The band Descendents are punk rock royalty, akin to Chuck Berry's place in rock 'n' roll, Grandmaster Flash's position in hip hop and Mozart's role in classical music (Beethoven would be Black Flag). Formed in Manhattan Beach, California in 1977, the Descendents have written and recorded some of the most seminal punk anthems of all time ("Suburban Home"/"Clean Sheets"/"I Don't Want to Grow Up"/"Bikeage"/"All"/"No All") with a lineup that has remained consistent (and highly caffeinated) for a long, long time (Milo Aukerman on vocals, Stephen Egerton on guitar, Bill Stevenson on drums and Karl Alvarez on bass). While the band has been in existence for 40 years or so, they haven't released as many albums as one would suppose (fewer than 10), based mostly on the varied interests/day jobs of some members; Stevenson owns and runs The Blasting Room Studios, a recording studio in Fort Collins, Colorado, and Aukerman was-until recently-a biochemist. Aukerman left that job in 2016, allowing the Descendents to come back and inject their brew of melodic hardcore on listeners with their most recent studio effort, Hypercaffium Spazzinate. Drummer, songwriter and man-with-most-surgeries-not-associated-with-the-sport-of-football Bill Stevenson recently paused during a busy day to talk with FW about being an aging punker, drinking way, way too much coffee and, unrelatedly, flatlining. And music.
Folio Weekly: It's been a dozen years (or so) since we've heard from the Descendents. What have you been up to and what is Hypercaffium Spazzinate?
Bill Stevenson: We've been playing a lot of shows, I've had two craniotomies, Milo quit his job, a lot of cool things. Hypercaffium Spazzinate was something Milo came up with. He was in his lab and he dripped something he was working on into his coffee. He drank the coffee and it made the coffee have a total crazy effect, like he'd had 50 cups of coffee. So, he experimented around a little more and ultimately gave it that name to represent a new chemical compound.
I assume it will be on the Periodic Table soon?
Yeah, right next to Barium Nitrate.
There is a song on Hypercaffium Spazzinate called "No Fat Burger," about getting older and having to eat healthier. It flies in the face of "I Like Food."
That's my favorite song on the album. It's similar subject matter but not written from the same perspective of a 23-year-old.
You must not have many peers who have been able to sustain for as long as the Descendents have.
I was actually talking to Brian Baker [of Minor Threat] about that the other night. I asked him, "Who's it going to be, you guys or us?"
What makes you still want to keep climbing behind the kit?
It's fun. As long as our musical discovery continues to exist, we'll keep playing. When I was younger, I could handle lugging around Marshall amps and playing eight hours a day. As you get older, well, now I only deal with it two hours a day, and then an-hour-and-a-half. You don't just wake up one day and you're a grandpa; it comes over time. We fly out every couple of weeks and do some shows, then we come home and lick our wounds and hang out with our kids. Then we fly out a few weeks later and do more. When you are young, and you have no family and you're single, playing 200 shows a year is optimal. But now, I have a home to come home to and a wife and daughters and wiener dogs and cats. It's also rad being in charge of my own culinary destiny as opposed to having fast food all the time.
[Stevenson and I then discuss enchilada-making for an extended period.]
You have gone through some tough times recently; I hope things are going well for you now. Beyond playing with the Descendents, you're involved in producing and recording. How has music been cathartic for you?
Yeah, it's great. It's great to be able to express myself musically and it's also exhilarating on a physical level, as a drummer. They say, "rock 'n' roll keeps you young," and I think it does. I certainly don't feel 55. And, yeah, I have been through some stuff. I've had two craniotomies, one open-heart surgery, one open-lung surgery during which I flatlined for 30 minutes, one knee surgery, one eye surgery; the most recent one was extensive radiation on my brain. So, yeah, let's do this.
I was watching an interview that Milo and Karl did and-I'm paraphrasing-they called you a songwriting savant and said that the band wouldn't exist if you weren't playing in it. That must feel really great to hear.
That makes me very happy that Milo would say that. He and I have been friends for 37 years or something stupid, so it's not like we give each other that kind of positive feedback on a daily basis. That means a lot to me that he still feels that way 38 years into the band. That just made me happy.
Back to coffee: How much coffee is too much coffee?
For me, too much is maybe 14 espressos at once. But six isn't enough for me to get through a show playing tempos that were established when I was a teenager.
That's a lot of caffeine. What makes a good cup of coffee?
Milo bought me an espresso maker a few years ago; I really like that. I like the dark beans. No cream, no sugar, just black. For a while, I was doing that bulletproof thing, with the butter and some coconut, but when I showed up for my open-heart surgery and asked the dude about it, he said, "Are you fucking kidding me?" He said it's bad and everyone is going to die from it; we just don't have the research for it. It gets you jacked, though. I just don't want to have another open-heart surgery. Those suck. They saw your chest open.