JTF’s HS Jams Review — 9) NOFX “Pump Up the Valuum”

Released June 13, 2000; Produced by Ryan Greene

2003 was a chaotic, yet memorable year. I had graduated high school, lost two of my best friends, broke up with my girlfriend, was getting ready to go to college and had my Senior Beach Week plans cancelled.

Four of us were going on that trip — me and my three best friends in the world. We carefully researched hotels in Myrtle Beach that would rent out rooms to teenagers and when we found one, my mom was lovely enough to put up the deposit to make our reservation. The plan was for the four of us to each come up with our share of the trip before we left so we could repay my mom for the costs. It was perfect and we were incredibly excited. 

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And then one guy decided he’d rather go to the beach with his new girlfriend and her friends. Then another guy decided he’d rob a comic book store and be on the run from the Kingsport Police Department. That left me and ol’ Ham, and between the two of us, we just didn’t have the funds to make the trip work anymore. We were hurt, angry and confused. We also felt like we’d been robbed of something we had been looking forward to for four years. 

Fortunately, my parents were cool with bringing the two of us on vacation with them that summer (along with my sister and grandparents) and we had an incredible time. Ham and I also got the chance to go off on our own that summer when we took a trip to Charlotte, NC, for the Van’s Warped Tour.

In a billion years, I’ll never forget my first Warped. I had on my extra-long black Dickies shorts with my Misfits 20 Years of Terror t-shirt, a ball-bearing necklace and a long wallet chain. As we stood in line that morning to get into the all-day event, security began reminding everyone that weapons, outside food or drinks, spikes and, of course, chains were not allowed inside. An obese woman behind me offered to let me stuff my chain in her bra with a bunch of other illegal shit she was smuggling in and I declined. I also remember seeing a woman with a giant pink mohawk near us in line. When it was our turn to go in, I was given the option of throwing my chain in the garbage or taking it back to my car. Seeing the mile-long line of people behind me, I tossed my chain in and handed over my ticket. 

Ironically, there was a vendor set up just inside the gate who was selling spikes and chains. Whatever. 

That year we saw AFI, The Starting Line, Rancid, Pennywise, Glassjaw, The Dropkick Murphys, Andrew WK, Less Than Jake, Face to Face, Mest, Poison the Well, the Suicide Machines, the Used and a countless number of up-and-coming punk, hardcore, hip-hop, metal and indie bands. There was a giant steel ball aptly named Balls of Steel where guys on motorcycles would ride around inside and there was a booth giving out free mohawk and mullet haircuts. 

It was the middle of summer and there was little shade to speak of, so hydration was important. I drank water until the vendors sold out, then I drank juice till the vendors sold out, then I drank diet soda. And when I started drinking diet soda, I vomited in a trash can near the Used’s merch booth. I had a bag full of free swag and an AFI t-shirt I had bought a girl I had a crush on at the time. Carrying the bag in the sun, a whole day of thrashing about and then puking my guts out exhausted me so I laid down on a bank under a tree to cool down a bit when the Used’s Bert McCracken jumped over me as part of a stunt for some video he was shooting. To this day I’ve tried finding that clip to no avail.

Our day ended with an incredibly memorable meeting with the only man who parties harder than Pitbull, Mr. Andrew W.K.

I was hooked on Warped after that, so obviously I went the next year and the year after that. In 2004, I was hyped to see Anti-Flag, Taking Back Sunday, New Found Glory, Coheed and Cambria, Flogging Molly, the Vandals and most notably, NOFX.

I say “most notably” only because they’re who I wanted to see the most. NOFX are gods in the punk scene who at that point had released such classics as White Trash Two Heebs and a Bean (1992), Punk in Drublic (1994), Heavy Petting Zoo (1996), So Long and Thanks for All the Shoes (1997) and their most recent at the time, The War on Errorism (2003).

We skipped certain meet-and-greets that happened during NOFX’s time slot, fought to get a good vantagepoint and I stood patiently, excitedly awaiting the appearance of Fat Mike, Eric Melvin, Erik Sandin and El Hefe. When they hit the stage, the crowd went wild only for the guys to play a 30-minute set of epic SUCK. They were terrible. Their harmonies were bad, their setlist left a lot to be desired and they frequently poked fun at the crowd by saying they were going to play a fan favorite like The Brews or Bob and would go into something completely different. 

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised considering in 1995 they released a live album titled I Heard They Suck Live!! 

