Photo: Joe Leonard

NOFX Guitarist Eric Melvin On Fatherhood, Blink-182 & Soundwave Festival’s AJ Maddah

Far from the hectic punk scene of the 1980s, NOFX founding member Eric Melvin is happy with his lot in life right now. The Californian musician, now edging into his 50s, has just finished moving with his wife Sarah and their twin daughters from San Francisco to the San Diego area, closer to where he grew up.

The family was driving back to San Francisco when Jade Kennedy caught up with Melvin to talk about his connection with Australia, NOFX’s relationship with Blink-182 and new music to look out for.

Music Feeds: So how have you been?

Eric Melvin: Good. You know, my wife had our babies, we moved down from San Francisco to San Diego area in July, so that’s like Southern California, and it feels nice. You know, moving is very hectic so we’ve been like shuffling very slowly, it’s taken a long time this time, for some reason. But it’s really really nice.

Life is good back in Southern California again, that’s where I was born. I think the move wasn’t actually my first choice, but I think it was a choice that was actually made for my best interest — like, I didn’t get what I wanted but I got what I needed out of this move. I think it’s the same for my wife, and the babies — if they’re happy we’re happy so that’s all good.

Then my other two sons are seven and four, and they moved as well with their mum, and they seem really happy too. My wife and I have them half the week, every week — 50/50 — so when the boys are there and the babies are there and we’re all sitting around the table — we’ve got two cats also — the house is so full and noisy and full of fun and I couldn’t be happier. So that’s huge in my life right now.

MF: So fatherhood’s treating you well then?

EM: I love being a dad. I love fatherhood. My first son was a bit of a challenge because first baby, you know, making my way through that first time child thing. But it’s been amazing.

Having these two girls though is so different, and I feel like I’m learning everything all over again. You know, they’re totally different people than our sons, and there’s their own challenges, but almost in the first couple weeks they already were making cute noises and saying, “Da Da Da Da Da,” and that’s just amazing; that was a first for me in my life. It was amazing, you know, my heart was melting daily.

MF: Well how old are the girls now?

EM: They’re going to be 11 months old in about a week. They’re little. I mean, they’re twins so they were really little when they were first born, they seem really big now compared to that. They’ll stand up at the table and they look just so big. Then my four-year-old walks in and they look little again. It’s just amazing.

MF: So are you looking forward to heading to Australia again soon?

Oh yeah, so much! I can’t wait. We were there for Christmas, to see my in-laws, so that the girls could hang with their grandparents. So we’re going to come — my wife and the babies — we’re going to come a few days early and spend some time with the family. I’m hoping to get in the water this time. I barely got in the water at Christmas, I did some snorkelling but I’m really keen to get back in the water.

MF: Are you keen to be part of the first Download Festival lineup down here? That’s pretty massive.

EM: Yeah, it’s cool. We’re pretty lucky that the Download Festival people love us. We’ve done Download in Madrid and we’ve down Download in the UK, we’re doing Download in Paris in June. They love us. And last year they asked us, last June, if we would be interested in a Download in Australia for 2018 and we were like, “Fuck yeah, we’re in.”

MF: Well you guys were due to come out here for Soundwave in, what, 2016? Which was the one that ended up getting canned. How did you guys find out that it was cancelled?

EM: Well, there were some hints that it wasn’t being handled properly, because we were supposed to get a deposit when we signed the contract and then we were supposed to get some money for our flights, and we still booked our flights but the money hadn’t come in. We were like, “Ahhhhh…” because, you know, we’ve been doing this a long time, and usually we eventually get paid, but it was looking kind of sketchy right away and then yeah we started hearing rumours.

I forget, some bands pulled out or something. Then we heard that he hadn’t paid some bands from the year before, and we were like, shoot, I wish we’d known that when we first agreed to the show. But anyway yeah it sort of slowly fell apart.

MF: Well yeah it seemed like a very slow unravelling, especially with [Soundwave Promoter] AJ Maddah on social media all the time, that was a little questionable at times.

EM: Yeah, I know. It was weird because like… I always just kind of had this feeling he was in it more to be popular rather than put on a good concert. Like he was in it to be more in the spotlight. That’s kind of the feeling I got. I don’t know the guy though so I don’t know much about him.

MF: So what ended up happening? Obviously you had to cancel that tour, so did you end up getting your money back for the flights and everything?

EM: You know I don’t remember! I don’t remember now. If I don’t hear about it or if I don’t remember it probably wasn’t a big deal. But a lot has happened since then, you know, with having Sarah pregnant — which was it’s own journey — then the babies were born and it’s been like a series of lessons ever since.

