Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?! – Descendents
In Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?!, we quiz an artist on their own career to see how much they can remember – and find out if the booze, loud music and/or tour sweeties has knocked the knowledge out of them. This week: frontman Milo Aukerman and drummer Bill Stevenson
1Who once said: “If Descendents had made [your 1982 debut album] ‘Milo Goes to College’ in 1999, they’d be living in mansions”?
Milo Aukerman: “That’s probably Dave Grohl.”
Bill Stevenson: “I don’t agree with Dave’s comments. Our stuff doesn’t have the same mass appeal as a lot of ‘90s mall-punk bands did. We were different to that.”
Milo: “I felt like we were a quirky band trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, never quite fitting in. And we still don’t fit in – it’s just that we’ve made some music that’s influenced other bands. When I met Dave Grohl backstage at a Foo Fighters show, we had a mutual admiration society going on. He said: ‘You got me through high school!’, and I replied: ‘Dave, you got me through grad school!’”.
The album artwork features the Milo cartoon character [depicting Aukerman as a nerd] which became a mascot for the band…
Milo: “When I’m trying to think of ideas for the band, I try to put myself in that character’s shoes: what stupid thing is he going to do now? The whole thing started as a friend from high school drawing it as a way of poking fun at me, so not only does it give us creative ideas for songs, it also knocks me down a few notches and keeps me honest!”
2Which West London indie band covered your song ‘Hope’ for Calm’s Torch Songs campaign in 2016?
Bill: “Oh fuck! I’ve got nothing. Generation X?”
Milo: “I usually try to keep tabs on these things, but I guess that one slipped past me.”
WRONG. It’s The Vaccines. Ever hear it?
Milo: “No, but I’m going to look it up. ‘Hope’’s been covered by dozens of bands and they’re all good takes. It was covered by Sublime, and my favourite cover was the one we did for the Sublime acoustic record. They were asking bands to cover Sublime songs and someone said: wouldn’t it be cool if you covered the Sublime song ‘Hope’? And I said: ‘Yeah, I’ll cover my own song!’” (Laughs)
3Who branded Descendents a “punk rock Beach Boys”?
Milo: “That was Blink-182‘s Mark Hoppus.”
Bill: “Milo, it’s perplexing how you have all this trivial knowledge in your brain!”
Milo: “We did our first Warped tour [in 1997] with Blink-182 and it was full of screaming girls in the front row, so it was inevitable they’d get bigger. We love those guys – and I sure hope Mark Hoppus gets better. And Tom DeLonge was at our last San Diego show so we got to chat a bit.”
Bill: “I produced an Alkaline Trio [Blink guitarist and vocalist Matt Skiba’s other band] record, ‘My Shame Is True’, and bonded deeply with each guy. I felt like I had three new family members.”
Descendents covered the Beach Boys’ ‘Wendy’. Ever receive any feedback from any of the band?
Milo: “No, but our band fly so far under the radar, I wasn’t expecting to get any feedback from Brian Wilson.” (Laughs) “If he just acknowledged my existence, I would die happy!”
4Descendents’ 1986 album ‘Enjoy!’ replaces the song titles on the reverse of its record sleeve with euphemisms for faeces. Name all five of its A-side’s fake toilet-related tracks.*
Bill: “Are you crazy?!”
Milo: “‘Choda’? ‘Half Pipe’?”
Milo: ‘Loaf’? ‘Orgofart’?
Bill: “‘Poker Winker’? Buttonwillow’? Shit, we failed! Next question!”
WRONG. All the A-side tracks are: ‘Floater’, ’50/50’, ‘Sausage’, ‘Barnacle’, and ‘Loaf’ (‘Choda’, ‘Half Pipe’ and Carbuncle’ are on side B).
Bill: “Boy, this is a tough interview! Farting was the theme of that record. We recorded each other’s farts and even before we started making the album, we have a cassette with hundreds of them on.”
Milo: “We were saving them for posterity – or should I say posterior-ity. I remember going out to a Mexican restaurant and bringing burritos back to the studio so we could get better farts to record.”
Bill: Our whole stupid childhood is out there for people to see.” (Laughs) “People can watch us grow up – or not as the case might be!”
Milo: “The original cover for ‘Enjoy!’ was going to be a bare foot stepping in shit, but we drew the line somewhere!”
*Track one is listed by its genuine non-flushable name ‘Enjoy’
5Which famous all-girl band played with Descendents at the ‘Radio Tokyo Tapes’ compilation album release party in 1983?
Milo: “Well, that was The Bangles!”
Bill: “Milo, you’re killing it! They were called The Bangs then.”
Milo: “They made us look fairly amateur because they were so good. We all had crushes on them as well.”
6Complete the following lyrics: “What’d ya think, I wanted to be Mick Jagger or something…’
Bill: “’Playing the pixie at 50 or 60?’ From the [2004 Descendents] song ‘I Quit’.”