Regardless of their poor performance that day and every day forever, I’ll always love NOFX and the kind of poppy-skate-punk attitude they introduced me to. I’ll also forever be grateful for giving me my favorite NOFX record and the next album on this list.

9) NOFX — Pump Up the Valuum 

I don’t know if many of you can remember this, but I used to make videos that depicted the creation of the artwork I used to make. They were time-lapse videos of me making my weird street art/graffiti-inspired paintings usually set to music provided by one of my friends’ bands. I chose to use their music partially because I wanted to give them as much exposure as they could get — bands included Sundale, Soul Radics, Creeping Cruds, Manic Scum and Pilgrimm — but I also knew that if I was using non-licensed music (by permission, of course) then I wouldn’t have to worry about YouTube flagging me for copyright issues. But I did get dinged one time over a band called Butt Trumpet. 

Butt Trumpet was not one of my friends’ bands, though at the time I was friends with lead singer Thom Bone on Facebook. I became a fan of his band back in my O’Charley’s days when a busboy gave me a stack of CDs his roommate gave him that he didn’t like but he thought I might. The collection included Pure Rock Fury by Clutch (2001), Resident Alien by Spacehog (1995) and Primitive Enema by Butt Trumpet (1994). Primitive Enema is an 18-song punk rock powerhouse with such delightfully foul songs as Clusterfuck, Ode to Dickhead, the expletive-filled I’ve Been So Mad Lately, the heart-wrenching ballad I’m Ugly and I Don’t Know Why and hidden track Do It In the Butt

With this in mind, most would assume it would be okay for me to use music from this album — no record label would claim those tracks, right? I used Butt Trumpet’s song Funeral Crashing Tonight in my video and after a few weeks … Busted. My video’s audio track was muted by EMI – the same label that released Queen’s A Night at the Opera, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and the Forrest Gump soundtrack. As it turns out, Primitive Enema was released by Chrysalis Records, who at the time was owned by EMI Records. So why on earth would a label with such stature want anything to do with Butt Trumpet? 

After doing some research, it appears EMI/Chrysalis signed Butt Trumpet in the early 90s in the same way as the Butthole Surfers, the Jesus Lizard and the Afghan Wigs did in the 90s — record labels frantically signing the most off-the-wall alternative acts hoping to sign the next Nirvana. Not surprisingly, Butt Trumpet was not the next Nirvana, but they will live forever in infamy. 

There’s something about the punk rock sensibility that’s always been attractive to me. I’ll defend bands like Green Day and Blink 182 until the day I die, saying they never “sold out” — they just kept doing what they did and once it was easier to pay rent, they allowed the rent to be paid. Other bands — like Butt Trumpet — have the grit to say no thank you to such offers because that’s not the platform they want anyway. NOFX was one of those bands as well. 

Though NOFX had been around since 1983, they got their first taste of stardom thanks to 1994’s release Punk in Drublic — a record that got attention likely thanks to poppier-punk records released around that time like Green Day’s Dookie and the Offspring’s Smash. With no desire to do many interviews or produce music videos, NOFX decided to promote themselves the hard way and they’ve done it about as perfectly as you can imagine. 

Pump Up the Valuum kicks off with a nod to Punk in Drublic. Listening closely to the opening track And Now for Something Completely Similar, one can hear guitarist El Hefe warming up his voice in the same way he did on Punk in Drublic’s opener Linoleum. This is followed by a Linoleum rip-off riff and a short verse calling out the similarities between this song and its 1994 inspiration. NOFX have always had a self-depreciating factor and their tongue jams so far into their cheek on this opening record that it pierces the flesh — very punk rock. 

Strong Points

What’s the Matter With Parents Today? picks up where Cheap Trick’s Surrender drops off. But instead of “Mommy’s alright, Daddy’s alright,” Fat Mike is trying to let his folks know that it’s cool to be hip by his standards but at the same time, it’s hard to be rebellious when your parents are down with the very platform you’re using to rebel. So many great lyrics in this song including So please put down that rum and coke, that’s no behavior for old folkDad and mom, what planet are you from? And what convinced you to pack up and leave? — and my favorite, Mom and dad, I think you ought to quit smoking so much pot and hanging with my friends — laying ‘round on the couch with my Misfits records out, softly bangin’ your heads. I can’t help but think Mike’s parents are having a blast with it — very much like how my mom had a blast being so “hip” blasting Puff Daddy in the old Bonneville when she picked me up from football practice.

