The Descendents + Epitaph Records + conversations with bianca + Milo Aukerman (2)
They’re back! Yaaaaay!! With their first album in 12 years, Hypercaffium Spazzinate; it’s totally been worth the wait, in fact it’s fast become one of my favourite Descendents’ records, which is saying A LOT because I grew up on the Descendents and know their records by heart. I’ve had it on repeat since I was privy to a sneak peek copy – it comes out July 29 on Epitaph Records.

Hypercaffium Spazzinate still has the fast, melodic hook laden punk rock radness that they’re known for and made us fall in love with them in the first place but, this album sees them with a more aggressive edge, making them as potent as ever. I chatted with vocalist, Milo last week about the album, recording, the ‘magic’ of song writing; of finally leaving his long-term career in science behind; exciting new happenings; and of doing your best and going for ALL!

The Descendents have been together for a long time now, almost 40 years; what does your band mean to you at this point?

MILO AUKERMAN: It means a combination of two things. One, is it’s a way to stay young; for me, music is always something where I get to escape adulthood on some level. The new thing for me is that it is something that I consider more of a career now, which I’d never in my entire life considered it that way. After all these many, many years it was never a career for me, it was a hobby, so it’s a new development that I am considering it as such.

Descendents at The Standing Room. Photograph by Lisa Johnson.
Descendents at The Standing Room. Photograph by Lisa Johnson.

What made you view things that way now?

MA: For many years I was dividing my time between the band and a science career; the science was always the career and the band was always the hobby. Basically, in January of this year I finally left science and decided to devote myself completely to music. Partly that’s because it turns out that surprisingly, science was not the most stable of career choices. It’s kind turned everything on its head. You would normally think though… there’s this standard parental thing of like, if you’re going to do music you should choose something as a good back up that’s more stable – that’s how I was viewing it – but, it turns out music is the stable thing and science is the unstable thing. That’s helped me precipitate my move into doing music. It was really an eye-opener for me to have it be exactly opposite of what I expected. I’m fortunate enough that I can make a living at music, it’s not something everyone can do—I’m really thankful I can do that.

Were you happy to be leaving science behind? Or did you feel a sadness after dedicating a large part of your life to it?

MA: I was working at this multi-national mega corporation, a biotechnology company, and for the last few years it had been a little bit dreary for me. They were stringing me along, and basically slowly but surely zapping the life out of me. In January they laid a bunch of us off, hundreds of people actually, I kind of took that as a positive sign. I was really ready to finally cut ties with them. Once I got laid off, I hit the ground running. We were already in the midst of recording this record, so we finished up the recording and I made a commitment to the band, hey! I want to do more shows, I’m no longer hemmed in by this whole science gig. It was a good time for everyone.

Hypercaffium Spazzinate is the first Descendents album in 12 years; how did it feel to be back recording?

MA: It was probably the most enjoyable recording experience that I have ever had. We did it differently, for my part of the vocals I recorded them in my basement with a mini studio. Bill [Stevenson] our drummer came out to help me. Because it’s your own place and because we don’t have time constraints you can say, ok, let’s spend the next three weeks doing this, and not have to worry about some kind of deadline. What that means is, as a vocalist you can really hit the songs hard and get as aggressive with them as you want, without worrying about getting it done in a week. If you lose your voice… like with, Cool To Be You, we had a week to do that. I basically blew my voice out and had to keep going with it. That made that a bit of a frustrating experience but, for this record I didn’t have that. I found it a lot more enjoyable, plus I had Bill there so we just had a good time together. I think everyone really enjoyed making this record a lot.

Descendents Hypercaffium Spazzinate

What do you enjoy most about songwriting?

