The Descendents are a pop punk institution. With 32 years in the scene it’s hard to believe they have never made the trek down to play in Australia. With a few precious free days and the opportunity to headline the new punk and metal festival No Sleep Til… The Descendents came and conquered. Playing Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne shows, drummer Bill Stevenson took time out from recording the new Rise Against record to have a chat about the tour, his recent health scare and the best coffee to drink.
Music Feeds: How come it’s taken The Descendents so long to come down to Australia?
Bill Stevenson: Hahaha I’ve been asked that 30 times in 28 interviews and I don’t really have a divine answer other than the timing never worked out or whatever. In the early days it was the money never worked out, we didn’t have the ability to pay for the flights without dipping into our own pockets to get down there. Then when we got popular enough that they wanted us down there and would pay for us to come, it never fitted into our schedules. This time it just so happened to.
MF: With the No Sleep Til festival you are only playing 3 of the shows, what’s the reason for that?
BS: Again it gets back to scheduling. Milo (vocalist) only had a week off from work (he’s also a biochemist) because he has to take time off over Christmas so this is how many show we could do. But I think it will be cool, it’ll be fun. If people really want to see us down there, they can make it to one of the shows hopefully.
MF: The band do take long breaks from touring and you’re coming back from a lengthy break, could this tour be a catalyst for getting together to do another Descendents album?
BS: We’ve not yet discussed that part of it. These Australian shows really came about, we just happened to be all talking, centred around me after my neurosurgery and we got this really good offer to do these shows so we were like “yeah, why not, lets do them!” That’s as far as we’ve really gotten in planning. In 2011 we’re going to do some shows in North America.
MF: You just touched on your health scare last year, what happened and are you okay now?
BS: The short answer is I dodge two pretty serious bullets, figuratively speaking and I am feeling absolutely wonderful! I feel more like 20 as opposed to 47. I not only survived these things but came out of it so much more invigorated and more energy than I possibly imagined. I am doing amazingly well. People say I remind them of when I was in my late teens/early twenties. Just driving everyone crazy with too much energy and too much hyperactivity. (laughs) It may not be rearing his head at this hour after working 14 hours, I’m a little bit tired. But both problems were solved with flying colours.
MF: Some of my favourite albums, you’ve produced, how do you choose the artists you work with?
BS: There’s two sides to it. There’s the creative side to it and then there’s the practical side to it. On the creative side we’ve recorded bands like Shades Apart, Someday I, or a band called My Name for next to nothing because we (partner in The Blasting Room Jason Livermore) just wanted to record them so badly because we thought they were bands who needed to have good recordings. But then on the other side of it, we’ve produced a record for Puddle Of Mudd because they paid us so much. (laughs) I’m just being honest!
MF: Do you find when working with a band whose music you’re not totally into that it becomes an interesting challenge or a boring mundane job?
BS: Nah, boring people are bored. I can get into the worst of the worst hardcore nu-metal band if I’m working on it, I can find a way to make it interesting for myself. Otherwise, I’m like “why did they hire me if I’m not going to bring something to the table.”
MF: After 30 years, do you still remember the first Descendents gig?
BS: Oh yeah, the first one was just a party at the house in where we practiced in the garage. There was a lot of people there and I was nervous but it was a good time. This was as a trio, just me and Frank and Tony. Maybe in February in ’79, I’m not sure exactly.
The first actual show we played was in a club…no it was a rented hall. That, a lot of times is how we had to do shows back then, just rent our own hall. This was a hall that Black Flag rented. So it was Descendents, The Reactionaries who later became The Minutemen, The Plugs, The Alley Cats and Black Flag….wow I actually remembered all 4 bands! Man, our first show had bands that we were either involved in or inspired us to play. That’s crazy, you know I’ve never thought about it like that until I was 47! (laughs) That’s weird.
MF: The Descendents have been such an inspiration for many coming through the scene, does it still blow your mind to still be around and playing music?
BS: Yeah, but I think because we’ve traditionally done on again/off again has made it seem like it hasn’t been 32 years. If we had done this straight for 32 years I think us and our listeners would be psychotic by now!
MF: You’re out here for the No Sleep Til festival have you had a look at the line up? Is there anyone you’re interested in seeing, anyone you’re looking forward in catching up with?
BS: Yeah it’s a good combination of old friends I’m looking forward to catching up with down under, also a few bands I’m excited to see. I haven’t seen NOFX play since we last produced their record (2009’s Coaster) so that’ll be fun. And I’ve developed a very hot, rekindled interest in The Alkaline Trio.
And I’m looking forward to seeing Cameron Baines (Bodyjar) who was kind of like our first friend in Australia. He goes back to the old days of the punk scene, I’m looking forward to seeing him. Although he’s not playing, I think he’s going to travel around with us and maybe do some candid filming. Throw him a camera and let him film us. He really is our best and oldest friend down there.
MF: Who in The Descendents makes the best cup of coffee?
BS: Oh boy, I’ve discovered this coffee from this company called Dazbog. And the blend, well the packaging is kind of eastern bloc looking and the blend is called KGB blend and it says on the packaging “it’s a interrogating blend”. I think this is the best coffee. We’ve been on it for about 5 years now and it’s the best thing in the world.
MF: Last question Bill, what would be the first song you’d put onto a mix tape?
BS: Right at this moment I heard this song, I’m not really a country music fan, that caught my ear. It’s called ‘This Ain’t Nothing’, it’s kind of a story about surviving through hardships and inspirational in a way and it really caught my ear. I’ve been playing it to people for weeks now. I’m not that familiar with the artist. Greg Morgan is his name. I think I just relate to it right now because I almost died twice this year and now it seems like I’m 17 years old again so the idea of getting over hurdles and surviving is kind of on my mind now