It’s been a long road since the Descendents were 18 and formed a band in Manhattan Beach, California in ‘77. They were high school buddies playing backyard parties and one-off’s at the weirdest venues throughout LA, and Orange County. Since then, they’ve become required listening for any punk with an iPod in their possession. The band is comprised of Bill Stevenson (drums), Karl Alvarez (bass), Stephen Egerton (guitar) and Milo Aukerman (vocals). It wasn’t until ‘82 that their punk persona started making waves, around the time they released their seminal debut album, Milo Goes to College. In those early days, who knew Milo was literally going to college and the band would have moments of down time due to a variety of bandmate issues.
Over the years, the Descendents have influenced countless fans and bands alike. Over the years, they have released six studio albums, three live albums, three compilation albums, and three EPs. They have been the source of the soundtrack of a person’s life for too many people to count; and other artists like Blink 182, NOFX, Fall Out Boy, Face To Face, Green Day, Pennywise, Rise Against, The All-American Rejects, The Bouncing Souls, The Offspring, and The Ataris just to name a few.
Newer fans may be more familiar with the band through the 2013 release of FILMAGE. It is the story of the Descendents laying out the band’s journey through interviews, archive footage, as well as interviews with other musicians. The independent documentary chronicled other aspects of their life including the 1996 release of their fifth studio album, Everything Sucks, which featured monster hits: “I’m the One,” “When I Get Old” and “Everything Sux.” FILMAGE also focused on Stevenson’s family and health issues. The storyline depicts Stevenson’s life as he took care of his father during his final ailing years of life. It also tapped into the difficult relationship between father and son. Their relationship is what inspired the song “One More Day”.
The storylines also involved Alvarez and Egerton, and what was going on with them; but the Stevenson storyline resonates most. As his health declined, Stevenson suffered a pulmonary embolism, and a large meningioma is discovered compressing his frontal lobes. Needless to say, the band went on hiatus while they all took care of their own personal business. Milo was in school working on his PhD in Biochemistry, Alvarez went through a difficult divorce, and Egerton moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma. Notwithstanding the fact that he was becoming an accomplished music producer, Stevenson still struggled with health issues. This is a story that involves topics that could happen to any one of us and may be a good reason why so many of their fans feel so connected to this band.
Despite all that went on with them, the bandmates kept busy on several individual projects. In 2010, they played a few one-off shows… finally the Fun, Fun, Fun Fest! The band was back, and they have been at it ever since. They continue to play large festivals and tour, recently in the States at RiotFest, MusInk and Punk Rock Bowling, where they are ROCK STARS walking among rock stars. Their fans still scream for songs like Bikeage, I’m The One, Clean Sheets, and Everything Sux; the band delivers each and every time!
Over the past year, I’ve had an opportunity to interview Stevenson Milo Aukerman on my Sunday afternoon radio show at TNN RADIO / KX935 in Laguna Beach. Most of the chats were with Stevenson, and they were always filled with great stories about the band. What always gave me moments to pause and consider my own life was his very direct commentary about himself, and his health issues. I found the manner in which he presented himself as stoic, I know that wasn’t what Stevenson was going for at all, but he always had a great attitude about life.
The sense I got talking with him off the air is what has always inspired me about Stevenson, he wasn’t upset that he got a raw deal. His demeanor was always so matter of fact. He simply wanted to do what needed to be done to allow himself to move forward with life. Each time we (co-host Christina Preiss and I) spoke with him, we were always struck with that one question we all have… how would I handle this if it happened to me? It’s a rhetorical question, I know, but you can’t help but ask yourself the same question over and over after you hear the crackle in Stevenson’s voice. I don’t think I could be as controlled as he was when he talked about what was in store for him to get better during a radio interview. After all, that procedure has a 5% mortality rate. To this day, I am still amazed how composed Stevenson was.
For me, those interviews were the most sobering conversations I have had during my years in radio. That said, Stevenson mentioned they were working on new music. He went on to say, if he made it through surgery, the likelihood of having a positive outlook on the rest of his life from a health perspective was very, very good. Not long ago, Stevenson had the surgery, and he is doing very, very well. Like the rise of the Phoenix, Stevenson and the guys are ready to bring it again.
In a recent conversation with Milo, we discussed life and the new tunes. Milo was as funny as ever, and joked that although they were now in their 50’s, and singing about things that matter to 50 year olds, they are having fun again. He said, “we have geezer lyrics on top of punk rock tunes… being in our 50’s doesn’t mean we can’t rock!” Aukerman went on to say he is now 100% focused on the band, and that he and the guys are so happy for Bill. Their re-birth so-to-speak, reflects in their new album. The new 16-track album is called Hypercaffium Spazzinate, featuring lots and lots of short punk tunes. The album is released on Epitaph, and although it’s a more mature sound for them, it is still that authentic the Descendents sound that their fans have grown to love. Milo said this 7th studio album will make their fans smile as it is even more aggressive than their last.
It is always hard to meet the expectations set by your own success, but this album is very, very good. “Without Love” is a song expressing what’s important to the guys these days. “Beyond The Music” is a song that reflects how the band has evolved into the people they are today; and it has the best theme of all… their love for making music. At their age, and considering their ups and downs, being able to still do it all. Stevenson’s health issue was part of that, but now that is behind them, the sky is the limit for what you can expect from the Descendents going forward. Admittedly, Aukerman says this album is vocally challenging, but he wouldn’t have it any other way. Production-wise, the new tunes are tight and Milo sounds just as good as ever.
Milo Goes To College and Everything Sucks may be what they are best known for, but Hypercaffium Spazzinate is a new standard bands can look towards to see how you do punk music right… it’s a footprint on how to make music larger than life! It also helps if you can bring it as a band when you play a show. It, means playing great in your face, no apologies loud punk rock that makes people smile, laugh, cry, move, scream and think … so there’s that too!
Although Hypercaffium Spazzinate is their first studio album in years, their legendary status bordering on myth and legend will continue with their fans for years to come. Check out the new album, it drops this Friday, July 29th. The bottom line is that the Descendents are now old enough to know better, but big enough to matter, and still small enough to care about their fans! Although, I don’t think that part will ever change.
The Descendents are also starting the first leg of their world tour. They first hit the UK, Germany, and Finland this August. They circle back to the US to play RiotFest in Chicago and Denver, along with other dates throughout the US in September ending October. They then head south to Brazil and beyond. Go to their website to see when they’ll be playing in your neck of the woods. If you like great punk music, check out the Descendents, it’ll be the experience of a lifetime.