Milo: “Which is, at 58, of course what I’m doing now!” (Laughs)
Bill: (Referring to Milo’s beard) “Unless you take a razor to your face Milo, you’re not playing the pixie!”
Did Mick Jagger ever hear the song?
Bill: “I doubt it. We’re in different circles by many leagues – and universes!”
Did you ever think when the band formed in 1977, you’d still be going now?
Bill: “I didn’t even think we’d still be doing it when we got out of high school.”
Milo: “Every time I left the band, it wasn’t because of any rancour, it was because I had other things to do that I felt were just as worthy – if not more worthy. And of course I was wrong in the end!”
You originally left the group to pursue a degree in biochemistry and have worked in science over the years. Ever talked science with the other punk boffins – like The Offspring’s molecular biologist Dexter Holland or Bad Religion’s Greg Graffin?
“Greg and I have had a good science meeting of the minds. I went into science because I felt it had a creative aspect to it. Greg approach is that he likes to challenge the status quo – he does that both writing science articles and playing in Bad Religion. So I think punk and science go hand-in-hand.”
7Which song from Milo’s short-lived group Milestone in 1994 ended up being recorded by post-Descendents group All, with Milo on vocals?
Bill: “’Just Like Them’.”
Milo: “He got to the buzzer before I did! Another Milestone song, ‘Here With Me’, also ended up as a B-side on Descendents’ ‘Mexican’ EP. All was my favourite band from that whole period, so the fact my other piddly little band Milestone played with them a couple of time felt major. Whenever All were switching vocalists, I would fill in. The last time was a year before we recorded ‘Enjoy!’, and reminded me that I still like doing this and needed to rock.”
8Name all your commandments from Descendents’ 1987 song ‘All-O-Gistics’.
Milo: “I’m running upstairs to cheat and find the scroll [that they’re written on].”
Bill: Don’t cheat! OK: Thou shalt not commit laundry, Thou shalt not partake of decaf, Thou shalt covet thy neighbour’s food, Thou shalt not take the van’s name in vain, Thou shalt always go for greatness, Thou shalt not commit adulthood, Thou shalt not allow anything to deter you in your quest for all, Thou shalt not commit hygiene, Thou shalt not suppress flatulenc….’
Milo: “Thou shalt commit thyself to an institution… We’ve got two left to get!”
Bill: “Thou shalt not create ties with the scathed...”
Milo: “Oh! Thou shalt not have no idea.”
Milo: “I was sweating bullets there! If we couldn’t remember our own credo, it would have been embarrassing!”
Bill: “We don’t play it anyone because it devolved into a big trainwreck with guest vocalists and derailed the momentum of a show. We’d finish the song and be greeted with what I can only describe as reverent silence!”
9Bill, you produced Rise Against’s 2014 album ‘The Black Market’. What number did it reach on the Finnish charts?
Milo: “(Laughs) Good luck!”
Bill: “Number One? If I can’t get a Number One record in Finland, I should hang it up!”
WRONG. It reached Number 22. You also produced NOFX. Any good Fat Mike stories?
Bill: “One of my farts almost got me fired. I was in the van coming home from a show and did an amazingly awesome one that lasted 17 seconds long. Fat Mike’s [now ex] wife Erin is sat in the passenger seat and starts choking and gagging because of the smell and makes us drive up on the sidewalk to stop the van so she can get out. She’s unbelievably pissed off, and the next day, Fat Mike comes in to the studio and I’m thinking he’ll be furious and today’s the day I get fired from the record. But instead, he goes: ‘Never not funny!’ He was so happy that I did it!” (Laughs)
10Descendents cover Tottenham beat group The Dave Clark Five’s 1964 single ‘Glad All Over’ on your new-ish studio album ‘9th & Walnut’. But which band’s single did the original famously knock off the top of the charts?
Bill: “I was only one then! If you get this right Milo, I quit!”
Milo: “It had to have been a Beatles song. It wouldn’t have been ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ so…‘Help!’?”
WRONG. It was ‘‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ – the one you ruled out! ‘9th & Walnut’ started in 2002 with the band revisiting songs you’d written together over the period 1978-1980, before you finished it off during the pandemic…
Bill: “It was a super major walk down memory lane. I saw my childhood in a way I never have before, and it brought home how much joy late ‘70s punk brought me and how miserable I would have been if I hadn’t found my bandmates.”
Milo: “It’s been in the can for 40 years [before we finished it]. What I remembered the most while doing it was Frank [Navetta, their late guitarist who died from diabetes in 2008] who wrote more than half the lyrics. You get a good insight into him: a lot of these songs are angry and bitter, but there’s some where he shows his heartfelt side. To me, he was someone I looked up to and wanted to be.”
The verdict: 6/10
Milo: “We don’t take drugs or anything, but back then things were so hazy, sometimes I felt like I was on drugs!”
Bill: “I have an excuse! “(Shows off the head scar from his 2008 operation to remove a tumour) “You see my brain surgery scar – I don’t have to remember things!”
– Descendents new album ‘9th & Walnut’ is out now on Epitaph Records