Photo by: @susanmossphotography
It's probably an understatement to say that Michael' Fat Mike' Burkett is a bit of a contentious figure. Whether through NOFX—the punk band he formed in 1983, which is currently on its farewell tour—or outside of it, he likes to provoke and prod people. Because of that, people often dismiss NOFX as little more than an amusing pop-punk band. They're wrong, but that doesn't stop them from thinking it or that punk is just sloppy dudes playing sloppy songs sloppily. That's one of the reasons Burkett decided to sit down with his good friend and (fairly) frequent musical collaborator Baz The Frenchman and make Fat Mike Gets Strung Out, a record of (mostly) NOFX songs recast and reimagined as classical compositions. It's a way of setting the record straight for those who think NOFX are—and, after they break up in a few months, were—just another punk band who can't really play their instruments. Or worse, just another dumb punk band that can't really play their instruments.
This record is the latest in a string of happenings and projects that should dispel that myth. Not only is Burkett quitting touring and putting NOFX to bed, he recently opened the Punk Rock Museum in Las Vegas, and he was also behind a sold-out live show in LA that was a live predecessor to this record. He also collaborated with renowned composer Joseph Bishara on music for the EPIX TV series Blumhouse's Compendium Of Horror. Suffice it to say, it's all been quite an addition to his resume, one that most people would likely not expect, and designed to dispel dumb punk musician stereotype. It does so comprehensively—and this record only solidifies that fact. "The thing is," says Mike, "I really want people to understand my songwriting. For example, most reggae songs have two chords and 16-bar verses. Our reggae song, "Eat The Meek," has 16 chords in each verse, but they're also different in each verse.
"Eat The Meek"—from NOFX's 1997 album, So Long And Thanks For All The Shoes—isn't one of the ten tracks that make up Fat Mike Gets Strung Out, just the song he decided to discuss first when making his point. The second is "I'm A Rat," which was recorded and released by Japanese punks Hi-Standard in 2023 but was actually written by Fat Mike and is on this album.
"The punk version of that song," Mike says, "is 54 chords in a row without any repeat. And when you listen to the classical version, you can hear that. Finally, people can hear every part of my songs without my vocals and drums annoying them. And what you hear on these songs is what the songs are. It's the melody, it's the harmony, it's the guitar chords and octave chords, and it's the bass. Those are the parts."
It's true. Needless to say, though, the songs also sound completely different from their original incarnations. They were all transposed and translated by Baz The Frenchman using midi, then recorded by professional classical musicians playing violas, violins, cello, bass, and piano. The result is that these songs transformed into something you could and would never imagine they could become—truly beautiful pieces of classical music.
"It made me so happy to be in the studio with Baz," he says. "What I told him to do was to put down every bass note, every vocal melody, every harmony—all the parts. But then he changed those parts into something completely different without actually changing the notes. We worked on it for a long time together and I've never been so happy in the studio."
Perhaps the best thing about this album is that if you put it on without telling anybody what it was unless they knew the songs beforehand, they'd have absolutely no idea they were punk songs. That elegant opening track that sounds like something you'd hear at a wedding? It's called "One Million Coasters" and was, in its original form, a song about outdated technology, the Fat Wreck warehouse, and all the unsold CDs inside it. The beautiful, graceful one that follows it? That's called "Life…Oh What A Drag," and the original lyrics reference crackheads, while the third is "Medio-Core," which is about the terrible simplicity of pop-punk bands. Just how can a song called "I'm A Rat" sound like it should be played on the lawn at some castle in Belgium? And that sublimely classy seventh track? Its title is "Fuck Day Six" and was all about Fat Mike's week in rehab for his Percocet habit. You get the idea. It's not what anybody who doesn't know these songs would expect. Perhaps even more impressive is that it's not what anyone who does know these songs would expect either.
"They're beautiful songs," says Mike. "And I really do think it's catchier than what contemporary classical people are writing.... And it's the perfect album to play if you have your in-laws over for dinner."