A few months back MR representatives, John Morrison and Christine Bell got the opportunity to participate in a press conference with Mike Burkett, (Fat Mike), front man of punk band NOFX and founder/owner of indie label, Fat Wreck Chords; and Jay Bentley of the punk band Bad Religion.
For the sake of the reader, we have edited some of the conference. We have done our best to maintain the context of both the questions and answers to fairly represent Mike and Jay and ensure that their statements are not misunderstood or ‘spun’.
For people that don’t know a lot about Warped Tour, and the meaning behind it, can you tell us something?
Mike: From behind the scenes, it sounds clichéd, but it’s punk rock summer camp. It’s the best time a band could possibly have, because your hanging out with 50 other bands everyday. There’s gambling and drinking and uh, barbecuing, yeah we drink beers or vodka. And you can’t have a better time, that’s why these bands keep doing the Warped Tour, that’s why it’s so successful, because the bands have so much fun. The other tours, it’s more about business. And even Kevin Lyman, the owner, he doesn’t make that much money, you know, he makes a living. But kids don’t get charged a lot, the bands don’t get paid a lot, it’s just a good time.
Why do you think Warped Tour succeeds where other tours, like Lollapalooza, fail?
Mike: Well first of all the line-up for Lollapalooza is terrible this year. Those head-lining bands are probably taking 250 thousand to 500 thousand dollars a night, where Warped Tour bands take between $200-$10,000; somewhere between there. Almost every band on the Warped Tour takes a pay cut to play the Warped Tour. But they do it because it’s fun and it’s cool. But the other bands on the other tours, they do it for the money and the promoters do it for the money. That’s why the prices are so high and that’s why it’s failing. I think the kids know that the Warped Tour is fun and the bands are having fun. I wouldn’t be doing this if it wasn’t fun. We’re here for us.
Jay: In our world of music, other tours that were out there folded, they couldn’t sell enough tickets to keep themselves going. This is the music that people who are buying tickets and buying records want to hear. This is, fortunately, a musical expression that speaks to them. I don’t know whether it’s the anger, the fear or just the over all sense of something exciting that gets people going. Speaking for myself, when I was 14, it was the fact that a band could speak to me about something other than girls. That was very important to me. I mean, it’s a 20 or 25 dollar ticket and there’s 50 bands….
Do you think that the reason there are so many more kids and so much more influence is because of mainstream punk bands like Good Charlotte and Blink182 that get radio play and get people into the scene?
Mike: Yeah, all those bands are helping a lot. Yellowcard, Ryan from Yellowcard announced Rock Against Bush: Vol. II, he said he’s going to be signing copies… and you know, suddenly there’s 500 kids at the Punk Voter booth buying this, because he said to. And, bands like Good Charlotte, Yellowcard and New Found Glory, they’ve all gotten tens of thousands of kids involved that we wouldn’t have gotten. So I’m all for it. They’re standing up, although Good Charlotte totally screwed me (laughs).
What do you think about the Sony BMG merger?
Mike: I have no idea, what’s BMG? I’ve heard of Sony but…
There are five major record labels now, and two of them are merging to become one, there are going to be four major record labels controlling 80% of the market, with only 20% independent.
Mike: They’re all going down, ‘dinosaurs will die’ I think all the major labels will get killed anyway. (editors note: “Dinosaurs Will Die” is a NOFX song about the death of the music industry)
What’s the best way to go, independent for everybody?
Mike: No, make you’re money now while you can, they’re all going down. You can only make money playing live for 95% of bands anyway. If you can sell a few hundred thousand records, you should go to indie.
What about Apple and iTunes and all of that, that is coming about now? You think that will save the music industry?
Mike: Downloading isn’t what is killing it, it’s people burning CD’s for each other… it’s so easy. Downloading is actually, well, kinda hard. I don’t do it. But you know, after losing three Nirvana Nevermind CD’s I finally burned one and kept one spare, so I wouldn’t lose it. That’s what’s killing it, it’s burning, it’s not downloading.
Is there a reason why Fat Wreck Chords isn’t on iTunes?
Mike: We’re working some agreement out, I don’t know why. We will be. I think it is a good service they do, I might get an iPod one day. But I don’t like music that much anymore.
(Editors Note: since this interview, most of Fat’s catalogue has been added to iTunes.)
Bad Religion and NOFX are two of the most successful punk bands, but you scarcely make an appearance on MTV or in a video, have you turned MTV down, or do they have no interest?
Mike: In the mid-nineties they wanted our video and we decided not to do it. It wouldn’t have made a difference anyway, we’re not a commercial band, that’s why we turned them down; it doesn’t make a fucking difference.
Jay: We made 20 videos and they were all terrible. It didn’t pan out for us.
Music has changed over the past 20 years. Do you think if you started out today you would be more mainstream?
Jay: We wouldn’t be very good (laughs).
Mike: Yeah, I think if we started out now we wouldn’t be very successful (laughs). The only reason people still like us is because…
Jay: That’s why we’re still here, there wasn’t much competition. This is just tenacity at work.
How do you think a band like Bad Religion has lasted so long with so little radio play?
Jay: Well we don’t make singles, so when a radio station starts to play our song it’s pleasantly surprising. I’m never disappointed because I figure no one is ever going to pay any attention to us, so yeah, it’s thrilling.
Mike: And the careers our bands (Bad Religion and NOFX) have had are so long, its ludicrous. We have no business doing what we’re doing…
Jay: At all! Come on hurry up!!! (laughs)
Mike: They’ve (Bad Religion) been around two years longer than us (NOFX)… When they say ‘we can’t do it any more’ we’ll say ‘ ok, we’ve still got two more years’ (laughs).
Jay: As long as we’re out here, you can still be out here. That’s a good rule.
What does college music mean to you guys?
Jay: Hootie and the Blowfish?
Mike: (laughs) R.E.M.?
Jay: Uhh… Phish. What’s with the Phish? College music is where we all got our start, believe it or not. Not that style of music! But college radio…
Mike: I started writing good songs in college.
Jay: I didn’t go to college, they wouldn’t let me….
Mike: No, but their (Bad Religion’s) singer, Greg Graffin went to enough college for everyone.
Jay: A ‘professional student.’
Mike: He still goes to college.
Jay: No he’s done, he got his PhD last year.
Mike: I did five and a half years of college… I was Bluto (laughs).
Jay: No, he (Greg) did like 11 years in college.
Mike: Wait until you try to get a job when you are out of college, boy are you in for a surprise!
What do you see yourself doing after this?
Mike: I’m loaded, I’ve got a record label (laughs). I’m fucking….
Jay: Yeah, after this tour… I’m going to [go to] my island and just do nothing.
Mike: He has an island….
Jay: Yeah, the Greek Islands, I have a giant bull…. oh wait, that’s not me. I live in Mattersville… that’s where I’m going, start building it now!
(Editor’s Note: “Mattersville” is a NOFX song about a fictional community of punk rock senior citizens)
Mike: Yeah, being on an independent record label in a punk rock band, we’ll probably get royalties for the next 20 years.
Jay: (laughs) I’ll do pretty well, I’ll stay in the business. I’ll manage his (Mike’s) bands, how’s that?
Mike: I’m going to have a career in poker. I’ve been killing it on this tour!
Jay: Yeah, he’s pretty good. He’s better than Mike Leonard. (yells) Fat Mike is better than Mike Leonard at poker!!!