"The first time I saw the Descendents, they were the fastest band I'd ever seen. No one in the crowd really cared for them, we were waiting for the Ally Cats to play."
So begins the song "13 Stitches" by NOFX. Interestingly enough, I was introduced to The Descendents under similar circumstances to those Fat Mike describes in his song, though in my case it was ten or fifteen years later, and the band was performing together for the first time in almost a decade.
The first time I saw The Descendents was at a small club in lower Manhattan called The Wetlands. I was seventeen at the time. Two or three years prior, Rancid, and to a lesser degree Green Day, completely changed my opinion of what good music was and what it should be. I became a punk rocker, or at least as much of a punk rocker as a middle class suburban high school kid can be. So, along with a small group of friends, I was insanely interested in anything that I'd heard was considered punk.
We found the easy ones, The Pistols, The Ramones, Bad Religion, etc. fairly quickly, and then began devouring the lesser known bands. Naturally, our focus was skewed towards the bands of the early and mid-nineties, i.e. the bands we could go see every week. In that regard, there were few bands out there that we liked more than New Jersey's own, The Bouncing Souls. The reason we were at the Wetlands that night when I first heard The Descendents, was that the Souls were opening.
As I said, we were into anything that we thought was punk, whether we had heard it or not. My friend Skatt (his name was Scott, but he was really into Ska&do the math) was so sure that he'd like The Descendents, a band we'd been told was a major influence on Green Day, NOFX and countless others, that he bought two of their CDs before they came on that night. He spent the whole ride home trying to convince the rest of us to buy the CDs from him because he didn't think that they were that good.
I'm a little embarrassed to admit it, but if Fat Mike can do it, I can too&that night in December of 1996, I didn't think The Descendents were anything special. I adamantly refused Skatt's offer, and laughed at him for most of the trip for being stuck with a CD by such a lame band&.what a pair of fucking losers we were.
Anyway, a bit of time went by, about four months or so, and the good people at Epitaph sent me a promo copy of the new Descendents disc, their first in something like 7 years. The album was called Everything Sucks, and in preparing to write a review of it in the zine I used to do back then, I thought of the brilliant line, "Everything Sucks including the new Descendents disc." It was perfect, and I fucked the whole thing up by listening to the album before writing the review.
The album was absolutely brilliant. It sounded like Green Day and Hagfish (a band I loved, who unbeknownst to me were produced and recorded by members of The Descendents) and the lyrics were so applicable to my life that it was as if I had wrritten them. I couldn't believe it was the same band I had seen a few months earlier.
That afternoon, I sat on the bleachers along the third base line of my school's softball field, and watched my best friend and future girlfriend play her game. I listened to Everything Sucks in its entirety, five times in a row.
After the game, I went home and sent an e-mail to my contact at Epitaph professing my love of the record. She wrote back the next day, and said that the band was playing in NYC the next month, and that if I wanted to, not only could I go, I could interview the band.
"Never did a popular thing&
Couldn't sell out a phone booth&
The proud&The Few&The Descendents"
The long and winding road that is the history of The Descendents starts twenty-six years ago in the year of Our Lord, Nineteen Hundred and Seventy Eight, when the Los Angeles-based trio released the 7' single, Ride The Wind. Shortly afterwards, the man who would become the lynch-pin member of the band the "honors-class geek cum heartthrob" Milo Aukerman joined on vocals.
In 1981, the band released the Fat EP, and followed it the next year with what many (including the band according to their web site) consider the quintessential Descendents album, Milo Goes To College. The album was nowhere near a commercial success, nor would I assume it was intended to be, but was popular in local record stores and received a favorable review in the Los Angeles Times which called it "perfect for the little guy who was ever called a nerd and never got the girl." Following the Milo Goes to College album (big surprise coming up here), Milo left the band and headed off to college. There would be no Descendents albums for the next three years. An interesting side note, during that hiatus, drummer Bill Stevenson joined the mighty Black Flag. Bill toured extensively with the band and played on, amongst other things, the My War album, which many consider to be the band's best (it's also one that others completely despise).
In 1985, Milo and Bill returned to the Descendents, and began what remains to this day the most productive period in Descendents history. Adhering to the self-styled philosophy of ALLness, the need to be faster, stronger and better, the band released three studio albums between '85 and '87. I Don't Want to Grow Up (1985), Enjoy (1986), then in 1987 after a line-up change that brought Karl Alvarez and Stephen Egerton into the fold, the band released All. The album laid out the philosophy of All, and nowhere was this more apparent than on the track All-O-Gistics , where the band lays out the commandments of All including "Thou shalt not partake of decaf.", "Thou shalt not have no idea." and "Thou shalt always go for greatness."
After the All album and extensive touring, which yielded the live discs, Liveage and Hallraker, Milo decided that it was time for him to return to the world of higher education and biochemistry. With Milo's departure, The Descendents went on hold for almost a decade . . . sort of.
"Thou shalt not allow anything to
deter you in your quest for ALL!"
