The Bam Team’s 5 Favorite Albums & Songs of 2020

Best of 2020 - Run the Jewels, My Morning Jacket, Fiona Apple, Hum, Fleet Foxes

Wow, 2020 … what can we say? This year will certainly be remembered for a lot of things, but none more so than the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic that has ravaged both the U.S. and world over the last 10 months and forced the live music industry to mostly shutter as musicians pivoted to livestreams and drive-in concerts to keep the show going as best they could. Along the way, we lost musical legends who spanned multiple generations from Neil Peart to Bill Withers to John Prine to Little Richard to Eddie Van Halen to MF DOOM — some due to COVID-19 unfortunately — making these past 12 months even more painful to endure than they already were. Ready to officially flush 2020 down the toilet and start anew? Don’t worry … you’re not alone!

In retrospect though, it has been a very quiet year for The Bam Team. You’ll notice there haven’t been a lot of updates in this space, and that’s partly due to the lack of live music on Planet Earth right now. But it’s also been a hectic time for all of us as we try to navigate our way out of these dark days and into some brighter ones, and like any good remedy nowadays, new music has definitely played its part in helping us physically and emotionally cope with the chaos.

It’s why after several months of inactivity here, we decided to dust the cobwebs off Showbams and deliver a modified version of our annual “Best of” lists like we have done since this blog first started (see our 2019 picks here). While that doesn’t mean we had time to hear and dissect every new album or song in the last 365 days — we are still in a pandemic after all — sharing our own individual picks offers a fun and stimulating opportunity for us to reflect on the year that was in music.

So, without further ado, Showbams presents The Bam Team’s five favorite albums and songs from 2020.

Listen to The Bam Team’s favorite songs of 2020:


Run the Jewels - RTJ4

Josh Herwitt // Los Angeles

Top 5 Albums of 2020
1. Run the Jewels – RTJ4
One might think that after three critically acclaimed albums with some of the most socially and politically charged material since Rage Against the Machine burst onto the scene, it would only seem natural for Run the Jewels’ act to turn a little stale by their fourth time around. But despite the three-year wait for RTJ4, the longest that the hip-hop duo has gone between releases, the final product — like a fine wine — has only gotten better with time. Anchored by stellar production (a RTJ trademark) and provocative rhymes, the 11-track offering sees the two emcees sounding off on everything from corporate greed to police brutality just days after the tragic death of George Floyd. It also boasts a guest list loaded with star power, with DJ Premier, 2 Chainz, Pharrell Williams, Zack de la Rocha, Mavis Staples and Josh Homme each lending a hand while El-P and Killer Mike inject truth serum into our ears with one verbal haymaker after another. In what proved to be a shitstorm of a year, this was the soundtrack a lot of us needed to survive 2020.

2. My Morning Jacket – The Waterfall II
3. Fleet Foxes – Shore
4. Tame Impala – The Slow Rush
5. Caribou – Suddenly

Favorite live album: Sylvan Esso – WITH

Top 5 Songs of 2020
1. Royal Blood – “Trouble’s Coming”
The British rock duo composed of lead singer/bassist Mike Kerr and drummer Ben Thatcher are gearing up to drop their third LP in 2021 and wisely chose to wet our palette with an absolute banger for its lead single. “Trouble’s Coming” has all the makings of a Royal Blood song — catchy bass riffs that sound like they’re coming out of a guitar, heavy-metal drums and Kerr’s falsetto vocals — while charting a slightly different path for the band, one that conjures up some serious 70’s disco vibes. Just watch this scene from Charlie’s Angels to see what we mean, and if you have a pair of fingerless leather gloves handy, you might as well put those on too. We think Sam Rockwell would approve.

