INTERVIEW: NOFX drummer Erik “Smelly” Sandin

INTERVIEW: NOFX drummer Erik “Smelly” Sandin

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Photo: Ben Garcia

LOS ANGELES, April 8, 2016 — NOFX has been a punk band for over 33 years. During that time, they have become known as much for their drug use, partying, and on and off stage shenanigans as they have for their quality of music. And while many might expect a NOFX book to be filled with humor and non-stop hilarity, that couldn’t be further from reality. In a new book titled, NOFX – The Hepatitis Bathtub and Other Stories, which was written by NOFX with Jeff Alulis, the band opens up to tell some of their darkest stories about their lives, including molestation, rape, drug addiction, death, disease, and Courtney Love. Sure, there is some humor, but overall, the book is loaded with sadness. It is amazing that from the ashes of all of their lives a band like NOFX could not only rise, but continue to thrive. A few weeks ago, drummer Erik Sandin took some time to speak with Wells On Music regarding the book.

Interview transcribed by Rebecca Jean

It seems like so many drummers these days kind of opt for the double pedal instead of figuring out how to do a single pedal faster, do you feel that the single pedal drummer is gonna die off with guys like you and Byron and a few others?

I never thought about that but, I don’t think it will die off. The thing about the double pedal, it just sounds so mechanical. It doesn’t have any natural flow to it, you know? That’s one thing that I noticed about the double pedal when they did a beat, like it’s just so stiff, but there’s plenty of guys that can do it with one foot.

In the book you mentioned emulating RKL is what helped improved your foot speed could you talk about that a little bit?

Well, there’s RKL and Bad Brains. Those guys all had really, really, really fast feet. Even Don Bolles from the Germs had a really fast foot and put his patterns in interesting places and it just caught my attention. man. I was like, “What? That’s bad ass!” I guess it was the equivalent of a guitar player hearing Eddie Van Halen or some shredder guy do his stuff. So, it just caught my attention. It wasn’t just some guy back there just playing a beat, it was actually adding a lot musically to it. That’s what caught my attention and Bomber was just out of control, he was so f**king good.

While you were in the process of developing into one of the fastest punk drummers, you were also heavily addicted to heroin. How is that even possible?

I have no f**king clue, that is a good question. And I never practiced ever. I think it maybe it just had something to do with [the fact] that I started playing drums back in ‘81 maybe or something like that. I started getting strung out in ‘86 or something like that, but I was still learning just the ropes of drumming and what it meant. I was still playing often, I just wasn’t practicing. I was just kind of coming into my own for whatever reasons. I was just getting used to it. It’s a good question, I don’t really have a definitive answer because I never practiced. It just kind of happened.

When you were actually writing the book how hard was it for you to open up for your parts? Were you kind of prodded to divulge more information than you initially had been willing to share or thought you were gonna share?

No, because I’ve come to terms with a lot of the stuff. What was hard for me is my dad and I are now super close in the last few years. We’re just friends, there’s no father-son relationship, but we’re like friends now and as hard as he is, he’s the reason why he’s so f**king hard and like a hard guy is, he’s super sensitive and his childhood was absolutely f***ing horrific. So, he’s so sensitive that the hard part for me is not wanting to hurt him with those words about how I felt about my childhood because I’m really concerned that it will really really hurt him really badly and I don’t want my words to hurt him because we’ve made freakin so much progress in the last few years with my daughter and stuff like that coming into the picture that I’m really afraid that it will hurt him and that it will damage him. My mom said she actually read part of it and she had tears in her eyes and she goes, “You can’t show this to your father. It will kill him.” I was like, “Oh s**t.” Then I didn’t know how to approach him with it, so all I said was, “Hey, dad, there’s some stuff in the book that you probably won’t like, but it all comes around in the end, it all ties up in the end to where it’s a really beautiful thing.” But I know that he’ll focus way more on the negative than on the positive, so I have a strong feeling he’s not gonna read it. My mom told him that he’s not allowed to read it and he called me up the other day he said, “Yeah, I don’t think I’m gonna read this book,” after he read my excerpt.Hep

How does that make you feel? Because you kind of talk to him in the book. Does it bother you that he’s not gonna read it?

No, I don’t want him to read it because I don’t want to hurt his feelings. I mean, I know what the truth is and I know how it affected me and stuff and it doesn’t do him any good to read the book.

How long did it take you to actually write your parts for the book?

There were like five years of interviews, there were probably like 30 or 40 hours of interviews. I didn’t actually write it, but there was a lot a lot of interviews.

For the actual writing process it seemed like there were parts where you guys would hear what the person before you just said and react to that, would they play you the parts of what other guys were saying?

No, there was never any playing back and forth, I think they cross referenced a few questions and I got a few phone calls of like, “Hey, this happened. How do you remember it?” But it was never like playing us back and forth it was all pretty much straight forward. Like the questions, when the book was being written, the questions would just come up and then by me answering the question that would lead to another question and that would lead to another question it had a flow to it wasn’t like set up questions.

