From Left: El Hefe, Fat Mike and Eric Melvin; Not Pictured: Erik Sandin on drums
As any normal music fan, we sometimes aren’t satisfied with simply the songs when it comes to our favorite bands. Some of us want to know their back story, some of us want to know who they’re dating, and some of us even want to know their favorite food! While some fans are simply casual and other are downright fanatical, musicians are a different breed of fans, more like brothers in arms actually. Rather than wanting to know things that have little to do with music and more to do with the trivial personal matters in the artist’s life, musicians want the gear info! And why not? It’s a chance to look at the tools in their repertoire, compare it with themselves, or even just gain a deeper sense of what makes the band work. This week, we will be taking a look at one of the most successful independent bands of all time. With over 10 million records sold worldwide, NOFX have not only proven that you don’t need an RCA or Warner Bros contract to make it big, but that with enough high energy rock riffs and plenty of tongue-in-cheek lyricism , punk rock is most certainly not dead! So, for those of you interested in how the band rose from the California punk rock scene of the late ‘80s into one of the genre’s most successful acts – as well as the gear that go them there – read on and check out the rise of the group known as NOFX.
The band that would eventually become NOFX (pronounced No-ef-ex) began in 1983 when guitarist Eric Melvin was tired of the current band that he was in. Fed up with going nowhere (Melvin’s band at the time consisted of himself and another guitarist), he decided to form a band with friend and drummer Dillon; a real band, one that would tour, write songs, release records and so on. The California punk rock scene was burgeoning at the time, showing promise of what it would eventually become, but at the time consisted of an assortment of loosely connected scenes within the underground music community. Melvin and Dillon began thinking of potential bandmates for their new project and finally decided on a local bass player and named Mike Burkett (better known as Fat Mike), who was a friend of Dillon. Although Mike was already in a band called False Alarm at the time, he agreed to join. The original pair also had tried to recruit a mutual friend named Steve that they both agreed would make a great frontman. Steve agreed but failed to show up to their first agreed upon practice session and quit soon after. Drummer Dillon quit after their first practice, leaving Melvin and Burkett to find a replacement. They did so with Erik Sandin, a friend Burkett had met two years earlier. Sandin agreed but on the condition that his current band, Caustic Cause, take priority. Melvin and Burkett came up with the band’s name while listening to old punk records at Burkett’s house. Melvin thought of the term “No FX” after the band Negative FX who broke up after releasing one record. The two agreed and formally became known as NOFX.
Rotating line-up, Early Releases and First Tours
Second show at Roxanne's Bar in Pomona, CA ('84)
FL: Burkett, Sandin and Melvin; PC: NOFX OFFICIAL
After playing their first show at the Cathay de Grande in Hollywood in 1984, the band recorded a demo with the help of Germs member Don Bolles who agreed to produce the group’s demo if they filled his car with gas. After the demo, entitled Thalidomide Child, was produced, the band began promoting their demo through local publications, stating that anyone who would send them a self addressed stamped envelope along with a blank cassette would receive a copy. After a series of tours that consisted of mainly backyard house gigs, the band was signed to Mystic Records and released their debut self-titled extended play NOFX, later re-released in 1992 as a part of their Maximum Rocknroll CD. Right before embarking on their first US tour in 1985, Sandin had left the band for a year when he moved to Santa Barbara during which the band enlisted two drummers and released the EP So What if We’re On Mystic. By 1987, Melvin had moved to Santa Barbara to attend City College while Burkett moved to San Francisco for similar reasons, during which they convinced Sandin to rejoin. By 1987, the band was a three piece once again until they recruited guitarist Dave Casillas during which they recorded the EP The PRMC Can Suck On This and embarked on their first European tour. Although the band had signed to Wassail Records for the release of their first LP, Liberal Animation, their former label Mystic Records released the album NOFX – a compilation of the two earlier EPs the band had recorded with them, the NOFX EP and So What if We’re On Mystic EP.
NOFX recorded Liberal Animation in 1988 with the help of Bad Religion guitarist Brett Gurewitz. The LP would later be re-released on Gurewitz’s label Epitaph Records in 1991. Casillas left the band shortly after the recording of Liberal Animation and was replaced by Steve Kidwiller with whom the band would go on to record their next to albums, 1989’s S&M Airlines and 1991’s Ribbed, both of which would be released on Epitaph, beginning a partnership with the label that would last over a decade.
