Album: Single Album
Label: Fat Wreck Chords / Edel
Nearly 40 years in, what else is there to say about NOFX?
And aside from the occasional negative headline, how can one of the pioneers of SoCal punk—a style hardly known for experimentation—surprise anyone these days?
The answers lie on Single Album(Fat Wreck Chords, Feb. 26), NOFX’s14th full-length studio album. There’s the nearly six-minute post-hardcore opener (“The Big Drag”). The meta sendoff for the band’s best-known song (“Linewleum”). The reggae-inflected song about a mass shooting (“Fish in a Gun Barrel”). Even a piano ballad (“Your Last Resort”).
It is, as frontman and bassist Fat Mike repeatedly describes, “a dark album.” That wasn’t the original intent. By early 2020, NOFX—which includes guitarist El Hefe, guitarist Eric Melvin, and drummer Smelly—had written and recorded enough songs for a planned double album to be released that fall. Like so much about 2020, those plans changed.
“When you write a double album, you write differently,” Mike says. “I was writing really different songs, and some fun songs, but you have to make a double album interesting enough to listen to the whole way. I wanted to make a perfect double album, and I didn't accomplish that. So I decided to just make a single album, hence the title.”
Recorded at Motor Studios in San Francisco with Bill Stevenson and Jason Livermore (Rise Against, Alkaline Trio, Teenage Bottlerocket), Single Album pares down the roughly 23 songs NOFXtracked. “I just kept adding songs,” Mike says. “I was maybe a little out of my mind.”
How so? “I was pretty high on drugs that year,” he adds. While fans may wonder what else is new, Single Albumcasts the frontman’s habits in a surprisingly harsh light. While “Grieve Soto” eulogizes beloved Adolescents founder Steve Soto, it takes a meta turn when Eric Melvin warns Mike to be “cautious, more respectful, less obnoxious.”“Birmingham” has what people in recovery call “a moment of clarity,” when he realized he was an addict.
“That was a clarity moment in my life when I was by myself, and the sun's coming up, and I'm scraping cocaine off the floor, like, ‘Eww, gross. I shouldn't be doing this,’” Mike says. “So what did I do? I ordered more.” After being hospitalized with a bleeding ulcer—a terrifying experience that caused him to vomit blood—Mike entered rehab in fall 2020. He promptly wrote another new album while there and has been sober since.
Unsurprisingly,Single Albumrepresents his most personal work to date. Heartbreak permeates “I Love You More Than I Hate Me” and “Your Last Resort.” “Fuck Euphemism” dives into Mike’s sexuality for a “pronoun bar fight.” “Doors and Fours” is a grim look into the early ’80s LA punk scene, when dozens of people—many of them Mike’s friends—overdosed on a prescription drug combo. “The Big Drag” is a personal vow to make the most of life, even when it undeniably sucks. “It’s one of my favorite NOFX songs ever. I don't get sick of listening to that song,” Mike says of “The Big Drag.” “No measure is the same length. Every time a new chord change happens, there’s a different rhythm to the guitar. The bass never stays on one note. You’re not sure when the chords are going to change because they always change at a different point.”
In other words, it’s unpredictable—just like NOFX. Turns out there is a lot to say about them, even after all this time.
Fat Wreck Chords will release Single Albumon Feb. 26, 2021.
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Album: First Ditch Effort
Label: Fat Wreck Chords / Edel
Let's be real: What's really left to say about NOFX? For over thirty years the reigning kings of punk rock have remained relevant by continuing to push the boundaries of their music, lyrics and good taste in a way that's as endearing as it is infectious. For that reason it's remarkably apt that the band's latest LP First-Ditch Effort is also their thirteenth because ominous black clouds hang over this collection of songs that see frontman/bassist Fat Mike exploring self-loathing and mortality in a more raw and honest way than he ever has before. Mike credits much of this to the writing process behind NOFX: The Hepatitis Bathtub And Other Stories, the band's New York Times Bestselling memoir that forced him to confront his ghosts and revisit his past in ways that weren't always comfortable.
