Descendents Interview

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If you’re anywhere close to my age, you not only know who the Descendents are, but you definitely own at least a few of their albums. They were the background music to so many sessions and they contributed to the soundtracks of some of the most-watched skate videos of all times. Thankfully, they’re still cranking out the tunes and are currently on a select city tour with a brand-new album. I caught up with their front man, Milo, to see what makes them tick year after year. Interview & photos by Schmitty

How’s the tour been going so far?
It’s been going great. Well, it’s hard to call it a tour because we fly out and do a few shows and then we fly home. I mean, it’s kind of a tour that’s interspersed among many kind of individual shows. We usually do two shows a pop and then we fly home. But that makes it cool because we can keep our family lives going. We’ve all got families and we want to keep the ball rolling with that, so that’s been good. And I think it just means that when we do get together it’s just a ton more fun.

Right, you don’t get so burned out.
Yep. That’s the point of doing it this way. We thought about it, like, we could just go out for three months and then come back. But we’ve done that before and you get done with a tour like that and you’re kind of, like, now I need a six-month to a year break. So why not try to keep it fun and why not try to keep it something that we want to do for a long time. We’d like to do this for the next many, many years and I think it’s gonna help to do it this way.

So did you kind of abandon the whole scientist thing for now?
Well, I retired but it was a forced retirement. They laid off a bunch of us. This was in January and they laid us all off. It was, like, 700 people at the company. This was at DuPont. So it was not by choice. However, it was something that was lurking in the back of my head for the past few years that I should just do that—just kind of leave. It had gotten really lame for me at the company and I wasn’t really working on the kinds of things that I wanted to work on. They kind of sentenced me to Siberia in terms of my project and so I think I was already toying with the idea of quitting for the past few years and then they laid me off and it was kind of perfect. They kind of took the anguish out of it by doing it for me.

I discovered you guys in the late ‘80s through skateboard videos. There were a bunch of songs in videos that were pretty important to us growing up—stuff like Santa Cruz’s Streets of Fire and some contest videos. I was wondering, did you guys know about that at the time? How did that go down? 
Yeah, I don’t think we had a lot of input into any of it but we were aware that they were using the songs. Which is great, you know. We grew up skating. Skateboarding and punk are just so perfect for each other—kind of tailor made—and so it made a lot of sense to us that they would reach out and try to get the songs. I still love skate culture and skate music. It’s all still part of that kind of Southern California hardcore scene, for sure. So it’s something that’s obviously been helpful for us.


Natas Kaupus' "Streets of Fire" part skating to "Coolidge" by Descendents

You guys have influenced lots of people obviously, but who were some of the influences you had that helped mold who you guys became?
A lot of them were LA punk rock of the late ‘70s, early ‘80s. I kinda got in to punk via a new-wave background. But once I found punk—especially bands like X and the Germs and Black Flag—that kind of sealed the deal for me and that was pretty much all I wanted to listen to. So when I joined the Decedents I was very enamored with those three bands along with many other LA bands. But when we started writing songs I think we started to get a Beatles influence creeping back into it and so we started writing melodies. So I think it’s kind of like if you took Black Flag and merged them with the Beatles, that’s how you might describe our sound and that’s kind of where we come from. There’s this other band called the Last who are kind of a tiny band from LA, but they actually were kind of the first band doing that—I’d call it pop-infused punk—back before us. So they were a huge influence on us too.

Can you talk a little bit about the songwriting process? It’s pretty much a collaboration from what I understand.
Well, all four of us write but even though we’re all writing, sometimes people come in with fully completed songs so there’s not as much collaboration. But for every song where someone’s brought in a completed song, there’s another song where someone brought in some music and someone else will bring in lyrics. And so, for example, on the newest record, Hypercaffium Spazzinate, I brought in mostly completed songs, as did Bill and Karl, but then Stephen came in—he’s our guitar player—and he had all these songs that he just had music for and no lyrics. So we’d all sit down and write lyrics to his music. And those are some of my favorite songs on the record, not only because we were more collaborative, but also because Stephen just came through with some great kind of aggressive punk music. He hadn’t written anything for our last record, Cool to be You, and so to have him step up and write a bunch of stuff was fabulous. And like I said, his songs are some of my favorite ones on the record.


What is the story behind the song “Clean Sheets”?
Bill wrote that back in the ‘80s and, as with all of our songs, I think they’re all pretty much about a particular girl. Well, they’re about a particular thing and the ones about girls are not about made-up people. They’re about actual ex-girlfriends. So yeah, that was a girl that he was dating and she cheated on him so that was his song documenting the fact that she was cheating on him. But yeah, it’s probably one of our first songs where we brought forth all the pop sensibilities that we had festering inside for many years. That was the first truly slick pop song that we tried to do.



How do your kids feel about you being the frontman of the Descendents? Are they aware of what this is?
Yeah. I mean, they’re 12 and 14 and so when they were real young they had no clue. And I wasn’t really doing the band at that point when they were maybe eight or nine. But my daughter started to get into punk a little bit, obviously encouraged by me, and she heard some of my music and she said, “Wow. When are you guys gonna do this stuff live?” And this was at a time where we hadn’t been playing and I said, “Well, gee. Maybe we should do it live.” So it’s kind of like my daughter got us back into playing live again because she expressed an interest. This would have been in 2010 when we reconvened to start touring and start playing live again. So yeah, she’s really into it. My son’s into punk rock and I think they both are good cheerleaders for the band. They wear all the merch so that’s cool.

