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Interview with Fat Mike and Erin of Fat Wreck Chords and NOFX|
Interview by Sean Carswell and Todd Taylor
Tuesday, November 08 2011
I was thinking about that whole idea of how behind every great man, there’s a great woman. Something like the stories of George Washington coming home from Valley Forge and Martha waiting there for him with a bong and a big fat bowl packed. Then I thought of Fat Mike (who’s kind of like a punk rock George Washington, if you’re drunk and living in my brain) because in the past couple years, he managed to tour with Me First And The Gimme Gimmes plus NOFX and also write, sing, and play a bunch of funny songs on two cool NOFX albums. And then there’s Fat Wreck Chords, which has recently put out great albums by established bands like the Swingin’ Utters and Avail, cool albums by new and unknown bands like Fabulous Disaster, and even rescued a few bands from major label obscurity. I’m sure I wasn’t alone in wondering how one man can do so much. Is there a great woman behind him swinging a riding crop?
Of course there is. It’s Erin, his wife and partner in Fat Wreck Chords.
So that led to the next obvious question: Has anyone ever interviewed them together? And, surprisingly, no one has—until now. Todd and I got a chance to sit down with them at the DIY Bowling tournament in Vegas. Here’s what they told us about good business, bad business, friends, punk rock, sex toys, and Fat Mike’s dad.
This interview originally appeared in Razorcake #1, March 2001
Introduction by Sean Carswell
Interview by Sean Carswell and Todd Taylor
Sean: In your relationship, who’s the superhero and who’s the sidekick?
Mike: I’d say probably I’m the superhero, but maybe in our sexual relationship, it’s probably the other way.
Todd: Since you opened it up already, have you ever had sex in the Fat Wreck Chords office?
Erin: Yeah. We have.
Todd: On an employee’s desk or on your own?
Mike: It wasn’t on a desk, actually. It was in a chair.
Todd: Erin, you’ve been with Fat since its inception, is that correct?
Erin: Yeah. When it started, it started as a side project. Mike was touring and the first thing we did was a NOFX seven inch. It was just a very small little thing, and when he went on tour, I’d do all the mail order and handle everything. In the beginning, it wasn’t really a business. It was kind of like a hobby.
Mike: Right. She was supporting us.
Erin: I was. I used to work in public relations.
Mike: And I was making my two grand a year in NOFX.
Erin: We got engaged and I thought, I’m gonna have to support this guy for the rest of my life, but you know what, it’s okay. It’s all right. I can handle it. And then look what happened. It turned out okay.
Todd: It turned out pretty good.
Sean: How broke would Fat Wreck Chords be if you weren’t doing the accounting?
Erin: I think we’d be a lot broker. I definitely think so. That’s where Mike and I—that’s one of our big arguing points is about money.
Mike: Because I don’t care.
Erin: He doesn’t care.
Mike: And she cares.
Erin: And I care. It matters to me that we watch everything. And he just takes the path of least resistance. Whatever’s easier, he just goes, “Ah, okay.” And I try to look at all the numbers and the figures and budget it and go, “Well, we shouldn’t really be doing this.” Which is actually a good mix.
Mike: It is a good mix.
Todd: So who signs the bands? Who’ll do the creative talent scouting?
Mike: I sign and I scout. But we also have a meeting once or twice a week.—an office meeting—and I’ll bring up a band and ask, “Yes or no?” And if everyone’s like, “That’s lame,” then we pretty much don’t sign them.
Erin: It’s definitely happened before when we were interested in bands and we had the office meeting and they were like, “No.” And we didn’t do it.
Todd: So how’s the Dillinger Four coming along?
Mike: I don’t know. We’d like to have them on our label, but you know they’re talking to Epitaph. I like those guys a lot. Cool guys.
Todd: Great guys.
Sean: Great band. Is there any band you can think of that you really wanted to sign but weren’t able to get?
Mike: That’s a good question.
Erin: Yeah, it is a good question.
Mike: I don’t think so.
Erin: Yeah, I can’t think of one.
Mike: The one band I really wanted to sign was Snuff, and I got them.
Todd: How long was the courtship with Snuff, because Snuff was gone for a bit?
