Conference With NOFX and Bad Religion

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’.

Fat Mike of NoFXFor 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.

Jay of Bad Religion 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!!!

Hyper-Realism and Cognitive Dissonance – OR: Why Alex Ross Must Be Stopped!

As a long-time comic book reader, I have come to realize that it (like most entertainment channels, really) is a cyclical game. In recent years, I have heard people refer to the new Renaissance in comics, with talented writers on long-since-thought-wrung-out characters… Moments like Actor/Director Kevin Smith taking over a written off character called Green Arrow. Moments like Scottish writer Mark Millar’s stunning “Wanted” series, apparently starring Eminem. Moments like writer Brian Michael Bendis single-handedly redefining the Avengers.

Inevitably, I think back to the LAST time I heard such high praise, such high hopes, such smoke blown up so very many collective glutei.

It was the early 1990’s, and comics were in a low period. (Alright, smarty, I hear the peanut gallery crying out “They can get lower?” Pipe down, you!) I clearly remember when a series called Marvels came out… Spider Man, The Hulk, The Avengers, The X-Men, all seen from the perspective of the proverbial “Man on The Street” with photorealistic painted art.

Marvels Cover

At a time with Marvel Comics (home of Spider-Man, The X-Men, The Hulk, and other future movie properties) was churning out utter drek at a staggering pace, Marvels was deftly written, with characters that long-time fans recognized, behaving in a manner that even the new “grim and gritty” crowd caught on to. I was absolutely BLOWN AWAY by the work, fully painted art, by a new kid named Alex Ross. I had seen his work on Terminator comics, but wasn’t really a fan (of the art OR the comics).

But his painting, combined with the masterful scripting of Kurt Busiek, really brought a whole new perspective to comics, and brought back to life concepts that Marvel was allowing to languish. The building blocks, if you will, of the Marvel Universe had been misused, abused, and otherwise mutilated, but Ross and Busiek were showing that they weren’t irrevocably gone. The showed what COULD be done. It may not have been Marvel’s “Citizen Kane,” but it was a good solid “Magnificent Ambersons.”

Busiek and Ross just… GOT IT. Observe:

Marvels #1
Marvels #3
Marvels #4

Looking back, now, I find myself troubled by the art. It’s not that the work ages particularly badly. It’s not really any more or less oxidized than anything else that came out during that, the Gilt Age of Comics. But as I view and re-view the art, I remember what I initially drew me to it: Dynamic perspective. Photo-realism. Light and shadow. Recognizable characters…

And yet… I like it, less and less, each time I see it. What once seemed fresh and new, now comes across as… forced. The Angel on the cover of issue #2, for instance…

Marvels #2

Obviously references to classical paintings, ala the wing placement, the noble curve of the chin, the soft lighting on the wing. Very Caravaggio. And yet, it’s lifeless. There’s no character, no life, no VERVE. It’s a very pretty snapshot of an ugly scene.

Alex is currently doing covers for one of my favorite comics of all time, a title called JSA. And each issue, I look at the covers, and I appreciate the craft behind the work… To be frank, I’m kind of jealous of the talent involved. But when I open the book, I find I can’t quite accept the covers at face value anymore…

JSA Cover

Wanna know why? See the girl in the right foreground? That’s Courtney Ross, the former Star Spangled Kid, now Stargirl… She’s approximately 17 years old, a teenager with braces, who is learning the ways of the superhero world from the veterans of the Justice Society.

Star Spangled Kid

That is how the original artist portrayed Star Spangled Kid, and how I see her. A spunky kid, full of attitude and sass, ready to wedge her Doc Marten in the pudgy ass of evil. A superhero who isn’t less cool because of her blonde ponytail and XX chromosome. Look again at the JSA cover. What do you see?

I see a kid. A real flesh and blood girl, whom I don’t want to see impaled on the Sword of Anubis, or punched by Black Adam, or god forbid, sliced open by a Joker-branded deathtrap. SHE’S TOO REAL!

The use of this unneccesarily more realistic image has actually distanced me from the story I enjoy, and from the comic that I usually love to death. It’s no longer Stargirl, kick ass hero. To my mind, it’s Courtney, the young girl who babysits down the street. Not someone I want to see in mortal danger.

And it’s more than just offending my macho BS sensibilities… The picture of the Stars and Stripes cover is ACTIVE, it’s DYNAMIC, it’s SSK about to kick you inna face! The Ross cover? It’s a still life. Beautiful, but essentially dead. It looks carved, forced… The characters look frozen, locked in a painstakingly drawn, but still mostly boring skyscape.