“This album is more personal than anything I've ever done before because once we put everything out there in the book it opened all of these doors are far as what I want to sing about” Fat Mike explains. However this wouldn't sound like a NOFX album without powerful performances from guitarists Eric Melvin and El Hefe as well as drummer, Smelly. In that spirit this album also marks the first time that Melvin helped write songs and his contributions to “It Ain't So Lonely At The Bottom” and “I Don't Like Me Anymore” as well as his signature vocals on the opener “Six Years On Dope” add a visceral impact to these songs that will surprise even the band's most hardcore fans. “It's like you don't expect it, what the fuck?” Mike says of the aforementioned opener. “That song reminds me of the Angry Samoans meeting the Bronx and I don't think there's anything that sounds like it.”
Despite the fact that NOFX helped invent melodic punk music (alongside their longtime peers such as Bad Religion and Rancid), they've never made the same album twice and First-Ditch Effort sees them continuing to push their own musical boundaries. “One of the things I'm proud of on this album is the song 'California Drought' because it's written in a rhythm that I don't think anyone has ever used before and we have a drum solo on that song,” he explains as if he can't even believe it himself. Fat Mike also adds that spending the past few years working on his musical Home Street Home helped subconsciously influence this album, whether it's via the fully formed harmonies or prevalence of piano. “I've written so many crazy songs for the musical that even though NOFX didn't have a mold I keep pushing barriers,” he responds when asked why this album sounds so inspired.
Fat Mike also credits producer Cameron Webb (Motörhead, Alkaline Trio) for helping make these songs so dynamic. “Cameron had a lot of ideas that I would have never have thought of when it came to arrangements,” he explains. In fact the band were so inspired that they wrote eighteen songs for the album and even came up with some ideas when they weren't even trying. “The song 'Ditch Effort' just came out of nowhere from us jamming,” Fat Mike recalls. “That's not a normal thing for us but we just started playing and it had so much power and it felt so good to play it together so we had to put it on the album.” The band also prove that they haven't lost their innate ability to craft a hook on First-Ditch Effort and the conspiracy theory-rich “Sid And Nancy” and self-reflective rocker “I Don't Like Me Anymore” are two of the band's catchiest tracks to date.
However ultimately seriousness and somberness also lie at the core of First-Ditch Effort, a fact that's most evident in Mike's musical eulogy to No Use For A Name's frontman Tony Sly (“I'm So Sorry Tony”) as well the apocalyptic closer “Generation Z” which features guest vocals from Mike's 11-year-old daughter Darla who will also be producing the subsequent music video. “A lot of people are going to look at me differently after hearing this album,” Mike explains. “I think I was more comfortable about being myself on this record and a large part of that is due to my relationship with my wife and involvement in the BDSM world. “I used to live so much of my life in private but I've slowly started going to parties and out in public without being embarrassed of my true identity and that confidence just transferred over to my entire life,” he continues. “When you're dressed in rubber and heels and corset and you're waiting in line for an Omelette in Jamaica, well, after that there's nowhere else to go.”
After battling skinhead punks in the eighties, major-label executives in the nineties and George W. Bush in the early 2000s, NOFX are finally ready to enjoy the success they've been too preoccupied to embrace in the past... and it's turning out to be pretty exciting. “I went out with El Hefe the other night to a party and I think it was the first time we had ever hung out socially and it was a ton of fun,” Fat Mike recalls. “I think the process of doing the book and the book tour and making this record has brought the four of us together and formed a bond that we never would have discovered otherwise,” he summarizes. That newfound revelation is inherent in even some of this First-Ditch Effort's darkest moments making it the perfect soundtrack to both a fresh start as well as the end of the world. As the band have undeniably learned over the past 33 years, sometimes it's just all about your perspective.