Fat Mike on Cokie the Clown
by Interviews

Last week, Fat Mike released a solo album as his alter-ego, Cokie the Clown. You're Welcome is not a fun album. It's not catchy. It doesn't "rock." In fact, it is, by far, the darkest release of Mike's career. It is also one of the boldest statements in punk music this decade.

2018 was a rough year for the NOFX founder. Following an off-the-cuff remark made by Mike at Punk Rock Bowling 2018, Nofx found that they were pariahs. Their shows for the entire year were canceled by venues and promotors. Punk in Drublic festival, which was formed in conjunction with Stone Brewing Company, severed the band from their own namesake and went on to insult and berate them. On top of that, he went through his second divorce.

You're Welcome pulls no punches- it is track after track of personal tragedy and does not come up for air during the entire run time. And, that's not to mention the video for "Negative Reel" which literally ends with Mike beating himself bloody in the face. Straight up, people are confused, challenged, and even worried. To try to understand this bold, if difficult, new work, Punknews' John Gentile spoke to Mike about the release, his mindset, and his dark days.

The new album, it’s challenging, it’s interesting, and I think it’s one of the most daring punk rock statements of the last decade. Thank you very much. I’m very proud of it and boy did it take a long time.

The instrumentation is fairly sparse, so why did it take a long time? I was working with Danny Lohner of Nine Inch Nails and he only has one room in his house. So, I was sitting in the corner- there’s no vocal booth. We have headphones on and we’re in one little room. I recorded the whole thing in one corner, sitting down. Danny told me that when Trent recorded “Hurt,” he did the whole thing in the fetal position, and that’s kind of how I did the whole record. But, like the song “that time I killed my mom,” I wrote that song a month after she died. So, I wrote that song 12 years ago.

There’s a lot of death on this album. You have the song about your roommate that killed himself. There’s the story about your mom. Why is this something swimming around in your brain right now? The record is about the tragedies of my life. I wonder sometimes- I have a weird brain. In the song “Negative Reel,” I say “in Switzerland I see reverse Nazis.” No one really knows what that means. In World War 2, they shot down a couple German plans, so they claimed neutrality. But, really, that’s where the Germans kept all their money after World War 2. I thought of, “Oh, Switzerland. If you take out seven letters, it spells ‘Nazis.’” That’s just how my brain works. Like, who thinks of shit like that! My brain is a weird brain. Even if you saw the word written down, you wouldn’t think to look for word Nazis backwards, but it just popped into my brain.

When I sing about my roommate who killed himself, it didn’t bother me like it bothered everyone else. I wasn’t crying. I just got him down. In the lyrics, he tried the day before and I was the only person that knew. I could have called his parents. I could have called the suicide hotline, but I didn’t. I just told my girlfriend.

[A while later] I thought, “oh, maybe I’m autistic or something…” But, I saw a doctor and he said, “you’re too compassionate to be autistic.” I care about people too much. I care about people, I just didn’t care about him. When Tony Sly died, that was the worst death of my life. Worst than my parents or anything. He was such a good friend and a great man. I still haven’t gotten over it. It’s just horrible.

A lot of people are spooked by your details in this record. The question is, is this more of an artistic statement, or are you just in a really bad place right now? People seemed genuinely concerned. It’s an artistic expression for sure. I’m always interested in doing new things that haven’t been done. When I wrote the Decline, I thought that was an original album. When I did Short Music for Short People, that hadn’t been done before. When I did Fat Music for fat People, I sold that for four dollars. Whereas Epitaph had a comp called More Songs about Anger, Fear, Sex & Death, which was $15. After mine came out, then they put out Punk-o-rama. Putting out a four dollar compilation, that was new…

I’m so happy with how this record turned out. I don’t think any two songs sound the same and that was the goal. I did it because no one has done anything like it. I think I have more tragedies in my life than most people. The first song was the worst [to perform] and singing it… was… very difficult. That was [my wife at the time] Soma that I found in the tub and I saved her just in time. It was really weird how I woke up after three hours. I was really exhausted but I woke up for no reason and I found her. And that was fuckin’ rough. Everyone said, “you’re going to open the record with this song?” But I felt it was appropriate.

This record is different and radical, and it makes me feel uneasy. Which I think is great art. At my age, not many new records strike my core, but this record really did strike my core. It makes me so happy because, some people hate it or hate me, or whatever, that’s going to happen. The people that like record, it touches them to their core. I was talking to Mikey Erg after the New York show, and Mikey was like, “I’ve listened to this record eight times today. This is maybe the best record I’ve ever heard.” Can you imagine how great that feels? I was talking to Josh of Queens of the Stone Age and he said the same thing, “this is one of the best records that I’ve ever heard.” It so fucking… I spent like a year and a half recording it.

