Most Descendents fans know there are songs that the 80s California punk band just won't play anymore ("Loser," "No FB"), but that doesn't mean that frontman Milo Aukerman doesn't think about them. The 55-year-old with some of the most famous eyeglasses in punk rock doesn't shy away when asked about whether or not there is anything he can do to atone for having written some questionable lyrics in the past.
"I do feel a need to reflect on who I am today as opposed to who I was then. Really the only thing I can do is reflect on who I am and put it into my music, and so the songs we write today are reflective of who we are as individuals," he told CL from his home in Delaware.
"We just put out this 'Who We Are single — last year, digitally — and this year, on vinyl, it's coming out on Record Store Day. I wouldn't call it atoning but I would call it [a way of saying], 'Hey! This is who I am now.' People evolve, people grow up, people mature, and that's all I can think to do is to put it into our music."
NOT EVERYTHING SUCKS
Photos: Descendents, Debt Neglector and The Attack rage at Lake Buena Vista's House of Blues — 10.20.17
It's been less than a year since Florida saw some Descendents music live (the band played Orlando last fall), and while Aukerman can't remember the details from some of his band's earlier Bay area shows, he does remember seeing Pink Lincolns' Chris Barrows at one particularly rowdy gig.
"I remember a really good outdoor Florida show, it was probably that. Where The Pink Lincoln's singer showed up," he said. "It's always good to see Chris, and it's always good to catch up with him, yeah those outdoor shows down there are so much fun. I don't remember much more about it other than it being an outdoor and that we got to see Chris. These are the highlights you tuck away in your memory."
If he had to do it over again Aukerman — who was laid off from his position in the biochemical research department at DuPont a few years ago — may have even changed the way some of those memories played out.
"I'm not going to say for sure but perhaps, I would've really gone in full bore for music. You just never know, what we've done over the past few years is to me, kind of unexpected in terms of being able to kind of just get right back out there and keep doing it. I would've never predicted as a 17-year-old that I'd be doing this as a career, and especially as a career into my middle age," he said, adding that he couldn't let go of this idea that he wanted to be a scientist.
"I probably sold myself a little short by being a little more closed minded about music at that age, that it was literally just a hobby and nothing else. It all worked out in the end, but I could've caused myself less frustration over the years, and especially could have caused less frustration for Bill and the rest of the guys over the years if I had just gone in at that point, as opposed to just dabbling as I was doing."
Expect the band to play songs fans haven't heard live on Thursday when Descendents plays Jannus Live in St. Petersburg. More info on the show — along with CL's full Q&A with Aukerman — is available below.
Hey Milo, sorry my phone dropped out. You were just getting into you finally figuring out... sorry, man.
That's cool, no so, this year we're doing four in a row and then in a few weeks we do another four in a row. Again, we try and choose the right cadence for everyone to kind of keep their family life going. For me as a singer, four in a row is great, I can rest my voice in between and all that. So that's been a new thing we're trying this year, but so what it means is that we play slightly more shows this year, but it's not a ton more shows. I think we're hitting the 50-60 show mark, and that's plenty for us, we don't need to kill ourselves, we just want to have a good time.
Did you end up getting a tattoo at Musink? Did you ever think you'd end up on a bid with Lil Yachty too?
Yeah, I almost got a tattoo at Musink because every time we played that festival (we played twice), and I keep thinking now's my opportunity to get that DNA tattoo I've been wanting to get all these years. If I had to choose a tattoo it's going to be something nerdy, I don't have any tattoos but I thought if I did get one, it'd be something cool like a DNA molecule but then I got laid off from DuPont and at this point, I kind of turned my back on science. It was a good career but in the end it left me a little sour toward the whole thing, so now I'm not going to get that DNA tattoo, and now I have to hunt around for something else worthy [enough] to put on my skin. I may or may not get one. At this point if you get one and you're as old as I am, it's just a mid-life crisis.
Right, just get the motorcycle, ya'know? I was going to ask you about the lay off and just to be clear, you haven't turned your back on science the way the U.S Government turned its back on science, whichessentially may have been the reason you were laid off — which may be a good thing for you. It's definitely good for the fans.