2. My Morning Jacket – “Wasted”
3. Run the Jewels – “JU$T” feat. Pharrell Williams & Zack de la Rocha
4. Pearl Jam – “Dance of the Clairvoyants”
5. Sylvan Esso – “Ferris Wheel”

Favorite remix: Bonobo – “Final Days” (Michael Kiwanuka)


Hum - Inlet

Andrew Pohl // San Francisco

Top 5 Albums of 2020
1. Hum – Inlet
This four-piece’s fifth studio effort came as a complete surprise when it dropped in June, and it was honestly THE album I needed. Being knee-deep into the COVID-19 pandemic, I wasn’t sure what the rest of the year would look like musically, and it was exactly the type of record that hits all the marks for me. It’s sonically huge, it showcases Hum’s trademark ultra-layered, dense instrumentation and it ebbs and flows between energetic and emotive. Inlet was easily my most-listened-to album in 2020.

2. Coriky – Coriky
3. PEARS – PEARS
4. Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters
5. Run the Jewels – RTJ4

Favorite live album: NOFX – The Decline (Live at Red Rocks)

Top 5 Songs of 2020
1. Run the Jewels – “Walking in the Snow”
Oh man, this track was just the thing I needed during what may have been one of the most tense times in modern history. And like all of RTJ4, it absolutely crushes as El-P and Killer Mike bring their signature styles to full effect on this dramatic, yet bouncy tune. The middle section, which sees Mike taking the lead, is not only effective, prophetic and timely, but it also serves as a reminder that the time for action is now and that history has a tendency to repeat itself if we’re not careful. Check out the song’s brand-new music video here, too.

2. Hum – “Desert Rambler”
3. IDLES – “War”
4. Middle-Aged Queers – “Gary’s Making Biscuits”
5. PEARS – “Zero Wheels”

Favorite remix: Squarepusher – “Pink Maggit” (Deftones)


Fiona Apple - Fetch the Bolt Cutters

Rochelle Shipman // Los Angeles

Top 5 Albums of 2020
1. Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters
I almost feel cheated that my two No. 1 picks went to the same artist, but this year belonged to Fiona as much as it did to Dr. Fauci. FTBC busted us out of our mental prisons and allowed us to imagine our lives were more exciting than they actually were in 2020. It reminded us that we are strong enough to survive anything, to use our voices to speak even louder for what we believe in and that we can work on our own healing even if we can’t quite get outside. Ms. Apple set women free together.

2. Fleet Foxes – Shore
3. Mura Masa – R.Y.C.
4. Kari Faux – Lowkey Superstar
5. Liv.e – Couldn’t Wait to Tell You…

Favorite live album: Dolores Diaz & The Standby Club – Live at O’Leaver’s

Top 5 Songs of 2020
1. Fiona Apple – “Shameika”
This is a badass, “can-do” tune that was inspired by a passing comment made decades ago, one Fiona surely never thought twice about until now. And as she pounds the piano with the strength of RBG, it’s clear that this is the song 2020 needed — not to mention that it came full circle, inspiring Shameika herself all these years later. Sweet.

2. Noname – “Song 33”
3. Open Mike Eagle feat. Kari Faux – “Bucciarati”
4. Liv.e – “Lessons From My Mistakes…but I Lost Your Number”
5. Quakers feat. Sampa the Great – “Approach with Caution”

Favorite remix: Thundercat feat. Smino & Guapdad 4000 – “Dragonball Durag”

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Fat Wreck Chords celebrates 25 years of punk rock over two days at SF’s Thee Parkside

Fat Wreck for 25 years - Strung Out


Strung Out

Photos by Jason Taylor // Written by Andrew Pohl //

Fat Wrecked for 25 Years //
Thee Parkside – San Francisco
August 22nd-23rd, 2015 //

During the 90’s, if you were in the know, you knew about Fat Wreck Chords. My first exposure to the record label was discovering the Fat Music for Fat People compilation album while at our area’s local skate shop, which also served as THE place when it came to finding anything in the independent label world. I already knew who NOFX, Rancid, Face to Face, Tilt and No Use for a Name were, but I hadn’t heard of Lagwagon, Propagandhi, Guns ‘N’ Wankers, Strung Out, Good Riddance, 88 Fingers Louie or Bracket.

