Fat Mike on music industry and signing to the majors/Chris Herron's preview/review of new NOFX book




So I'm supposed to be writing an "objective" article about drugs in the music industry, and I will do that today, but I'm also currently reading the new NOFX book 'The Hepatitis Bathtub & Other Stories' and 242 glorious pages in, I read a small chapter by Fat Mike concerning the music industry and signing to major record labels, and regarding how to be a an unsuccessful successful band without selling out, which NOFX are the masters of. I also noticed El Jefe Jamie Mcdermid asking for material for the new NHC website and it's such an insightful and sagacious piece that would be valuable reading to any up-and-coming-musician that I thought I'd share it. It's a first-hand account from one of the most influential punk musicians of all time. and it fits in nicely with what we're all about here at Hellfire, as well as being a golden nugget of advice for any bands and musicians out there, by a group who still are to me, one of the greatest of all time, in any genre, and they are certainly the band with the most integrity, ever.

What follows is not an article written by me, it's not even a review of the book, it's more like a very long quote, but it is worth sharing so much that I will take the time to type it out now for everybody to easily reference, Mike won't mind, and if your still with us at the end I'll even throw in a small review of the book...


"...We had made music videos and tried to get them on MTV with zero success. The alternative music show, 120 Minutes, played Bad Religion videos and invited them to do in-studio performances, but they didn't air us once. When we were about to release Punk In Drublic in July '94 we made a video for 'Leave It Alone'. This time, MTV came to us instead of the other way around.

   And we suddenly wondered why we ever cared in the first place.

We had been watching all our friends' bands try to catch the wave of punk popularity, and it all seemed so desperate. When Bad Religion signed to a major, I remember Greg Graffin telling me, 'We're just gonna see how far we can take this'. I never asked myself how far we were going to take NOFX. Financially, I was happy as long as I never had to work another dayjob. We didn't need MTV to take us to the next level: we had built ourselves up [literally from the ground] slowly and steadily on our own terms. We never needed them before, we didn't need them now. We told [our record label] Epitaph to politely decline MTV's request for the video (which surprised both Epitaph and MTV) and we stopped making music videos for the next twelve years.

In July of 96' we played a huge show at the Olympic Velodrome, which was the arena where they held the cycling event for the 1994 Olympics. An MTV rep chatted me up backstage and casually suggested that if NOFX gave MTV a video, then the latest No Use For A Name (the biggest Fat Wreck Chords [the label Mike owns] band at the time) "might have a longer life". It was very carefully put, but it was extortion, plain and simple, the repercussions of not playing ball were made perfectly clear.

We didn't give them a video. No Use's video disappeared from MTV (even though their record was charting and on constant rotation on commercial radio). And I realised I didn't want to deal with corporate fucks like that ever again.

[Later] I was at a dinner with Hollywood Records having my ego strategically deflated and promises of stardom dangled in front of me. It was strange how the tables had turned, when our band was a disastrous failure we thought we were great, now we were actually good, Hollywood Records had convinced me we were a disastrous failure.

I asked them what they could offer us Epitaph couldn't. They said more distribution. I said we were already in every record store I'd ever been to. They said they'd get our videos on MTV. I said we weren't making videos anymore. They said they'd get us more press. I said we weren't doing press anymore. They didn't understand why I didn't want any of the things they were offering - the things that most bands would sell their souls to get. And I left that dinner questioning every decision I had ever made.

The next day I couldn't believe I had questioned myself for a minute. The decisions we had made got us to where we were, and we were happy where we were. They couldn't offer us a single thing that would make our band bigger, let alone better. The whole experience left a bad taste in my mouth, and I told my lawyer not to tell me about any more major label offers.

While we ultimately decided to stay on Epitaph, the band and I discussed the idea of moving to a major label very seriously over the next several months. In retrospect, not signing was obviously the right decision, but at the time it wasn't an easy stance to take. Everybody was signing up, everyone was hanging gold records on their walls. I saw Rancid on Saturday Night Live, and I have to admit I was jealous, I grew up watching that show. Fear had played on that show! NOFX on SNL? It would've been a fabulous disaster.

