NOFX's Fat Mike

Despite having largely eschewed mainstream attention, MTV airplay and radio singles, the California-based punk institution NOFX — who is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year — is undeniably one of the biggest underground bands in the world. A few weeks ago it released its eleventh studio album Coaster. A word to the wise: You can call NOFX prolific but definitely don’t call it ‘pop punk.’

“When people call us pop-punk it just makes me want to puke because we’re a hardcore band at heart,” NOFX frontman “Fat” Mike Burkett explains. “Our rhythm is hardcore, our lyrics are hardcore and my voice sounds like a hardcore voice; I just sing melody. These emo bands took the word ‘hardcore’ over and made it theirs, but hardcore is Bad Religion and Minor Threat and Bad Brains.”

NOFX CoasterCoaster is NOFX’s most old-school sounding album to date, although Fat Mike insists that wasn’t planned in advance.

“It wasn’t conscious; we’d just start playing a song and we’d think that clean guitar tones would sound better. We recorded 19 songs but only put 12 on the album, so Coaster could have had a totally different feel if we had picked different songs. A lot of the songs we left off were more songs about drugs; there’s enough songs already about drugs on this album, but there’s actually like four we left off,” he adds with a laugh. “We will put those out at some point: We’ve got a song called ‘I’m A Cliché’ and a song called ‘Cokie the Clown’ and those are all pretty autobiographical.” (Anyone who’s seen NOFX’s reality TV show Backstage Passport can readily attest to the fact.)

However, the standout track on Coaster has to be “My Orphan Year,” (hear it here) an intensely autobiographical track Mike wrote about losing both of his parents in 2006. “I think that’s definitely the saddest song I ever wrote,” he says. “That song was very cathartic for me and I had to write it — and a lot of people who have heard it have told me they cried because they’ve had similar experiences; it’s really amazing to evoke those kinds of emotions from people.”

That doesn’t mean that these punk pranksters have crafted a complete downer of an album. The disc is balanced out with tracks like “Creeping Out Sara,” which was written about an awkward experience Mike had at a festival with indie darlings Tegan And Sara. “I swear to God I woke up one morning with that song idea and melody in my head,” he says with a laugh. “I don’t know what I was thinking.”

NOFXIronically Fat Mike says that despite the fact that he’s immensely proud of the band’s latest disc, the band didn’t exactly slave over the writing process this time around.

“This was actually the least prepared I’ve ever been going into a record; we were just not ready at all, so maybe there’s something to that,” he says with a laugh. “A lot of times when you over-practice you ruin songs. I’ve seen bands do it so many times,” he continues, adding that he spent most of his effort this time around working on Coaster’s lyrics.”

So after 25 years of writing doesn’t it get easier for NOFX’s frontman?

“It’s so hard to write lyrics for me because you don’t want to repeat yourself, but you have to write about what you’re thinking about” says Fat Mike. “[This album] has still got the anti-Christian, anti-religion sentiment.”

Ultimately with Coaster, Fat Mike wanted to make an album that he would enjoy as much as a listener as he did as a fan — and he feels like he accomplished that.

“I played the album for Joey [Cape] from Lagwagon and he said it was his favorite NOFX record,” says Mike. “He was like ‘Duh, how come neither of our bands have ever made a record that sounded like the ones we grew up listening to?’ This is the record I would have loved when I was 14 years old. We made a record that I would have loved when we were kids.”