The NOFX frontman has publicly supported the Occupy movement in LA. In a rare interview he discusses the future of the planet and why he’s happy to pay more tax.
You could make a case for NOFX being one of the most pertinent and socially relevant bands to have emerged in the last 25-odd years - not because of frontman Fat Mike's abortive involvement with politics through Punkvoter a few years ago, but because lyrically he's always had a brilliant eye for detail.
Recently, Mike and guitarist Eric Melvin have been performing at the Occupy camp in LA, campaigning specifically for fairer tax laws and financial regulation. Being a millionaire, Mike's more than aware he's not going to be the one hit hardest by the ripple effects of the credit crisis in the US but is more than willing to pay higher taxes. Why? Because in any human society, it's important to not be a dick.
The way Occupy is portrayed, at least by the mainstream media in the UK, is that it came about after there was a groundswell of dissatisfaction towards the way the world’s financial institutions have acted over the past few years. Is that your interpretation of it as well?
“The reason people are intrigued by it is because it’s not part of a movement. It’s something that’s so ridiculously unfair, how the banks and Wall Street have taken over the government. I don’t think this stuff is a movement against capitalism or anything, it’s just we want someone to put some rules in place that are fair.”
You’re clearly part of the One Per Cent, but you closed your Bank Of America account and are very public about thinking more One Per Centers should offer their support…
“Yeah, I think people want people from the One Per Cent to be involved. Michael Moore said the same thing, he gave a bunch of speeches at Occupy sites and he makes a shit load of money doing his documentaries. It’s not like rich people, most of them, want to fuck everybody else, they want to do okay for themselves. But the problem is the corporations have no conscience and shareholders are making as much profit as they can. Michael Moore put out ten things that the movement should stand for and one of them is not letting corporations have the same civil rights as people because they don’t have the same conscience as people.”
What do you think it would take or who else do you think it would take to be involved in the occupy movement to legitimise it further? Figures like yourself and Michael Moore are seen as being part of a left wing establishment, leaving the right wing establishment to characterise this as a left wing movement.
“I don’t understand why more people don’t get involved, because what’s interesting about it is it’s not just about one thing. We’re not just saying ‘Stop the war’, where there’s only one real goal, there’s many goals here and I couldn’t believe when I read on the internet that over 600,000 people in November that had taken their money from big banks and put it in credit unions. That’s a lot of fucking people and that’s a huge win – all that means is more money is going into credit unions that help people. I put all my money in the New Resource Bank in San Francisco, and they loan money to new green business and they don’t invest in crazy money making schemes outside of California, they actually only help California. I talked to my accountant about this and there’s no reason to not put your money into small community banks, it’s such a simple thing. Not only does it screw over big banks but it helps people in your community.”
What have people’s reactions to you getting involved in Occupy?
“What’s nice about getting involved in this, is that I’m not getting any shit for it, like ‘Oh you’re just jumping on the bandwagon’ because I have been an activist in the past. But people also know that I’m not an activist by nature, I am getting involved in this because I feel we really can make a difference and we already have, so, by me getting in I think it helps people who aren’t activists get involved. Michael Moore is more of an activist than I am. Since Bush won the second election I haven’t been involved in anything, it’s been about six years for me.”
Is that because you were depressed about how things were or didn’t feel like there was a point in being involved?
“I got over it after a couple days, but you know, what am I going to do? Bush had another four years and when the next election came around it seemed Obama was going to win by a landslide and he did. So I didn’t really bother, I’m not an activist by nature, you know? I’m more interested in raising my daughter, going on tour, having a good time and whatever. But when I think I can make a difference, like just playing Occupy LA, you know there are a thousand people that came out and I may have gotten a lot more people involved that weren’t in a movement I really believe in. But it was fun to play those dates. Me and Eric Melvin are going to go out and play more there in a few weeks.”
