TO SAY THAT Descendants were a groundbreaking West Coast band in the late ’70s and early ’80s would be like saying water is wet. In an era dominated by raw, buzzsaw guitar riffs and angry political lyrics, Descendents sidestepped the pack with catchy, melodic, and goofy songs about flatulence and girls. Any pop-punk band that released a record after 1982 owes everything to the Manhattan Beach punk rock stalwarts. Founded by Frank Navetta (guitar), Tony Lombardo (bass), and Bill Stevenson (drums) in 1977, three years later they added Milo Auckerman (vocals), and finalized the lineup in 1986 with Stevenson, Auckerman, Stephen Egerton (guitar), and Karl Alvarez (bass).
Over an early-afternoon phone call, Auckerman discusses the band’s legacy, growing up, and the July release of their first full-length record in 12 years, Hypercaffium Spazzinate.
MERCURY: Hypercaffium Spazzinate is great. You guys picked up exactly where you left off. What was the catalyst for recording another record 12 years after Cool to Be You?
MILO AUCKERMAN: We started playing again in 2010, and I think shortly after that we started [writing]. I think because we were playing shows, we thought, “Why not make a record?” One of the reasons you make a record is so you’ve got new stuff to play live. Personally, I started writing songs after Bill recovered from the brain tumor that he had removed. I wrote “Comeback Kid,” which is one of the songs on the [new] record. Probably by about 2013 we decided that it was a good time to start tracking. We did a lot of sharing of songs back and fourth—you know, file sharing.
You guys are spread out across the US, right?
Yeah. I’m in Delaware, Stephen is in Oklahoma, and Karl and Bill are in Fort Collins. A lot of the time I would send them fully completed demos. There [were] no parts missing, so they’d just record that. Of course, no matter what kind of demo that I give them, they got to write their own parts. I can barely play guitar, so I’d say, “Hey Stephen, play something cool over this,” you know? Stephen wrote the music for a whole bunch of songs, but didn’t have any lyrics. We all contributed lyrics for Stephen’s songs.
The new record has a lot of “adult” themes, particularly on songs like “On Paper” and “Limiter.” Did you ever imagine you’d be writing songs about how good your credit reports are instead of farts?
I never thought we’d be a band when I was in my 50s. Every time we make a new record, we’ve changed so much as people. We tend to write about what’s going on in our lives, rather than just writing about adolescence. Which I think would be pretty stupid, really. So yeah, surprising enough we are still a band, that means our songs are gonna be about our current situation. Everyone grows up. Just like everyone’s been a teenager, everyone grows up.
Over the years, Descendents have seemed to put more personal things on blast than most punk bands. Would you say you guys use the band as more of an outlet than a soapbox?
That’s pretty much it. We came up during the period where the “done” thing, or the popular thing among punk bands was to write about [Ronald] Reagan and how much he sucked. I think we all felt like we wanted to use these songs as a way to get things off our chests. Of course, you can get stuff off your chest and have it be a political sentiment, but we had a lot of other ongoing concerns being teens. You know, girls, fishing, and food, for example. So that’s what the songs ended up being about, because [those were] the things we were really passionate about at the time. We kept that approach because it feels comfortable for us. Part of the reason why we even make music is to have that emotional release for certain pent-up things we can’t seem to resolve.
Descendents seem to have this tongue-in-cheek attitude–is that something you’ve consciously created?
I think it’s a byproduct of us being very self-revelatory. Our songs are about us. I don’t know any healthy human being who doesn’t sometimes look in the mirror and go, “You suck!” Unless you’re maybe Donald Trump or something. You have to have a healthy dose of looking yourself in the mirror and being realistic about the fact that you’re not god’s gift to man, or whatever. We all kind of have that in us. We’re always taking the piss out of ourselves. Once, we were on tour and we went to an in-store record signing, and no one showed up. It was a total Spinal Tap moment. And I was just sitting there, and I ripped a big fart and said, “Farting is my only solace.” That became the line that would make everyone crack up for the next few weeks. We have this whole self-deprecation thing. It’s really healthy to laugh at yourself.