It’s been a busy couple of months for “Fat” Mike Burkett of NOFX. First, he announced the seminal punk band is dissolving after their next tour, then he revealed the band’s new album, Double Album (the revamped companion piece to last year’s Single Album), will be out in December. And he’s done all of this while helping to launch the world’s first comprehensive punk museum in his new home of Las Vegas.
Today, NOFX has released their second single off of Double Album, the catchy “Punk Rock Cliché” — which happens to come with as good of a backstory as any NOFX track ever has. Originally written by Burkett for the Matt Skiba-era Blink-182, it’s a song over a half-decade in the making with an origin story that only the songwriter himself could do justice.
SPIN spoke with the punk rock trailblazer about the new track, the end of the band, and why the upcoming album won’t be the last anyone hears from NOFX.
SPIN: “Punk Rock Cliché” seems to have quite the story. What can you tell people about it?
Fat Mike: Well, it’s a song I wrote probably six years ago when I was staying on Matt Skiba’s couch — as one does. This is when he had just been asked to join Blink-182 and they were demoing songs for California. I said, “Hey, check this out.” I played the song, and I said “I think this would be a great Blink-182 song.” He worked on some of the lyrics with me — some of them were already written. It was the first time we wrote together. He brought it to the band, they recorded it, and a few weeks later, Travis Barker did a bunch of interviews with NME and Exclaim! and whoever else, and in all the interviews, he said, “We have a new song called ‘Punk Rock Cliché,’ and it’s the best song on the album. I’m really excited about it.’ So when I saw those articles, I was really stoked.
They recorded the album, they recorded the song for the album, and their label said “This is your first single.” Matt called me and said, “Dude, you won’t believe this, but your song ‘Punk Rock Cliché’ is going to be our first single.” It was a big deal because it was their first single in years. Then he called me up six weeks later and said, “I don’t know how to tell you this, but I told the band you wrote the song and they dropped it off the album completely.” I was really bummed because I thought it was going to be my first radio hit. I didn’t really understand at the time, but I thought about it, and I figured, “Well, they just kicked Tom out of the band, so if anyone got word that I wrote it…” To be clear, I didn’t care. I was going to ghostwrite it. But I could see how someone saying “Oh, you had to get Fat Mike to write a song for you” would be something they didn’t want to come out.
But it was just weird because Travis and I used to text and talk pretty regularly. He played on one of my albums. We weren’t close, but we were friends. And he just never spoke to me again after that. At first, it felt really, really bad for me. It really bummed me out because I got my hopes up, and I really liked the song. So about a year or two later, NOFX recorded it — because it was still my song. It didn’t make it on Single Album, but it was recorded four or five years ago. Now, it’s coming out on our new album. It’s funny because six months ago, I reached out to [Blink-182] and said “Hey, you guys want to do a split seven-inch? It would be pretty cool to have both versions of the same songs.” No response from anyone. No shit, but their version is way better than the NOFX version. I tried really hard, but Travis just killed it. He’s such a monster on drums. Skiba was singing it. Seriously, I really wanted to kick their ass on it, but I think their version is better. It’s too bad because I really thought it would be a really cool split with them, but the world only gets to hear the NOFX version of “Punk Rock Cliché” for now.
Hey, you might be able to get Skiba to sing on the NOFX version these days, now that Tom is back in Blink…
Yeah, that’s true. I don’t know what their relationship is like now. But now that our version is coming out, I just want to tell the story. The song doesn’t sound like NOFX per se, because I wrote it to be a Blink song. I just wrote it with more chords than the normal Blink song, and a different melody than they’d had before.
Other than your statement that very few bands have really put out a good double album before, what was your inspiration to make one at this point in NOFX’s career?
