Interview with “THE DESCENDENTS”

Throughout an existence that dates back 41 years, the Descendents have had to be a sporadic presence on the music scene. The punk pop veterans have basically been active only when singer Milo Aukerman was not pursuing studies or work in his field of biochemistry.

It’s a main reason there have only been three Descendents albums released since 1996, including the 2016 effort, “Hypercaffium Spazzinate.” But the band figures to be in the early stages of what might become the most active stretch, thanks to Aukerman’s 2016 announcement that he was leaving science and making the Descendents his full-time pursuit.

The singer’s decision was something his fellow founding member of the Descendents, drummer Bill Stevenson, never expected.

“I’ve always felt that basically rock and roll music could not possibly be enough to quench Milo’s intellectual thirst,” Stevenson said in a recent phone interview. “So I always thought he’s best in the lab and then we do the band for fun. I really think that’s still kind of what we’re doing. We’re not doing like 300 shows a year. We’re doing this the amount to where it’s still fun for us. It’s not a job. And we have plenty of time away from it, too, for intellectual enrichment or feeding the soul or infusing one’s mind with new ideas. I think we’ve struck a nice balance, I guess.”

Even at the more leisurely pace, Stevenson said fans can expect the Descendents to be more productive going forward.

“It won’t be 10 years before a new album,” he said, a reference to the 12-year gap between the 2004 release, “Cool to Be You” and “Hypercaffium Spazzinate.” “We’ll probably get another one finished in the next year, year and a half, I would think. We’ve got a lot of demos floating around and stuff. So we’re moving at a pace that’s comfortable for us.”

Like many young bands, the Descendents worked fairly frenetically during their first stretch together, releasing four albums between 1982 and 1987, despite a hiatus from 1983 to 1985, when Aukerman was in college.

Those albums found the Descendents honing a musical signature of short, fast-paced songs that blended aggression and melody in near equal doses. That sound became known as pop-punk and it influenced a host of bands that would emerge in the years to come (the Offspring, Green Day, Blink-182) and make that style of music a major presence on alternative radio.

By 1987, when Aukerman decided to leave the Descendents a second time to pursue his career in biochemistry, the band lineup had solidified into its current form, with guitarist Stephen Egerton and bassist Karl Alvarez replacing early band members.

After releasing the 1987 album, “All,” the trio of Stevenson, Egerton and Alvarez teamed up with singer Dave Smalley to form the band All. That band released nine albums between 1988 and 2000, with Smalley, Scott Reynolds and Chad Price handling vocals at different points.

All reunited with Reynolds for a number of shows between 2008 and 2010 and the door isn’t closed to further work.

A factor that has at times curtailed the activity of the Descendents and All in recent years has been Stevenson’s health.

Over the past decade, he has overcome a series of major health scares, including a pair of surgeries to remove a brain tumor, a surgery to remove a large embolism from his lung area, a triple bypass heart operation, knee surgery and most recently treatment to resolve an issue with his optic nerve.

The drummer said he’s looking forward to better health now.

“I actually just finished six weeks of radiation on my brain to nuke a little tiny regrowth of the old (brain) tumor, which was like the size of two grains of rice,” he said. “It was growing right up against my optic nerve. It was causing me to lose quite a bit of vision. So yeah, I just finished that treatment. But I mean, like on a day-to-day level, I feel really good. I mean, I feel great and my mind is in a good spot. Everything’s fine.”

The effort the Descendents are putting into their live shows suggests that all four band members are in good health.

“We play a pretty wide variety of stuff that includes all of the releases that we’ve had,” Stevenson said. “I mean, it’s not a perfect mixture. It’s not like where we say, ‘OK, we’re going to play exactly five songs from each album.’ But we do try to pick whatever the songs off of the various albums that we have the most interest in. So currently we’ve been practicing 52 songs. But usually when we play, we play about 29 songs, and if they want us to play more, then we’ll do an encore and play three or four more. And if they want more and more, then we’ll do another encore and play a couple more. Sometimes the show, we will have played a total of 35 or 36 songs.”

A few of those songs will come from “Hypercaffium Spazzinate,” whose title refers to the band members’ famous love for consuming large amounts of coffee, a habit they have playfully credited with helping to spur their energetic sound.

“Hypercaffium Spazzinate” is basically another classic sounding Descendents album, filled with fast-paced, hyper-catchy (mostly) sub-three-minute rockers like “Feel This,” “No Fat Burger,” “Victim Of Me” and “Comeback Kid” (the latter song a lyrical tribute from Aukerman to Stevenson and the drummer’s resilience in the face of his health challenges.)

If there’s a contrast between the latest music and the Descendents’ early output, it’s in the lyrics on “Hypercaffium Spazzinate.” The band was always known for light-hearted tales about topics such as romantic misadventures, personal triumphs and failings, and on occasion certain fragrant bodily functions. On the latest album, though, the lyrics have grown a bit deeper and thoughtful, particularly on songs such as “Without Love,” “Smile” and “Beyond The Music” (the latter a look at the close bond the long-time band members enjoy).

Stevenson thinks this is an appropriate development within the Descendents music.

“We (initially) became known for kind of this teen-age angst, if you will. But at age somewhere around 50-ish, all of a sudden maybe instead of writing about a girl I had a crush on or something, now it’s maybe writing about something unfortunate that happened within a marriage, marital discord or heavier topics, adultery or things like that,” he said. “So we’ve all changed as people, of course, but I think the thing that has kind of played to our advantage is our songs we’re always just sort of this journal of our lives, whether that be me writing a song about going through the fast food restaurant and ordering a hot dog or whatever it might be. It was just about our daily lives. So I think by just continuing to do that and being honest with ourselves, well OK, our fans aren’t any spring chickens, either. They now, many of them, now are facing some of the same struggles that we face. So I feel like the same way people identified with us when we were younger, they also identify with us now, too.”

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