Did you know that I missed some NOFX shows? I missed the first NOFX shows since the inception of the band. I missed the first shows last year when the girls were born. I found out, when we discovered that we were pregnant we also found out that we were offered some big festivals right around the same time. So the band asked if I minded if they still proceeded with booking the shows, and maybe I’d make it maybe not, and if not they’d replace me… so we agreed to that and they gave me a couple of people that they liked, and I told them who I thought would be good, and we liked Roger from Less Than Jake.

We played on a cruise ship, which I missed — that would’ve been my first time playing on a cruise ship — and then they went to Japan as well. They did MusInk in LA, and Pot’O’Gold which is the Flogging Molly festival in Arizona, then they went to Japan for two or three shows, and I was sad about missing Japan. You know those babies had just been born and they were so little, I didn’t want to… I couldn’t miss that.

MF: And especially leaving your wife at home with twins!

Sarah: Australian wife! I would’ve been in a foreign country!

EM: Yeah, well Australian also means she’s extremely tough. And, like, impervious to pain. But her mom and dad came and they helped out, which was just amazing. They were there the day we brought the girls home and that was really cool.

So I’m sorry Jade, did you have some questions for me? I have a tendency to just ramble.

MF: Well one thing I did want to know was how did a middle-class Jewish kid from California end up in a punk band in the ’80s?

EM: Right. Very strange, yeah. Good question. You know, my family has like an artistic side, but my mum was an artist and a guitar player as I was growing up. She went to an art school when I was 10, 11 and 12, so I was exposed to very strange art scene people, and I really got along with them and I really loved that vibe with these weird art scene creatives that my mum knew.

And Mum rented a small space in Downtown LA to do her ceramics, and she moved a couple times, but one of her spaces was downstairs from… oh, I can’t remember his name now… but he had bands playing, and he filmed a show called Nu Wave Theatre, which was huge in the scene back then… I think the Circle Jerks played? And this was when I was only like 12, so I kind of knew about this kind of cool underground arts scene and music thing happening.

I got into the nu wave when it first sort of happened — it was like Blondie and Devo — when that was first hitting the commercial radio in LA. So I was kind of already going off the beaten path then. But I wasn’t like the rest of my punker friends, who were like from divorce families and were ditching school, they were like smoking when they were 13. I was, like, I still wanted to go to school and I was still in the boy scouts.

I was this straight edge kind of punker without knowing what was straight edge yet. I tried like cigarettes and some coke when I was like 13 but I wasn’t that interested, it wasn’t like that for me then. But then over one summer I got a job at a huge community centre swimming pool, and my friend went and did his own thing, I didn’t see him much that summer. When we came back to school, he said, “I spent the summer going to a place called Godzilla’s in LA and seeing these amazing bands, and I have to play you this record called ‘Group Sex’ by The Circle Jerks.”

And I was like, “Oh my God. Oh my God, this is amazing!” So that was it for me, I loved punk rock and the accessibility of it. It wasn’t musicians and there was no like start up to it, it was just like these art scene weirdo people that I grew up with and felt really comfortable with. So I was just hanging out with the younger punkers and tried to start a band and the guys introduced me to [Fat] Mike, and you know, that stuff is all in the book you know that, everyone knows that.

But yeah my foundation was in that cool artsy LA scene that my mum turned me on to. I think the aggressiveness and the pace and the skateboarding and surfing and the extreme sport part of it, I’m not so much into that. I guess I do kind of have some kind of maybe skeletons in the closest, like most punk rockers do, but for me it was like the music and artiness, that it was just different and that you could wing it to do it, that’s what caught me.

MF: So you’ve ended up being one of the most profitable and one of the longest-lasting punk acts around. Did you ever think that that would end up happening? Particularly staying true to that kind of DIY punk ethos?

EM: Well I mean profitable makes sense maybe because we never spent a lot of money on costumes or anything to wear on stage, we never spent money on our stage show, or even a banner. I think like, DIY, we’re self-led, we’re self-managed in a way, I mean we do have a manager but we tell him what we want to do. So okay that’s kind of kept us off in the shadows, not just outside of the spotlight.

But as it turns out, we like that too. It kind of works for us, you know? I mean, Tom DeLonge from Blink-182 lives five blocks away from me, and we’re friends, I mean he’s a lovely guy, but he’s got ten times the money I’ve got, you know, and he’s living quite comfortably and he’s quite happy, and I’m like, “Yeah I’m happy for you,” and I’m very happy for him. The thing that they do is maybe inspired by NOFX but it’s quite different.

