Nearly 40 Years Later, It's Still Exciting To Watch Descendents Live Milo Aukerman and Bill Stevenson are still making punk music as Descendents. NPR's Scott Simon spoke to the band about growing up, getting old, and making music about each other.

Nearly 40 Years Later, It's Still Exciting To Watch Descendents Live

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Youth, energy, angst, bravado - that's the stuff of punk, but it turns out that youth may be the least critical part of that equation.


DESCENDENTS: (Singing) I want to feel this. Got to have to bear witness. Going to take pain straight the way I found it.

SIMON: More than 30 years, Milo Aukerman and Bill Stevenson have been pounding out punk music as Descendents, along with their fellow band members, Karl Alvarez and Stephen Egerton. Their new album is called "Hypercaffium Spazzinate." Milo Aukerman joins us now from member station WHYY in Philadelphia. Thanks so much for being with us.

MILO AUKERMAN: Oh, great. It's good to be here.

SIMON: And Bill Stevenson joins us from member station KUNC in Fort Collins, Colo. Thank you very much.


SIMON: You guys have a lot of years invested in this, don't you?

STEVENSON: Thirty-eight, I guess. We started the band when we were in high school, and now we're geezers. We're 52 and 53, respectively.


STEVENSON: Disrespectively (laughter).

AUKERMAN: (Laughter).

SIMON: And, Milo Aukerman, you - I mean, you've been going back and forth. You pursued a career in biochemistry, I'm told.

AUKERMAN: I worked on plant genetics for the past two decades at this point, but very recently kind of hung my hat up on that. I'm not really doing that right now.

SIMON: And the relationship between plant genetics and punk is...


SIMON: (Laughter).

AUKERMAN: I can't think of a single thing that they have in common.

SIMON: Yeah.

STEVENSON: Well, actually, what Milo will likely be remembered for happened in some of the very last days of his lab science career. He happened upon this reagent that when blended with coffee, it created a buzz effect that was many, many times greater than what normal coffee could give you. He named it hypercaffium spazzinate. We're thinking one day that you'll see that actually on the periodic table. We're lobbying for that. But I think when it comes down to it, that'll be the great achievement that Milo will be remembered for.


AUKERMAN: Yeah, as well as the explosion that ensued, so...

STEVENSON: Well, we don't want to talk about the explosion, Milo (laughter).

AUKERMAN: OK. Yeah. Yeah. OK. Sorry.

SIMON: Milo, can I get you to talk about the song "Testosterone?"

AUKERMAN: I was, you know, working it at this mega-corporation that I was at. I dealt a lot with the alpha males. And that song's kind of about dealing with them and just my desperate attempt to try to, you know, keep up with them, not being an alpha male myself and not really feeling that macho. And that kind of made me think, oh, I just got to, like, dose up the way, you know, they're dosed up.


DESCENDENTS: (Singing) They told me I didn't have what it takes. Slam it right here in my veins. Need it bad. Someone give me a dose. Need it bad - testosterone. I'm not God. I want to be one.

SIMON: There are people who leave corporate life for a number of different reasons, but they don't like the pace. They don't like the values. But they, you know - and we do stories about them, and they often become - I don't know - organic bakers.


SIMON: The world of punk is pretty tough, too, isn't it?

AUKERMAN: Yeah, that's the - it's an odd thing. You'd think I'd have plenty of testosterone coursing through my veins from all the punk rock, but I'm actually, by nature, a fairly shy person. And so, you know, how I ended up being in a punk rock band is kind of a mystery. I think it just became kind of an alter ego.

SIMON: I want to ask about one of your most sensitive songs, "Comeback Kid." Bill Stevenson, could you set that up for us?

STEVENSON: Milo wrote it for me. A few years ago, I had a massive brain tumor. And once the tumor was diagnosed and surgically removed, I kind of had a rebirth of sorts, and I felt better than I had felt in 20 years. And I mean, I still do. I still can't believe that I'm 52 because I feel more like 30 or something.

But that brain tumor had been in there for a while just making me slow and making me old and making me depressed. And I - and when I didn't know it was in there, I just thought I was - I thought, oh, I'm getting old. This isn't fun. But then when they took the tumor out, it was magic. It was like, wow, I'm not getting old.

AUKERMAN: It was like an epiphany.

STEVENSON: I feel so great now. This is cool. I want to be alive again.


DESCENDENTS: (Singing) Where did you go? But I didn't know you were facing elimination. So many people rooting for you. They'd do anything to see you through.

AUKERMAN: Two thousand nine is when he had this thing, and in 2010, he had the surgery. We were on a hiatus at that point. And it energized the whole band and got me thinking I want to kind of get back in there 'cause it just turned into this whole snowball of great feelings around his recovery.


DESCENDENTS: (Singing) Comeback Kid, it's exciting to watch you live. What's inside of your broken lid? We all want you to win.

SIMON: I love this song.


SIMON: And I love the line, you know, Comeback Kid, it's exciting to watch you live.

AUKERMAN: I mean, I think that's what it was for me. I mean, literally when he called me after the surgery - and now, granted, he was on a variety of medications post-surgery, but he sounded like he was on Cloud 9. And I just got wrapped up in it. It was the - a very emotional phone call that he gave me.

STEVENSON: Yeah. And from another perspective, too, it wasn't that many years prior to that - Karl had had a heart attack. And so I think when I came out of brain surgery, it may have just been a time where the four of us were thinking we're not going to be here forever, so we should enjoy our band that we started together. We should enjoy it now while we're still able to. I mean, for lack of a more graceful way of saying it, you know, before one of us kicks the bucket.

SIMON: Yeah. Did everything you went through make you appreciate each other and the blessing that you have to bring this music to people?

AUKERMAN: I mean, all of our songs are kind of autobiographical. And so I think, you know, as you go through the record, it's - each song is either directed at another member of the band or is kind of like a shared sentiment among the band.

And then the final song, "Beyond The Music," which is kind of like, I think, the triumphant kind of corker to the whole thing because it talks about how we started. It's kind of our little history lesson as a band - 38 years ago starting out, you know, in the garage with carpeting on the walls. That song we had to have last just 'cause it - it's the kind of capper to the whole kind of autobiographical nature of our songwriting.


DESCENDENTS: (Singing) Here we are today. Still look each other in the face. Not expecting a single thing beyond the music.

SIMON: Bill Stevenson and Milo Aukerman and together with Karl Alvarez and Stephen Egerton - they are Descendents. Their new album is called "Hypercaffium Spazzinate." Look for it on your periodic table. Gentlemen, thanks so much for being with us.

AUKERMAN: Thanks a lot.

STEVENSON: Thank you.

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