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Cokie the Clown – You’re Welcome

Honesty and openness ultimately defines You’re Welcome. This Cokie the Clown album is 10 songs of gut-wrenching vaudevillian punk, as brutally laid out as a personal record can get.

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The resurgence and mainstream acceptance of punk that emerged in the 1990s can be attributed to many things- but it is undoubtedly hard to look past at some of the individuals that would ultimately become the face of a genre’s revival. One such individual is, of course, NOFX frontman Fat Mike, who on the back of an already successful career with the band, hit new heights with the release of 1994’s Punk in Drublic. While it did not reach the kind of levels Dookie or Smash did, Punk in Drublic’s Gold-selling status is made even more incredible with the fact that it was all essentially, because of the content of the record and word of mouth. While Green Day and the Offspring became the namesakes of the mainstream punk explosion, NOFX continued its mantle as the clown princes of the underground. They never seemed to waver from their brand of humor, snotty attitude, and anti-establishment persona. Fat Mike, of course, was the spearhead for every controversial story that involved the band- from no interviews to never signing to a major label, Fat Mike was always and above, the crux and centerpiece of the band.

Over the years we have gotten to “know” Fat Mike as the label head of long-running independent label Fat Wreck Chords. We got to know his politics with Punk Voter, we know that he likes to crossdress, doesn’t mind a little S&M, and was never shy of being controversial on stage, on record, or afraid to feud with other artists from all genres. This was the public’s version of who Fat Mike is, but it wasn’t until we met Cokie the Clown back in 2010 that we finally got to see the man behind Fat Mike. At first, Cokie the Clown was just an eye-opening character who released an EP and made a noted appearance at SXSW. It is not until now that we finally get to see and hear the real Cokie the Clown.

I peeled my fuckin’ skin off for this record,” says Fat Mike. And it is that level of honesty and openness that defines You’re Welcome. The album, 10 songs of gut-wrenching vaudevillian punk, is as brutally open as a personal record can get. It is not a NOFX record by any means. And if you’re looking for NOFX’s melodic, attitude-filled punk blasts of politics, social commentary, and humor, then you’re better off listening to Punk in Drublic or The War On Errorism. Instead, You’re Welcome is perhaps the most unconventional punk record of recent times. While you’ve heard “Punk Rock Saved My Life”, the rest of the album doesn’t veer into punk’s guitar-heavy urgency. Instead, choosing to adopt orchestral compositions and theatrical histrionics that occasionally sees heavy rock influences (“Negative Reel”), but relies more on sad piano reflections and string-based melancholia. The truth is, You’re Welcome is not a happy record at all. Whether it is the painful family memories of “The Time I Killed My Mom” (“Yes please end it sweetie / I can’t live with this much pain / I’d like to die surrounded by the people I most love / I brought you in to this world you gotta take me out”), the rough and tumble relationships of his life (“Pre-Arranged Marriage”) or the acoustic, heavier sound of the rather self-explanatory “Fuck You All”, You’re Welcome is as he says in the song, the music of a sad clown.

The album may be anything but a NOFX record, but what’s more punk rock than writing a punk rock record that doesn’t sound like a punk rock record? Sure, it’s nice that Travis Barker drums on the record, and that Guns N’ Roses alum Dizzy Reed is the featured keyboardist, but in reality, You’re Welcome makes an impact because Fat Mike’s unrelenting honesty and unconventional approach to lyricism and songwriting is still ever-present, just done a little differently. And the results are captivating, eye-opening, and filled with the oft heartbreaking reality of being human. Rarely if ever, has someone in his position been so personally open on a record- and rarely has a person been as free, or care-free, about the consequences to do so. But the work he has cultivated as a self-made man means that he’s reached a level where he can. And ultimately for the genre, You’re Welcome is both vital and groundbreaking.