Do they ever taunt you with the lyrics to the song “Parents”?
No, they should. Maybe they don’t know that one so well but one thing about some of those old songs is that for a variety of reasons I don’t go out of my way to expose them to certain ones. That one is certainly not high on my rotation of songs I’m gonna play for them. I don’t want to give them the wrong idea, obviously.

Should kids go to college?
Yeah, you know, I think it’s definitely become almost an expectation. I think maybe not everyone’s suited for college but everyone should give it a try and find if it’s to your liking. I think it does open up a lot of doors. Now I have a different view on whether everyone should go to grad school, which is something I also did. I did it and I enjoyed it but I can definitely say if you’re at that crossroads of, like, “Well, should I go to grad school or not?” think long and hard about it because it may not get you exactly where you need to get, basically.


Decendents Band

Yeah I’ve seen it in my life. Obviously some people go through the whole process and then it seems like they’re in debt or whatever. Then other people who didn’t go that way and learned on their own and did their craft—it’s interesting to see some people that go through that process are successful and some people are pouring coffee, you know?
Yeah, and now that I think about it, I think about the rest of my band and, like, our drummer—who’s an absolute genius—didn’t go to college. He’s self-taught, you know. Self-made. If you have the desire and ambition, you can do many things without the benefit of a college degree. He’s a good example of that. Of course he has scrambled his whole life to get where he’s at now. It took him many, many years, but in the end I think he can look back and go, “Well, I guess I didn’t need to go to college after all.”

What’s one of the best things about living in today’s world and what’s one of the worst things?
Well, it’s gonna be probably the same answer, which is the information-based society we live in. I love having all of this information at my disposal and that goes for historical information, news, music—all that stuff. It can keep us all in the loop but that’s also the downside because I think when it started out and was more information based, that was cool. Now that it’s more social-media based I find that that’s kind of a worse thing at this point and that’s kind of bled over into this whole election cycle and the fact that the truth is hard to parse and the social media is really I think in large part to blame for that.

Everybody’s obsessed with consumption. Like, it has to be now; it has to be fast and right when they get it they want something else.
Yeah, and basically no one searches for the truth. People get spoon-fed the truth from whatever their favorite biased news media source is. And so then that becomes their truth. It’s a confirmation bias and they basically now have some truth that’s not really the truth but because it fits their view of the world it becomes truth to them. And the social media has really played into that.


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So what’s the answer? What can we do? Does the Internet need to blow up or what?
I don’t know. I hope people can reflect upon this after this election is over and just kind of go, “How did we get to the point where we had this fascist demagog as a candidate whose basically entire mode—the way that he got there was via Twitter?” Let’s think about that and not let it happen again.

Yeah, for sure. What’s the difference between All and Descendents as of now?
Well, We’ve always just said it’s different singers, you know? Because obviously the musicianship is similar. I mean, one thing about All, though, is that All does tend to write a little more intricate songs. Maybe there’s a little more prog to them. But by and large that’s not something that’s a defining characteristic, really. It’s just the fact that there are two different singers. People like All because they like whatever the singer is and people like Descendents because they like the singer of the Descendants and then there’s a huge amount of people that like both bands because they like the three quarters that make up both the best. So I think there’s not a lot of distinction between them. Right now we’re doing Descendents because I’m kind of engaged in it in a very serious way and the singer, Chad, has got his own gig going doing his country music. So I think everyone’s pretty happy the way it’s going right now.


Decendents MiloCrowd
What are the future goals for Descendents? Is this gonna be the mold for you, this tour style where you just do a few fly outs?
Well, I think recording is definitely something we want to do more of. It took us 12 years to make this last records. Obviously we weren’t working on it the whole time but there was basically a gap of 12 years which I think we now feel like is not acceptable. We need to be putting music out more frequently. So we hope to be making a record in the next few years instead of, you know, ten years. So that’s the kind of commitment that we’ve made at this point. In terms of touring, whenever we go over to Europe we’ve got to go for a longer time but whenever we play in the States it just makes the most sense for us to do it the way we’re doing it now. That kind of model I think will continue because we want to keep it fun. We want to keep it really energetic and we don’t want to be one of those bands that just kind of burns out. We’ve never really burned out. In the past we’ve taken long breaks because of different people doing different things—me going off to school or whatever—but we never really burned out and I think that’s the thing that kills most bands. People just get tired of each other. We don’t feel like that’s ever going to happen to us. We want to take all of like the appropriate steps to make sure that we keep this thing vital and energetic.

Sweet. I’ve been a fan of you guys for almost 30 years so this has been really cool for me to get to talk with you. Is there anything you’d like to say as last words?
Well, I guess I’ll thank you personally for sticking with us and thank everyone else for sticking with us through the years because obviously we’ve been kind of a here today, gone tomorrow, all of a sudden we’re back and then we’re not back band, but I really just appreciate people not giving up on us. We want to repay people as best we can for their persistence so that’s kind of where we’re at.

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