Well, I like a challenge. That’s why I wrote The Decline. That’s why most of our records really have a different sound. So I just wanted to challenge myself to do a double album as well, because so many bands do it, and it’s always a letdown. What happens is that you really think about recording the album differently. You really try to make songs stand out, but it’s hard to do because you have over 20 songs. That’s why there aren’t any good double albums, because you end up thinking outside the box and end up with a bunch of songs like “Revolution 9.” I failed originally, because I had 24 songs recorded [for Single Album], and when I played discs three and four for people, they all liked it. But then I played them discs one and two, and they were like “Holy shit, this is way better.”
It ended up being Single Album because the first half was way better than the second half, so I didn’t want to release the whole thing. Then I spent a year making the songs better on sides three and four, and now these same people actually think sides three and four are better. I don’t know, because I can’t tell anyone, but I’m very happy with making the decision to put them out separately. Single Album got some of the best reviews we’ve ever gotten, and it’s a great album. But it’s a very melancholy, thought-out, depressing album. It’s super personal. This album is probably our funniest album. It’s fast, and it sounds like the album that our fans are going to want to hear. NOFX fans will be like “Hell yeah!” Whereas a lot of fans had to listen to Single Album for a while before they really liked it. Critics liked it right away, but people were like “Jesus, this is slow and depressing.” But when you put them together, I think it makes them very good and very level.
There are still five songs from the same recording session, so next year, we’ll be releasing the Half Album, so it’s actually a double-and-a-half album. There are five sides, and it comes out to about 600 grams of vinyl, so I’m calling it “the 600 pentagram vinyl.”
Speaking of plans for next year, you said it’ll be the last for NOFX. What brought about that decision to end the band after 40 years?
Well, 2023 is not our last year. That’s when our last tour starts, but we’re going into 2024. It will be our absolute final tour. I just don’t enjoy it like I used to, but we are all excited about playing our final shows. We’re going to play every album we’ve ever recorded. Every city is going to be very special. We’ll have been a band for 40 years with all original members, and we’re going to play 40 cities. Every show, we’re going to play 40 different songs. It’s just a whole bunch of cool things with these last shows.
We just played Vancouver and Edmonton, and we know it’s the last time we’re ever going to play those cities. We tried so hard on stage to be the best we could be, and I got really teary-eyed at the end when I thanked people for seeing us for so many years. I even get really emotional just talking about it now. It was really hard, but I really enjoyed myself. I really felt that this is necessary because it makes our whole career more special to me. The band was very hesitant about it at first, but they’re all on board now.
Seeing as you announced the band’s end in an Instagram comment in response to a fan rather than some grand announcement, how did it feel to see how people reacted to the news?
A lot of bands were like “Are you fucking kidding me? What are you doing? What are you talking about?” I was also so surprised that it got so much press from me responding to one kid. But I was also really pleased that so many people reached out to say thanks and show their appreciation.
I know you also said the last date of the tour will be in L.A. so NOFX can end where it began.
Yeah, that’ll be really emotional. I don’t look forward to it, but I do look forward to it.
And you’re also not planning some crazy Misfits-style reunion down the line, which is probably for the best, based on how the Misfits sounded at Riot Fest.
Oh, that won’t happen, but the Misfits have always sucked live. They were just as bad the first time around.
Is there anything else you wanted to tell people about the final tour before the formal dates get announced?
The last tour is going to be really, really special. Just the fact that every set we play is going to be completely different from the sets before and after it. We’ll be recording a live album for every show.
I was really hoping you’d do a live album for the last show called something like At Least They Finally Stopped Sucking Live.
That idea has definitely been going around. But seriously, it was weird when we played our last few shows. Everyone said they’ve never seen us this good before because we’re really firing on all cylinders right now. When you see us, you can just feel that we’re all playing off of each other — and I never practiced before shows. Now, I go over the songs once, and we’ve been playing very well ever since. It just feels really good, and because we have a reason to play well, we can’t be bad. We can’t be bad at one of our last shows, so I’m actually very excited about this tour.
Oh, the other thing is that we still have another new album in the can. Over COVID, I recorded like 60 songs. Well, I demoed like 60 songs. So we have a new album that’ll be coming out in the middle of our last tour.