“Punk Rock Saved My Life” is a wonderful anthemic song, the summation of Fat Mike’s life, family and history- all parts of the puzzle that made him the influential, globe-conquering punk singer, songwriter, and entrepreneur. NOFX fans will know that throughout his discography he’s written songs about how good it is to be Fat Mike (“Thank God It’s Monday”) and for the last 30+ years we’ve gotten to know Fat Mike as an antagonist, provocateur, and iconoclast. But for the first time in all these years, we’re finally getting to know Mike Burkett.

(Fat Wreck Chords)

Interviews

Like a Hurricane: An Interview with Year of the Fist

Year of the Fist are a much needed short in the arm of rock music. We chat to vocalist/guitarist Squeaky.

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Oakland based rock n’ roll band Year of the Fist are the kind of the rock n’ roll band you can’t bring home to meet mom. Evoking the sounds made famous by labels like Sympathy for the Record Industry, Year of the Fist are “a hurricane of swirling rock n’ roll poundage”. Unrelenting and visceral, their music is the unforgiving wave in a sea of safe rock music; a sentiment best exemplified by their brand new full-length album, Revive Me. And like the title itself, Year of the Fist are a much-needed shot of energy; raw, no-frills, and urgent.

We caught up with guitarist and vocalist Squeaky, who, along with the band, have just returned from a short trek through California and Nevada to showcase their new album. We talk about the history of the band, their fantastic new record, Oakland, small-town shows, and rock n’ roll.

Congrats on the new record- reception has been positive to it (we loved it)- how do you all feel?

We are all very happy with the way the album turned out. The last year and a half working on felt like an eternity but it’s done and I am stoked.

How did the writing and recording for the record go? It sounds fantastic- did you self-produce or work with someone in the studio?

The album is self-produced and the recording was a multi-step and studio process.  We were lucky to work in some amazing studios with some terrific engineers.

Do you have a favorite song from the new record? Or maybe one you all love playing live in particular?

I believe I can speak for everyone when I say “Ghosts” is one of our favorites off this album to play live. And speaking for myself, “Red Lights Flash” is another one I really like playing. 

Revive Me is your third full length; what were some of the things you wanted to get done with this record- things maybe you learned from the two LPs prior?

It is actually of 2nd full length. In between the two, we released a 4 song EP.  To be honest, I always have an idea in my head on how I am going to approach something and it never works that way. There is always a curveball, an emotion, a gut feeling that pulls you a different direction. So I am trying to get better at going into something with no direction to be honest ….. we’ll see how that works out.

You are based in Oakland- are you guys all from the area and how did Year of the Fist come together?

Our lead guitarist, Katie, is the only member from the Bay Area. I am from the East Coast. Our drummer, Hal, is from the Mid-West and our bassist, Serge, is from Russia. Hal & I met on tour in different bands, I believe sometime in 2006. He lived in Washington and I was in California. Hal eventually moved down to Oakland and we started YOTF in 2011. We anticipated it being a 2 piece band but after writing the first few songs we knew that wasn’t going to be the case. I knew Katie from playing shows throughout the Bay Area,  so she jumped on board, then skip ahead 8 years, we found our bassist, Serge. We played with several bass players over the years but now I feel we have found our fit. Serge was one of us within minutes of meeting him.

Do you remember what your first experience with rock n’ roll was? Was it a show, something on the radio, a record, or a band?

I was raised in a rock n roll household so I don’t recall a 1st experience, my upbringing was the experience. As far as going to punk shows, I was living in Richmond, VA and I went to my first punk show at 12 or 13. I was immediately drawn to the energy. I was already playing guitar but after seeing a hundred punks packed into a tiny, sweaty club and feeding off the energy coming off the stage I knew I wanted to be the one on the stage.

What makes Oakland a good place for a rock n’ roll band? Is it the venues, the community?

Oakland has its ups and down with good punk venues to be honest. It seems we will have a ton of good rock venues for a few years and then it takes a nosedive for a few years. It’s tricky like that. Oakland is such a diverse city it keeps every band from being full of a bunch of white straight men. It’s a breath of fresh air.

And some of you pull double duty in multiple bands?

