It’s around 4pm on a Wednesday when Michael “Fat Mike” Burkett hops on our Zoom call, visibly sweating. The iconoclastic NOFX leader has just finished moving into his new digs – an almost jarringly lavish manor in Las Vegas – where he and Get Dead singer Sam King are slaving away on the logistics for their latest passion project, the world’s first-ever Punk Rock Museum. There’s a lot for us to talk about – not the least of which being his band’s fast-approaching Double Album – but having just learnt that this writer is non-binary, Mike’s first port of call is to address his own (perhaps intentionally) murky relationship with gender.
“I think I’m binary,” he muses, taking a long pause as thoughts visibly flood through him, “but I identify as a boy-girl. I spend half of my life very feminine.” He walks us through hallways of unpacked boxes and lounging punks to inspect his three (3) wardrobes of lacy pink dresses, ruffled skirts and high heels (and of course, bondage gear – this is Fat Mike, after all). “Laura Jane [Grace, transgender frontwoman of Against Me!] came to my house the other day, and I was wearing a blue latex dress. And she was like, ‘Oh my God, what are you wearing!?’ I was just like, ‘Oh, you don’t know? I’m a transvestite.’ And she said, ‘You mean crossdresser?’ And I was like, ‘I’m a sweet transvestite, Laura. I identify how I want to.’”
Mike opts to label himself a “transvestite” – with “boy-girl” being a more nuanced sub-identifier – in part as a tribute to The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which he proudly says “changed [his] fucking life” and spurred him on to get a brash tattoo down his forearm reading ‘DON’T DREAM IT, BE IT’. Last April, he explained in an interview with Inked: “Those words have always stuck in my head. I wasn’t a public crossdresser until I was 45. I really felt like such a coward that I wasn’t living my life the way I wanted to live it. I’d hear that song and it would make me sad. I got that tattoo because those words really pushed me.”
Ten years on, Mike has gradually come to be more open with his gender expression. Notably, in the song ‘Fuck Euphemism’ – a standout cut from last year’s Single Album – Mike delivers two bold lines that speak to his ever-evolving identity: “I’m not a cis, I’m a sissy,” and, “Call me ‘per’ for the night.” The latter refers to a neopronoun – a third-person identifier that eschews from the eponyminal standards of ‘he’, ‘she’ and ‘they’ – that Mike asserts to us is now how he wants to be referred to exclusively (hence why, from this point onwards, this article will use the pronoun ‘per’).
“I’m sick of people getting it wrong,” Mike says. “My pronoun is per – short for person. ‘I love per’. ‘Per is great’. ‘I slept with per last night’. When you say, ‘I slept with them last night,’ it sounds slutty. But per is so sweet – and it works in every fucking sentence! Because I am a person. Binary, non-binary, trans – whatever – I’m a person, call me per.”
As it tends to with Mike, the conversation shifts to sex. Unprovoked, per declares: “I’m not bisexual, but I love fucking fake cock.” Per beams at a casual mention of pegging – which also gets a shoutout on ‘Fuck Euphemism’ (where per asks a dive bar dweller to “cis butt fuck my cis clit”) – raving that “pegging is the fucking best! I just think real cocks are gross. It’s like… The money shot? Cock barf. Eugh.”
Pegging is often viewed as demasculinising – an emulation of gay sex, even if the pegger were a cishet woman – which Mike argues is laughably absurd. “If you’re a real fucking man,” per says (with no pun intended), “you can do whatever the fuck you want. You can suck a cock, you can take a cock up the ass… Guys are always saying, ‘Oh, I could never take a cock up my ass!’ But you like a finger, right? Everyone likes a finger. But do you like taking a finger-sized shit? No, that doesn’t feel good in the morning – you want a fucking cock-sized shit in the morning! And that’s what getting pegged is, right? It’s just a great shit, in and out for 20 minutes.”
Pegging is incredibly relevant to this discussion, Mike assures us, because on December 2 – the day NOFX play the Melbourne date of this year’s Good Things festival, directly coinciding with the release of Double Album – per will celebrate the monumental occasion with Mistress Tokyo, one of the most renowned dommes in Australia’s BDSM scene. Mike implores us to “look her up”, declaring her to be among the cream of the crop for corporal punishment. And there’s certainly no shortage of options along the Australian east coast – “there’s a great dungeon in every city,” per notes, however those hoping to bump into per at one over the week of Good Things (again, pun not intended) will be disappointed. “I’m not going to any clubs,” per chuckles slyly. “The shit I do is illegal in clubs.”
At the festival itself, NOFX are billed with the sidenote that they’ll perform their iconic 1994 album, Punk In Drublic, in its entirety. The band have done that just once before – in June of 2015, when they played it to 4,000 fans in Birmingham, England – and being their all-time most successful album, local punks are expectedly hyped to see Punk In Drublic played in full on Australian stages. But Mike is apathetic towards them. “We’re not gonna do it,” per says boldly. When its pointed out that “Punk In Drublic played in full” is billed as one of Good Things’ key selling points, per notes: “I know. I don’t care. They asked us to do it – or they asked someone in our [camp] – but we never agreed to do it.”