Twenty-one years later, I’ve been more than exposed to all of these bands and eventually became a very big fan of the majority of them. Fat Wreck Chords was a huge part of my musical journey and have been the home of several bands that I would most certainly say are major influences when it comes to my musical taste and my approach to writing music. I’ve had the pleasure of sharing the stage with a few bands that released albums through Fat Wreck Chords and have seen many of the bands multiple times over the years. When I found out that this festival was happening, I didn’t hesitate one minute to get tickets. The label had mentioned that there would be more bands announced as we got closer to the date of the fest, and they did not disappoint when it came to announcing the final lineup.

Fat Wrecked for 25 Years

Thee Parkside is the ideal place for such a festival. The local rock club hosts a good amount of punk and hardcore shows every month and has become a hangout for many SF musicians associated with Fat Wreck Chords over the years. “Day 0” of the fest took place last Friday, which served as a party to host a pre-screening of the new NOFX documentary “Backstage Passport II”. I was not able to check that out, but I assume it was one hell of a party (Fat Wreck Chords is well known for its partying skills, after all).

On Day 1, as I was walking into the festival, it felt much like the first time I had been to a Warped Tour. Mohawks and beards were plentiful. It was a sea of black clothes paired with patches, studs and the occasional fanny pack. The sun was shining bright, and the beer was flowing. Inside Thee Parkside were a few DJ sets, along with some acoustic sets from the likes of Joey Cape, Chris Cresswell and Sundowner. Outside the venue, we had Toy Guitar, Night Birds, Western Addiction, Bracket, $wingin’ Utter$, Strung Out, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, Sick of It All (who were a last-minute replacement for Propagandhi) and NOFX.

Fat Wreck for 25 years - Good Riddance


Good Riddance

Day 2 kicked off with a bit of a light fare. Spike Slawson of $wingin’ Utter$/Gimme Gimmes fame has a new group, the ever-so-cleverly-named Uke Hunt. Slawson’s smooth vocals fit nicely with his ukulele and some other accompaniment as the band glided through covers of The Carpenters and Hall & Oates. With it being another nice summer day in SF, the crowd was lit up with anticipation for the day ahead. Inside Thee Parkside, a few DJ sets started things off, followed by sets from Pears, Darius Koski and Bad Cop/Bad Cop. Outside after Uke Hunt’s set, Masked Intruder brought the energy level back up and were followed by The Flatliners, Dead to Me, Tilt, Good Riddance, No Use for a Name (with special guests), Lagwagon and once again, NOFX.

Bands like Tilt and Bracket hadn’t performed live for over 10 years (Bracket had played only one other show in that time). Other bands had seen lineup changes, members pass away and hiatuses, but the one thing that most bands on Fat Wreck Chords have in common is that they have pretty much universally only released albums through the label itself. Several bands made it a point of thanking Fat Wreck Chords co-founders Fat Mike (lead vocalist and bassist for NOFX) and Erin Burkett (read our interview with her here), along with the label’s staff for their never-ending support and hard work. The word “family” was thrown out many times, and that’s really the way it should be.

Fat Wreck for 25 years - Dead to Me


Dead to Me

As for my experience at the show, I had an incredible time. I ran into friends I hadn’t seen in years, plus I got to see a few bands that I had never seen (Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, Dead to Me, Uke Hunt) and a few that I never thought I’d ever see again (Tilt, Bracket, No Use for a Name). It was nice to know that Fat Wreck Chords has continued to live up to its tradition of offering something you could count on — just good quality music and good times. I can’t say that I have been a fan of every band that has released an album on Fat Wreck Chords, but I would say that a good 85 percent of them I have enjoyed listening to at some point in my life or another. I personally would have loved to have seen Propagandhi since I have never seen them before. I would have also loved to see a Screw 32 reunion at the festival. Bands like Mad Caddies, Face to Face and American Steel also would have been a treat, and I don’t say that to complain at all since you really could not beat this lineup.