But then I saw Rancid on the cover of Spin and was really glad I didn't have to sit through an interview and a photo shoot to whore myself out in their magazine. I saw Bad Religion doing radio festivals and was really glad we weren't slaves to radio programmers. (When you're on a major, you have to fly around the country on your own expense, playing radio festivals for free so the stations will keep playing your songs. You are every radio station's bitch).

And for every Green Day, there was a Jawbreaker, a band that signed, got dropped, and lost all their fans and credibility. For every Offspring there was a Samiam; for every Rancid there was a Seaweed. I was self-aware enough to recognise I was no Billie Joe Armstrong. I'm too much of an asshole, and I seem to have a problem singing in key. My voice is too whiny, and I wasn't about to start writing love songs about taking a girl home and making her dessert. Most of our songs don't even have choruses!

The bands that signed (and the ones that continue to jump from successful indie careers to not-so-successful dalliances with the majors) let their egos drive their decisions. Bands want fame and accolades; they don't think about making a living over the long term. They want Big Cash now and they want to play stadiums. But when you fall from a  major, you fall hard. You can't play a stadium and then play a 500 seater, it's humiliating. But if you play a 1,000 seater and then go down to a 500 seater nobody really notices. (And going downhill has always been part of my plan).

By the time [the NOFX book] goes to print, major labels will most likely be as irrelevant as ...well... printed books, but all anyone has ever heard from bands is how major labels screwed them. You would think everybody would have eventually caught on, but for some reason everyone's ego allows them to think 'Oh, it'll be different with us, we'll be their number one priority'. The truth is the majors don't really screw you, in almost all cases they have every intention of making the band big. They give you a shot (and if you kiss the right asses, maybe two shots). But if you don't connect with the public, they stop doing business for you and move on to the next band. Regardless of what they say over that first expensive. candlelit dinner, you are a product. You are getting into bed with corporation. You are not an artist, you are an employee.

I really do believe in the DIY ethic. I know that sounds like a fucking line, but it's the truth. We were the biggest punk band at the time that didn't sign to a major, so we were in a unique position, but we never looked back, we never had to kiss anyone's ass. Epitaph never told us what to do, and they gave us everything we wanted. Once we officially made the decision not to sign, it seemed like it had been the obvious choice all along.

It never charted and it took eight years, but Punk In Drublic eventually went gold, selling more than 50,000 copies in the US and more than a million worldwide without any help from radio, mainstream press, or MTV, (and it had some good songs on it too). From  there we were able to build a career where we never had to answer to anybody. And I bet those shitheads from Hollywood Records don't even have jobs anymore."


And there you have it, a must-read for any band signed to NHC or any band anywhere for that matter. I can strongly recommend you buy, steal or borrow the NOFX book as it is easily the greatest music biography auto or otherwise I have ever read (and I've read them all!). I've been a fan of NOFX and a punk since I was 16, they were a secretive, enigmatic band, they never did interviews, they never went on television or revealed very much about their background and history (except in the occasional snippets gleaned from record sleeve notes). And so I've waited 16 years for this book and it has been a joy to read page by page and the band really bare all, revealing shit within its pages they've never told each other or anyone else until publication, deep shit. Here at the Gonzo Division we're not easily shocked and yet there was moments when my jaw was hanging as I read. It has made me laugh out loud every chapter and is hilarious in parts. It is a story of junkies, punkers, Californians, music, death, tragedy, love, hope, failures, successes and all that other kind of shit you would expect from a good book. 

It also offers a first-hand insight into the brutal and harsh reality of the 80s punk scene in L.A. It made me realise it means something very different to be a punk in America than it does in Britain. In Britain, if you're a punk you're a real minority, like one in every thousand people or more, in America they think they are a minority, and they are, but only because their country is so big, it's not the same. in L.A. there was so many punks they were literally swarming the city in gangs, beating people up for no good reason, fighting and stabbing each other, the punks of L.A were more like the Neds of Scotland, or the Chavs of England. There are so few punks in Britain you don't even get gangs of them, usually you're the one punk in any given social circle. The punk scene of Britain in the seventies too was an entirely different world to the punk scene of the U.S, a completely different mission statement, and this book is a real eye-opener to that contrasting fact.

I give The Hepatitis Bathtub & Other Stories a firm ten out of ten, one of the best reads I've had in years! I better get on and write a proper article now, seeya' in the pit...