Why NOFX are still mates after writing their grubby autobiography
Erik Sandin on The Hepatitis Bathtub, Download 2016 and their new album
Since forming in 1983, NOFX have made 12 studio albums (eight million sales and counting) and we’ve lost track of the amount of singles and EPs they’ve released. It feels like one or two a month.
They’ve toured 42 countries in six continents, started Fat Wreck Chords, produced a Broadway musical and starred in their own reality TV series – but they rarely give interviews.
All that’s known of the band’s exploits off stage is what they’ve allowed us to see. Which is probably for the best, because their book NOFX: The Hepatitis Bathtub and Other Stories looks back over three decades of boozing, addiction, riots, sickness, STDs and death.
So, with a new album on the horizon, and a performance at Download just days away, TeamRock interrupted drummer Erik ‘Smelly’ Sandin’s family day out in an amusement park to find out more. Best send the kids off to the swings, then...
WHY DID THE BAND CHOOSE TO WRITE AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY?
“We realised that we’ve been together for so long and there’s more to this band than just the music and what people see on stage. We thought, just maybe, that people would like to hear about what our lives were like growing up, and the trials and tribulations that we’ve gone through.”
PEOPLE WOULD ASSUME THAT LIFE’S JUST ONE BIG PARTY IN NOFX, BUT IT GETS QUITE DARK AT TIMES.
“That’s life, you know what I mean? I poured my heart and soul into it. I opened up my stomach and let it all rip. Life has a way of making things fun and also making things very difficult. Everybody goes through ups and downs and we’re not immune to that ourselves; this book is just the story of four regular guys who just happen to be in a band together.”
WERE THERE ANY PARTS OF THE BOOK THAT WERE PARTICULARLY DIFFICULT FOR YOU TO RELIVE?
“I felt really bad for Melvin reading his part, during the stuff about him never having a deep conversation with his mother as she was dying. I found that really sad because that’s like a missed opportunity for closure and a connection. For me, it was pretty easy talking about everything, but what’s hard is now the book’s out I feel really vulnerable because my heart has been exposed. My childhood wasn’t that good but everything’s really good with my family now. It was hard to revisit some of the stuff with my father and I’m really hoping what’s in the book doesn’t hurt him. The last thing I wanted to do was hurt anybody with my words; that was a real struggle for me and it still is to this day.”
HAS HE READ THE BOOK?
“No, he said he’s not going to. I’m sure that he’s going to hear things and he’s going to be curious, so he might. But he said to me, ‘There’s no reason to go back into the past because everything’s good right now.’ So I hope he doesn’t.”
IS THERE ANYTHING YOU WISH YOU’D LEFT OUT?
“Yeah. For the last two days, I’ve spent eight hours a day reading for the audio book, and there’s two parts in the book where I talk about my herpes. In hindsight, I’m like, ‘Why the fuck would I put that out there for everybody to fucking read?’ It was a joke amongst the band and everybody in the band has pretty much had them, but why am I the one that put it out there for everybody to fucking read? And here I am doing it again, on the phone in a family amusement park with my kids around me.”
HOW DID YOU FEEL WHEN YOU READ THE BOOK FOR THE FIRST TIME?
“I felt really good because half way through reading it I realised I was reading a book about us. Up until then, it just felt like I was reading this beautiful and sad story; it was so well-written that I was able to detach from it emotionally. Then I realised, ‘Holy shit, that’s me!’ So I’m really proud of it. I’m actually blown away by it. The guy [Jeff Alulis, author] did a really good job.”
DID YOU DISCUSS EACH OTHER’S CHAPTERS WHILE THE BOOK WAS BEING WRITTEN?
“Nobody discussed anything prior to the book because no one was allowed to interfere with anybody else’s stories. If someone had something to say and it was said then no one was allowed to go back and say, ‘Dude, I don’t like that – you need to take that out.’ So stuff wasn’t discussed prior, but after we read the first draft there were some conversations about opening up our souls a little more and making it a little heavier.”
YOU’RE INCREDIBLY CANDID ABOUT YOUR STRUGGLES WITH DRUG ADDICTION. HOW DID YOUR BANDMATES RESPOND TO THAT?