Here are a few highlights after celebrating 25 years of Fat Wreck Chords at Thee Parkside.

Fat Wreck for 25 years - NOFX

NOFX

Given the fact that there was a very strict curfew in place, Fat Mike, who is normally very talkative and always ready to heckle the audience, had to take a back seat with all of that to save time. That didn’t stop him from getting a few good ribs out there, though. My favorite had to be “Hey Dad! Don’t take your 12 year old to a NOFX show!”, which was pointedly said to the father and daughter a few rows back from the barricade on Night 2. Anyone familiar with NOFX’s lyrical content knows exactly what he’s talking about. This was said just prior to the band performing “Louise”, a track from the band’s album Pump Up the Valium, which details the relationship between two lesbians that clearly have a dominant/submissive relationship. The song is “colorful” to say the least.

Fat Wreck for 25 years - Lagwagon

Lagwagon

While I was in a punk-rock band fresh out of college, Lagwagon was THE band that we were drawing the most inspiration from at the time. I had never really listened to them much before joining this band, but I quickly grew to love them, particularly their album Trashed. When I heard that they were intending to perform that very album from start to finish at this show, I was stoked! As promised, the band ripped right into “Island of Shame”, which got the crowd into a frenzy, and followed with “Lazy” and “Know It All”. But then singer Joey Cape asked the crowd if they’d prefer to hear the album or a bunch of other tunes. The crowd gave a stronger response to the latter, which despite breaking my heart a bit, ended up not being a letdown in any way.

Fat Wreck for 25 years - Me First and the Gimme Gimmes

Me First and the Gimme Gimmes

A band I had yet to ever see and was incredibly stoked for, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes had hands down the most fun set of the festival. The notoriously fun cover band features members of various Fat Wreck Chords groups, and this year featured Scott Shiflett filling in for his brother Chris, who was once in No Use for a Name and currently plays with the Foo Fighters. Dressed up in white pants and tropical shirts, the band whipped the crowd into a glorious sing-along, which lasted the entire set. Busting out gems like Dolly Parton’s “Jolene”, Elton John’s “Rocket Man”, Boyz II Men’s “End of the Road” and John Denver’s “Leaving on a Jet Plane”, it was one classic after another. There’s nothing like seeing a sea of punks belting out “Sloop John B” by The Beach Boys at the top of their lungs.

Fat Wreck for 25 years - No Use for a Name

No Use for a Name (with special guests)

The elephant in the room at this show was the fact that Tony Sly, lead singer/guitarist of No Use for Name and also a key figure in the Fat Wreck Chords family, had sadly passed away a few years ago. When it was revealed that the surviving members of NUFAN were going to perform with a rotating cast of singers, I couldn’t help but be moved. I had always liked NUFAN and remember being quite affected by the knowledge of Sly’s passing. Several bands had taken a moment during their sets to give a shout-out to the late singer. Strung Out even covered the NUFAN song “Soulmate” during their set. You could feel the energy when they took the stage; both band and crowd were eager to release, and release they did. Among the guest singers were Joey Cape (Lagwagon), Fat Mike and El Jefe (NOFX), Russ Rankin (Good Riddance), Karina Denike (Dance Hall Crashers), Chris Aiken and Jason Cruz (Strung Out), John Carey (Old Man Markley) and more.

Fat Wreck for 25 years - Tilt

Tilt

Tilt was the band I was most excited to see at the festival for a few reasons. The East Bay quartet was one of the earlier additions to Fat Wreck Chords, releasing four albums through the label. I remember being turned onto Tilt back in high school by a dear friend of mine who has since passed, so the band has always held a place in my heart for not only that reason, but also an old band of mine once shared the stage with them at The Phoenix Theater back in 2001. In what has historically (and tragically) been a boys club, Tilt have always been a good reminder that women fucking rock, too! Cinder Block’s voice was as beautifully raw as ever, and the band whipped through a tight set spanning its entire catalog. It was a treat to see all of the band’s former members come up on stage at one point or another, and Tilt ended their set with “Berkeley Pier” and all of them on stage.

