ERIK SANDIN  -  DRUMMING UP TROUBLE WITH NOFX

IF IT WEREN’T FOR PUNK, Erik Sandin might not have played drums—or any instrument at all. But in 1981 his neighborhood punk band needed a drummer, so 15-year-old Erik became one. Two years later, he and two Los Angeles friends formed NOFX, which would go on to become one of the most successful and long-running punk bands ever.
“Punk really spoke to me,” Sandin recalls. “I grew up with my dad blaring classic rock, so music was in my bones. But nothing from my own generation spoke to me until I heard punk rock. It was raw. It was angry. It had energy and angst. It was everything that I was.”

Erik entered the LA punk scene during its second phase. Many of the original groups had folded, and tougher, less arty bands predominated. “Musically, it had gotten a little more meat-headed,” he says. “It was real angry and aggressive. But because I grew up a troubled kid, it really spoke to me. I liked the scariness and aggression, the volatility.”

Yet “meat-headed” doesn’t exactly describe Erik’s evolving drum style. “At the beginning I was trying to show off,” he admits. “I did lots of rolls and threw triplets in where they didn’t belong. It was really sloppy-sounding, so I eventually went back to a more AC/DC style: Just play the beat and let the music do the talking. I never made a conscious choice to get tighter.”

“NOTHING FROM MY GENERATION SPOKE TO ME UNTIL I HEARD PUNK ROCK. IT WAS RAW. IT WAS ANGRY. IT HAD ENERGY AND ANGST. IT WAS EVERYTHING THAT I WAS.”

eric-smallBut he did. Erik’s playing steadied, and he acquired the ability to play skittering sixteenth-note hi-hat and speedy kick patterns even at NOFX’s light-speed tempos. “My kick technique came along by accident,” he says. “I realized that if I scuffed my foot on the floor—like when you’re a kid scuffing your foot on a linoleum floor so it squeaks—I could play fast, rapid-fire parts. I took that technique and went with it, and over time it got more and more solid.”

Sandin plays a four-piece Yamaha Absolute Hybrid Maple kit. “I’d never owned a new drum kit ‘til we made our first chunk of money in 1992,” he says. “I went out and bought a Yamaha Absolute Hybrid Maple kit, and to this day it’s my favorite drumset, though Yamaha is building me another one right now. I love the warmth of the drums, and the way tones feel like actual notes when the drums are perfectly tuned. They sing to me.”

Erik opts for a 22"x17" kick. “It’s a little shallow,” he notes, “but I like its punch. I also have a 14"x6" snare, a 12" tom, and a 16" floor tom. I wouldn’t know what to do with more than two toms!”

Sandin says he honed his skills by gigging, touring and recording. “I’m not much of a practicer,” he says. “We played our first show in four months the other day, and I practiced for about 30 minutes before it. I have friends who spend two hours a day playing, no matter what. But I don’t have a lot of drive like some people do. In other words, I’m lazy.”

The band’s recording sessions are equally off-the-cuff. “When we record,” says Erik, “I’m learning the songs on the fly. Our singer writes them, like, the week we record. He comes in and shows them to me in about 10 minutes, and then we start rolling.”

NOFX has never been signed to a major label—a deliberate choice on the band’s part. “We got courted really hard,” says Erik, “especially around the time Green Day was getting really big. But we knew it would be a bad move for us because we’re not good enough! Our singer’s not a good enough singer. None of us are cute like the Green Day and Blink 182 guys. And if we’d signed with a major label, it would have undermined the credibility we’d earned by doing things one foot in front of the other, the blue-collar way.”

But for all Sandin’s talk of “laziness” and “not good enough,” NOFX remains a passionate and explosive live act. Erik says it’s because the band never lost sight of its original motive for playing: “Lots of bands started to get famous and rich. We did it for fun, and we still feel that way. We’re still good friends, and we still love playing.”

And for that, Erik is grateful. “I’m not very smart,” he says. “I didn’t have much of an education. If it weren’t for this music, I’d be a plumber with my dad, digging ditches. So it’s real easy for me to stay grounded!”