MA: It sounds really dumb but, it’s a way to express feelings about your life. Whenever I write a song I always go, how did I do that? Like, how did that come out of me? It’s the creative process, every song writer will say some version of that. It’s a) therapy and, b) a feeling that magic has been created, even though we know it’s not magical—there’s a feeling of inner magic though. It’s hard to explain but that’s how I feel when I do it. Having said that, I don’t really write that much, I’m not a prolific song writer. A lot of people have a certain kind of ritual and maybe they’re going to write a little every day, have a kind of craftsmen approach to it; they talk about song craft but I don’t have any of that, it just comes to me and I do it. I can go months without writing a song and then I’ll write ten songs in a row.

What are the songs you wrote on the new album?

MA: I wrote ‘Testosterone’, ‘No Fat Burger’, ‘Smile’, ‘Limiter’, ‘Full Circle’ and ‘Comeback Kid’.

You guys have always had songs about the quest for good food and coffee; the song ‘No Fat Burger’ with the lyric ‘I can’t have fat’, it’s autobiographical, yes?

MA: It is in the sense that I’m talking about my actual health issues. There’s nowhere in the song I say, oh my god I’m going to have a heart attack – I’ve got heart disease in my family – I just thought, we had this old song ‘I Like Food’ and I thought yeah, that’s a song where we talked about all the great food we want to eat, like totally pound down a chilli burger… I realised come to be at the age I am at now [53], yeah I shouldn’t be doing that anymore. I still want to be doing that though [laughs]. I’m at the crossroads now of, I still like food and wanna eat all that crap but I can’t. I decided to put that into song form. It’s like an update of ‘I Like Food’ for an older person.

There’s lyrics to the song ‘Full Circle’ that go: X marks the spot on the map where the treasure was found; what is that treasure you were talking about?

MA: X is one of my favourite bands! I know there’s an Australian X but, I’m talking about the L.A., California one. They were the band that allowed me to make the leap from new wave to actual punk. I started listening to the radio show, Rodney on the ROQ, he was playing X and it just got me, I was totally intrigued by them. When their first record came out I was head over heels in love with it. They’re a special band to me for how they turned a switch in my head and I started thinking about L.A. punk rock—there’s so many great bands. I started with X and went to The Germs, then Black Flag, all those bands that are listed in the song, obviously I couldn’t list them all… we, had that song on, Everything Sucks, called ‘Thank You’ which was written by Karl [Alvarez; bassist], he writes: I won’t say your name. I was like, why won’t you say their name? He was like, ‘Because, I wouldn’t be able to list them all, how could you ever complete the list?” Obviously I couldn’t do that with my song but I thought why not list some band names but bury them in the lyrics of the song, so they’re not so in your face. I mention ‘the circle’…

Which is referencing The Germs?

MA: Yeah. It’s their logo. It can come across as clever by half but, whatever. It was fun! X are the treasure, you had to dig a little bit to get to them, it’s not like you could turn on Top 40 radio and hear them. If you dug a little, listened to Rodney [Bingenheimer] or went to an indie record store then you could find some of those underground bands. That’s how it resembled a treasure to me.

Are there any newer bands you like to listen to?

MA: Yeah, Bill’s produced a lot of bands in his studio [The Blasting Room] that I like. He did, A Wilhelm Scream, a few years ago that I like. Some of the other Epitaph bands, we’re on Epitaph [Records] now, I like. I’ve come to realised that they know how to put out bands, I really like The Lawrence Arms, The Menzingers, and the rather new band called, Pears, they’re really great too, faster and melodic. I still basically like fast, loud, music, I like to have melody with it. How we evolved as a band, I like to hear that in other bands as well.

The Descendents live Punk Rock Bowling 2016

What’s one of your favourite things about Hypercaffium Spazzinate?

MA: My favourite thing is that we actually got Stephen [Egerton] the guitar player to write a bunch of songs, he hadn’t written any songs for our last record, Cool To Be You. Stephen came in with a whole bunch, he tends to write really aggressive punk rock songs. I was like, oh great! Someone brought in some punk rock. I wrote some punk rock songs too but then Stephen matched me song for song for punk. For his songs we all had to add lyrics; Karl and Bill wrote some lyrics for Stephen’s songs, I wrote one lyric but that one didn’t make the record. He came through with some really spot on, highly aggressive things. For me, that really put the record over the top, it made it that much better.

