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Photo courtesy Fat Wreck ChordsAt 17, Bill Stevenson founded his first band, the Descendents. That band would go on to create the blueprint for pop punk, making millionaires out of the legion of bands that followed, as well as pioneering the nerds-who-rock look via Descendents singer/mascot Milo Aukerman. When he was 20, Stevenson was pounding out the visceral backbeat for Black Flag—the band notorious for riots, re-defining punk rock and Henry Rollins' neck. But it's only now, at 41, that Stevenson can actually enjoy himself.
Bad band vibes and inflated egos eventually changed Stevenson's mind about playing in Black Flag: "When it got kind of weird with all those guys hating one another, I just kind of refocused myself on the Descendents," he says.
And after three more Descendents albums, Aukerman left to pursue a Ph.D. in biochemistry, while the other 75 percent of the band morphed into All. "All will always be the band guilty of not being the Descendents," says Stevenson. "It's a luxury problem—I feel fortunate to have been listened to in the first place. The fact that people won't accept All as much as the Descendents? Who cares? That's a good problem to have."
In 1996, Aukerman decided to take another shot at the punk-singer thing between research gigs. Since that time, All and the Descendents have roughly alternated releases, with the Descendents releasing Cool to Be You earlier this year. Aukerman's growing family and day job have prevented the Descendents from playing a single show since the record's release.
With both All and the Descendents currently inactive, Stevenson's joined yet another band, Only Crime. "(Not touring with the Descendents) is tough as far as me putting my kids through college," he says, "but other than that, I'm just kind of going where the momentum is, and the momentum is with Only Crime."
It makes for an interesting tax return. "I've got a few hats. I've got the 'guy from the Descendents,' then I've got the new guy—'the guy in Only Crime.' He's kind of like 'the guy who used to be in Black Flag.' Then there's 'the producer guy,' the one who did the Rise Against album and some of those things. And there's 'the guy who sits on the couch and cuts farts,' the gassy guy who my kids know."
While All followed the melodic-punk thread explored by the Descendents, Stevenson feels Only Crime continues where he left off with Black Flag. "For me, there's some unfinished business as far as trying to do things we attempted in Black Flag but maybe we didn't completely manage—trying to bring improvised music into the equation, trying to bring some different types of harmonic dissonance and time-signature tension and release," he says. "I think on My War and Slip It In and In My Head, we had a lot of stuff going on, but it seemed like we also slowed down so much that it got a little boring for me.
"Only Crime musically, it's like In My Head and Slip It In kind of song structures being played at more like Damaged tempo, but with Milo singing—like a hard singing, but with some amount of melody. Taking what I learned in Black Flag—and maybe if I could change what we did in Black Flag, these are the ways I would change it."
Despite his punk résumé, it's only now that Stevenson's learned to relax a little. "For the first two decades, it was kind of a struggle—me against the world. And I guess a little of that came from some of the adversarial climate we went through in Black Flag. I felt I got into this antagonistic mode, almost like me against the audience, that kind of thing. But now I'm 41, I have a family, and I don't have the insecurities I had when I was younger, so I'm able to just enjoy the music so much more now than I ever was. So if a few teenagers can't handle the fact there's a 40-year-old up there, that's okay."
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