Mike: Well, we toured with Guns And Wankers in England and I knew Duncan had been in Snuff and he told me, “Me and Simon are starting to jam again.” He said, “But there’s no money.” I said, “Hey, if you guys get Snuff back together and use the name Snuff, I’ll give you a big old bonus.” I gave them fifty grand or something.
Mike: He’d never made anything in the band before. So he did that and because of that, they got back together. It’s been awesome.
Sean: Have there been any recordings that have come back from the studio and you’ve just flat refused to put out?
Erin: There have been some that we should have refused.
Todd: Such as?
Erin: I don’t know if we should say that.
Mike: Yeah, we can’t say that.
Erin: There have definitely been records that, once we got it, we weren’t happy with it.
Mike: We’ve had a lot of bands remix.
Todd: Didn’t Propagandhi remix a couple of times, three times?
Mike: We had Propagandhi remix. We had Zero Down remix. We had Strung Out remix. There are probably five or six bands.
Erin: Well, Propagandhi went into the studio like five times in the last four years to make this record.
Mike: Probably five times.
Erin: I think they did. They actually went in; then sometimes they would just cancel it.
Mike: Finished the record then said, “No, we’re going back to redo guitars, to remix.”
Erin: We gave them money for the record four years ago.
Mike: Four years ago, we gave them an advance for this record.
Sean: It came out well. It’s a good record.
Erin: Yeah. It was actually pretty funny because Jord from Propagandhi just called me the other day and he was like, “I’m confused, You guys gave us money on this record four years ago but it never seems to show up on any of our royalty statements. Are you ever gonna charge us back for that?” And I’m like, “It took you four years to make the record. When the record comes out, I’m gonna charge you back.” He said, “Wow, that’s pretty cool. You just loaned us that money for four years.” “We’re waiting. The fans are waiting.”
Mike: We really don’t push bands at Fat, at all, to record or do tours. Like I never called up Propagandhi and said, “Hey, how about a new record?” Whenever a band’s ready.
Todd: What’s the largest change in operating Fat over the last five years?
Mike: Not too much. We profit share now.
Erin: Yeah, we just started that. As you get more and more bands, I think the biggest thing we changed was a little bit of our sound. Like, in the very beginning, we had a real core Fat Wreck Chords sound and then, probably with what—maybe Sick Of It All was the first band—do you think?
Todd: Swingin’ Utters, too?
Erin: Swingin’ Utters was a little bit different, but Sick Of It All was really the first real hardcore band we signed and that was a real big departure for us.
Todd: Did Ryan Greene do Sick Of It All, too?
Mike: Did he produce? No. He only does like a third of our records. But, profit sharing is this year. It’s the newest thing we’ve done. Everyone who works there gets a share of our profits.
Sean: What’s the last thing you spent a heap-load of money on that didn’t turn out the way you wanted it to?
Mike: Dance Hall.
Erin: Dance Hall Crashers.
Todd: How so? What part did you lose money on?
Erin: We gave them too much money.
Mike: They asked for a real big advance and we gave it to them. We didn’t really want to, but, you know, they’re friends of mine and I like their records, so I gave it to them.
Erin: Sometimes that’s a hard line. It’s really cool, most of the bands on the label, we’re really good friends with—very close personal friends with, which is great. But then sometimes there’s kind of a weird balance when business gets in the way and, you know, if we get a record that maybe we’re not that happy with or maybe we feel like we’ve overspent, it does get a little uncomfortable because we really love these people, but…
Mike: What’s really cool about a lot of our bands is that they don’t even ask for money up front. They’re really reasonable because we give them a real good royalty rate. Half our bands, all the records are recouped, so advances don’t really mean anything. It just means getting it a little sooner.
Todd: What about the Muffs?
Mike: The Muffs, too. The Muffs wasn’t too special for us, either.
Erin: We don’t even have contracts with a lot of our bands. We’ve never had a contract with Good Riddance or Hi-Standard. The last two Lagwagon records, no contract. A lot of our bands, it’s just, we’re such good friends that we come to an agreement. Everybody sticks to it, and it doesn’t really have to be in writing. It’s kind of cool.
Todd: Are there any people who were in bands who aren’t anymore who are still pestering you for royalties?
Mike: You don’t have to pester us.