Fat Wreck for 25 years - Bracket

Bracket

Another band that I had shared a stage with at one time, Bracket from Forestville, Calif., made their triumphant return on Saturday. One of the earlier bands to sign with Fat Wreck Chords, Bracket’s sound embodies the melodic side of things. Though the band likely wouldn’t think so (they are all very humble guys), they sounded right on point. I was personally bummed that there wasn’t a bigger crowd for them, as they have always been one of the more unique bands on Fat Wreck Chords and had some of the best songwriting in my opinion. However, this did not stop them from having a killer set, and those in attendance were very stoked to see them to perform.

Fat Wreck for 25 years - Masked Intruder

Masked Intruder

Masked Intruder are one of the more recent groups to join the Fat Wreck Chords lineup, and I hadn’t heard anything from these international men of mystery. I knew about the masks they wear and I had a few friends who had talked them up, so I was eager to see what they were all about. Right off the bat, I was impressed by these guys. Not only was their sound infectious and super tight, but they also brought a cop on stage with them to keep the peace. No joke. OK, so the cop is part of the act, but it’s still hilarious and doesn’t at all take away from the fact that they are writing really great tunes.

We talk to Fat Wreck Chords’ Erin Burkett as the label celebrates 25 years of ‘destroying punk rock’

Erin BurkettPhotos by Kristen Wright & Alan Snodgrass // Written by Molly Kish //

Amidst the ever-changing creative landscape of the Bay Area, one independent record label has beaten the odds. Conceived out of DIY necessity and spearheaded to this day by the original founders, Fat Wreck Chords has not only become one of the most successfully owned and operated labels in the nation, but also inherently synonymous with an era of punk-rock history that’s still being written today.

While most people familiar with Fat Wreck Chords associate the brand with its flagship band NOFX and frontman/bassist Fat Mike (born Michael John Burkett), who serves as the label’s co-founder, his partner Erin Burkett still remains the binding glue behind Fat Wreck Chords.

Leading up to this weekend’s epic “Fat Wrecked for 25 Years” tour that will be taking over the streets of San Francisco, Showbams spoke with Burkett about what it took to start, sustain and succeed as an independent punk-rock label for more than a quarter century.

Fat Wrecked for 25 Years


Showbams: This year marks the 25th anniversary of Fat Wreck Chords, and this month you’re taking off on a month-long, multi-band tour to celebrate a quarter century of “destroying punk rock.” So, first and foremost, how are you feeling?

Burkett: I feel great! I’m super excited about the tour, and it makes me feel a little bit old — I can’t lie to you. I can’t believe it’s been 25 years, but I’m really proud of our bands and am really stoked on this tour, especially because I feel like in this past year, we had some really great releases from some of our core bands like Lagwagon, Good Riddance, Swingin’ Utters and Strung Out, who all came back after a little bit of a break in between records and just put out amazing albums. I think it’s going to be a big celebration, and I’m really excited for it!

Showbams: Being that this is the hometown show, we’re really excited for it, too. Also, this milestone is a big one. Was it something as the label’s co-founder that you ever imagined it would actually hit?

Burkett: No, never, not even close. We were surprised when we even started making money. We just started doing this as a hobby. It was something fun, and we wanted to put out some NOFX releases. We honestly never expected it to even turn a profit, and when it did, we thought, “Alright, let’s just give it a go.”

We’re from the old school. We had DIY punk ethics and just thought that we could do it — and it worked. Twenty-five years later, and I still am actually amazed that it did. It’s amazing to me we’re still relevant and that not only are we doing well, but we also just had the greatest year ever. I feel really, truly lucky and blessed to have been able to spend the past 25 years of my life doing this.