I’ve had the record on repeat since I got the preview and I love that it has that more aggressive vibe. I really enjoyed the song ‘Beyond The Music’ I thought it was a great way to finish the record, I feel it encapsulates you guys as a band, that you are beyond the music first and foremost friends.

MA: Yeah, Bill wrote the lyric. We were trying to figure out what song to end the record on and Bill said that song. I was like, yeah, you’re right because it’s a way of saying, now you’ve heard the record this is where we’ve came from. If you’ve heard of The Minutemen, they have that song ‘History Lesson’ well, this is kind of our version. We had to document at some point what we were as a band back then but, more importantly than what we were is what we became in terms of people. In terms of a group of people, we became friends. My god, it’s so unusual for four guys to make it through years and years like this and still remain friends—to me that’s one of the proudest things that we have as a band. We’re tight. Bill and I are best friends and will be best friends for life. Documenting that was important, for Bill especially.

I’ve read that Descendents formed in 1977 and also read that it’s 1978, which means there’s a 40 year anniversary coming up; any plans?

MA: You’d have to ask Bill if it was really ’77 or ’78. I joined in 1980, it started as a 3-piece – Bill, Tony & Frank. Maybe we’ll have to do something special in 2018. It’s pretty mind-blowing to think about how long it’s been. We were just teenagers, we kind of still feel we are, but obviously we have to take a little bit better care of ourselves now.

The Descendents live Hermosa Beach

What’s an important thing you feel you’ve learnt from your journey as a musician?

MA: To not really have any expectations at all. I started out, as I said before, as this being a hobby. I think that was the healthiest thing that I could do and not treat it as anything more than that. What it’s meant is that every step along the way, obviously you could point to whatever things as being disappointing or less than optimal, but now I can just look back and laugh at all of these kind of setbacks and actually just appreciate the fact that we were able to persevere and that people stuck with us and we slowly built us up over many years. Part of the success of that is because my expectations weren’t overblown, you have to have realistic expectations, it means that anything that happens from here on out is pretty much gravy. We’re just going to enjoy this for as long as we can.

It makes me happy to hear you so happy and enthusiastic about everything, you sound refreshed and ready to go play shows and continue having a fun time.

MA: [Laughs] thank you, yeah. I consider my current situation as being an opportunity, I’ve never really had this opportunity in front of me, by my own choice I guess. In the past I’ve always been diluting out my efforts in several areas… I thought how about for once in your life don’t dilute out your efforts, concentrate your efforts, just see what happens. I’m looking forward to that! It’s a really exciting time to see what we can do without me diluting my efforts; really pounding on this as my single, solitary passion and see where we can go. Also, keeping in mind you have to keep your expectations realistic as well [laughs]. That’s where we are at.

Thank you so much for sharing that! I often find myself diluting out my efforts in several areas and to hear you say that makes me want to focus my efforts too, so thank you for that, Milo.

MA: Yeah, yeah, yeah! It’s funny because our band has the concept of ‘all’ like, you gotta do ALL! For many years it was, ok, if I’m doing music and science then I’m not really doing all, I’m doing some in either one. Collectively I may be doing all but I’m only doing some in music and some in science. If you follow the philosophy of all you’d say, no, do ALL, all in one thing. If you go back to that monolithic thought of that, now taking that monolithic thought, we all have to live our lives, we all have families and you have to have a work/life balance. Within the realm of that, keeping mind of work/life balance—go for ALL! If you go for all and don’t necessarily achieve all, you can at least pat yourself on the back for giving it the old college try.

For more DESCENDENTS. Check out EPITAPH RECORDS. Order new album HYPERCAFFIUM SPAZZINATE. Learn more about the Descendents watch FILMAGE.

With love,

I heart you


*Images: college art by me, original band photo by Lisa Johnson; all other pics, unless specified, courtesy of @descendents.