In the early aughts, NOFX worked on a split of songs with fellow California punks and Epitaph alum Rancid. The bands work within a similar vein of punk rock and found ways to expand on each other’s sound.
Perhaps a more surprising split to many fans is being released this week in which NOFX covers songs with Frank Turner and vice versa. We recently zoom-chatted with Fat Mike of NOFX on the process and thoughts of the output. For more, be sure to check out the accompanying interview with Frank Turner.
You invited Frank Turner to do this split. NOFX and his band have separate tempos you’re known for. Is it a songwriter approach that prompted this collaboration?
Yeah, after we decided to do it, we didn’t even talk to one another for a year.
Did you share any of the progress in putting these together?
No, we didn’t share any of the song choices or anything. After six months, I just called him, and I go, ‘Are we still doing this?’ Actually he called me and asked if we’re still doing this. Cuz he was in the studio, and I was not. I hadn’t even told my guys that we were doing this yet.
How did you feel about his selections? Was anything off limits?
No. I thought that they were great. I think “Falling in Love,” that’s my favorite on the whole record.
I chatted with him earlier and he mentioned you’ve had a lot of conversations about that track. What are you most excited about in how he covered it?
Well, I think he definitely made it better than the original. Where I don’t know if we did that on a lot of the songs. We made them interesting, but … there are so few lyrics in that song (“Falling In Love”), but he really makes them stand out. He made it more of a love song.
The tracks that NOFX covers are love songs. “Substitute” is a tormented love song that you make more upbeat with an upstroke.
Is that a question?
It’s a statement that I’d love for you to elaborate on your process.
We kind of have to speed them up. If we’re going to do our job, we have to speed up his songs. So, I don’t know. Yes. We made it faster. We made it more upbeat. Lyrically, I didn’t think of them; I just picked songs that I liked. I think “Worse Things Happen at Sea” was the song I chose first.
You mention not having the same vocal range, but you begin that one with a muted tone. Is there an emotion you were hoping to create?
In the song, he does the same thing. He starts off really quiet, and ends it shouting. I still don’t get as high as he did, but I gave it a shot. I have a lot less to work with.
When doing “Thatcher Fucked the Kids,” you go ska. Is this your haymaker?
No, I just thought it was different. I think I like “Worse Things Happen at Sea” the most.
What do you like about that one?
I changed a few chords around, and that’s my favorite thing to do when I produce bands. To put in chords that you’re not expecting, but it doesn’t change the melody.
The final two tracks have a layered sound between between NOFX’s 2003 War on Errorism and 2006 Wolves in Wolves Clothing. Were you aiming for a theatric approach?
No, “Glory” made sense to be last cuz it’s so weird.
Lyrically, it sounds close to a NOFX song.
Yeah, that’s the song we’d done live before.
You play it faster live.
Yeah, we just made it punk. Cuz I heard his songs; before we finished I heard his finished songs. We were about done, and I decided to change that one up. That was just faster, so it’s a lot more fun now. It reminds me of the Partridge Family. Karina (Denike) has been in NOFX for quite a while now, but we haven’t had her in a recording.
She’s always a great addition to the live show.
Yeah, it was such a gift to get her in the band. We used to have Limo, our monitor guy, and he’d play the keyboard part, but she adds a whole dimension that’s really cool. She’s such a great person, too.
You break from Frank’s rhythms to make it very NOFX. Were there any challenges in adapting your sound?
It all felt natural, except I really dreaded singing every day.
Cuz I always dread singing; it takes me forever. And especially “Glory Hallelujah.” I couldn’t drink or do anything. I had to get in shape to sing that song.
How many takes did you need to get that song where you want it to be?
Oh shit, I don’t know. I sang each line 10 to 15 times.
Did you have to do anything to prep? Vocal training or gargle Listerine?
No, I just had to do weird stuff, like I really needed to be in shape. Just sleep and not party to prepare. And you can tell the difference. The worst thing, was, I probably had drinks, and I put off singing that (“Glory Hallelujah”) for like a week.
Have you tried to record after one of these recent bike rides for charity?
I don’t know.
You should, you’re becoming Fit Mike.
That’s right. That’s what I’m doing now. That was cool. I try to ride my bike every day, but with those, we had to ride two to three hours every day. It’s really nice. Especially during COVID. Everyone’s putting on weight or something, and I’ve lost 14 pounds.
On the cover you’re listed as the champions, and he’s the challenger. Whose decision was that moniker?
His artist did it. I forgot whose idea it was for that, but I like how it looks. It’s pretty funny. We just had to take some photos, and we don’t live near one another, but they look like they’re from the same session.
Frank covers “Bob,” but you’re in the video.
Yeah, that was my idea.
You give some big eyes to the camera to show your sincerity.
Yeah, I really hammed it up, right?
Was that your parrot?
No, that’s Johnny’s from Old Man Markey.
That parrot seemed to love you.
No that parrot, that little fuckin’ prick didn’t just bite my neck, it hung onto my neck.
But you’re into that right?
No, I’ve never been into bird play. But I’m thinking about it differently now.
Do you anticipate you and Frank doing a show together?
I certainly hope not. Once again, he is a great singer … and I sing in a punk band.
You know that doesn’t matter, Mike.
It does, it really does. If you ever see Alkaline Trio play late night TV, it’s fucking bad.
Well you guys were on Conan ages ago.
Yeah, my vocals weren’t that good. But, that also was a song I had a grasp on. [Sings] ‘I never thought about the universe, it made me feel small …’ it’s like one note through the whole thing. [Leaves to blow nose] Sorry. I’m so stuffy. I sleep with my fan on, and it got me.
It does that; it can make you feel like you’ve got a little touch of the corona. Stay hydrated.
You never know in my place, dude. There’s nine people in my pad. One of them’s a nurse, and one of them’s a flight attendant. Everyone’s getting tested here all the time. I also have Fishbone over here all the time.
I read there’s new NOFX you’re sitting on; any plans for release?
It’s supposed to come out this year.
Or what about my next 7-inch releases from the club?
They’re not out yet, right? What the fuck? The last two are probably the best two. It’s funny, cuz those 7-inches … they’re not very good. But I like that, I like when I used to get Stiff Little Fingers 7-inches; then you get the album, and the album would sound awesome. But, in punk rock, 7-inchess are kinda like a demo. These are demos for me.
It is nice to consistently receive them, it elevates spirits.
That’s a nice thing to say, and that’s why we did those videos. This album is dark as fuck. In that video we kill ourselves; it’s dark as fuck. We had to make the decision to put out the Frank Turner one first. And I think it’s a more COVID-friendly album. Everyone seems to love it, which is so nice.
I loved the Rancid split, and you play those songs in a different way.
It’s a much more interesting album.
Even the way you covered “One Last Caress,” but NOFX played it like a different ska song.
We got to do that with “Radio.” This was a lot more challenging, and it’s a lot more fun to listen to. “Thatcher Fucked The Kids” makes such a cool ska-punk song.
Thanks for putting out music in these shitty times.
I really am thinking about that. NOFX have a record, and we kinda have another one in the can, too. I’ve just been recording.
Cokie was a solo change. Would you do an acoustic album?
Well that was it. That took a year of misery.
What about just solo Mike and a guitar?
That’s what everyone does. Every singer in a punk band does an acoustic thing. I like doing things with a different perspective. I like being the originator of something. Fat Mike doing an acoustic album? Boring!
You could do it on a twelve-string.
Twelve-strings are terrible. Woof! What a terrible idea, whoever invented the twelve string. Always out of tune.