Showbams: Yeah, definitely not a bad day job.

Burkett: No, definitely not.

Showbams: Looking back at the legacy of the label, you’ve truly fashioned Fat Wreck as not only a brand, but also an entity and really an overall archetype in punk rock. Do you ever have any “holy shit” moments thinking about all the ground you guys have covered?

Burkett: Well, not really because I don’t ever step back and look at it like that. I just grew up running this label. It’s the only thing I’ve ever done and probably know how to do. It feels natural to me now, and all of these bands are like my family. People do ask me that question sometimes, and I just feel that I am unable to separate myself from Fat Wreck Chords. So, I don’t know that I can step outside myself and look at it from the outside. It just feels normal, like part of me.

Showbams: What do you feel has been the driving force behind the longevity of the label?

Burkett: I think it’s the family environment. I know it sounds cliché and I say it a lot, but it’s the truth. These band members are some of my closest friends. We vacation together, we go to each others’ birthday parties, our kids play together — we’ve built a family unit.

I think the fact that we only sign record deals probably is a huge factor as to why we’re successful because you have to think about it like this. If you’re in a relationship, like if you’re married and not happy, you should be able to get a divorce. I think of that as the same type of situation with the label and the bands. If the band isn’t stoked on us and they want to go somewhere else, they should be able to do that. I think that sort of builds a mutual trust and a mutual respect between the label and our bands. It feels great every time a new album comes along and they choose to give it to us because they want to and not because they signed a contract.

Showbams: Not a lot of labels feel comfortable to even offer that as an option, but that probably makes for a much happier work environment.

Burkett: Oh, absolutely! That is the thing. We care about these bands, and we want them to do well — not because were trying to make money off of them, but because they’re our friends! We want them to succeed because we give a crap.

Showbams: The label pretty much ushered in a post-hardcore era of punk, emerging as a revival of the quintessential ethos behind the genre while diversifying from the mainstream counterpart of radio-friendly alternative rock. What were some of your early influences that drew you into the punk culture and community?

Burkett: I grew up in a really small town. It’s a farming town outside of Sacramento, and up until my sophomore year of high school, there were no punk rockers at my school. I didn’t even really know what one was. Then, a girl named Jeannine transferred from Holland, and she was a foreign-exchange student from Amsterdam. I just remember looking at her and thinking she was the coolest thing I had ever seen. She had a partially shaved head, sort of a wide mohawk, wore really cool clothes and had all of these piercings — and everybody hated her. But I was in love with her. I thought she was the greatest thing I had ever seen.

So, I made it my quest to make sure that this girl liked me because I really wanted to be friends with her. I kind of forced myself on her, and she was into all of these amazing bands. She turned me on to punk rock, and I have been in love ever since. It has changed my whole entire life. I went from being totally unhappy and feeling like nobody understood me and I didn’t understand anybody — you know the typical teenage angst, but I couldn’t identify with it. Then, I met her, started going to punk shows and was like, “These are my people. This is what I’ve been looking for my whole life!” Suddenly, I just felt like I found people that got me, and I’ve just had a passion for it ever since my sophomore year of high school.

Showbams: What was the first show that you went to?

Burkett: The first show I went to was a 7 Seconds show in Sacramento at the Crest Theatre, which doesn’t exist anymore. It was really cool. It was an old theater that they turned into a club, but I heard from other people that they knocked it down, which is sad. It was really pretty.

I almost got a 7 Seconds tattoo as well, but the guy turned me down because I was 15 and it wasn’t legal. I was so mad.

Fat Mike


Fat Mike

Showbams: How did you end up meeting Fat Mike?