EL Hefe Joins and Critical Commercial Success
After the release of Ribbed, Kidwiller had left the group due to his conflicting views on the band’s drug use, leaving NOFX to once again search for a replacement guitarist. Three separate guitarists were asked to try out for the band during their rehearsal session in San Francisco. Melvin had invited his friend Rob to try out while Sandin brought along Aaron Abeyta who was already a member of the band Crystal Spheres at the time. The third guitarist to try out was a mutual friend of the band named Kevin who impressed the band with his “NOFX” tattoo. In the end, Aaron, who knew how to play both guitar and trumpet, was clearly the most skilled of the three and got the job. Abeyta was so much more proficient than the rest of the band in fact that they decided to nickname him “El Hefe” for his comparative prowess. The combination of these four remain the permanent members to this day.
The first recording to feature the newly added guitars of El Hefe came with the release of The Longest Line Ep released in May of ‘92. Soon after, the band continued their studio efforts for Epitaph with the release of their first moderately successful album, White Trash, Two Heebs and a Bean, released that same year in November. The title was originally going to be White Trash, Two Kikes, and a Spic, a joke that played upon the ethnicities of each member, but was trashed after Melvin’s mother disapproved of the idea. Although none of the tracks were officially released as singles, two breakthrough tracks did garner music videos for the band; “Bob” and “Stickin’ in My Eye,” although the group refused to allow MTV to air them. Coincidentally, 1992 saw the release of another NOFX album, although without their consent. Their former label Mystic Records had once again taken early singles, demos and tracks off of previous releases to put out Maximum Rocknroll, which was technically a re-release of their 1989 compilation E is for Everything.
By 1994, punk rock had gone from an underground revival movement into full blown mainstream success with release of Green Day’s Dookie, Rancid’s Let’s Go, Bad Religion’s Stranger Than Fiction and The Offspring’s Smash. Soon, another album would be added to the list, NOFX’s Punk in Drublic, released on July 19 of that year. It would soon be – and still is – the band’s most successful release to date, selling over 1 million copies worldwide without virtually any song or video airplay, although local Los Angeles radio station KROQ did have the song “Leave it Alone” on regular airplay during the album’s release. A video was also shot for the song but it was again denied access for MTV play. Punk in Drublic is not only considered one of the band’s best, but still considered a classic must-listen among the genre by several prominent music critics. The success also prompted offers from several major record labels although the band declined and instead decided to stick with Epitaph, at least for the time being.
Fat Wreck Chords
Logo for Fat Wreck Chords
By 2003, Fat Mike Burdett moved NOFX to his independent record label, Fat Wreck Chords, with their ninth studio album The War on Errorism being the first released for the label. The label is known for uncommonly signing bands to a one-album only deal, allowing artists working with Fat Wreck Chords to simultaneously release albums off of other labels as well.
The band would go on to record a total of eleven studio albums throughout their career, along with two live albums, four compilations, twenty-four EPs and three “splits.” Although they have yet to attain the same success as their classic Punk in Drublic release, the band itself has claimed several times that they do not wish to get any bigger and are more than happy with the current size of their fan base as well as the sales of their releases – a point they prove by consistently refusing to sign with a major label, promote radio play, or several other “traditional” methods used by bands to bolster their popularity – still to this day.
Fat Mike Burkett – Bass/Lead Singer
Dan Electro DC Bass (main)
Dan Electro Hodad
Fender Deluxe Precision
Ampeg SVT-CL 8x10 Amplifier
Eric Melvin – Rhythm Guitar
ESP Japan Les Paul Body Style
Gibson Les Paul '77
Mesa Boogie Mark IV with 6L6s
Mesa 4x12 cabinets
Audio Technica Wireless
Boss PH-3 Phase Shifter Pedal
Electro-Harmonix Classics USSR Big Muff PI Distortion
Furman PL-Plus C Power Conditioner
Hotcake distortion pedal
Korg DTR-1000 Rackmount Digital Tuner
Mesa Boogie Pedal
Dunlop Tortex Standard Guitar Picks .88MM
El Hefe – Lead Guitar
Gibson Les Paul
Gettsen Horn with 7m Giardinelli mouthpiece
Mesa Boogie Mark 3 Head
Mesa Boogie 4x12 Cabinet
Fender Amp Heads
Audio Technica Wireless
Boss Super Phaser
Furman Power Conditioner
Korg DTR rack tuner
Erik Sandin – Drums
Orange County Drum and Percussion Kit
Tama Drum Pedal
** All images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons unless otherwise stated