Transmission From the Punk Universe: A Fat Wreck

Most of us like to stay close to our immediate families. These are the people we grew up with, know the best and share the most experience. But it’s important to stay in touch with cousins and extended family as well. Likewise, we metal folk tend to get lost in our caverns of black, death, thrash and grind, forgetting the extended world of extreme music that’s informed and influenced us over the years. In other words, it’s important that we keep in touch with our cousins and ask…”But what about punk rock?*”

Earlier this year, Open-Ended Films released a documentary about Fat Wreck Chords. For anyone who got into punk rock in the mid-to-late 90s or attended Warped Tour around the same time, the label was nothing short of essential. Fat Wreck’s roster (past and present) is a greatest hits compilation of the punk-rock revival, as NOFX, Strung Out, Lagwagon, Rise Against and Against Me! have all put out releases for the San Francisco-based powerhouse. The documentary focuses on the label’s history, aided by several puppet-guided scenes to guide us along the way. Check out the trailer here:

Looks pretty cool, right? Here’s a list of upcoming screenings. For those of you who can’t make it out, the DVD will be out on November 22: pre-order it here!

And lucky for us at Decibel, our very own Greg Pratt is the head writer for the documentary. Greg was gracious enough to answer a few questions and even give us metalheads a short-list of Fat Wreck releases to enjoy!

For those of us who’ve been out of touch with punk, why make this documentary now? Has Fat Wreck reached a sort of legacy stage? Or does the punk community still view it as a cutting edge record label?

Greg Pratt: Fat Wreck Chords celebrated their 25th anniversary around the time of our movie being released, but that was just a happy accident; we’re a bunch of dudes who basically grew up appreciating what the label did and wanted to tell their story. I think if anything now is a super important time to talk about the importance of record labels and also the importance of running a record label with a firm set of ethics intact, which is what the movie is really about. It’s also, at its core, a movie about family, but not necessarily the kind you’re born into. Fat hasn’t reached a legacy stage, which is crazy; they’re still putting out super quality punk rock, and while I don’t think they’re viewed as cutting-edge by anyone, they are consistent as hell. I still check out every Fat release.

Beyond promoting the documentary, what else does the label have in store for the future?

It’s important to note that Fat had no involvement in this movie, and I’m not working for Fat. They had no creative control in the movie, and that was important to me as a journalist, as I didn’t want just a fluff piece saying how great they are. Granted, it was super hard to find anyone who had anything bad to say about the label, which is remarkable. Most bands can’t stand their record label.

Why puppets?

Jenni Cotterill from Bad Cop/Bad Cop, who are a great band on Fat, offered to do them; she’s worked on Metalocalypse so, being a metal guy, I was sold. The puppets just break things up a bit, give people something to have a chuckle over, and make the movie a bit different. Jenni did a fantastic job on them. Plus, watching puppet Fat Mike doing coke and engaging in BDSM is totally a win-win situation.

And now…presenting:

Greg Pratt’s top five Fat Wreck Chords releases that metalheads should check out.

1.) Propagandhi Potemkin City Limits
The most metal of all Fat releases is also the best; this is perhaps my favourite album of all time, any genre. A monumental document of complete despair set to a raging punk-influenced-by-thrash soundtrack, this album is basically what I envision perfect music to sound like.

2.) Lagwagon Trashed
Back when Lagwagon first hit the scene, people called them “the Iron Maiden of punk.” And this was before anyone had copped Maiden riffs in punk, and it sounded good, really good. This album holds up incredibly; the riffs are basically metal throughout (which makes sense: like Propagandhi, the dudes in this band are not shy about their allegiance to metal).

3.) Strung Out An American Paradox
The video for this album’s “Cemetery” kinda reminds me of the video for Poison’s “Fallen Angel,” and that’s no coincidence: yup, like Propagandhi and Lagwagon, dudes are heshers through and through, and the riffs and drumming on every Strung Out album make that very clear.

4.) Sick of it All Yours Truly
Fat doesn’t go to the heavy side of hardcore often, but this list is rounded out with two very good offerings; here, the NYHC legends do what they do, and I think you know what it sounds like, and I think you know if you like it or not.

5.) Western Addiction Cognicide
Really cool younger band here, California’s Western Addiction laying down a very California strain of old-school hardcore which most certainly brings to mind Black Flag. The least metallic of the albums on our list, but with a crazed energy metalheads will no doubt appreciate.

*(…what about punk rock?! ha ha ha ha!)