Burkett: Through the same girl, Jeannine. She ended up going to school in Santa Barbara, and I moved to San Francisco to go to school. At that time, everyone was broke and we didn’t have cars, so we were always trying to carpool or get rides back and forth between the two cities to see each other because we were best friends. At one point she said to me, “There’s this guy. He goes to your school and he’s in a band called NOFX, so find him because he’s always driving back and forth to rehearse or play shows with his band. Find him and get a ride with him next time.” I was like, “So, you want me to find some guy I don’t know in a school of about 50,000 people and randomly walk up to him?”

Then, one day I was randomly walking to school and I saw a van parked on the side of the street. It had NOFX gratified all over the side of it. I thought, “Well, this must be the guy.” I ripped off a piece of notebook paper, and I just wrote a note saying, “You don’t know me, but I want to go to Santa Barbara whenever you want to go. Call me and I’ll pay for gas money.” He called that weekend and said, “I’m going down if you want to go,” and it was a horrible experience.

He was with his girlfriend at the time, a girl named Wendy, and they were breaking up so they were fighting all the time. They were breaking up, but I don’t think they knew they were going to break up. They were just arguing about everything, and they blasted Rich Kids on LSD (R.K.L.) so loud in the back of the van that I actually thought one of my eardrums was going to pop. They yelled at each other and screamed at each other all the way down to Santa Barbara. It was just miserable.

I got out of the van and thought, “I don’t ever want to see those people ever, ever again. That was terrible.” Then, we became friends after that. We were friends for two years before we ever started dating, so then all of this happened.

Showbams: What made you want to go into a professional partnership together?

Burkett: I don’t think we really did. There wasn’t ever a conversation about it really. What happened was, we wanted to put out NOFX releases and Mike was always on tour. I had a full-time job at a public relations firm, but obviously you don’t start a business by hiring people. You do everything yourself, so he would sort of get excited about these projects, then he would leave and go on tour for three months. I would do everything. It wasn’t really a conversation where we said, “Let’s do this together.” It just sort of happened.

I would work all day long. Then, I would come home and ship orders, handle mail orders and eventually it was just too much. I was exhausted. I realized I can’t work, finish school and do this all night long.

It started in the kitchen of our one-bedroom apartment in The Mission until our whole kitchen was covered in boxes, invoices, product and cardboard. We finally said, “Alright, let’s just give it a try. We might go broke and we might lose our apartment, but let’s just see if we can actually do this full time. I quit (my full-time job), but when you’re young, you just do stuff like that.

Showbams: With over 157 albums released and a roster of 80-plus bands, was there ever a band that you passed on signing that you later regretted?

Burkett: Oh, absolutely. We could have signed The Lillingtons, and that was the stupidest thing we ever did — was not signing them. It’s so upsetting to me. I want that band on this label really badly. It’s a bummer to me. The other one, we had a chance. We’re really good friends with Matt Skiba (of Alkaline Trio), and at one point, we had a chance to put out some of his solo material, which we absolutely should have done. I don’t know why we didn’t.

Showbams: Is there distinct criteria a group needs to meet in order to make the cut to be considered for a record deal?

Burkett: Not really. We choose bands that put out music that we like and that we want to listen to. If you look at the roster of Fat Wreck Chords, you’re basically looking at my musical taste and Mike’s musical taste. It’s music we want to listen to and obviously by people that we want to hang out with because Fat Wreck Chords is a family. When we invite someone into the fold, we have to make sure that we get along and that these are the type of people that we want to spend our time with. So, for the most part, that’s the criteria.

Obviously, you need to be a hard-working band and willing to tour and put your efforts toward us as well. But for the most part, we just have to like you, want to hang out with you and like your music.

Showbams: As an independently operated and owned record label, you made a big point to never be involved with the Recording Industry Association of America. No matter how hard they tried, I know you even had to call to have them remove you off their roster.

Burkett: Yep, three times we’ve had to actually. I don’t even understand why.

Showbams: Can you explain your strong stance on not wanting them to include you?

