not to vent what they're doing wrong, but you know, some bands, I do. I mean, I just gave this band advice the other day and they said it's the best advice they ever got.
What was that?
I don't know why it took so long. The band Useless I.D. They didn't talk to the crowd at all. They'll play five, six songs in a row, and I'm like, "You've got good songs, but you're not giving people a reason to know you." And when we were on my bus, they told me about this girl that came to their show and two days later she got blown up in a bus bombing in Israel. And I go, "Why don't you tell the crowd that story?" And he goes, "Oh, I don't know. I've never really told it before." And I go, "Well, you just moved me, so why don't you tell it live?" And he said the crowd totally changed and got so into that after he told the story.
It's an emotional connection.
And no one's going to hear the lyrics when you're playing it live. You guys are from Israel. Tell people what it's like to live in Israel.
In the A Fat Wreck documentary, a common theme is family, pride and heart. What does the punk community offer that other music subcultures don't?
So much. Punk rock is very accepting. You don’t have to be in. You don’t have to be in the in crowd. It’s kind of music for dorks, losers and loners. That’s what I found is I never fit in. I used to have some surfer, skateboard buddies. But I never fit in in high school. And when I found punk rock, I’m like this is where I belong. And punk rock is a community where bands support each other and care about each other. Where metal for instance is not at all.
What makes you say that?
Well I’ll give you one example, the best example is the Deftones. The Deftones did the Warped Tour, they are the only band that did the Warped Tour and Ozzfest. And they did the Warped Tour a few times because they said Ozzfest kind of sucks because the bands don’t hang out together, everybody is trying to out do each other. And there’s like posses.
But in the Warped Tour, everyone is like, "Hey what’s up bro" and hanging out and having barbecues together. And it’s like punk rock was never a competitive thing and metal always has been. You always hear about metal or hip hop, there [are] alway feuds. There [are] no punk rock feuds. I mean there might be a few, but you know, all of the big punk rock bands, like if you named the top six, Bad Religion, Rancid, Dropkick Murphys, Flogging Molly, NOFX, Descendents, we’re all friends. All of us are. There is no beef.
There's definitely an alpha thing in the metal community and I think that tends to turn people off.
And people are dicks. If you’re a rock star dick in punk rock, then you are the one who gets alienated.
So you feel like everybody in punk just kind of checks their ego at the door?
Not everyone, but pretty much as a rule. Henry Rollins did the Warped Tour, and he did not hang out, he stayed in his bus. Even Fletcher from Pennywise went to give him a gift, like a 7" he heard he wanted and he wouldn't come off the bus. Like, who the f--k do you think you are? And, by the way, you ruined Black Flag. [laughs]
How did he ruin Black Flag?
Well when we saw Black Flag, we saw the first Black Flag reunion in 1983 and they had Ron Reyes and then Henry started singing. We're all like, "Ah man all those older songs are better" and we left. That's just my opinion. My favorite BF records, well I like Damaged, but after that I didn't listen to Black Flag. He put the f--king ego in Black Flag.
Thanks to Fat Mike for the interview. Purchase ‘A Fat Wreck’ and get more information on the documentary here and follow the label on Facebook. Also, grab your copy of NOFX’s latest album, ‘First Ditch Effort’ at the Fat Wreck Chords webstore and keep up with the band by following their Facebook page.
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