Mike is unable to let us know what NOFX will perform at Good Things, because not even per knows. The band don’t believe in traditional setlists – “we play different songs every night,” per says, noting that song choices are often pooled together within hours of the band’s showtimes, if not during the shows themselves. This has long been one of NOFX’s own biggest selling points, and something that’s made them nigh-on iconic amongst their peers. Mike tells us of the time one of per own personal idols, Brian Baker (of Minor Threat and Bad Religion fame) tailed NOFX on every date of the 1998 Vans Warped Tour: “He poured himself a drink, sat himself down on the speakers and watched our entire set, every single say.
“And he’s fucking Brian Baker – Minor Threat was a band I grew up on, and I fucking love Bad Religion – and he’s just off to the side, rocking out with us for the whole Warped Tour. One day he came up to me and he was like, ‘Man, I never know what’s gonna happen with you. You always play different songs, you always do different stuff… There’s no way I could miss it.’ And that really pushed me [to go as hard as possible] at every show we played after that. Because it matters to us, what our peers think about NOFX. What the kids think of us? [Scoffs]. Last thing on the list. But people like Brian fucking Baker…”
Seemingly out of nowhere, Mike starts to tear up. Like a tonne of bricks, it hits per that these memories are finite – and for NOFX, they’ve only got another year or so to make them. At the start of September, Mike revealed – in an off-handed Instagram comment, of all things – that NOFX would embark on a farewell tour in 2023. The plan, per confirms to us, is for the band to play 40 shows across the US, where in “every city we play, we’re gonna be doing 40 songs a night, and they’re all gonna be different. We’re playing two-hour sets, playing through every song we’ve ever recorded, and it’s going to be very fucking special… And very fucking emotional.”
Midway through that tour, Mike says, NOFX will release another new album. “It’s called Everybody Else Is Insane, and it’s fucking good. I challenged myself a lot on it. One of the songs has 54 chords in a row, and it’s everyone’s favourite track on the album. The melody stays the same – it’s kind of like ‘Eat The Meek’, where people don’t understand how complicated ‘Eat The Meek’ is, but every verse has a different chord progression.”
Before we can get too wrapped up in the hype of NOFX’s 16th album, there is the small matter of its predecessor. Mike is relieved to finally have Double Album out in the world; it was written and recorded at the same time as Single Album, per says – and the two records were originally intended to be released as one two-disc epic – but if that were to be the case, “it would’ve sucked”. Per elaborates: “I think Double Album is perfect as it is, and I’m glad we’re putting it out. But if they came out together, this one would have made Single Album look bad. It would have minimised the impact that Single Album has.”
Even during the promotional cycle for Double Album, Mike can’t help but gush over last year’s release – which, by a fair margin, remains NOFX’s most ambitious and considered effort. “It’s a special album,” per asserts. “Critics loved it so much – we’ve never had an album reviewed so well – and it means so much to me because I really do love that album. Like, ‘The Big Drag’ – that song is just epic, and there’s no other song like it. Every chord progression is in a different time signature; it doesn’t make any sense, but goddamn, it’s fulfilling. And ‘Birmingham’ – I mean, those lyrics are fucking heartbreaking.”
After 40 years of punk-rocking havoc, NOFX are much more excited by the songs that push them outside of their comfort zones. And although their touring days are almost over, Mike says the band will continue to thrive behind closed doors. “I would say it’s probable that we keep recording [after the final tour ends],” per says, revealing that even after they drop Everybody Else Is Insane, the band have two more albums in various stages of post-production. Beyond them, per says per has “something like 240 songs written”.
Per explains: “I’ll always keep writing songs. That’s just what I do. I mean, I’m definitely on the spectrum – my brain just does not turn off. But [NOFX is] not going to play again after this tour. We’re not like Mötley Crüe, we’re like The Beatles… There’s just one problem we haven’t been able to figure out.”
As tempting as it is to leave Fat Mike of NOFX hanging (per’s long had a turbulent affair with the press, so goddamn, what a power move it’d be), we have to bite: what is the band’s one lingering roadblock?
“What to do with Australia.”
Though Mike and co. are eagerly counting the seconds until they touch down for Good Things, per is bitter at the prospect that it might be the last time per ever performs here: “It’s not fair that our last shows in Australia are at this fucking festival,” per says, wiping back more tears. “It’s not fair. It’s not our shows, some other band is coming on after us… Fuck that shit. I want to fucking play for hours and thumb-wrestle with every fucking person in the front row… I want to say goodbye to everybody. I want to say goodbye to everybody.”
A run of headline shows is far from guaranteed, but Mike swears to us that per’ll “figure something out”. Good Things sideshows are sadly off the cards – “I’m gonna be too busy with the dommes,” per clarifies – but per is adamant that “playing this festival isn’t good enough [of a send-off] for what Australia has given us for so many years”. Per apologies for crying, conceding: “I’m really emotional about the whole thing. I just want people to know that it’s not a joke. I want to say goodbye to everybody. I want to give our best performance, and our worst performance, and let everyone know how much they mean to me…
“We should come back and do four shows. I think we have to. There’s no way around it.”
Huge shoutout to Dave Jiannis for making this happen!
Double Album is out now via Epitaph Records. Check it out here.
Note: this article was also published on the Australian Guitar website.