Burkett: Well, this is the thing. Mike and I have always done this ourselves, and we want to keep it that way. If we get in bed with any major corporation, then they have the ability to tell us what to do, and from a very basic standpoint, I don’t want anybody telling me how to run my business. I don’t want anybody telling me that I have to make a decision. I also don’t ever want to have to make a decision based on money either. That sucks! It is a business, and obviously we need to stay profitable. I’m not trying to say that never factors in, but for the most part, we want to be able to run this company the way we want to run it. We don’t want anyone telling us what to do, and if you get in bed with other people, that’s what you have to do.

Showbams: Hand in hand with the old-school punk-rock ideology, Fat Wreck has been involved in politically charged, philanthropic efforts, working with Pets and Protect as well as campaigns addressing former President George W. Bush. What was the label’s motivation behind choosing these causes as its voice in the political mainstream?

Burkett: It was basically about a passion. I have been a vegetarian for 20 years, and I feel very strongly about animal rights and protecting them. I grew up on a farm and watched my father slaughter animals I considered to be my pets and then put them on the dinner table. It was traumatizing, just very horrible. At a very young age, I decided that I didn’t want to participate in this. So, the animal rights ones, those were mostly my passions.

Then, the Rock Against Bush (campaign), that was more of a Mike passion. Not that I didn’t support it — of course I do, but I honestly am not very political. Even though I think that he was an asshole, it’s not a passion that I would have undertook myself. That was really Mike’s thing.

Showbams: The label has touched upon topics of police brutality, racism, mental health, addiction and LGBT rights as hot topics over the past 25 years. Do you feel that it’s now easier for artists to address such issues creatively than it ever was in the past?

Burkett: Oh, absolutely! But there are times when I travel where I feel like because I live in San Francisco and it’s kind of its own little bubble, there are times when I forget what the rest of the world is like. Then, when you travel and you experience certain types of racism, sexism and hatred from other people, it sometimes takes me aback where I’m actually surprised.

Basically, we’re about human rights in general. I don’t care what anybody else does with their life if it’s not affecting me, and I don’t understand why anybody else cares. It’s a very basic human perspective, and we’ve always felt that way. I am very proud of our bands that stand up, take a stance and put themselves out there. You have to be such a strong person and be willing to accept a lot of ridicule to do that. I think that is a huge part of Fat Wreck Chords and our bands. I love the fact that we have this catalog and roster of bands which includes people who are partying drug addicts, people who are straight edge, people who are sober, people who are vegetarians, people who are vegan and transgender. I love that! That’s what life is all about.

Showbams: What do you feel is the greatest threat to an independent record label operating today?

Burkett: The digital era was definitely something that we had to adjust to. I remember having a conversation with my sister’s teenage children, in which I realized there was a whole generation of people growing up who really didn’t think that they needed to pay for music. I remember feeling that that was kind of shocking from the perspective of — I get it if you don’t feel like record labels should be making any money, but how can you not support a band? How can you not support the music that makes you happy, that you know is a daily part of your life? That never made any sense to me.

So, I think that we’ve been working through that, and I see that as kind of the biggest challenge. Trying to come up with new ways to make sure that my artists are able to earn a living. They should be able to get paid for what they love and the artistry they produce. I think that’s always a challenge.

Hear the full interview with Burkett here.

Erin Burkett

PHOTOS: Slightly Stoopid, NOFX and Stephen Marley at the Greek 7/18

Slightly StoopidBy Marc Fong //

Slightly Stoopid with NOFX and Stephen Marley //
Greek Theatre – U.C. Berkeley
July 18th, 2014 //

San Diego’s very own Slightly Stoopid continued their 21-date “Summer Sessions Tour 2014” at the Greek Theatre, as the seven-piece band melded funk, hip-hop, reggae and rock into one electrifying set. Punk pioneers NOFX and five-time Grammy winner Stephen Marley were also on hand, as Marc Fong was there to catch all the action from the photo pit.