The last song on NOFX’s latest full-length, Wolves in Wolves’ Clothing, begins with: “We’re the band with our own label/That’s money under the table, that’s answering to no one/But still, other bands just love to hate us/Talking shit behind us, but smiling to our face.”
NOFX is a band that writes its own ticket. It’s that self-determination that draws comparisons between Fat Mike’s band of 23 years, the San Francisco-based NOFX—who headlines Flip the Switch at Alderney Landing on August 14—and DC DIY mainstays Fugazi. Both bands run their own record labels (Fat Wreck Chords and Dischord, respectively), rarely give interviews and shun corporate media.
“I don’t think we’ve ever made any compromises,” says Mike Burkett AKA Fat Mike, calling from one of the first stops on the Warped Tour. “There’s no one ever to tell us ‘Maybe I shouldn’t do that, it might be a bad idea,’ so if we don’t think of it, nothing’s getting prevented. So we’ve done a lot of things that may have been bad ideas.”
The unwillingness to capitulate to the demands of the mainstream media and abandon their punk rock ethos is where the comparison ends—it’s hard to imagine Fugazi ever writing a song called “Hot Dog in a Hallway.”
“I listen to that song we have called ‘(Liza and) Louise,’ and I think, ‘Man, that’s a dirty, dirty song,’” says Burkett. “It’s just embarrassing. Neighbours on my block tell me that their kids like my band and when that record came out, I was thinking, ‘Man, what do those parents think of me?’
“But y’know I always try to write songs not having my parents in consideration. My mom, she had all kinds of problems with her boyfriend over that song ‘Please Stop Fucking My Mom.’ Seriously. He thought I wrote it about him...and I did, but it was about other people too.”
What Burkett does well—other than write dirty, dirty songs—is talk shit. In the latest issue of Punk Planet, Brendan Kelly of the Lawrence Arms ruminates on the importance of shit-talking frontmen in punk rock: “I’d rather hear the opinion of a Fat Mike or a John Lydon than some dork that sits in his basement talking on the internet all day.”
From Ronald Reagan to George Bush to hippies, Burkett has an opinion. NOFX’s most recent EP featured Jesus Christ prominently on the front cover with the title Never Trust a Hippy overhead.
Christians don’t fare much better on the LP Wolves in Wolves’ Clothing. “Leaving Jesusland” contains the lyrics: “The fear-stricken, born-again Christian/They got a vision of a homogenized state.” “You Will Lose Faith” asks point blank: “Where is your god now?”
There’s only one religious figure that’s out of bounds for NOFX.
“I’m not going to write any songs about Muhammad,” Burkett says. “Because I’m not an idiot. I’ll write about Bush or Jesus Christ, but I’m not going to write about Muhammad.”
Non-religious figures get no such free pass, with NOFX saving its most vitriolic diatribes for Republicans and their heroes.
“Reagan was a total piece of shit,” Burkett says. “I can’t believe he’s thought of as somewhat of an American hero. He died and he got all these parades and crazy fanfare and he was a piece of shit. Bush is a worse piece of shit.
“He’s already being called the worst president and historically it’s just going to get worse. This was the guy who changed the whole course of the planet. In the beginning a lot of people were scared after 9-11 and they thought he was doing a good job. No one in their right mind can support that guy anymore. He’s at a 30-percent approval rating.”
Does NOFX view George W. Bush as a unifying enemy for punk bands in this decade, the way Reagan was for Millions of Dead Cops, DRI and the Dead Kennedys?
“The thing about Bush is that you don’t even need to sing about him because it’s so obvious,” says Burkett. “Reagan was more of a sleuth, y’know? Secret deals with the CIA, Contras and Iran, secret weapon deals. All kinds of fucked-up stuff in Central America. Who wants to sing about George Bush anymore? Because yeah, yeah, we’ve heard it before.”
Burkett isn’t necessarily rehashing the punk party line when he talks about his frustration with the state of democracy in the United States. “I think my favourite lyrics I ever wrote were for ‘The Idiots are Taking Over.’ It’s true because smart people don’t have a lot of kids and stupid people do. If you’re gonna have a democracy, you’re gonna get outnumbered after awhile. Which is why I don’t believe in one person, one vote.”
Messageboard critics on sites like punknews.org decried the latest NOFX albums for being too political. Some fans felt that the band was becoming too serious and straying from its tongue-in-cheek style perfected on albums like White Trash, Two Heebs and a Bean.
“People who aren’t fans of ours are going to say that,” Burkett says. “Our first seven-inch had political songs on there. We’re more politically active now than we were, but our songs are just as political as they always were. I think that we have grown, but kept the same silliness to it.”
Burkett started punkvoter.com in 2004, which supported John Kerry’s Presidential election bid. “I think Kerry was quite a bit better. I met him and I talked to his chief of staff...he’s a smart man, which says a lot. He wouldn’t have gotten into impossible situations, faith-based situations.” He pauses and then sums it up: “We’re screwed.”
Punkvoter.com set out to educate punks about the power of their vote and warn them about the danger of another term of George Bush as president. To that end the organization enlisted several dozen bands to appear on the Rock Against Bush series of compilations. One band omitted from the effort was Winnipeg’s Propagandhi, who have a long-standing relationship with Fat Wreck Chords.
Propagandhi was asked to be on the compilation and offered up a song criticizing financier George Soros, a Democratic party supporter and a staunch Bush opponent. Fat disagreed with the message and asked the band to change the lyrics. Propagandhi declined.
“They can do whatever they want,” says Burkett. “They say I was censoring them because they weren’t on the Rock Against Bush comp. They weren’t on there because we just couldn’t agree on what to put on there and I didn’t think they were helping our cause, but I’m certainly not going to censor what they say, they’re just being punk.”
Propagandhi countered the perceived censorship with “Rock Against Sustainable Capitalism,” which appeared on their latest LP Potemkin City Limits, released, ironically enough, on Fat Wreck Chords. The song criticized Burkett’s support of John Kerry, while mocking the band’s lyrics and their perceived complacency.
NOFX came back with “One Celled Creature,” an attack on Propagandhi’s Chris Hannah. The song contains the indictment: “Knowledge has much better uses than self-pity and superiority.”
“A lot of people were like, ‘Don’t write that about a band on your label, it’s really petty,’” says Burkett. “I don’t care, they hurt my feelings and I want to hurt their feelings. I just didn’t think I deserved to be in a song with those other people. I mean I’m an activist, y’know, it’s just because we don’t agree on everything.”
Burkett’s hurt feelings don’t necessarily extend to the rest of Canada. “Before you ousted your Prime Minister”—Paul Martin—“you were in great shape and it just seemed like, wow! Look at what those people are doing! They’re legalizing pot, they’re legalizing gay marriage, they’re on the ball when it comes to social issues...and then...well, shit happens.”
NOFX w/Against Me, Protest the Hero, Cancer Bats, The Gorgeous, Hostage Life, The Letter Unfolds, Risky Business, The Dean Malenkos, The Hold and Hope, August 14 at Alderney Landing, Dartmouth, 4pm, $31+fees , www.ticketatlantic.com