I was going into the book thinking that a good portion of it was gonna be a lot about Fat Mike and Eric Melvin doing drugs just because of the recent years and how open all of that stuff has been, but a much larger portion of the book is you being the one doing the majority of the drugs. Have you talked to people who have read it and felt the same or didn’t know? I knew that you were sober, so I just figured you were an alcoholic, but I never knew the whole backstory about any of that stuff. So for me, a lot of that stuff was a shock.

I think people expect this book to be kind of funny and light hearted like we did a Q&A at SXSW and I think the people that read it expected it to be funny and light hearted and just whatever, but it’s kinda dark. It’s kind of a heavy book with humor involved, obviously. So for me, my story is nothing new. It’s been out there, I’ve talked about it, but I’ve never told like specific stories. I mean, yeah, everybody knows that I was f**ked up on heroin or a lot of people do and all that s**t. Not many people read it, I’ve only seen one copy of the book. So there hasn’t been a whole lot of reaction about it, but when we did the Q&A, the guy did say that the book’s really dark and a lot of it is based around my story. I don’t know what people’s reactions are gonna be to it quite yet because it’s not really out.

Yeah, I was probably like three-fifths of the way through thinking,
Fat Mike hasn’t even started doing drugs yet and this is one of the gnarliest books I’ve ever read.”

Yeah, Mikes shit is all in his adulthood, like he didn’t grow up all f**ked up and all that kind of s**t, like he got rich and famous first then decided to do it.

In the book it says that songs like “Moron Brothers” and “Johnny Appleseed” were about you and a few others, but at the time did you know the songs were being written about you and how did you feel about it?

Yeah, I knew that they were written about me and Mike was like this f**king nerdy kind of college kid that never did anything. I think he was living vicariously through me. He’s like, “Oh, f**king Smelly you’re so punk, you do this crazy s**t,” It’s almost like he wanted to be this dude that he wasn’t. So I knew that he was writing songs about me and then after I got sober, he wrote songs about me too and on the new record there’s a song about me. I think he was just living vicariously, it was just good subject matter because I was a f**king idiot…really good subject matter.

Having been clean and sober have you already worked through all your demons or was it hard to kind of reopen all the stuff again?

I’ve worked through the majority of it there was some stuff from like talking about it in the interviews that kind of reopened some stuff and made me realize some other stuff, but I had come to terms with the majority of everything. I was close to 20 years sober when this book started getting written and I was pretty diligent about my recovery. so it was me just more like sharing my story of what really happened. Melvin revealed a lot of personal stuff that nobody really knew about, like s**t that he never told anybody. So he actually had to dig in and actually say, “Okay, I’m gonna bite the bullet and put this out there.” My stuff had already kinda been out there. Plus I had already been like talking at AA meetings and stuff so I’ve shared this stuff before.

What were you most surprised to learn while reading the book? Was the Eric Melvin stuff the most shocking?

Me and Melvin have talked about his stuff a long, long, long time ago, but it was really brief. I didn’t hear any details, so the details of that were pretty heavy. So, yeah, I’m probably gonna say that.

Has the book brought you guys together after reading everyone’s perspective on the different stages of the band?

No, it brought us together in the sense that it was a thing we’ve done, but we’ve always been pretty tight as individuals. So with that being said. it’s not like it healed any wounds in the band or opened any doors of communication that have never been opened before because we’ve always been pretty open.

In the book, you guys mentioned that you had to have a talk with Mike regarding his drug and alcohol use while playing. Where do you guys stand now, have you found the happy medium that satisfies everyone or do you think there’s still some more work to be done?

In like the last year or so, he’s been playing better, but it still worries me. There’s nights when he’s out of his f**king mind or he’s been up all night and I’m like, “Dude, we got a f**king show,” but at this stage, it’s like I’m just more worried about him as person than music and stuff.

Has it been weird being on the other end of the drugs for 20 years? Like before you were one of the main addicts in the band and now you’re just watching it happen.

Yeah, but it’s a different level of drug addiction. Mine was really dark and self destructive and suicidal. Heroin for a kid that has no money leads to a lot of really f**king bad things. Mike has money, he has people around him. Cocaine is kind of a social thing, so it’s a different situation. And I didn’t really like coke that much, so yeah, it’s weird being on this end, but it’s not like there’s a reflection of myself in those guys.

There’s footage of you guys from SXSW playing a song about Tony Sly, what is the song called and is that gonna be on the new record?

Yes, it is gonna be on the new record, I’m not sure what it’s called. That’s all I know. It’s recorded. it’s definitely recorded and done.

Do you have any idea when the album will be coming out?

They just started mixing it today so I don’t know. It depends on how long the mixes take, probably a week and then the artwork and blah blah blah. I would probably say around beginning of Summer but don’t hold me to that i’m just guessing.

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