But you know, his family is amazing, his wife is amazing. They’re such nice, great people. And the guy is fricken rich. To say profitable it’s all like relative… we’re doing alright, but we’ve got to keep working. As far as the DIY thing turned out, if we stuck to what we wanted to do, the people would come to us. And that’s kind of the lesson that seems to be universal, no matter what business you’re in — if you do something because you believe in it, you’re probably going to do something that’s got some power to it because it comes from your heart, and people are going to be drawn to that, whether you’re making dog food or music or art. If you believe in it, if you love it, it’s going to be good.

We wanted to do it from the beginning, the idea was to just do it and not really think about how to make it big or make us rich, but we knew from the beginning if we were going to tour we needed to sell shirts to make some extra money. So like we did figure out ways to make money. For a while I screen-printed the shirts myself, we also bought really cheap shirts. We didn’t sell them for much either but you know, after that first tour that we did, when we came back the second year we saw people with the same shirts and because we bought really poor-quality shirts they got washed and the prints like laying off to the side, so we were kind of embarrassed by that lesson.

But you know, we learned also that if you book a show with a promoter in Pittsburgh, that you have to know what he intends to charge, what his expenses are, and you want to know that he’s not just going to make a bunch of money, and you’re not going to go there and get nothing while he makes a bunch of money for doing very little. That turns out to be good business sense, you know, and we learned that by booking shows in the ’80s. So that’s another way we learned to make it profitable, by not just being blind.

MF: Well speaking of money, I read somewhere you guys turned down $1 million to tour in support of Blink-182?

EM: Oh that’s a funny story.

Sarah: We’re friends with them now. I really like Tom’s wife Jen, she’s like my special friend, she’s rad.

EM: I mean we were good friends with them even then, at the time. We talked again recently, but it was about craft beer festivals that are only on weekends. We as a band decided that we wanted to keep doing shows but we don’t want to go out for like two or three or four week tours anymore, we’d rather do two or three day weekends, like do two or three nights in a row then that’s it, go home for the week, see if we could do that in the spring… we’d be able to tour like that, I could tour like that, and I kind of got to do it but he’s trying to tell me to talk about setting something up [inaudible] next year there might be a NOFX and a Blink [inaudible] I hoping there’s a massive rumour that makes it happen.

MF: You just said, “There might be a Blink and NOFX,” and then the phone dropped out, so you know, I could totally just run with that.

EM: Right right yeah just run with that yeah. I love that. Don’t forget Tom [inaudible] it’s not! I didn’t say tour either. Or did I? I did say weekend shows.

MF: So we’ll just put it out there that next year there might be a Blink and NOFX “run of shows” and it’ll probably be in America and everyone in Australia will be like, WTF?

EM: Sometime soon there might be a NOFX and Blink [inaudible]. I don’t know how you’re going to print that — “Eric Melvin actually said the words.”

MF: We can run with that, you know, media — we’re supposed to just run with things, aren’t we?

EM: There we go. There we go let’s do that.

MF: It’s been a while since 2016 album ‘First Ditch Effort’. So when are we going to see new music?

EM: Oh yeah. New music from NOFX? Well we demoed a couple songs in November… and then Mike got busy with his musical, but he’s finished now but we’re doing some shows, so we’re going to be busy doing some live stuff, so we might find time to work on it some more, but we just demoed like four songs that were cool, they were really fun.

One was super, like, you know that song — what’s it called? ‘Creeping Out Sarah’. Anyway, it’s kind of that style — it’s like a funny story, funny, poppy, but then the other ones we’re just experimenting but like keeping it punk. So it’s going to be a little while, but we already have four songs that we’re working on. Four songs that are you know, whatever, ‘in the works.’

I’m also working on a personal Eric Melvin thing, and Mike’s been trying to support me with that but he’s also been busy, but yeah I’m hoping to release some of my own music sometime this year maybe, that’s got some NOFX influence to it but is quite different, but we’ll see what people think when they hear it.

I don’t want to say too much about it if you don’t mind, but I’m excited about that. And if this happens I’ll of course do a weekend here and a weekend there, and maybe I’ll come out to Australia for a couple of days so I can do my thing there and see my family there, so there’ll be some live shows for Eric Melvin as well.

And you’ll totally bring Blink-182 with you, right?

EM: With just Eric Melvin… maybe just Tom DeLonge. Ooh I like that, yeah, now we’re talking.

NOFX play headline shows in Sydney and Brisbane this week, before performing at Download Festival Melbourne on Saturday.

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