Todd: Or do they think you’re holding out on them, saying, “That record sold twice as many as you reported.” Or something like that.
Mike: I don’t think so. Like one girl was in No Use For a Name. She played on one record. She still gets a couple thousand bucks every six months.
Mike: And she hasn’t been in the band in like, eight years.
Erin: We’ve always paid our royalties on time and in full. A lot of independent labels out there have a hard time with royalties. Like we did that hundred and one band comp and a lot of those bands that were on other labels, they called us up afterwards. And they’re like, “That’s the first time I’ve ever gotten a royalty check. You guys actually sent us money.”
Sean: That’s great. Erin, why do you think there aren’t more women in punk rock?
Erin: I think there aren’t more women because I think it’s tough. I think there aren’t enough women who—well, first of all—play their instruments properly. But I don’t need to say that. I mean, it’s such a male-dominated industry that it’s hard. For instance, last year, you know on the Warped Tour they did a Lady’s Lounge. They had this idea that they wanted an all-female stage. And Kevin Lyman called me up and asked my opinion on that. He said, “We’re doing a Lady’s Lounge on the Warped Tour, what do you think of that?” And I said, “I think the bands you’re talking about, like maybe the Lunachicks, they don’t want to be on a female-only stage. They want to compete on their own level—not because they’re women, but because they’re good.”
Todd: Right. You don’t want to make a ghetto.
Mike: I don’t even think you can even ask that question because women are not a very big part of any music industry. It’s not punk rock. It’s any kind of music. There are good women bands here and there, but it’s a male-dominated industry.
Sean: Why do you think that is?
Mike: I don’t know. Maybe boys practice guitar more when they’re kids.
Erin: Well, there is this problem that when women become more aggressive, people think they’re a bitch and a lot of women don’t want to be a bitch. So it’s harder to be ambitious in that way and get somewhere if you still have this insecurity thing. You want people to like you. You don’t want people thinking you’re a bitch or an asshole, but if you try to be ambitious and get somewhere, it’s a lot harder. It’s different.
Todd: How much has gentrification become a factor in the last couple of years, living in San Francisco? You have a pretty big warehouse and you’re well-located.
Mike: Our rent is going to be raised from sixty-five cents to four dollars a square foot.
Todd: Are you going to stay in the same place?
Mike: Probably not, unless we can make some kind of a deal. But our landlord is trying to rent it out for four bucks a square foot in another year to a year and a half.
Todd: Does that scare you?
Erin: Yeah, because we have to move out of the city and I don’t want to.
Todd: Would you go to Oakland or would you go somewhere else?
Mike: Probably put a warehouse in Oakland.
Erin: Yeah. I think we’d have to split up the company. We’d have to have an off-site warehouse and then just have offices, which I don’t really want to do. I like us all being together. First of all, I think it would suck for the warehouse people. Part of what’s fun about working at our label is, even if you’re just doing mail-order or even if you’re just warehouse staff, you’re there with everyone else. The bands come in a lot. It’s more social.
Mike: We all play ping-pong after work. We do a lot of stuff together. Go out a lot.
Erin: Yeah, we do a lot of stuff. Like this Vegas trip. We’re all really close, and I think if we split it up, it’d be lame.
Mike: When we have meetings, it’s not just the higher ups. Pretty much everyone goes to the meetings.
Sean: What’s the strangest place a Fat song has ended up?
Mike: I can’t really think of anything.
Erin: “Taxi Cab Confessions”? That’s not really weird.
Mike: Yeah, we opened up “Taxi Cab Confessions” on HBO. Oh, this is weirder. The new Judy Garland special has a Gimme Gimmes’ song.
Todd: What has been the largest offer for money for a song that you didn’t give out?
Mike: I’m gonna tell you and it’s fucking ridiculous. And we turned it down. It was a hundred and fifty grand for a Gimme Gimmes song for, what was it, Lexus?
Erin: It was some car commercial. I don’t remember what it was.
Mike: Yeah, I think a Lexus car commercial. We voted on it and we voted against it.
Sean: A lot of Lexus owners are Gimme Gimme fans?
Mike: No. Other bands may have done it, but I don’t want to be involved in that kind of shit. When I think of Lenny Kravitz. I mean, you think of one car you think of Lenny Kravitz.
