Q&A: Fat Mike of NOFX Talks Punk Rock Golf, Gear and That NOFX Sound

Fat Mike and NOFX performing at the Wiltern in Los Angeles, Calif., December 2010. (PHOTO: Andrew Youssef)

Few people have left an indelible mark on punk rock music in the last 20 years as Fat Mike (AKA Mike Burkett) of NOFX has. Having sold millions of albums as the lead singer and bassist for NOFX by releasing such classic albums as S&M Airlines, Punk in Drublic, So Long and Thanks for All the Shoes, Fat Mike also runs Fat Wreck Chords which has released a slew of influential albums from such bands as Strung Out, Lagwagon, Rise Against, Against Me! and Descendents.

NOFX is gearing up for the release of their new album, Self Entitled, which is one their most focused and sharpest sounding NOFX albums yet. We were fortunate to catch up with Fat Mike for this interview.

PureVolume: One of the things I remember buying from Fat Wreck Chords back in the day was a set of golf balls. How is your golf game these days?
Fat Mike
: My golf game is shit. Ever since I got a daughter, I really don’t golf as much as used to. Golf is definitely on the back burner.

PV: It was cool buying those.
: You should check out the MGA which is the golf association that I’m a member of.

PV: What do they do?
: It’s a golf league for mediocre golfers. It’s like a punk rock golf league.

PV: When do you play?
: Once a month, there is a tournament. You get a big check if you win. I don’t mean a lot of money but the check is actually huge. I have one on my wall. If you break 80, you get disqualified.

PV: I’m sure you guys follow the rules.
: Yeah, there are no gimmies or anything like that. There are fun rules. If you knock a ball on the green in regulation, you can give the ball to anyone in your foursome and make them clean it. . . you know, shit like that.

PV: Where do you play?
: It is different courses and the MGA has grown so much there are 30 different cities that have it now.

PV: You have the new album Self Entitled coming out on September 11, and I would say it’s one of the more focused-sounding NOFX records. Would you say that’s true?
: Yeah, I think its cohesive and way more focused. I tried to make an old LA punk-sounding album.

PV: You also worked with Bill Stevenson from Descendents. What kind of role did he have?
: He records. He doesn’t change the melodies. He makes sure we do good performances. When I want a weird guitar tone, he makes sure it works. Most of the record was recorded with a Jazzmaster guitar and a Silvertone amp. It really has old school guitars on it.

PV: The vibe you tapped into is great.
: Nothing that sounds metal whatsoever is on that record. We got popular with Punk in Drublic around that time and White Trash. . . with real metal-sounding guitars and we are just the opposite right now. I love clean guitars. I think clean guitars sound cooler.

PV: What are some of your favorite guitars to play?
: We only use two guitars. We use Les Paul occasionally. It is almost all Gibson SG and Fender Jazzmaster. It’s funny though: live, we don’t use those. We use a Telecaster live, which is strange.

PV:  Are you still using your Danelectro bass?
: Yeah. Been using the same one for like 10 years.

PV: It’s definitely the staple of the NOFX sound.
: If you go to the Danelectro website, I’m the only bass player on there. Not only the most famous to play the Danelectro, but i’m the only person. There are a few guitar players who play their stuff, but no bass players. I just started using it ’cause it is light. My bass has been smashed two different times and it’s a hollowbody. It still sounds good.

PV: What is your most prized vinyl possession?
: Probably Misfits “Bullet.”

PV: Do you remember where you got it?
: A record store in San Fernando Valley for $2.99. So that’s why its fun—all the old records I have, is the price I paid for them.

PV: How big is your vinyl collection?
: I’m looking at it right now, it’s about four-feet. Not very much.

PV: Is there anything you’re looking for?
: I don’t collect records. I just buy them. I’ve never bought a record that was more than what it cost. I just buy records.

PV: Do you remember your first ever concert?
: It was the Cars in 1979. It was my friend’s birthday party, he brought 12 kids to the Cars. The first concert that mattered was X with the Subhumans at the Whiskey in 1981.

PV: Were you in the pit?
: No, I was too scared. My first mosh pit was Oingo Bingo at the Roxy.

PV: What are some upcoming releases on Fat Wreck Chords that you are excited about?
: The new Morning Glory album. Old Man Markley are really a great band who are getting better and better.

PV: Are there any punk basslines that you wish you wrote?
: Anything on RKL’s Rock N Roll Nightmare. That has got so many basslines that Bomer taught me how to play. I still think they are hard. They are just absolutely unbelievable.

PV: Do you remember your first song you learned to play?
: I think it was “Paranoid.” The Dickies version.

PV: When did you start playing bass?
: When the band started—not NOFX—but I didn’t start [with] playing the bass. Me and my friends wanted to start a band. So we went the store. I bought a bass and my friend bought a guitar and the other guy got drums. The band was called ETA. We never played. I was in a band called False Alarm and we played one show, then it was NOFX.

PV: Any bands that you passed up on signing on Fat Wreck Chords?
: Could have signed Less Than Jake at the very beginning. Who knows how many bands sent me demos that I didn’t sign? I was talking with Sublime at one point about doing a record with them early on.

PV: What are some NOFX songs that you recommend for people who are unfamiliar with your work?
: “Punk Rock Elite” and “The Decline.”

—Andrew Youssef


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