Fat Wreck Chords’ Most Underrated Band
Posted on September 15, 2015
September 15, 2015 | by Jonathan Diener
No Use For A Name couldn’t be a more fitting band name. To many, they were just another band stuck in the Fat Wreck Chords whirlpool in the 1990s. To me, they were a beacon floating in the waters waiting for someone to pay attention and really understand what was going on. I became a fan in the middle of the career which I consider to be their golden years. Records like Making Friends and Leche Con Carne were great, but More Betterness came out of nowhere and to me was the sonic pinnacle of their band and genre. I listened to the CD so much that I even remember where every skip was and can play air drums accordingly. That’s the band I loved. I watched them try to reinvent themselves over the years by getting catchier or to appease their older fanbase by getting angrier. During the process they made some of the coolest punk rock records all the way until vocalist/guitarist Tony Sly’s untimely death.
NUFAN made the rounds like any band of their genre. They started out aggressive and although technically they were known as a melodic pop punk band, they had a harder edge, grittier vocals and leftover metal influence from their early years as musicians. Records like The Daily Grind never really appealed to me or cleansed my sonic palette, but I understood why people clung on to them so long. It was music you could circle pit to, it was fast, it was made for movement and getting out your frustration, just like the lyrics of Tony Sly suggested. But after years of touring and songwriting it became apparent that melody, not speed, was what made the band.
One of the coolest things Tony did as a songwriter was never make the lyrics of the choruses repeat, but somehow still be memorable. He wrote stories instead of shoving words into fit blank spaces. When I was in my early teen years, More Betterness hit me like a much needed ton of bricks. The songs were about being a loner and trying to deal with confusing feelings, understanding the people you were attracted to and pretty much anything else that deals with awkward teen angst, but in a clever way. “Not Your Savior” could very well be the best song the band has ever written and in its normal or acoustic form, stands true to the test of time when great songwriting and melody come into play. I always saw it as a reminder that people are just people and you shouldn’t hold them higher than that. Just like Tony, songwriters are just like everyone else dealing with the same bullshit. It just added even more appeal to their music, knowing you could relate to them on what felt like a personal level.
Hard Rock Bottom came out right when my band The Swellers was getting together for our first ever practice. It had the melody of More Betterness but turned up the pop sensibility and was a polished, awesome record. A lot of people felt like it was too poppy compared to their older material, but it connected with us so much that we made it prime influence in our music. I still remember going to see them on the tour opening for Sum 41 and during the headliners’ set, we found the drummer Rory Koff hanging out by the merch table. I was starstruck for the first time in my life. He talked to my brother and I like we were normal people, even though we were so young, and in a roundabout way, helped me get my first drum endorsement. I will never forget meeting him, even though most people have no idea who he is. He was the guy living in my headphones teaching me to play punk rock drums and never knew it.
A few years ago we finally got a glimpse into the Fat Wreck world when we toured with Strung Out. They were another one of my favorite bands growing up. Right before the tour was when the news broke that Tony had passed away. My brother and I were really messed up, because it was the first musician that passed that we really connected with in our lifetime. The guys in Strung Out were cool enough to ask us to play some NUFAN songs with them each night. It was a double childhood dream come true, using Jordan Burns’ drum kit to play my favorite songs to people who would freak out over it. We played the House Of Blues in Hollywood and I didn’t realize I would meet all of the major players from No Use’s history, including members of the band that joined us on stage. For a second I was a part of my favorite band. I still remember smiling uncontrollably and looking over to see Fat Mike give me the nod of approval. Holy shit, that blew my mind. The Swellers always dreamed of being a part of that scene, and although it never worked out, that moment was a huge milestone for us before we broke up.
No Use For A Name continued to evolve and try new things and never gave up being a band. People grew up and moved on from their style of music, and they knew it, but they gave their diehard fans everything they wanted and more. They pushed and pushed and actually got better with age. I’ll always cite Tony Sly as one of my biggest songwriting influences and I hope people can take their blinders off and check out their discography. They were loyal to their label and they have a whole history of music you can appreciate if you feel like digging into it. There’s no use for a name when you have their music to tell the story.