Todd: Right. Are you going my way?
Mike: Yeah, I don’t want that. And not that we’d never do a commercial, but that sounded totally lame. Movies. Movies are fine. If it’s a cool movie, that’s totally fine.
Erin: Lagwagon had a pretty decent offer for Sprite, and they turned it down.
Mike: Lagwagon were offered, I think, two hundred grand for a Sprite commercial.
Erin: And they turned it down. It’s just so cheesy.
Todd: Did you ever write anything nasty on the matrix area—the dead wax area —of a Face To Face record?
Mike: I don’t know [laughs].
Todd: Who drew first blood between you and Dr. Strange?
Mike: Oh, did we? That was Face To Face that did that. We had nothing to do with that.
Erin: Yeah, that was the band. It wasn’t Fat.
Todd: What did it say? Do you know? Do you remember?
Erin: You know what? I don’t remember.
Mike: We do drugs. We don’t remember a lot of things.
Todd: That’s perfect.
Sean: When Mike proposed to you, did he take a knee?
Erin: Did he take a knee? No. No, but it was very romantic.
Todd: How was it?
Erin: It was funny because he did it on Valentine’s Day, because he thought there was no possible way that I would ever expect it. Like that’s the cheesiest time to propose to somebody.
Mike: Like, six months earlier, I’d said, “It’s so cheesy.”
Mike: I gave her a ring and said, “So, will ya’?”
Erin: I was actually quite shocked because neither one of us really… We’d already been living together for three years when we got engaged and I already sort of felt married. I thought we’d be together forever, but I didn’t really believe in marriage and I don’t think he did so much, either.
Mike: I never really believed in marriage. I just thought it was something to do.
Erin: And I didn’t think we’d feel any different. I felt married before I was married. Then, after we got married, I thought, it’s gonna feel the same. It did feel a little bit different.
Mike: It did feel a little different.
Todd: Did you take his last name?
Erin: You know, I did. I hyphenated, which was stupid. I shouldn’t have hyphenated. It’s nothing but problems. No one can figure it out. They don’t know how to alphabetize it.
Mike: We’re gonna change our last name, anyway.
Todd: Excellent. To a different last name?
Erin: Yeah. Yeah.
Mike: We want to go for Dagger.
Erin: I’ll be E Dagger and he’ll be Mike Dagger.
Todd: That’s great.
Sean: What was the coolest illegal wedding gift you got?
Mike: I don’t think we got anything illegal.
Erin: I don’t think we did get anything illegal. You know, when we got married, we’d never done drugs. Like, we didn’t do anything weird.
Mike: He could’ve meant firearms.
Erin: I don’t know. I thought he meant a bunch a pot or whatever. We’ve been married eight and a half years, so that was a while ago. It’s strange because we didn’t go to high school together, and neither one of us did the experimentation phase in high school. We stayed away from it. And even in college, really. And then, later, we’re like, “Might as well try it now.”
Mike: We just tried ecstasy for the first time last year.
Erin: But I hated it. I’ll never do it again.
Mike: I thought it was great.
Erin: I’m too much of a control freak for anything like that. I can’t handle that shit.
Mike: Let’s get off drugs.
Todd: Whatever happened to the band Slang? They were going to be the first or second release on Fat Wreck Chords.
Mike: Well, they turned into the Other.
Todd: Oh really, I didn’t know that.
Mike: Slang was better, though.
Todd: Was Bomer (the drummer, who was also in RKL) in the Other?
Todd: So do you think the people on Honest Don’s (Records) feel like they’re on the Fat farm team?
Mike: It’s not supposed to be that. It’s just supposed to be bands that… Yeah.
Todd: What’s the separation or at least the intent?
Mike: It’s just supposed to be bands that we liked but didn’t really put on the label.
Erin: It’s supposed to be a little different sound.
Mike: It is. It’s way poppier. Different styles of music. I like Fat Wreck Chords to be pretty much just a hardcore punk label, but everything is just watered down.
Todd: Is there any separation at the label itself?
Mike: No. It used to be.
Erin: We brought it back together.
Todd: Didn’t Marc (Tamo) used to work separately?
Mike: He used to, but now everyone gets the same everything.
Erin: We have the same staff working for both.