It's many years in the making. Year by year there's less and less support given by the government to science , and in this current administration it's basically anti-science. If you look at their viewpoints on climate change and if you look at their view points on EPA and they're basically not going to fund anything with any scientific basis and it's pretty much a joke at this point of what they're doing, so yeah, what I was finding over the course over many years, that yeah, funding for government research was going down, of course I was working at an industry, but it kind of bleeds over to industry as well because then you don't have as many collaborative opportunities with universities, and that can also be a negative look on industrial science as well. It was looking grim there for many years, I was fortunate not to be in the pit, in the university kind of environment where it's a rat race in terms of getting grant money and stuff like that. When I got laid off, I could have pivoted real quick and gotten a university job but I just thought, "Yeah, the environment is not right, and the band is going great, and might as well have some fun and let it play out and maybe in a few years I can get back into science," and right now it's so far into the future, I can't even reconsider it.
Yeah, to turn it back to the band, it's been about a decade since Bill's brain tumor and then Carl had the heart attack before that, and then you had the song "Comeback Kid" but how much is mortality—especially in the context of your bandmates—still on your mind?
I mean, we realize we have been very fortunate but right now we have an opportunity because everyone is healthy right now, so why not take that opportunity and run with it? Because, as you said, that could change at any point in the future. We're not getting any younger and a few years from now we might not be as hearty as we are now, and likely we won't be. [laughs] So we need to strike while we still have an iron to strike with. Ya'know?
I think that's part of it. I've taken it as a challenge, because I feel like as a singer I can't go out and buy a guitar or a new bass or a new drum to kind of rejuvenate my sound. As my voice ages I'm stuck with it, and to me that's one of the big challenge that I've taken on. To try and still sing. A lot of the notes are up there, they're sung as a 17 or 18-year-old kid, and now I'm trying to sing them as a 55-year-old, so that to me is the biggest challenge, and I think I'm doing pretty well. It requires a lot of preparation and it requires a certain amount of trickery with my throat or whatever to hit those higher notes but that's why they have singing lessons I guess.
Do you take singing lessons?
I took one, and I think that I learned a lot from it. In fact, when I took the lesson, a lot of what he said didn't ring true, I was like, "Really? That's what you need me to do?" But as the years went by I realized that guy was really onto something, there's certain intangible voicings that you need to kind of somehow master or corral in your head, in your voice, to try and hit certain high notes that otherwise you would blow your voice out trying to hit, and that's something still a mystery to me, and actually I'd be well served by taking more lessons to try and get better at corralling that upper register I've always had trouble with.
I like how you talked about having to sing these notes that you sang when you were 17, and I believe you have a 16 and a 14 year old now, I presume fatherhood is hard, you've talked about Bill before, and talked about how at one point he was down on himself and feeling like he missed this gold ring and you gave him that pep talk. Was there ever a time where you needed that pick me up or pep talk from somebody else in your life?
Well yeah, I guess I wrote "Smile" about him, that was kind of neat writing a pep talk to him, he was kind of in the aftermath of his surgeries and all of his financial woes, and was in need of some pep talk and I wrote that as his friend. We're best friends ever since high school, and I was paying him back in that song because he wrote "Pep Talk" from the All record for me. So yeah, that would be the one example that I could think of, and that was more of, "Oh my baby left me," and so then he's like, "Ah, don't worry about that. Fuck that. You can just get another one," so yeah, "Pep Talk" was the first of those kind of songs where we were talking to each other in the song, we've got a few other ones where he talks to me or I talk to him. We're actually going to be playing "Pep Talk" this year. We haven't played it in a while but we're going to resurrect it and throw it out on stage.
Yeah, I guess I was wondering if like, I know your kids are punk music fans and they've recently come to really appreciate Descendents and your music in general, but have you been able to figure out that band-family life balance back home or is it still kind of tough? I mean you're not out on the road like you said "a crazy amount of time" but has that become pretty normal for you, or does it bring you down?