The other members of The Descendents were faced with a decision when Milo left the band. Logic dictates that they could either break up or get a new singer. Bill, Karl and Stephen chose a third option . . . both. The Descendents ended with Milo's departure, but the rest of the band remained together, and along with ex-Dag Nasty vocalist Dave Smalley formed a new band aptly titled, All.
Unlike The Descendents, All would not end due to line-up changes. Smalley left the band after a few albums including Allroy Sez and Allroy for Prez, and was replaced by Scott Reynolds. Reynolds sang on the next half dozen or so All albums including Allroy's Revenge, and Trailblazer. When Reynolds tenure ended, Chad Price stepped in, and has remained the band's vocalist ever since . . . sort of.
In 1996, after nine years of biochemical fun, Milo returned to punk rock and initiated the rebirth of The Descendents. The band entered their studio, The Blasting Room in Ft. Collins, Colorado, and created arguably the best album of their career, Everything Sucks. A full scale tour followed that release.
Then before the punk scene knew what hit it, Milo returned to the other half of his duel life, Chad came back, and All continued as if nothing had happened. Over the next seven years, All toured relentlessly, and along with a greatest hits package, and a live album, they released two new studio discs, Problematic and Mass Nerder.
The final chapter of The Descendents' history to date came earlier this year when once again Milo returned and the band recorded an EP along with their latest album, Cool To Be You for Fat Wreck Chords, the record label operated by Fat Mike of NOFX.
May 16, 1997
Contrary to assurances by our contacts at Epitaph (the band's label at the time) that everything was all set, Buscrash Fanzine (the typo and rage-fueled underground magazine that I, along with my ever enigmatic co-conspirator Lee, published from 1996-1998) almost never got to interview The Descendents. We arrived on time at the Roseland Ballroom, which, while it was considered an intimate club venue when the Rolling Stones played there, was considered a gigantic club that was usually a stepping stone for a band selling out by us. Once inside, we began our quest to talk with the band.
We spoke to at least a half dozen people about the fact that we were scheduled to interview the guys, but were flippantly dismissed by one after the next. We never gave up&remember, thou shalt not allow anything to deter you in your quest for ALL, and finally we found a sympathetic security guard that was willing to grab someone with an all-access pass (which our VIP passes and my photo pass were apparently not) and send them down to the band with a copy of our zine which had a hastily scribbled plea for help on the cover.
After about twenty minutes, the band's tour manager came out, and ushered us backstage to meet the band in their dressing room where we did the following interview with Bill Stevenson and later, Milo Aukerman.
MD: The first thing we usually ask bands is to give us a quick history but we think all of our readers really know the history of The Descendents, so could you start with history of the band since the start of the reunion, and tell us why you guys decided to get back together?
BS: Ok well, we were pretty much all together already as the band ALL, so it was pretty much just a case of Milo wanting to get back into playing with us, and us just making a little room for him. We really have two bands you know. The Descendents with Milo singing and All with Chad singing. After we get done with this tour, we're going to go back into the studio with Chad and do a new All album and then we'll do another Descendents album with Milo singing and on and on. SO it isn't really a reunion, it's just us doing our thing. We've been keeping pretty busy with All. We've made a lot of records over the years.
MD: Well, since most people are calling it a reunion, and it is the first time in nine years that this band is playing together, how do you feel about the fact that people seem generally excited about seeing you guys while most folks reacted negatively to bands like The Sex Pistols or The Circle Jerks coming back?
BS: Well, it's kinda like what I was just saying a minute ago. Anyone with half a brain knows that this isn't just some cheesy punk reunion. It's just us doing the same thing we've been doing the past nine years, only Milo's back with us hanging out. You know, people hear the new record and know it's a good record. They know we're a good band, and we're not just out here trying to make money off of punk rock. I've been doing this since everyone here tonight was in diapers (Mike: actually, he's been doing it since before I was born). We're not evil-doers or whatever, and everybody knows that. I mean these bands that are coming back, they don't even make a new record, and if they do, how good is it? Know what I mean.
MD: Well your new record is great.
BS: Yeah! It's one of our best albums. The new one and Milo Goes to College&and I like Allroy's Revenge and Pummel (the latter pair are All albums). Those are my four favorite things we've ever done. I don't think anyone's got much to complain about as far as we're concerned. I'm really happy with it.
MD: I noticed that on the new album, a lot of the songs were written by band members other than Milo, and the songs he wrote, he wrote alone. Does that mean that some of the new songs were going to be new All songs and just became Descendents songs when Milo came back?
BS: Ahh, that's a pretty complex question. Let's deal with the songwriting first. We've always had four people writing songs. Milo was never like the main songwriter. He might not have even been an equal quarter-song writer. I was always the main songwriter, and I possibly could still be considered that, although Karl has been writing more and more over the years. On this record, you have a situation where we each wrote about a quarter of the material roughly, and that's pretty typical for us. Really, whether we're calling ourselves The Descendents or All, that's how we do it. You know, it's not an exact fourth. It's not like we measure it out. Everyone brings their songs and we kind of vote through em and figure out which ones will go on the record.