Todd: So why the name Pink And Black?
[Erin tugs at her hair. It’s died pink and black.]
Erin: I don’t know. I was having a really hard time coming up with a name and pink’s my favorite color, but I didn’t want it to be too girly. I don’t know. There’s really not much significance. Actually, Mike thought it up. I couldn’t think of a name and Mike goes, “How about Pink And Black Records?” And I was like, “Yeah, I like that.”
Sean: Have you two ever died your hair the same color at the same time?
Mike and Erin: No.
Todd: Unintentionally? Come home and go, “Look, honey.”
Mike: I’m not gonna go pink and she’s not gonna go green.
Erin: I’ve had pink for like five years now. I only dabble in the girl colors: pink and purple.
Todd: Do you guys ever worry that you’re gonna be kind of like, I mean no offense, but kind of like the backwash for the majors? You have the Muffs, Sick Of It All… Do you have a feeling that people will say that you’re not bringing in new talent; you’re just taking established bands?
Mike: People won’t say that because, for every band we take from the majors, we sign four bands that are new. But yeah, we have picked up some major label bands. We signed Less Than Jake and that’s awesome. They’re stoked. They’re seeing money.
Erin: Yeah. You know, if we don’t do that, where are those bands gonna go? Because all those bands, they’re great bands and they’re getting shit deals on majors. They’re getting treated like crap. So it’s not fair to them for us to not take them.
Mike: It’s a perfect situation for a band that’s built up a good fan base but isn’t making any money.
Todd: Has any band on Fat gone gold?
Mike: We don’t have any gold records on Fat.
Sean: What do you consider a hit song or a hit for Fat?
Mike: We don’t have hit songs. I always thought, just make a good record.
Todd: What is the timeframe from when Punk in Drublic (on Epitaph) came out and when it went gold?
Mike: It came out in ’92, never hit the charts anywhere, and it went gold in 2000. Eight years to go gold.
Todd: And it still sells pretty well?
Mike: It’s still weekly. Every week it sells more than any other NOFX record. Even our new record.
Mike: It still sells a thousand a week.
Sean: When’s the new Dickies album gonna come out?
Mike: May. It’s done.
Erin: Yeah, that was a labor of love because we love the Dickies and it’s like pulling teeth to get them to finish a record. They’re not terribly organized.
Mike: They’ve been drugged for eighteen years. They’re a little slow, now.
Todd: Yeah, they’re great but their noodles are cooked.
Erin: It’s literally like every day that Marc Tamo has to call them and go, “Okay guys, you got the studio time. Are you guys ready?” But it’s done.
Todd: Where and how did you guys meet?
Mike: In college.
Erin: I left a note on his van to ask for a ride to Santa Barbara.
Mike: Because I had NOFX spray painted on the side of my van and she knew we were playing Santa Barbara. We were friends for about two years before we… we did it.
Todd: Do you have nicknames for one another?
Erin: Yeah, but I don’t want to say.
Erin: Not Shmoopy.
Mike: No, that’s Seinfeld.
Sean: If Mike has a sex change, will you turn lesbian?
Sean: That’s a good answer. Where does he keep his pornos?
Erin: Can I answer that?
Erin: In a locked chest.
Todd: When’s the last time that Mike’s been terribly embarrassed?
Mike: Oh, shit. The most embarrassed I’ve ever been in my life was a while ago?
Erin: How long ago? A few weeks ago?
Mike: At my mom’s house. No, like eight years ago.
Erin: Oh. That was bad. You don’t want to tell that, though. Do you want to tell that?
Mike: It’s not that big of a deal.
Erin: If you have to say what it is, shoot.
Mike: It’s not that big of a deal.
Erin: She found a sex toy.
Mike: She said, “You need a jacket,” and she grabbed one of mine. When she opened it up, she found a riding crop in the pocket.
Erin: It was really awful. And she didn’t say anything.
Mike: She just like, lifted it out, looked at it, put it back in.
Todd: Does your mom live in San Francisco?
Mike: No. Laguna.
Todd: Does she really have Misfits records?
Mike: No, but my dad met me at the airport once. He spray painted his hair orange and he had punk clothes on. That was pretty fucking embarrassing.
