Legends Never Die – An Interview with Descendents’ Bill Stevenson

An interview with Descendents’ Bill Stevenson September 2014 Vandala Magazine
Interview by Dustin Griffin
From September Vandala Magazine – READ FULL INTERVIEW HERE

The Descendents are an institution. Formed in 1978 in Manhattan Beach, California, the band popularized, and in a lot of ways invented, the potent mixture of pop punk hooks with hardcore aggression. And used it as a backdrop to sincere, heart on the sleeve lyrics about love, growing up and drinking coffee. Most acutely realized on the now classic punk record Milo Goes To College.

Cited as a lynchpin influence on everyone from Blink-182 and Green Day to Foo Fighters, they are true punk rock legends. With their recent reemergence on the live circuit, as well as a forthcoming album, their first since 2004’s Cool To Be You, there is a renewed interest and appreciation in the band and their legacy.

I spoke with Bill Stevenson (one of the nicest guys in punk rock) from his home in Ft. Collins, Colorado recently, about the band’s history, the new record and Milo (Aukerman) and Chad (Price) trading songs between Descendents and ALL like baseball cards.

What do the Descendents mean to you in 2014? What does it mean to be in the Descendents today?

I think it’s enjoying some long standing friendships with people that I will go to my grave, knowing them as my very best friends. The band, the crew, and people who are no longer in the band. I mean I just got off the phone with our original bass player Tony.

The Descendents are so influential and so beloved. Your fan base is just huge in the punk scene and beyond. If you could name one band who is responsible, or who you could say ‘I wouldn’t be where I am right now without them.’ Who would it be?

Well it would be Black Flag or The Last. I mean even though I played in both these bands at one point, they influenced us long before I played in them. And when I think of Black Flag, I don’t think of me. I think of Chuck and Greg and Robo and Keith and Ron and Dezo. And same with The Last, I think of the three brothers.

What did it mean to you when you finally got to play with these guys later on?

In the case of Black Flag, I was quite young so I was sort of just happy to be there. In the case of The Last, I was such a long afterthought that I don’t even think it bears discussion.

How did (the Descendents documentary – ) Filmage come about?

I’m not completely sure other than there were these fans of the band that wanted to make a movie about us and they were friends of Stephen’s and Stephen talked to us about it and we were like yeah, somebody should probably do it because we’re never going to be organized enough to do it. We don’t think like that anyway, like some people have said ‘hey why don’t you write a book?’ No. I’m not writing a book, you know? So I think it was just really good that they came along and took such interest in it and had such expertise. It was fortunate because otherwise it would’ve never gotten done.

What was your reaction when you first saw the finished product?

That’s kind of a trick question because it’s not fair. The way the movie ended up, with me being the sort of grandpa of the band and then having my near death stuff in 2010, I ended up being an easy focal point, you know? And when I watch it I feel self conscience that I was given too much real estate within the movie. So it’s kind of hard for me to judge because I’m like ‘why is it so much about me’ and not, like Frank or whatever. Sound stupid, right? And that’s not false humility, I just got used for good drama I guess. It’s kind of funny.

The Descendents are constantly in demand. You play the big festivals, headlining many of them, you draw the big crowds, etc. With ALL, although the fan base is solid and ever growing, you’re still kind of in the club stage. Playing smaller venues to smaller crowds. For you is the energy and the feeling the same, whether playing to 5,000 people or 500?

The chemistry of a band can be affected by many things. The members, the material, the conditions, outdoors or indoors, big clubs, small clubs. All those things affect your experience when you’re playing. And that’s true even in the practise room. The factors is an intangibility. It’s what makes great bands great and mediocre bands mediocre. So for ALL, there’s always been this thing where ALL is the band guilty of not being the Descendents. But now that the Descendents are playing more and we’re starting to record a new album, now I think that people can go ‘ok, Descendents are Descendents and ALL is ALL.’

And now both bands are generating more attention than they have in years.

But the Descendents was inactive for like 20 years and ALL almost kind of took the flack for that.

Which was kind of annoying because ALL has this repertoire of really killer songs. And in most ways I view ALL as a kind of progression from Descendents. The same way I view the Descendents record ‘ALL’ as a progression from ‘Milo Goes To College.’
So in that way I would expect a lot of Descendents fans to be into ALL, but there’s always this thing where it’s like maybe one in ten Descendents fans like ALL.

On the other hand though, with Descendents, people are buying into a piece of the late 70’s Californian punk rock movement. They’re buying stock in that thing whether or not they actually know the songs or own the records. You don’t really have that with ALL.

There’s also some nostalgia I think attached to Descendents that you don’t get as much with ALL. Descendents are the band that got a lot of people into punk rock in the first place and introduced them to that particular brand of poppy sincerity mixed with the more aggressive, heavier elements. Add to that the fact that ALL is the band guilty of not having Milo and that very recognizable brand and logo.

Yeah, I mean it’s better for us now. Now we’ll go play somewhere and ALL will play the Friday in a club to like 800 people and Descendents will play the Saturday in a hall to 4,000 or 5,000 and everybody’s happy. Because we’re not sitting there playing in ALL wishing we were playing to thousands of people.

Not having to worry as much about money these days must take the pressure off as well?

It can be awkward ………………………



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