“We’ve always been really open with our feelings and emotions and we’ve always been really tight, so I’ve had lots of discussions with them over the years and they’ve always known my struggles. They have said, ‘Smelly, you did a great job. You really opened up.’ But there was no big reveal from me to them. However, when Melvin talked about his sexual abuse that’s where a lot of us got the ‘wows’ and the ‘oh my gods’. He was really brave for putting that out there, and no one expected it.”
HAS THE BOOK AFFECTED THE RELATIONSHIPS IN THE BAND?
“In a way, I actually feel closer to the guys. We’ve always been super close, but hearing everybody expose their skeletons and talk from the heart made me appreciate and realise how much these guys mean to me, and how important we are to each other. We’ve really leaned on each over the last 34 years, and reading the story in black and white really put that in perspective.”
I UNDERSTAND FAT MIKE IS CLEAN AND SOBER NOW, RIGHT?
“Mike just did a detox. He went to a detox place for six days and he’s doing outpatient therapy. He didn’t go to a rehab facility like the media are saying; he’s living with somebody who’s a specialist in recovery and time will tell where that leads, but it’s a very good start.”
DO YOU THINK THE BOOK MADE HIM ACCEPT HE HAD A PROBLEM WITH DRINK AND DRUGS?
“No, I don’t think the book played a role because we were done with the book three years ago. What played a role was that his life in the last year had really spiralled out of control, to the point where he was having issues with the band and his wife and his business – not issues as such, but he was hard to deal with, let’s just say that. I think the reality of it started sinking in when he realised it wasn’t just one part of his life that was being affected by it. And when Tony Sly from No Use For A Name passed away, I think that was a little bit of a wake up call for him, because Tony partied but he didn’t really party like Mike. Tony was just a casual partier, but shit happens. Shit fucking happens. And shit goes wrong when you’re doing drugs; it’s not a safe pastime.”
WHAT’S THE BEST THING ABOUT THE BOOK?
“I don’t know that’s a tough question. I guess the best thing about it is this; I’m not one to brag about stuff in our band, and if I don’t think a record is that good then I’ll say, ‘I don’t think this is that good.’ I’m not one just to sell shit for the sake of it. I’m not a salesman. But I’m really proud of this book. And the best part about the whole thing is probably just the honesty that everybody poured out, and the reactions that we’ve been getting from everyone; everybody seems to be really touched by it. We didn’t do it to make a difference in anybody’s lives. It’s definitely not a ‘How to’ or a ‘Look at us, we’re gnarly rock stars’ book. It’s not a fluff piece. It’s honest and it’s raw.”
WILL THE BOOK INFORM THE NEW ALBUM?
“It’s a little bit darker and little bit different, for sure. In the past Mike has kind of glorified partying, but he opened up a little bit this time to the point where he’s like, ‘My life really sucks right now. Maybe I should’ve listened to everybody else.’ So are there are some songs where he talks about his struggles and how he doesn’t like himself or the person that he’s become. There’s even one song where he says ‘I don’t like me anymore’. But I’ve only heard the album once because we went on tour right after we got the final mixes, so I haven’t been able to dive in really deep and dissect the lyrics yet. It sounds great though. We worked with this new producer, a guy named Cameron Webb, and he did a fantastic job. It’s a pretty fucking solid record.”
ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO PLAYING DOWNLOAD AGAIN?
“You know it’s funny because we don’t really blend in with a lot of the heavy metal bands that play Download, so we always go over really fucking well. Everybody else just kind of blends in with their black hair and black clothes, so when four fucking jack asses get up on stage it actually works better because we’re the unique band and the one that everyone remembers. We played a heavy metal festival in France once and we opened up with three jazz numbers, just to fuck with them. You can’t take stuff too seriously, man. The music industry is really ego-based, but if you take all that stuff away and just have fun then it makes it so much more enjoyable. And if the show doesn’t go over that good, at least you were having a good time fucking around.”
WHY SHOULD THE UNINITIATED COME AND CHECK YOU OUT?
"Because they’ll either laugh with us or they’ll laugh at us. Either way they’ll laugh.”
NOFX headline the Zippo Encore stage at Download on June 11. For more information, see the festival's official site.