Erin: So awful. Then he calls me up like a month later. It was Mike’s birthday and he goes, “I have this great idea for what to do for Mike’s birthday. Remember when I met you at the airport and I was dressed punk? Well, they have these life-sized cardboard cutouts. I’m gonna get one of those made and he’ll put it in his office.”
Mike: Then she’s like, “I don’t think that’s the best idea.”
Erin: “I don’t think he’d like that.”
Sean: Damn. I should’ve asked you about your parents right from the beginning.
Todd: Erin, who was your teen idol?
Erin: My teen idol. I don’t think I had a teen idol, but my favorite band was 7 Seconds. I don’t know if I’d say that Kevin Seconds was my idol, but I was a big fan.
Mike: Darby Crash.
Erin: I think what’s weird now is, like, now meeting people who, when I was fifteen, I used to think were just it. This is so lame, but when I was fifteen and I went to see Social Distortion, I was just like this geeky kid or whatever. Then, as an adult now, having a label and actually meeting them and having a purpose and an identity and a reason to talk to them. It’s weird shit.
Mike: It’s so weird. Like when Jerry Only yelled, “Mike, come on out here and sing ‘Halloween.’” I was like, hell yeah, because when I was a kid I used to think being in the Misfits would be the greatest shit ever. When shit like that happens, it’s so weird.
Erin: And having bands like that call and go, “Are you interested in our…”
Mike: I have a little list in my office, like, Lee Ving, Jerry Only. All these people called. Joey Shithead. Oh my God.
Erin: It’s just weird.
Todd: Have you ever been completely star-struck? Have you ever just wanted to meet that person, then you just blanked out?
Mike: No, but I think meeting the Misfits was really cool. There’s only two people I really wanted to meet in my life, and haven’t. Madonna and Kurt Cobain. And I never met those people. And I don’t even want to meet Madonna anymore. That was just like, sex.
Todd: The riding crop comes into play once again.
Erin: When I met the Misfits, I was nervous.
Todd: Was it the original line up?
Mike: No. I actually met the Misfits in ’82, but it wasn’t meeting them. It was like, “Hi. I like your band.” That was original members. No Bobby Steel.
Erin: The first time I met Brian Baker, I was a little nervous. I thought that was pretty cool.
Sean: Was that before or after he was in Junkyard?
Erin: That was actually before he was in Junkyard.
Mike: No, no. It wasn’t before Junkyard.
Erin: No, the first time I met him it was before that, but I didn’t know him as a person. Like, now I know him.
Mike: We met him socially during late Dag Nasty.
Todd: More sober thought. How many of your friends have died since you began?
Mike: I’d say only like…
Erin: Three or four.
Mike: Close ones, like three or four. I know tons of old Hollywood punkers who’ve died, but no one who meant anything to me.
Todd: Is it true that, when rumors were flying around that Epitaph was being bought out by Interscope, you went down there and said, “I want to buy all my stuff back so that you can’t sell it”?
Mike: No. We’d made some kind of agreement during a record that we can buy back a lot of our stuff if they sell to a major, but we have to pay a lot of money for it. So I don’t know if that’ll ever happen.
Erin: [To Todd] That’s partially true what you said. [To Mike] It’s definitely true that you negotiated that you never wanted to be on a major and that, if they sold, you had the option to buy it back.
Mike: Right. We got kind of screwed, anyway, because my publishing got sold.
Todd: Really? You had no say in it?
Mike: No. It got sold to MCA?
Sean: And that’s why your song is at the end of The Chase?
Todd: What day is it today, Mike?
Sean: Erin, do you make him shower more often than Wednesdays and Saturdays now?
Erin: You know what? I gave up. That song is actually true.
Mike: She’s lucky if I go one a week.
Erin: It sucks. You know, I got tired of it. There are so many more important things for me to nag him about. Like this is really not that important. But in the beginning, there actually was a calendar posted on the inside of the bathroom with Wednesdays and Saturdays marked off so he wouldn’t forget because I’m like a clean freak. I shower like twice a day. When we first started dating, I was like, “Eww.” But he never smells. He’s not a smelly guy. I got over it. It’s okay.
Update, late 2011: In 2010, after seventeen years of marriage, Fat Mike and Erin divorced and Fat Mike’s dad died.
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