I think it's something where there's always a bit of tug-of-war, a bit of push-and-pull, to try and balance that, primarily because when I'm gone then you're leaving behind a single parent, and my wife works at the university, she has a full time job, she's not a stay at home mom, so she then has to do the full single working parent routine, but it does kind of throw the general routine into disarray because when I'm here, I'm kind of taking care of a lot of shit, and when I leave it's like "Boom!" and it shifts 180-degrees and someone else is doing all that, so there's that.
So every year when we plan out shows we try and say, "How many days should I go out?" versus "How many days should I be back?" and I think we're doing the best we can. I think it hasn't gotten to the point of being a deal breaker of any kind. This is no different than from a person in a band that would deal with it. We feel fortunate that we could even do it this way because there are a lot of other bands where they have to go out for three months solid. Back when we used to do it, I'd come back from a three month tour and walk through the door and my wife would just say, "Who the fuck are you? I don't even recognize you? Are you my husband? Really? That doesn't look like my husband!"
I was just a different person when I came back so this is a much better situation, and my kids appreciate it when I come home, and I kind of try and bring them stuff back from the road and I bring my wife back a big loaf of money, so that's good. That eases the sting a little bit when you come back with a wad of cash, so that's good. [laughs] It all works out.
Good. So I wanted to ask since you're playing in Tampa, I always ask people on social media if they have any questions, so somebody wanted to know if you had any memories left of this Ybor City show that you did at the Cuban Club that you did with Dag Nasty and Jehovah's Sicknesses?
That was in St. Petersburg or Tampa?
It was in Ybor City, at the Cuban Club.
Cuban Club? I guess, I remember some Miami shows. I remember an outdoor, was it an outdoor or indoor?
I remember a really good outdoor Florida show, it was probably that. Where The Pink Lincoln's singer showed up.
It's always good to see Chris, and it's always good to catch up with him, yeah those outdoor shows down there are so much fun. I don't remember much more about it other than it being an outdoor and that we got to see Chris. These are the highlights you tuck away in your memory. [laughs]
Another fan question, you mentioned that you were teenagers when you wrote some of these songs obviously, and Bill has mentioned how his dad harbored some resentment towards women, and I think most fans acknowledge that it's nice that you've changed some of your lyrics, especially some of the homophobic ones, but besides singing different lyrics live, do you think theres anything you can do to — I don't know if using the word atone is right — but atone for having written the lyrics or is it something that you feel that you even need to do. I mean you were pretty young when you wrote those lyrics.
I don't feel a need to atone, but I do feel a need to reflect on who I am today as opposed to who I was then. Really the only thing I can do is reflect on who I am and put it into my music, and so the songs we write today are reflective of who we are as individuals. So we just put out this "Who We Are" single — last year digitally — and this year on vinyl it's coming out on Record Store Day. I wouldn't call it atoning but I would call it [a way of saying] "Hey! This is who I am now" People evolve, people grow up, people mature, and that's all I can think to do is to put it into our music.
Now in terms of playing stuff live, if there's anything that we play that is just uncomfortable to us, and things that we go "Yeah, that's a fun song to play, but God those lyrics don't resonate anymore, in fact they are uncomfortable to sing" then we'll just not do it anymore, we don't do "Loser" anymore and we're not going to be doing "Pervert" anymore. That was one where for many years I was like "Ah, you know, it's about how I just wanna have sex, what's the matter with that?" and some of the other members of the band we're like "No. It's creepy," [laughs] So we're not going to do "Pervert" anymore. So we kind of try and take that into consideration, it's all about whether any member of the band is uncomfortable with a certain lyric, we'll just shit-can it. We don't have any problems doing that, and as I said, as new songs come along, I think I've got a different take on life, on females, on all that, politically, whatever. I think growing up, I was fairly liberal growing up and still am, but while having those types of politics you're also growing up and not really just understanding how to deal with girls. I mean you're 15 years old and you just don't know how to deal with them, and that comes through in music. I feel like I've gotten a better grip on it now.
