BBC Jan-16-2003: Fat Mike on The Lock Up
Last updated 16 January 2003
Original Interview: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio1/alt/thelockup/interviews/fatmike_20030113.shtml
Fat Mike and Mike Davies Mike Davies interviews bassist Fat Mike from NOFX and Me First & the Gimme Gimme's, and owner and president of Fat Wreck Chords (with signings like Lagwagon, Strung Out and Snuff).
Our Mikey met up with Fat Mike at the FAT warehouse on a rainy day in San Francisco to discuss how he founded one of the most respected and successful US indie punk labels...
Listen to the interview (5:37 mins)
Can we start off by getting a brief history of how you began Fat Wreck Chords?
I started in 1990, putting out a NOFX 7", 'cos no one really wanted to put out our records. That was the only game in town - if you wanted to put out a record, you had to put it out yourself. I put out our first 7", then our first record, then I found Lagwagon. Things have been going pretty good since then.
When you put out your first 7", were you doing all the artwork yourself? How many copies did you make?
500. I just xeroxed (photocopied) the covers. We hand-drew a little cartoon on every label on the first 500. I have about 6 left.
They're probably worth big money now.
(Laughs) I don't know, they're so rare, I don't think people even know about 'em.
What were your goals when you were setting out ... besides releasing your own music?
The original goal was not to lose the fourteen thousand dollars that I started with.
Is that what it cost, just to put out 500 records?
No, no, no... to do the first big recording, NOFX - 'Longest Line'. That was around $10,000 to record and myabe $5,000 to press up the first 5000 copies.
And was the goal to sign friends?
Yeah and I saw a lot of really good bands out on the road. Like Propaghandi. They're from Winnipeg in Canada and they weren't going to get a record deal from anyone. I was lucky enough to find them. Not only to sign friends' bands but make friends and have good relationships.
Have you never gone for that radio hit? It seems that you only sign bands that youlike.
Yeah, I only sign bands that I like personally or music-wise, but mostly music-wise.
How much time were you devoting to Fat Wreck Chords?
Oh, a few hours a day. My wife pretty much ran it while I was on the road and now she's vice president here.
How long into it did you start making money? There's punk ethic that says if you start making money, you've done something wrong.
It took us about 6 years before we ever turned a profit and had to pay taxes. By then we had 3 or 4 people working here.
Punk Voter Was that in the same warehouse in San Francisco?
No, that was out of our garage. It started in the kitchen, then we moved to the second bedroom, then the garage.
These days, Fat's almost like a major record label.
Well, we're not. I think there's a huge difference between our label and majors. We treat our bands like family, we put out records because we like 'em and we have a lot of bands that we lose money on. We don't care as long as it's a good record. On majors, if you're not selling hundreds of thousands of copies, you're gone. And I really don't care about the money. I want to do right by the bands. When I'm older, I want a bunch of friends, not stacks of money.
You let your bands do other stuff on other labels?
We do one-record deals with our bands so a soon as someone's not happy or they want to do something else, they can do whatever they want. We did that compilation with 101 bands and the bands call us. They can't believe that they're making money. We actually gave over 2000 dollars to each band.
Not bad for 30 seconds work...
The most important thing, when I started, was that I knew I had a NOFX record to put out. I couldn't really lose if I did it wisely. Then I signed Lagwagon who sound a little bit like NOFX, so I figured it was a safe bet because it was on my label. But in the first year they only sold 2,500 copies which we were happy with. At the time it was pretty good. Now, they're going to sell 200,000 copies of a record around the world.
Were you distributed in stores?
A lot of big distributors wouldn't put us out because we didn't have enough records. We could only afford to put out 3 records a year in 1991-1992. Now we put out 15 a year - probably more.
How many records are NOFX selling internationally?
A lot less than we used to (laughs). We're not that cool anymore and kids burn a lot of CDs nowadays, especially our kind of music. A lot of people have forgotten how punk rock started. Punk was a political movement and a musical movement. Nowadays most bands are singing about girls... and high school... and love. We're trying to get away from that and bring back what punk's really about.
We have a new website, punkvoter.com, and that's to get George Bush out of office. To unite kids and make them feel if they're part of something, they can make a difference.