After nearly 40 years and 13 studio albums, fans know what to expect when they put on a NOFX record: a series of upbeat songs clocking in at under three minutes each, witty lyrics served up with a dash of juvenile humor, and a liberal helping of songs referencing doing drugs and having kinky sex. It’s a formula that has worked tremendously for the band over the years.
The newly released “Single Album” takes that formula and throws it into a blender with a cup of gloom. All of the elements of a NOFX album are in there, but there is a heaviness—both musically and lyrically—to this record that the band hasn’t really shown before. From the second the needle drops and “The Big Drag” starts playing through the speakers, it’s abundantly clear this album is going to be different.
“I wanted to set the mood for the album,” Mike explains. “The song makes you anxious because you aren’t sure when the chords are going to change. I played the song for Jason [Cruz] from Strung Out and he’s like, ‘Dude, you can’t open your album with a slow six-minute song, that’s crazy. I had him listen to it and after he heard it he was like, ‘This is the perfect opener.’”
Whereas previous album openers like “Soul Doubt”and “Hobophobic (Scared of Bums)” hit you in the mouth with their frenetic energy, “The Big Drag’’ starts with Fat Mike somberly singing over slow, grinding guitars. It takes more than three minutes for the tempo to pick up, at which point this is already the second-longest NOFX album opener, and we’re only halfway through.
“It’s actually one of my favorite songs I’ve ever written,” he says. “I don’t get sick of that song because no measure is the same, nothing really makes sense in that song, it was written as a stream of consciousness. I made the lyrics fit by making each measure shorter or longer, whatever it needed to be. It’s a different way of thinking and songwriting.
“There’s no way we could pull it off live,” he continues. “There are no cues. Every chord has a different rhythm. And it’s long, it eats up your set and, you know, I’d much rather talk for six minutes [laughs].”
“Single Album” was originally supposed to be a double album, but after playing the songs for a handful of friends, Mike saw that a lot of the songs weren’t really connecting. “It’s hard to write 23 solid songs that all make sense on an album,” he says. “I thought I could do it, but I was really on too much booze and cocaine to make any good decisions.” The collection of songs was whittled down to 10 that showed promise.
“The double album was called ‘Single Album,’ by the way,” Mike laughs. “We didn’t change the name. Putting out a double album called ‘Single Album’ is pretty funny, but still calling it ‘Single Album’ is funny too.”
One may be quick to assume the darker subject matter in the album was a result of spending a year in quarantine, but that’s not the case as “Single Album” was already in the can for the majority of 2020. In reality, the dismal tone was set by Mike’s mental state and the substances he turned to in order to cope. “I was going through my first bout of depression before COVID,” Mike explains. “I’m 54 and I never really knew what depression was. It wasn’t a chemical imbalance, I was just going through a lot of shit in my life. I broke up with my wife, Soma Snakeoil, and going from living with her, her daughter and her slave girl to living by myself was very strange for me.
“I was living alone in San Francisco and just drinking and doing a lot of drugs,” he continues, “which is why I wrote most of this album. When I do that I don’t go to bars or talk to people, I just stay home, and I end up writing depressing songs. It wasn’t like I spent all day depressed, but at night I was getting pretty miserable by myself. I don’t know how to be by myself because of my childhood as an only child with no parents around. [Being alone] does not make for a good Fat Mike.”
Mike may be the man who wrote a song called “Drugs Are Good,” but prior to “Single Album” he had always entered the studio sober. This time around he was loaded the entire time. Subconsciously, the years of drug abuse may have been weighing on him, leading him to write songs like “Birmingham.”
The song recounts a night where the drugs were no longer fun, showing a side of himself fans have rarely seen. “When I used to tour with a girlfriend or a wife, after shows I wouldn’t hang out because I had to sing the next day,” he explains. “I’d go to dungeons and get my kink on, do some drugs then go to sleep at a decent hour. What happened that night in Birmingham was that I wasn’t with anybody. I found it hard to stop using drugs when I wasn’t with anybody. That night particularly stuck with me because I stayed up all night, called a drug dealer at six in the morning, and he came over and brought more drugs.
“I was like, ‘This is not good,’” he continues. “You’re supposed to run out. I usually have someone with me who makes me stop.” At home in San Francisco, Mike has developed a system to limit his drug intake—he keeps them in a safe only a few friends can get into. So when he runs out of drugs at two in the morning, he’s out of drugs and there is no way his dealer will drive up from San Jose to replenish his supply. “That’s why Birmingham was different because I got a drug dealer’s number,” Mike says. “When I had that, yeah, I fucked up. I ran out of drugs and I called the drug dealer and that’s no way to live [laughs].”
As the time passed from his divorce, Mike was able to ramp down his drug use. By limiting his intake to a couple of days a week and riding his bike five days a week he convinced himself he was in a healthy spot. The rest of the band thought otherwise and they staged an intervention. It did not go well, to put it mildly.
“I was like, ‘I haven’t seen you guys in months, what the fuck are you talking about?’” he recalls. “Why are you doing an intervention when you don’t know shit about me? I was pissed off they wanted me to go to rehab, so I went to my room and did a line of coke and a shot and said, ‘Fuck you!’”
Instead of the sober vacation he had originally planned, Mike went on a week-long bender that ended with him puking liters of blood. The paramedics were called and at the hospital he was diagnosed with a bleeding ulcer. A bacteria called H. pylori was the cause of the bleeding, not his partying, but the experience scared him nonetheless. “I was like, OK, I’ll go [to rehab],” he says. “The universe was telling me I should do something. So I went to rehab for a month, which was really nice. I paddleboarded every day. I really learned how to get perspective on things and to not go to booze and drugs when I’m upset about something.”
All of this happened during the fall and Mike has maintained his sobriety. While he doesn’t intend to be a teetotaler forever, he’s aiming to stay that way for a year. “I’m having such a good time right now being sober,” he says. “I’m not preoccupied with getting drugs or doing drugs or how much fun I’m going to have on drugs. I’m just doing other stuff.”
Curious about what he means by “other stuff”? In addition to writing songs at a ferocious pace (39 in the past three months), Mike has been engaging in some serious multitasking. “I don’t know if this happens a lot, but I had a tattoo artist come to my house and give me a tattoo while I was getting a mani-pedi,” he laughs. “I’m pretty punk rock bourgeoisie, but I don’t know how many people have gotten a mani-pedi and a tattoo at the same time.”
A groundbreaking occasion such as this requires the perfect tattoo, and what could possibly fit the situation more than a “Rocky Horror Picture Show” tattoo? “It’s the words, ‘Don’t dream it, be it,’” he says. “Those words have always stuck in my head. I wasn’t a public crossdresser until I was 45. I really felt like such a coward that I wasn’t living my life the way I wanted to live it. I’d hear that song and it would make me sad. I got that tattoo because those words really pushed me.”
People never thought NOFX would open an album with a six-minute song, just as people never thought Fat Mike would thoroughly enjoy sobriety. But here we are. They didn’t just dream it… you know the rest.