I guess it’s funny though, because as much as you say you’re not an activist, in a lot of NOFX’s music there’s been a socially conscious strand running through…”
“Absolutely, a lot of it has. It’s funny because we’re playing this song called ‘Perfect Government’ at these protests and it was written in 1994, but the lyrics fit perfectly right now. We’ve always been a socio-political band but we have a sense of humour, so people write us off as being a funny band. But lyrically our lyrics have always been socially conscious.”
In ‘The Decline’ [legendary 18-minute, one-song EP released in 1999] you say fighting the good fight is a losing battle. Do you still believe that?
“I do believe that it’s a losing battle, I think that the ’90s were the best time in the history, actually in the history of the world. The standard of living was pretty high, but when Bush took over he really put the world into a downward spiral, especially economically with this war. Even though I think the US was looked at as a decent world superpower in the ‘90s and now we’re a joke. Between global warming and the world’s economy going down the tube, I don’t see things getting better, I just see it as a big decline. But there’s things you can do along the way to make things better.”
So you’d rather be active?
“If I can make a difference. I really don’t like spinning my wheels and I’m not going to get involved. A great example is, the Beastie Boys did this free Tibet concert and they put all this time and energy into Free Tibet. The most ridiculous thing I could ever imagine, it’s like Mexico, having a benefit concert to free California from the US. It’s fucking dumb. So I’m not gonna get into a movement that can’t really do anything. This movement is already making starts, the government is taking it seriously and 66 per cent of Americans are behind it, so that’s what’s so important. It’s not a Democrat / Republican thing, and to be able to get the working class country united and actually have a list of things we want is huge.”
Has this galvanised you personally?
“Yeah, it sure has. Being someone in the highest tax bracket, I have no problem paying more taxes. It’s only fair.”
Looking back at the past couple of NOFX releases, and I don’t know if I’m reading too much into this, but songs like ‘60%’ and naming the last album ‘Coaster’, it was like you were saying ‘Fuck it, this’ll do’. But now you’re up for a fight again…
“Yeah, I do believe in this movement and a lot of political writers and activists have come out and said they haven’t seen anything like this movement. Has that side of me been dormant for a while? Oh for sure, I mean once Obama won the presidency we were all so happy, we had a little hope he was going to do something but he hasn’t really done shit. I don’t really blame him for that, I think he’s a good man, I just think this country really is run by corporations and the president has no power… or very little power.”
You mentioned Michael Moore had a list of 10 things the Occupy Movement should do. For you personally, what would your ideal end game for this movement be?
“Higher taxes for the rich, and you have to put fucking regulations on these banks and Wall Street so they can’t just steal everyone’s money. Wall Street fleeced America for all the money it had invested and you know, you can’t have people in the richest country in the world be desperate. There’s just no reason for it. What’s interesting is that after World War 2 the US made a constitution for Germany and Japan. And it’s funny because as our economy gets worse and worse and worse, Germany and Japan are doing just fine because every citizen has the right to employment, to healthcare, to education, and the US has none of those things.”
Has having your daughter grow up more made you kind of look at a little bit more at what sort of world she’s going to grow up into?
“Not so much. I’ve been reading this guy James Lovelock and he’s an 90-year-old scientist and he sees this global warming thing as a lot worse than anyone thinks it is. Within 50 to 100 years there’s only going to be 100,000 people anyway, so I live in a world with a very bleak future. I want my daughter to have a good time, but I’m looking at humanity more than my daughter. I mean, I have some money and my daughter’s going to go to some good schools, get a good education and be able to do things, I can help with that. I’m looking at this as a country or as a planet, I want to see humanity do okay and for being a supposed leader of democracy in the world, we really don’t have democracy any more.”
I suppose that feeling isn’t something new to you, again referring back to the final passage of ‘The Decline’…
“I really think that if you have something you can contribute to a movement like this, you should do it and I wouldn’t have got into this movement if I was just going to walk as a protester. I feel I have more to give than that, like Michael Moore comes out and says all this stuff because people listen to him and he sells millions of books and makes a lot of movies, so I think it is important for celebrities to go out there and be seen and be heard. You can make more of a difference than someone who’s a house painter. It’s important for everyone to get involved but if you actually can make more of a difference then it’s your responsibility to do so.”