Fat Wreck Chords celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. From its humble, underground beginnings in San Francisco, to being one of the most successful independent punk labels in the world, Fat Wreck has been bringing punk fans raucous party music and leftist political motivation for a quarter of a century.
Jason Hall grew up a fan of the label, went on to work at Fat Wreck headquarters for 11 years, and got signed to their roster with hardcore-influenced punk quartet, Western Addiction. Jason took his task of picking the best Fat Wreck Chords releases very seriously, basing his decisions on three criteria: they must be “start to finish” good records, significant to the history of Fat in some way and also have “special, personal meaning” to him. But the Western Addiction frontman refused to rank them in order “because that was just too painful”.
“It truly is a family,” Jason says of the label, “and these are some of the records that changed my life.”
GOOD RIDDANCE – Ballads from the Revolution (1998) “It was tough to pick just one Good Riddance record. They are one of my favorite bands on the label, and in life, and [vocalist] Russ [Rankin] is a very underrated songwriter. Their songs have great structure and they have such a wonderful balance of song styles [from melodic to hardcore]. We’ve played with them several times and the songs Slowly and Salt get me misty every time. At their final show, [NOFX frontman and Fat Wreck Chords owner, Fat] Mike and I both agreed that it’s truly incredible how many great songs they have. I’d say they have over 30 truly great tracks — and the rest are still good.”
AGAINST ME! – As The Eternal Cowboy (2003) “Against Me! was very important to the label and myself for two reasons: songwriting, and a shot at something big. I think Laura Jane Grace is an incredible songwriter and few people can do what she does. When I worked at the label — be it naiveté, youthful spirit or just a love of their music — I really thought this was the one that would hit the big time. I’m not even sure why I wanted that! I guess I just wanted them to get the success they deserved…”
LAGWAGON – Hoss (1995) “Although I think there are some great songs on here (Razorburn, Violins, etc.) this record holds more of a place in time for me. I played the hell out of it before I worked at the label and it is without a doubt, one of the Fat classics. I love [Lagwagon vocalist] Joey [Cape] so much and he was one of the first people I recognized as a ‘singer-songwriter’ — I didn’t even truly know what that meant until I met Joey. Lagwagon recently took us to Europe and it was a highlight of my life. Their music just makes people happy.”
PROPAGANDHI – Less Talk, More Rock (1996) “Like Good Riddance, it was difficult to choose just one Propagandhi record. But Less Talk, More Rock was an awakening for me, with new ideas that made me pretty uncomfortable. I’m from a small, conservative mountain town so hearing this blew my mind. My brother and I were ordering weird books from AK Press that worried our parents and I associate that record with this. On a personal note, these guys are incredible humans — I respect them. I teach my children to be open-minded, loving people because of this band. We were lucky enough to tour with them a little and it was another experience of a lifetime. I cried a little bit when [bassist/vocalist Todd] The Rod [Kowalski] sang Fuck The Border. That’s real power.”
ME FIRST AND THE GIMME GIMMES – Have a Ball (1997) “This came out right when I started working at the label and it did really well. Although they’re a cover band, there was a lot of interest in them. [They’re a supergroup comprised of NOFX’s Fat Mike, Foo Fighters’ Chris Shiflett, Joey Cape and Dave Raun from Lagwagon, and Swingin’ Utters’ Spike Slawson] They got played on the radio, during shows on HBO, had celebrities in their videos [Paris Hilton was just one of many that showed up in I Believe I Can Fly] —it was a really exciting time. I mainly associate them with absolute fun. Spike’s voice is really special. I remember dancing in the crowd with my wife at SXSW when they played at our showcase – and I don’t even dance!”
DEAD TO ME – Cuban Ballerina (2006) “[Ex-Dead To Me, One Man Army frontman] Jack [Dalrymple] is one of the most underrated singers of the entire [melodic punk] genre, past or present. It’s magic when he sings. Cuban Ballerina remains a great record from start to finish. I’m forever thankful to know [DTM bassist] Chicken and have him play in and ‘be’ Western Addiction in the early days, but the world needed to hear this record.”
NOFX – I Heard They Suck Live (1995) “I was a fan of this first [before NOFX’s other albums]. This record held mystery for me as a fan. I remember loving and being fascinated by the talking in between songs. I wondered who these people were, what they looked like, why they were so crazy-vulgar! I don’t think [Fat] Mike gets enough credit as a songwriter either. He’s a true master of vocal melody — which is really the secret of all great songs.”
STRUNG OUT – Twisted By Design (1998) “Their style of metallic-tinged punk isn’t for everyone, I know, but these guys are so good at their instruments, it’s scary. This is another Fat record that’s awesome from start to finish. I like to think I’m an objective listener, and I know this record was very, very strong at the time — and it’s stayed that way.”
SWINGIN’ UTTERS – A Juvenile Product of the Working Class (1996) “I have a special place in my heart for the Utters. They are a permanent reminder of my youth and being in San Francisco. When I saw them in one of the Peepshow [Fat Wreck compilation] videos before I worked at the label, they seemed intimidating and tough — but they couldn’t be nicer men.”
VARIOUS ARTISTS – Fat Music Vol. II: Survival Of The Fattest (1996) “I played this relentlessly before I worked at the label. I remember being very lost in college and I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life. I sat down and thought about what I really enjoyed in life — and this was prominent. It turns out, choosing what you love to do and doing it until something happens is a solid career path after all.”
**SPECIAL MENTION FROM FAT WRECK CO-FOUNDER AND CO-OWNER, ERIN BURKETT: **“I have an emotional attachment to almost everything we put out on Fat. However, the release I am most proud of is The Songs of Tony Sly: A Tribute (2013). [No Use For A Name frontman] Tony’s passing was a tragic and devastating blow to all of us, but obviously more so for his family. To be able to do something to help his family grieve and secure their future at the same time was huge. I was blown away by the response we received when we started that project. I felt such a sense of community and family. The number of bands that were willing to donate their time and artistry in honor of Tony was overwhelming. The day [Tony’s wife] Brigitte Sly called me in tears after receiving her first royalty check and told me that the money will put her girls through college was a moment I felt most proud of my amazing Fat family.”
For more information on Fat Wreck Chords, visit their official website.