We sure do. Hal & I are in a 2 piece rock band called Cut-Rate Druggist while Katie has a solo project that goes by her name, Katie Cash, and a rock/funk band called Skip The Needle. Serge is the only smart one by not burning the candle at both ends.

You played a bunch of shows in July- across California and then to Nevada- what are some of the things you enjoy most about being able to play these songs live?

We just wrapped up that quick 4-day run and it was terrific. There is nothing like seeing people singing the words you wrote, seeing their body move to a particular part in a song that makes your body move the same way, to have someone tell you how much a song means to them. It is so therapeutic. It is the best shrink that I have ever had.

I used to live in Stockton; it was a tough place when I lived there. But it was always exciting to know bands stopped by (when they did)- how important it is to you guys to find new cities and towns to play in each tour?

Really? You lived in Stockton? What a small world!! 

I really enjoy playing smaller cities/towns. The crowd isn’t as jaded as big cities. I don’t mean that as an insult, hell, I am probably one of those jaded people. Living in a big city you can see awesome local and touring bands any day of the week, it gets taken for granted. When you go to a smaller city that has 2, maybe 1 rock show a month, people appreciate that you drove 4-6 hours to get there.

What are the plans for Year of the Fist for the rest of the year and beyond?

We have some light US touring in the fall along with playing FEST in Gainesville, FL. And maybe getting some rest!

Year of the Fist’s new album Revive Me is available now via Heart On Records.

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Reviews

Pretty Vicious – Beauty of Youth

Beauty of Youth is what happens when raw talent and a knack for writing great songs finds itself surviving the hype

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Pretty Vicious

The perils of industry hype and stardom have been unforgiving for many young bands. The brutal nature of the rock n’ roll whirlwind is both an inescapable thrill, and the overdose that has claimed the scalp of many. Welsh rock band Pretty Vicious are no stranger to the often destructive nature of record label glory and lofty expectations. The band members were mere teens (15-17) when they signed their mega-deal with Virgin EMI in 2015. What followed was a roller coaster ride of failed recording sessions and the burden of unmet expectations that come with signing big-money deals at such a young age. But the remarkable truth is, Pretty Vicious seem to have come out of the industry slog having survived their initial foray into the fire with an album that is quite a remarkable achievement.

Initially touted as the “next Oasis”, Pretty Vicious have thankfully shunned that tag and done away with writing the next Definitely Maybe for something more visceral. Beauty of Youth is what happens when raw talent and a knack for writing great songs finds itself surviving the hype. If Beauty Of Youth is a record signaling Pretty Vicious’ convalescence after their initial break down, then please, feed this medicine to all the bands.

There is no Oasis, but rather the furious, feverish unpredictability of rock music that we had seen with early Biffy Clyro, early Idlewild, packed with the dangerous uncertainty that came with The Libertines. It’s immediate too; from the raucous riff-heavy opener “These Four Walls” to the vagabond “What Could’ve Been”, much of the album channels frenzied palettes of distortion and beautiful noise. “Force of Nature” is a little Josh Homme, while “Someone Just Like You” is what Dave Grohl sounds like when he’s trying, but the album’s best moment is perhaps the gorgeous, slow-burning “Playing With Guns”. A song that’s composed of great wistful melodies that slowly incinerate the ears with infectious songwriting that makes Beauty Of Youth sound massive while being personal at the same time.

You can’t go past songs like “Move”, with its buzzsaw guitars and wall of energy, without thinking of all the best rock bands we’ve heard over the past decade. It’s got it all- to a T- but its urgency and hectic nature make it feel all the better. “Something Worthwhile” has got the bright lights and big stages of Glastonbury written all over it. And while their 2015 stint at the festival saw them on the “Introducing…” stage, this song is headlining main stage material.

It is quite an achievement to be as accomplished as Pretty Vicious at such a young age. Even more remarkable that they’ve survived the industry machine to release such a damn good debut album. Beauty of Youth is a composed, compelling, high energy debut that answers the question, “what became of the likely lads?”. They went on to write one of, if not the best, rock records of 2019.

(Big Machine / John Varvatos Records)

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