Nomads frontman Mike (just “Mike” — the band purposely cultivates an air of anonymity) recalls a time when he was touring Poland with an old band of his. “This guy came up to me and said, 'My friend wants to fight you.'” Mike was ready to go. Then the Polish man explained: It wasn't a physical fight his friend was interested in. It was a rap battle. Instead of fighting, “We just decided to get totally fucked up.”
It's a story that perfectly encapsulates Mike — and by extension, his band. It's very fashionable to talk about how you “don't give a fuck” these days. Mike doesn't need to say it. He lives it. And in translating his life into a band, he has given L.A. punk rock an updated version of N.W.A.
For four years, Nomads, who call themselves “outlaw punx,” have built a rabid fan base while remaining enigmatic. They don't bother to invent phony noms des punk. First names will do. Their merch eschews the band's name in favor of a stark, high-contrast skull with a bullet hole.
Mike formed Nomads with friends from other hardcore bands to play a more punk-rock sound. “I wanted to play what I liked when I was 15,” he says, sitting in a Hollywood diner with Ryan, Nomads' guitar player and a friend of Mike's from back in Boston.
Mike notices that his straw is fused shut at one end. Rather than calling a waitress for another, he nonchalantly pulls out a knife and cuts the end off. Smiling, he reveals a gold grill reading “FUCK COPS,” which he proudly purchased at the Slauson Indoor Swap Meet.
The “outlaw punx” label isn't one they came up with on their own. A distributor selling their records first used it. “That made sense,” Mike says. “At the end of the day, there's regular people and there's fucking outlaws. We live outside the rules and the way society wants you to be.”
Nomads make a furious noise onstage. Playing in a punk-rock style known as “d-beat,” named after genre progenitors Discharge, Nomads churn out a wall of noise underneath Mike's hate-filled, hoarse screaming. A cousin of powerviolence, the d-beat sound boils punk rock down to its barest essentials: a galloping drumbeat, heavily distorted guitars, sloganeering lyrics and shouted vocals.
Nomads first garnered attention in the Los Angeles punk underground with relentless gigging. For a while, they often played every weekend, or multiple times in a single week.
“We slowed it down,” says Mike, who notes that over the last six months the band has played about once a month. The new focus is on playing quality shows rather than getting a lot of gigs. Sets clock in at about 12 minutes, leaving audiences stunned and wondering what the hell just happened.
Mike is a madman onstage, but not in the mold of punk showmen such as Iggy Pop or GG Allin. Rather, he grips the mic and shouts so hard that you wonder what kind of damage he's doing to himself. It's no wonder their sets are so short. It's hard to imagine anyone being able to maintain his intensity for very long.
“I'm not a very angry person,” Mike says, and indeed, he's not. He looks rough around the edges, covered in tattoos from head to toe. He might appear scary to the average yuppie, but he's friendly, personable and outgoing. There's a youthful exuberance about him that contrasts with his angry music. “I think Nomads helps. I get to just hate everyone for 12 minutes and it's over.”
He doesn't understand why more people don't use music as therapy. “You don't go to a shrink, you talk to your friends. Even better, yell at them. Start a band.”
Lyrically, the band eschews political content in favor of the personal. “Most of the time when you go to a show, you're dealing with a moron telling you what the world should be like,” Mike says. Nomads aren't about what the world should be like but rather what the world is. “I mostly write about what I know. Drugs and bad shit. I like to tell stories. The hard part is in the past,” he says, admitting to a onetime problem with pills. “I was sick for, like, two weeks. It was so crappy. I'm not going through that again.”
“I don't like laws. I'm an outlaw and cops are the fucking enemy.”
While Nomads aren't as brand-obsessed as scene-mates ACxDC, they do have a keen, intuitive sense of how to market themselves as a dangerous, underground punk band. The band's logo, a skull with a bullet hole in it, was one of 6,000 or so images Mike plowed through before he found the right one. “I just searched for 'skull with a bullet hole,'” he says. “But I wanted that one.”
The provocative imagery goes beyond just spooky symbols. One T-shirt bears the slogan “No Law Like No Law.” Another displays a figure with the band's iconic skull logo slitting a police officer's throat. On the Nomads Instagram page, Mike rocks a half-face mask that could be worn onstage or in a riot.
“I don't like rules. I don't like laws. I'm an outlaw and cops are the fucking enemy,” Mike says. It's not a new development. “I've hated cops since I was a kid. It's been ingrained in my head ever since I can remember.”
Recent Nomads shirts don't even feature the name of the band, just the skull symbol, making them more a form of guerrilla marketing than traditional band merch. “They'll figure it out if they need to,” Mike says.
Taking a page from the Black Flag playbook, the band has started a DIY campaign to get its stickers all over the Greater L.A. area. The stickers read: “Fuck the police, their friends & families, sympathizers, cop callers & anyone not willing to choose a side,” accompanied by the bullet-hole skull logo.
It's not exactly subtle, but nothing about Nomads, or Mike, is.
“Everyone will write 'ACAB' and sort of beat around the bush,” he says, referencing the acronym used by punks and skinheads meaning “All Cops Are Bastards.” “Sometimes people just don't get to the fucking point. If you're going to say something, be as flagrant about it as possible.”
The stickers have turned up in L.A. on everything from mailboxes to police parking spots, but Mike also has done what he can to get them all over the world, including Europe, Mexico and Australia. “They must really hate cops in Australia, because they're all over down there.” When you put in an order with Nomads for merch, Mike will throw in 50 stickers. Send him two bucks for postage and you're going to get a stack of 200.
“I'm an extreme person, so if I think something, I'm going to say it times 1,000,” he says. It's clear he's not just talking about stickers. “People can like us or they can hate us. I just hope they feel something. I'm just doing me. The whole point is to get people to listen.”
While the band's imagery is revolutionary, Mike's goals for the band are far more pragmatic and already partially accomplished. He originally said he wanted to play with The Exploited, Motörhead and Extreme Noise Terror. With an ENT tour recently completed, that leaves just two bands to go. After that, would Nomads just break up?
“Sure. Might as well,” Mike says.
“Game over. We won,” Ryan agrees.