Influential pop punk legends The Descendents paved the way for bands that hit it big, like Blink-182 and Green Day. Descendents may not be a sold-out-arena sort of band, but that's the band's appeal -- Descendents are for underdogs who are unlucky in love and like going to Wienerschnitzel. They are the proud and the few, and they're making their way to Tempe this weekend for Summer Ends Music Festival.
We recently caught up with prolific drummer Bill Stevenson to discuss his active duty between three bands and how a brain tumor evoked positive changes in his life. Plus, we have some news about the new Descendents record, which may be released as early as next year.
Bill Stevenson spent the past two weekends performing at Riot Fest in Chicago and Denver. Not only did those festivals include Descendents performing Milo Goes to College from beginning to end, Stevenson performed in all three of his bands at the festival.
Splitting his time between Descendents, ALL, and Only Crime is a challenge, but he manages to make it work.
"Some [songs] are very engrained in my mind from playing them over a 20- or 30-year time frame. The newer the song, the less second nature it is. I look at it as a challenge for me," Stevenson says. "I'm 51 now, and to be that physically active and still using a pretty aggressive drumming style, on top of ... many quick arrangements with a lot of quick changes, I think it's good for me. I feel as though this music and everything around this music helps to keep my mind young."
Bill is now more proactive about his health than ever. In 2010, Stevenson had neurosurgery to remove a large brain tumor. He is doing significantly better now.
"I don't think we all tend to our psychological health as much as we should," says Stevenson, emphasizing the importance of taking care of your mind, especially with age. The ethos of "I Don't Want to Grow Up" and "When I Get Old" still ring true for Stevenson.
"The sad part of that is the logistics of life starts to beat down on you again and they try to mute you," he says. "I think the more of an adult you become, the more life's logistics try to turn you into a robot or an investment banker or whatever the hell it is that's just there and it's just boring."
Descendents sing about life's most important matters, such as "death before decaf."
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Life is far from boring for Bill, who lives in Fort Collins, Colorado, where he co-runs the recording studio, The Blasting Room. He has produced records for numerous punk alums, including NOFX, Alkaline Trio, and No Use for a Name.
Stevenson describes his recent craniotomy as a rebirth.
"It was a miracle because I had been feeling so low down and so muted physically, mentally, psychologically, emotionally," he says. "For years, I begun to feel muted without really knowing why, so it was a miracle when I came out of the anesthesia. I was like, 'Oh wow, okay, I get to be me again. I get to be Bill again.'"
Stevenson's personal rebirth helps fuel the Descendents' spark. I have seen Bill perform a number of times in Descendents, ALL, and FLAG (the Black Flag reunion group that does not include Greg Ginn), and Bill always had a huge smile on his face while farting into microphones and cracking jokes at his bandmates. His joie de vivre is perhaps only matched by Chuck Dukowski, but that's another story.
"It may seem like we're busier than we are. Ever since I got out of the hospital, we've been active, but it's been pretty minimal. Maybe 15 to 20 shows a year, but they're usually very high profile shows, so everyone knows about it and everyone thinks, 'Oh, Descendents are going all over the place,' but we're not as busy as people may think we are.
We did start working on new material, a new recording, but even with that, it's not like it's going to be finished next month. It'll take us several months to get it all together. I'd like to think that around this time next year, we could have a new record out. We demoed a lot of stuff and recorded some stuff. Karl [Alvarez] and I have my studio, and we have my Pro Tools little small thing at my house, and Milo [Aukerman] has a Pro Tools rig in his basement, and Stephen [Egerton] has his studio where he lives, so we pass files around," Stevenson says.
Sharing files digitally facilitates the Descendents' work on its first record in over a decade (Cool to be You was released in 2004), but Stevenson says "nothing beats a lot of practice and going in and playing the songs."
He describes recording the first Descendents' records as practice and a learning experience for his career as a producer and sound engineer. He admits that said records are far from perfect (his choice word was "shitty"), but would he change things or rerecord those releases, given the opportunity?
"That's tough. You're kind of messing with history. There's a couple [records] that sound crummy enough to where it's certainly very tempting, I could go in and do a very quick, easy rough mix that would be 10 times better than how the record sounds. But some of them, I think they sound pretty appropriate for the time and place and for what they were," he says.
Descendents have been performing as the core lineup of Milo/Karl/Stephen/Bill for decades. What's the secret of the band's success? Staying away from each other.
"I think the claustrophobia and cabin fever that is inherently attendant to being a full time touring band is the stuff that breaks bands up. If you give yourselves a little space, you can stay together longer," Stevenson says.
Bands tend to want to strike while the iron's hot, and with the Descendents, the iron's never been hot. We've never been the trendy band of the week, it's more been a continuum of burning embers, and these embers are still there. The embers remain embers because we don't try to stoke them into fires, or try to become popular or work on any kind of a release schedule like a lot of the typical bands that put out a new record every two years," he says.
With that, don't expect an extensive U.S. tour any time soon. Bill hinted that Descendents may tour a bit more after the new album is released.
This article originally published with the headline "Descendents Likely To Play Milo Goes to College in Full This Weekend.
Descendents are scheduled to perform at Summer Ends Music Festival on Saturday, September 2014, 2014.
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