Danny from Nine Inch Nails wakes up at 4, gets coffee and starts working at 7. He smokes pot. So, I’d go down- I lived in his house for about six weeks- it took about a year to record off and on. Also, Baz is the first person I ever co-wrote with. He did “The Decline” symphony. He did that when he was 23 years old! I didn’t know him, but I saw it on the Internet and I cried my eyes out because I wish I had parents to share it with them… I dunno… “Look mom and dad, I have a symphony…”

A couple years later, I told him to move out to California. “We need to work together.” So, on the Cokie album, he arranged the strings. He put strings where he thought they belonged and I wrote the melody. He has a great overall sense of where strings should go- when they should get loud. He arranged the album really well. I’ve never done that before. Usually, I write everything and produce everything.

I read the Nofx autobiography and in there you detail the strained relationship that you had with your parents. So I find it very interesting that you wish they could see your accomplishments. Well, that’s the thing. You can’t get over that. Your parents are the only people in the world that you can brag to, because they’re proud of you. They were really shitty parents, but in the last years of their lives… well, they were still jerks. It’s nice to check in every two weeks… it’s probably why I try so hard in music and everything. I grew up by myself, so I have to get reviews in a magazine or something to feel good about something because I didn’t have it as a kid.

The one line in the record that was the most difficult for me was admitting that I never had a birthday party. That’s like embarrassing to say.

So many musicians, or people, in their art or in public, they put on this façade that, “I’m a perfect person! I never do anything bad!” I commend you in that, on this record, you admit that you’ve done bad things. I think really, that honesty is what people want from music. Everyone has done bad things, so you can relate to it. I talk about that in the song about my roommate’s suicide. On “Negative Reel,” I talk hella shit about myself. Making a record that is completely out of my wheelhouse… I don’t have one song in Nofx that sounds like any of these songs.

The one thing is, people think it was “cathartic” or “therapeutic” for me. It wasn’t, at all. It was really hard to sing every song. I didn’t realize how hard it was going to be live. I almost start crying when I open with “Bathtub” because it was such a horrible experience and it’s bringing it back. So, I don’t know how many of these shows I’ll be able to do.

Are you worried about, I guess I’ll say, “wallowing in misery,” too much? Maybe it’s not a healthy place to be in. That stuff, like me hitting myself about myself with the hammer, that’s what everyone is upset about.

I’m upset about it, yeah! The hanging on the hooks, I did that for my 50th birthday. That was awesome. I have a dungeon. That’s the kind of shit that I do. The thing about hitting myself in the face- that was take two. In the first take, which was longer, ha, I kicked the camera, so Jeff was like, “you’re going to have to shoot it again!” I’m like, “what the fuck?!” My face already hurt a lot. That’s no bullshit. That’s a picture of how sore my face was after the scene.

Cokie the Clown is a side of me. It’s so weird how you put on makeup, and then, it opens up a side of you. When I’m on stage, I feel like I can really open up. People shouldn’t worry about that, though.

I mean, I had rough year. I had a really rough year. The weekend after [I made comments on stage in Las Vegas at Punk Rock Bowling], was the worst time of my life. I had a few friends call- Fletcher, and Kevin Lyman, Jello Biafra, and three more – Jack from TSOL- but mostly nobody called and I had never been so lonesome, because I was having such a hard time.

And then, the Punk in Drublic tour was taken from me. They just changed the name. They said, “you’re out Mike. We’re changing the name. You fucked up.” It was pretty terrible. Nofx lost our shows that year- they were canceled. It was rough, too.

I thought the whole Stone Brewing thing was B.S. I mean, they know who Nofx is. They know you’re not Hanson. They knew who they were getting in bed with… and I said worse things that night. This is not a conspiracy theory, it’s fact. The Republican Party went after me. I don’t “out trend” Roseanne and Trump. It was the day after Roseanne said those things about Valerie Jarrett, a black person. If you look at all the comments, why I was number one on facebook, they’re bots. We looked at hundreds of them. They’re accounts and none of them had any friends. They’re not real people. We got sucked up in a wave and the punishment was so much worse than the crime.

I’m a huge, huge GWAR fan. Years ago, Dave Brockie was joking about crack this, heroin that. Then, three weeks later, he died from a heroin overdose. My question is, should we be concerned about you or are you going to be okay? I’m very open about my drug use. I even was when I was in detox. When I was really bad, I was doing between 2 and 3 oxys a day. So I was doing like 75 milligrams a day. If you do drugs, that’s nothing. I know people who do 900 a day. It took me a week to detox. That’s why I just went to detox and not rehab. And that was my worst. I’ve never tried heroin. I’ve never tried speed. And when I do blow, I have a really cool system. I have an assistant that only gives me a certain amount. And, so, I wouldn’t worry about me dying. I’m very careful about my drug use. It doesn’t mean that I won’t fuck up…

I was going more for the mental health angle… Mental Health wise, It’s getting better and better. Punk in Drublic in Europe has been going really well. My divorce has been really rough on me… the video I made… it’s art. It’s who Cokie the Clown is. When I get in a bad mental space- this record was hard. Hitting myself in the face is like going to see a dominatrix and getting whipped for half an hour. That’s what I do when I’m having a hard time- either do drugs, go to a movie, or get the shit beat out of me. That’s how I cope with things… also, getting hit by a dom gives me a huge boner, so there’s also that.