As far as the stuff that we three wrote and the stuff that Milo wrote, and the timeframe of it, there's not a set thing there. Some of the songs we wrote were six months old and some of them were two years old. Some of the songs that Milo wrote were six months old and some of his were like three or four years old. When we write songs it's not like 'oh, well here's an All song'. It's just, well here's a song we can do.
For this record, we all got together and at that time we had like 35 songs because we had some and Milo had some and Chad had some. So we all just voted through em and said, Okay, let's put these sixteen on the record. These are the ones we want. It's the kind of thing where everybody just contributes.
MD: I was reading something about how Milo and Chad got together to figure out which songs they each wanted to do.
BS: Yeah, it was before we went in to record. We had the 35 songs like I said, and we figured the best way to decide which would be Descendents songs and which would be All songs would be to let those two pick em. So Milo picked all the ones he wanted to do, and Chad picked all the ones he liked. Then when we started practicing, they ended up trading a few because a couple weren't in Milo's range or whatever. We don't really have a dividing line between the bands. It's kind of a cooperative duality.
MD: That's interesting. Changing gears a little, how's the tour going?
BS: Well, we've been out for a long time and it's a bit grueling, but it's fun you know, being out on the road. The idea of it is cool. Going out there and playing your music to a bunch of new people. It's such a great thought on the surface. Then you scratch below the surface and you're sitting around going&.well okay, do I wanna get three hours of sleep every night and do I wanna drive 500 miles a day, and all sorts of other issues. Touring has it's good points and it's bad points.
MD: So obviously the highlight is when you're on stage. Is there anything you like playing more, like the older stuff or the new stuff?
BS: Well, we try to work through 70 or 80 songs in practice before we go out on tour. They might be old or new or whatever. We play All songs as well as Descendents songs, and the other way around when it's an All tour. We just do whichever ones we think are cool. Then before we play each night we just make up a song list out of the ones we chose. So when we're up there, they're all kinda favorites at one point or another, I don't really have a favorite song, or even a favorite genre of song. Personally, I think we just have a lot of pretty good stuff.
At this point in the interview, Lee and I bowed our heads and admitted that we thought our interview would be with Milo, and that the rest of our questions were geared towards him. Bill was cool with that, and called him over for us. He told him that we had a few questions, and Milo sat down with us and said&.
MA: Biochemistry sucks. School sucks. No, I'm just kidding.
MD: Well since you mentioned it&being that biochemistry and punk rock are your two passions, do you have some way of relating one to the other?
MA: No actually. They don't really relate to each other at all. I've never really tried to link them. I just kind of alternate between the two. They're really different, and usually when I'm doing one, I'm sitting around going, wow this is a lot different from the other thing. The thing is that neither one of them is really 100% me. That's why I do em both. I get a little chunk of satisfaction from each.
MD: So how do you decide when it's time to do one or the other? What made you come back this time?
MA: Well, I had just written some songs. I hadn't written anything in a while, and just having written a few songs, it just puts me in that state of mind. It's like a drug. When it gets in your blood, all you want to do is do it more. That's the way music has always been with me. The reason I hadn't done it in so long was just that I was so focused on science. I felt like in order to really do my science and have it be something that I was really satisfied with, I had to kind of get away from music because like I said, it's kinda like a drug. Once you start doing it, you become obsessed with it, and it's really all you want to do.
MD: So, now that you're obsessed with it, is science indefinitely on hold?
MA: No, not really. We're playing the Warped Tour this summer, but then I have to write a paper for publication. Then I'll take a vacation. I'm going to Disneyland.
BS: YOU'RE GOING TO DISNEYLAND!?!?!?
MA: Yeah, then I have to look for a job.
MD: So this sorta-reunion is coming to a close soon?
BS: Well yeah. We're gonna be out the rest of this month, and then we'll be out some of July and August. Then in September we'll take a short break, and in October we'll start recording a new All album.
MD: Cool. I guess that about covers it. Thanks for talking with us.
BS: Hey thank you for doing the interview, and for the free magazines. I like this magazine. It's pretty cool. (For the Buscrash historians out there, the issue we gave the band, which Bill was speaking of, would be Buscrash Vol. 2, #2).
"Look at how far we've come, and still we always come undone. Maybe that's how it always has to be." from Talking, the opening track on the new Descendents album.
Judging strictly from Bill's answers eight years ago, I would imagine he's as surprised as I am that 2004's Cool To Be You album, which was easily one of the best albums of the year, was only the second Descendents album in 17 years!
The concept of switching off between Milo and Chad fairly frequently seems to have gone by the wayside. A more accurate picture of the Descendents/All game plan probably looks like this: Chad and the rest of All will make three or four albums over the next decade or so, and then like a tornado, Milo will swoop in, kick everyone's ass for one brilliant record and vanish.
It seems that this time around, there isn't even going to be a tour with Milo for the new album&hey, when plant DNA calls, you answer. Don't worry about Bill though, it seems he's keeping busy as ever. Now, in addition to All and The Descendents, Bill is in a third band called Only Crime with members of Hagfish, Good Riddance and other bands you've heard of. Three bands may seem like a lot, but when you're known to drink 18 pots (that's right pots) of coffee, I guess you have to find things to do.