Dinosaurs Will Die is the perfect statement from a band who has made a comfortable living from being a truly independent punk band for their entire career. I love the melody of the verses as Mike sings Kick back watch it crumble, see the drowning, watch the fall; I feel just terrible about it, that’s sarcasm, let it burn! over the palm-muted rhythm guitar. Dinosaurs in this instance refers to the “old guys” in the music industry who swear that getting a record deal is the only way to be seen or have a successful career. And maybe at one point they were right, but NOFX shows they have always been ahead of their time. Releasing this song in the year 2000, who would’ve thought that music streaming would leave such a gaping wound in the record industry? Are there holes in the process where hard-working musicians are not being fairly compensated for their work as a result? Yes. But are there now more opportunities for talented bands to get their music heard without the help of a record label who wants to change them? Also, yes.

My Vagina is very childish, offensive and downright foul but it’s so catchy and funny that it has to be included on this list. It’s simply a song that depicts the greater quality of life the narrator has experienced since getting a sex change — or as he puts it, taking his “outtie” and making it “an in.” I don’t think there’s much else to say about this gem except that while it’s a bit pee-pee, poo-poo content-wise, it still holds up as a catchy pop-punk song complete with a gnarly little palm-muted intro that I love so much.

Favorite Songs

Clams Have Feelings Too (Actually They Don’t) begins with a good bit of feedback with short bursts of punk rock 101. It’s hard to beat that punk-rock drum beat — something I’m unable to play because my foot speed isn’t quite there yet (working on it!). On the topic of the music, El Hefe plays a pretty gnarly guitar solo that’s bluesy more so than shredding or scattered like so many other punk solos are. Lyrically, the song is about animal rights with Fat Mike drawing parallels between the common reasons meat-eaters are carnivorous and applying the same logic to eating people. The intention, I believe, is to make the point that humans and animals have too much in common for the usual arguments to be valid (birds are dumb with small bird brains, but so are kids and old people). However, I feel like their use of humor in the song makes the message miss the mark and I kinda love it. Here’s the second verse:

Pigs smell bad, they roll in poo — but so do kids and elderly

I don’t see you chop off an old man’s feet, put them in a Mason jar and pickle them

Valid, NOFX, but I’m laughing more than I’m crying. I love this song!

Bottles to the Ground is one of my favorite NOFX songs of all time. Musically, I love the palm-muted intro/verse section paired with a bassline that gives it a gloomy, almost foreboding sound. It’s full-on punk rock when the chorus kicks in and there’s a nice touch that you can really hear when using headphones in the crash cymbal that’s made to sound like shattering glass. Lyrically the song hits pretty hard. Having been in many situations over the years where alcohol has been someone’s crutch and seeing it do nothing but destroy a life, I see that as the meaning of the song. In the first verse, the song’s main character is by themselves as a bar closes with only the staff (the sober) watching them. By the second verse, the character has lost their relationship and their home as a result of their drinking. I’m sad to say I’ve been in that very situation before but happy to say I was the one “staying.” 

When Pump Up the Valuum came out, I was obsessed with the record’s finale, Theme From a NOFX Album. I’ve always loved going to concerts or listening to live records and hearing the band be introduced. Basically, this song goes around the stage introducing Erik (our drummer), El Hefe (not Satanic), Melvin (on six-string, who also cannot sing) and Fat Mike (obsessed with big lesbians) and tells a humorous story about them all. They’ve also brought several of their cremembers to the party including former roadies Kent and Jay, Timmy the Turtle who used to count the attendance at shows (he counts as he clicks) and former sound man Limo from Scotland. To add an additional element of interest to the song, the first three introductions are done in a folky fashion driven by an accordion before breaking into a classic NOFX skate-punk party. Hefe comes back in with a gnarly guitar solo just before a giant singalong-style outro. Limo ends the record with his own Scottish-inspired version of the chorus, done acapella style.

Pump Up the Valuum maxed out at 61 on the Billboard 200 but also charted on the US Indie charts (48), the UK’s Official Albums chart (50), the Swiss Hitparade (91), New Zealand Music Charts (27), the French National Syndicate of Phonographic Publishing charts (44), Canadian Album Chart (53) and Australia’s ARIA charts (19). 

Punk in Drublic remains the band’s only RIAA-certified record (gold) but with over eight-million records sold worldwide, NOFX is one of the most successful indie bands of all time.

Who needs a big label? 

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