Another example?

Even setting aside how successful or unsuccessful the work is, it’s a very selfish, very self-aware, and a very one-sided communication model… More on THAT next time! Same Cobra time, same Cobra station!

Lookin' Under The Lid #2: So Much … Afterglow

1997 was an unforgettable year. My sister graduated high school, I was became a freshman and it was the first time I met my friend, Hector Mercado (also first time he put me in the Boston Crab). There were three main wrestling promotions (ECW, WCW and WWF), coffee shops were gaining popularity and the much anticipated Family Values Tour was beginning. And in a small corner of the world, there was Everclear, touring to promote their sophomore album, So Much for the Afterglow. Unlike their debut Sparkle and Fade, this audio storybook collection hit home with more fans, especially lead singer, Art Alexakis.

Everclear has always been known to be a rock band and for that reason alone, I was a little surprised when I first listened to So Much for the Afterglow. Maybe my ears were deceiving me, but it sounded like Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons when I heard light synchronized singing. Then out of nowhere, Art Alexakis screams, “This is a song about Susan,” kicking into the title track. Ironically, I don’t know too much about this Susan character. Once the jingle finishes, it sounds like garbage sirens are going off, playing a large role in “Everything to Everyone,” where Alexakis trashes on depressed females who will do anything for attention, from making people giggle or moan. Nice guy, isn’t he? Anyways, here come the mainstream singles. The first single was the slow-n-steady “I Will Buy You a New Life,” which is pretty much a bachelor choosing contest. Throughout the whole tune, it’s like, “Pick me! I’ll build you a house, make you laugh and plant flowers in the garden.” I listen to the song because I like sound of the triangle. The other big smash, “Father of Mine” is a reflection of Alexakis’s relationship with his father. It appeared his father was there when he was a toddler but later abused his mother and left the family, something many can identify with.

I don’t plan to go on and on about the album and try to tell you, “Pick this CD! You can hear someone wanting to plant flowers!” You guys are qualified to make the decision on your own. However, the songs are clear and the vocals are great. Every melody is different and it’s like hearing several stories. If the last three tracks were discarded, then 1997 would have been an even better year. Wish Hector would have saved the Boston Crab until 1998.

The Decision: Keep it in the stash.

(Would you ‘Keep it in the stash’ or ‘Throw it in the trash’? Let us know.)

Lookin' Under The Lid: Three Dollar Bill's, Y'all!

There was a time when red baseball hats weren’t so popular. Before they went behind blue eyes, before they were rollin’ and before it was all for the nookie, Limp Bizkit didn’t care about setting trends. Although later albums caught the eye of the teeny-boppers, Three Dollar Bills, Y’all! (their 1997 debut) rooted the band with a respectable rock following.

It all started out with a record deal … and a car accident. The band (discounting guitarist Wes Borland at the time) was driving to Texas to record their album, but a nasty accident almost ended their lives. After regrouping, signing with a new label (Interscope) and bringing Wes Borland back into the mix, Three Dollar Bills, Y’all was completed. In the “Intro,” Fred Durst (LB front man) asks God to get rid of all the evil on earth and kill the pollution, leaving me to think, “Metal’s supposed to be evil. This doesn’t sound very metal.” Soon after that, Wes Borland and Sam Rivers slam the strings of their guitar and bass (respectively), introducing “Pollution” and the rest of Limp Bizkit’s effort. The most unique characteristic of this album is that the songs reveal their own identity. The hip-hopish “Counterfeit” challenges people to stop being posers, the island-sounding “Sour” focuses on a whipped boyfriend realizing his ex-girlfriend is a bitch and the bass-jazzy “Stuck” centers on a money-hungry lady trying to ride the coattails of her ex-boyfriend’s musical success. Also jammed into this record is the famous cover of George Michael’s “Faith.”

There are several ups and downs about this disc. The positives include the rhythms, which are simply badass. The way Fred Durst incorporates his rapping style with his screaming ability simply rocks (prime example would be on “Counterfeit”). DJ Lethal also incorporates several good ideas with his scratching, which gives the album a “not so clean sound.” Sometimes though, we have to take the good with the bad. “Nobody Loves Me” officially marks the beginning of Fred Durst whining. The prayer in “Intro” does not seem too metal and at the end of every song, there is about forty-five seconds of annoying noise. If it weren’t for the killer rhythms, I’d throw this album in the trash.

The Decision: Keep it in the stash.

(Would you ‘Keep it in the stash’ or ‘Throw it in the trash’? Let us know.)