Yeah, and on that note, I like reading this thing where you explain some of your songs, and you mention the bad call you made on "I Quit" and obviously not such a bad thing to make a bad call on but you've changed and matured so much over the years. Is there any advice you would've given teenage Milo before he set out on this Descendents journey that you're still currently on
Well, if I knew what I know now, perhaps, I'm not going to say for sure but perhaps, I would've really gone in full bore for music. You just never know, what we've done over the past few years is to me, kind of unexpected in terms of being able to kind of just get right back out there and keep doing it. I would've never predicted as a 17-year-old that I'd be doing this as a career, and especially as a career into my middle age, so I think that's what I would've [said]. When I was age 17 I was like, yeah this is fun and this is a hobby, but I've got this whole career trajectory in mind that does not at all involve music and I probably sold myself a little short by being a little more closed minded about music at that age, that it was literally just a hobby and nothing else. It all worked out in the end, but I could've caused myself less frustration over the years, and especially could have caused less frustration for Bill and the rest of the guys over the years if I had just gone in at that point, as opposed to just dabbling as I was doing.
Right, and you mentioned that 7-Inch and then "Pavlov's Cat" and "Opt In" are on the other side. Previously you've said that it won't be another dozen years but it's interesting to hear you talk about the new music you're making now. Is Stephen still making you and Bill look bad, or can we expect some new music from you sooner than later now? I was under the assumption we shouldn't expect a time table.
Well, I wouldn't expect a really strict, discrete time table, but I think we're all committed to not waiting another 10 years, but then again we've always operated with the notion of when it's all fully baked and we're all fully in that gear, we're gonna plow through it. To put ourselves on some artificial timeline just means we're just going to be just sitting there like, "Uh, I guess I gotta go write some songs, uh," and we've just never worked like that. Either someone telling us when to write songs, or even having yourself, forcing yourself to write a song. I just write songs when I've got something to say, and that's how they come out, so my songs come out in dribs and drabs. One here, and then a maybe a few months later another one. This kind of thing, that's just how we write, it's how Bill writes as well and that means we can't really put a timetable on it, but I can definitely say that we're committed to not waiting 10 years.
I've got probably four or five songs written, Stephen has got like oodles of songs written, not as many with lyrics, but oodles of instrumentals that we can put lyrics to as well, so I think we've the beginnings of another record it's just we have to get all four guys pitching and pushing at the same time, and not trying to push it in an unnatural way because that's just not how we've ever operated.
And you've played some House of Vans shows, I don't know that you're much of an industry watcher, but do you think the end of Warped Tour harms the summer touring market, as far as active bands go?
I think there's plenty of other festivals, I think that Riot Fest has stepped in the past several years, and to me I feel like if there's not a festival, a punk festival, something will come in to fill that void. If not Riot Fest it's some other some type of thing. Punk Rock Bowling. To me it's different than in the 90s where Warped Tour was the only gig in town. I think there are a lot of different options now.
It's been great to see how it has evolved over the past five or ten years, to having some of these other festivals slowly grow into these behemoth things. Every time we've played Riot Fest or every time we've played Punk Rock Bowling I've had a great time. Festivals are fun, a lot of people don't like them as fans maybe because you don't get to see your band play for more than a half hour or maybe they were too far away. I like them because I am a music fan, and I get to see a bunch of bands myself, and that makes it fun for me, and so I like the whole environment of selecting a bunch of different music to experience for the first time or to see my favorite band play, so yeah I like festivals, and I hope they continue. I'm sure there are going to be plenty of punk flavored festivals in the next few years.
Cool, and if I could sneak another couple of questions in before noon here, another tour question, you're pretty healthy, obviously punk rock keeps you from getting old but do you still vanish to sneak in some Wienerschnitzels in when you're on the road?
Yeah, I do have a bit of a guilty pleasure of when I go on the road, it's not Wienerschnitzel, although it depends on the city.
I don't think they exist anymore, do they?
There's still some out in California, for sure. We were just out there and I could have gone to Wienerschnitzel but instead I had poké. When I go out on one of these runs I will check out what the local cuisine has to offer. Especially if I'm staying in Europe, I'm going to try and get the local thing that the place is known for. It'll probably never be Wienerschnitzel, unfortunately. But yeah, down in Florida I'm sure I'll be looking up some good food items to get because it kind of makes it fun to experience some of what's going on locally, so that's I'll probably end up doing down in Florida. I don't know if that means if I'll get alligator or something, I don't know.
