In April, at the height of initial coronavirus shutdown in America, Fat Wreck and NOFX released a live recording of The Decline. The release featured the Denver Orchestra and a composer and recent credit on a slew of Fat Mike connected projects, Baz. Baz is a French composer, jazz drummer, and punk rocker. Recently, Punknews’ Eric Rosso caught up with Baz to discuss the release, his relationship with Fat Mike, and what it’s like to be on stage with NOFX and an orchestra. Or as Fat Mike eloquently puts it, “We got a fucking bassoon. Does Bad Religion have a fucking bassoon?”
Baz Discusses the live version of Nofx's "The Decline"
The first time Baz heard “The Decline,” he was killing time backstage at a gig. It was by way of an old school DIY punk distribution video that happened to contain the song on it. To the classically and jazz trained drummer, the composition immediately drew him in. As Baz described it, the song, its movements, and NOFX’s harmonies were like a painting he could immediately hear orchestration in.
“All these different moments in the songs. To me, it sounded already like a symphony or something with all these different colors. Then I dug into the political aspect of it and the communication behind the song. Of course, it resonated and doubled with myself,” says Baz.
For those unfamiliar, Baz is French composer and recent collaborator with Fat Mike on a series of projects including his Home Street Home musical, the latest Cokie The Clown LP, and a live performance at the scenic Red Rocks Amphitheater of “The Decline” featuring the Denver Orchestra under his direction. On the materials for the release of the Cokie The Clown LP, Fat Mike stated Baz was the only person who he has ever co-written with. Before any of this however, Baz was a music teacher with a degree in jazz drumming who happened to “love the punk rock world.”
The unlikely friendship started with a series of YouTube videos Baz put together doing acapella medleys of Fat Wreck artists, Rancid, and similar punk minded artists from the 90s like blink-182 and Sublime. As Baz put these together, he thought it was a natural fit for NOFX’s songs saying, “It’s a shame they don’t have this type of tribute. NOFX is famous for their vocal harmonies.”
In the comments section of the NOFX medley video, people kept posting about how great a version of “The Decline” would be in this style. Baz took it one step further thinking a song that complex would be boring with just vocals. Instead, he comprised a symphony version which eventually found its way to Fat Mike. It was in Baz’s enthusiasm and his fellow musicians’ curiosity about punk rock that he was able to convince them to perform “The Decline” with him, often with the vague promise of a little money for gas for their participation. After NOFX shared it on their social media platforms, Baz was excited, but thought that was the end of it. However, he was soon introduced to the iconic front man at a NOFX show in France where Fat Mike expressed his admiration for the orchestrated version of “The Decline.”
“I’m not a person to idolize,” states Baz so he didn’t dwell on the connection. However, after some time went by, Baz remembered the connection with Fat Mike and reached out. “I wrote another song and emailed him about it. He didn’t really care about the song, but he was like ‘I remember!’ He sent me some demos he had on his phone and said to me to try to do something with that.”
After four or five months of Baz and Fat Mike exchanging emails over a “terrible internet connection,” Baz flew out to San Francisco. Those songs and demos were the beginning of the Home Street Home musical which led to a genuine friendship and appreciation between the two artists. “After two years of collaboration - here we are, and we did the Red Rock thing.”
That thing, as Baz puts it, happened to be an ambitious pairing of live orchestration with NOFX during the Punk In Drublic tour. The first time the song was attempted was in Portland, but the Denver version brought it all together. “It took Mike one year to write the song,” says Baz. For the symphony, Baz knew exactly how to approach it. “It was so rich; it was easy to make the orchestration out of it.” He continued, “It’s like doing a cover but it’s a little more complex. At the end, it’s just different layers. The song is so rich with harmonies and guitar parts. It wasn’t that complicated or as complicated as starting from scratch.”
As for the Red Rock’s performance, it wasn’t quite as simple. Baz says, “The set-up is challenging itself because I’m so far from the players. It’s so stressful to be behind the drums and pay attention to detail. It’s so fast.”
The excitement in the performance is palpable which can be viewed in full on YouTube and is set to be released by Fat Wreck on a 12-inch this August. “We got to work with the Denver orchestra. I was super pumped to play in this punk rock setting. To have classical music artists and NOFX excited to play makes my world easier,” says Baz.
The performance, the setting, and the energy are palpable as Baz is seen enthusiastically conducting the orchestra in sync with the 18-minute performance. The climax, as the song transitions to its end, hits peak euphoria with Baz departing his stage and joining NOFX in pure elation as horns blare and Eric Melvin infamously screams “We are the queer / We are the whore.” “At the end when everyone’s playing with drums, I’m like ‘OK guys, you got this,” adding Baz, “To be honest, I don’t remember what happened.”
While the original release was planned to sync up with this fall’s European leg of the Punk In Drublic tour, Baz credits Fat Mike for bumping up the date during the pandemic saying he wanted to give fans something to help tide them over. It’s a fitting re-release for an uncertain and unnecessarily deadly time as five months after the drop, America has completely failed at containment of the coronavirus pandemic and has clearly proved its decline.
For Baz, he doesn’t dwell too much on the weightiness of the release. “I’m just a punk rock fan who has some musical skills and I was lucky enough for the YouTube algorithm to pick me up and show Mike,” says the composer. In the future, Baz remains positive and hopes to bring the performance to different parts of the world. “Ultimately, if things get better and a vaccine comes, we can bring the orchestra back on stage for Punk In Drublic.”
Until then, Baz plans to continue working on new projects, jazz compositions, and punk bands. The experience has left Baz feeling luckier every day. He hopes to bring that to those stuck at home. “The goal is to keep producing and create music for people to stream and listen.” Just more ammunition for your jazz drumming punks in the class war.