I'll make a post asking people what food to get.
Yeah, that's a good idea. When we're down there we'll drink cuban coffee for example, and Cuban sandwiches are obviously great. I'll have one of those I'm sure.
Yeah, it's kind of nice, the band with coffee addiction comes down to the place with some of the best coffee. I wanted to ask you real quick, and kind of turn the tables on this kind of industry mind, I like that you kind of talk about your new music and how you kind of have things to say, which is a little different from things in the past when you were super young. There are subsects, every genre has subsects that are not so great. I get private messages about bands that people say are racist or homophobic or things like that, and I was curious from a band perspective, what are your thoughts on fans and publications doing these public outings of bands that fall into this category? It's almost like a crusade or what not. Do you have any thoughts on stuff like that? Is that a publications job, a bands job, a fans job?
I think that people can interpret however they want, and a lot of times if they're interpreted incorrectly, it doesn't get the right meaning. I think we're kind of beyond all that. I mean people told us when that we sold out, that we weren't being true to the punk thing or whatever. I think also, like you said, we have written songs that were edgy in the past maybe harboring on sexist and so we try and deal with those within the time and place that comes along. I remember being on tour in the '80s and having a woman show up and really dress me down for "No FB" which we don't play anymore, and at the end of it I kind of thought "Yeah, I deserved that."
I deserved getting dressed down for that, because people are going to be offended by it," but part of punk rock is writing things that are maybe kind of on the edge and borderline offensive. If you are going to go there, if you are going to write that kind of song, you gotta be willing to take your lumps and when I got berated for it I kind of just thought, "Yeah, I deserved that."
There are certain songs you don't play anymore, and in our music some songs are kind of frozen in time, and we play them as if they arose from that period, well yeah they did rise from that period, but you kinda have to play them as if they're frozen in time, but we carry ourselves as individuals in a fairly non-sexist way, we all have wives, we love women, we're people, I have a daughter. I kind of think we don't really espouse any of that stuff, it's just that songs were written when we were are kind of [from] the perspective of a 16-year-old. Perhaps not even an enlightened 16-year-old either, so I take my lumps when I get 'em and we've gotten some lumps and so we try to not totally diss on any particular part of society. It's a fine line because we like to be provocative and I think some of our songs may be in that vein. I say bring it on, bring it on, we'll take our lumps if we need to.
And last question since you talked about a provocative song. The country song about farts and romance, is that "Light A Candle?" Will it ever come out?
Yeah, I don't think. I'll probably have to do it acoustically sometime. [laughs] Yeah, it's one of that I think when Bill first heard it, he already had tucked it into the "Yeah, we're going to work this song up," but it's not going on the record, and when he divulged that to me, we didn't really ever think that it was going to air. But it doesn't sound like Descendents, it's just more country flavored, I had fun writing it, and some songs you write and they're fun to write but they don't fit with the format of the band. I grew up listening to Tom Lehrer and a lot of his songs were trifles. You can tell he was laughing hysterically when he was writing it, and I sometimes tend to write songs like that, for the sheer giggle of it, and that's one of those songs. I can pull out an acoustic and probably bash that out no problem, but it's not a song the Descendents ever need to do.
Awesome. Thanks Milo. I'm looking forward to seeing you here and possibly hearing some new music, is there anything you wanted to add before I get off the phone?
No, no. We won't be playing any unreleased music, but we're going to definitely include some songs that people haven't heard in a while, in fact certain songs we've never played live are going to be played live this go around, so that's kind of exciting for us, and challenging to play some songs we recorded way back when, they got released but then for whatever reason they were never got put into a live set, so now we're attempting to do some of that, so that's a new treat for people who have seen us a lot, they'll be like, "Oh, never heard that one before," so that'll be fun.
Awesome, thanks so much man, thank you for your time and have a good day, and safe travels.
Cool, talk to you later, bye.