Doing interviews for a zine is a piece of cake basically even if English is not your first language. Usually the person or group you interview will have done this before and walk you through the whole thing in case you absolutely have no clue what you’re doing. Plus they are usually the talkative kind of person so you only have to throw in a cue or two and off they go. This does NOT guarantee a good interview but it will get you through one (and on the guest list most importantly). The real test in the world of zine interviews is the phone interview! Relying on audio conversation alone and left to one’s communicational skills the outcome of the interview will decide if you’re ready for the pros (as in bands and labels will ask your zine for a an interview with their band) or if you will have to continue to write the standard band interviews aka how’s the tour, how’s the new record, any plans for the future.
My personal do or die moment came when Stefan asked around for someone who’d be willing to do an interview with Milo from the DESCENDENTS …
I don’t remember exactly why I light heartedly agreed to do it but I think everyone else had already declined with hints of intimidation as the main reason. I had (and still have!) Milo’s phone number and with sweaty palms I was dialing away. If this one is my ticket to the pros or not is your call – here we go.
(originally released in Downpour #005)
Interview: Philip • All live pics by Elena de Soto
O.K., I’m ready. You’ve probably been doing this all day long, right?
It’s my second one. There was … kind of a time zone challenge. I’ve definitely been doing a lot of waiting around. But this is my last one today. My day is free after this.
Cool. I have to start out by saying that I really, really, really like the new album. And I’m not just saying that because I’m doing the interview but because it is a great album.
Thank you. We enjoyed making it so we’re glad everyone is enjoying it.
How did this album come about? Is it the result of ideas from the last couple of years or did you all get together with the intention of writing an album?
Well, I started writing songs after a long while of not writing songs in like 2010. And Bill had a surgery to remove a tumour. And in the aftermath of that there was such a euphoric period that we all decided to play shows and I started writing again. I wrote comeback kid around that time and a bunch of songs after that. And the others in the band they always have songs at the ready basically. So around 2012 we started putting gears in motion. We didn’t actually start tracking early last year (2015), I did my vocals January this year. So yeah, it’s been a long process basically because we live in different areas, we had to file share back and forth and we had to clear everyone’s schedule. Bill records at THE BLASTING ROOM in Colorado, they couldn’t cancel other bands out. We had to wait for some free time to get everything going.
Speaking of your vocals: Is there more melodic singing on the new album or is that just my impression?
That’s kind of how it evolved for me over the years. I think I’ve been injecting more melody on each we did. It also reflects the fact that we are four songwriters. Bill and Karl especially come in with songs that require some melody. And I go: “Yeah, I can do that.” And Bill himself, you’d be surprised how good of a singer Bill is. He’s worked with THE BLASTING ROOM for so many years, putting down backing vocals for other bands and he came with these demos and I’m: “Oh man, Bill. You’re crazy.” He can really croon, so I had to learn to croon a little bit of crooning myself to kind of hit those songs the way they should be. Spineless and scarlet red, that’s a real crooner song. And there#s parts to that I really had to learn how to do that. So there has been that kind of evolution in singing for sure.
Some songs – I don’t have the lyrics yet – but just listening to them, some seem like very personal songs if they are based on personal experience. Songs like no fat burger or limiter …
Yeah, I think all of the three lyric writers definitely come in with songs from their personal experiences. That’s some of the things that we always follow. I’d like to get beyond that but for the time being that’s what we have to work with. For example no fat burger, that’s me going to the doctor and him yelling at me because my blood count was off. We like to poke fun at ourselves a lot and that song is poking fun at me. We have that song I like food and no fat burger is kinda like the humorous update on I like food.
Now limiter is based on personal experience as well. It’s about me dealing with the ADHS craze in this country and about medicating ADHS in this country. There’s a lot of that going on. I don’t know about internationally …
It’s a craze over here as well.
But I have to admit, that song, I wrote it … it’s a big grey area for me. At first I was very resistant to the idea but as time wore on and I was seeing how the medication effected my son I could see the benefits. And that song documented a certain time for me where I was very angry and frustrated about it but I came out on the other side but we recorded the song anyway.
How do you feel about throwing something so personal into the public?
You can cross the line there. I really worry about that. Like you said with limiter, we recorded that and while we recorded the vocals for that I was thinking: “My God, what if we catch some heat for that? Or my family…” But I still crossed that bridge. We kinda like wearing our hearts on our sleeves. I should have coded some of that, obscured some of it. There are songwriting techniques I should learn.
I don’t know how it is for you but when a band releases a new album I always wonder: “What are they gonna do this time?” Because most bands ease up on the energy level on the later albums. You don’t! Where do you guys get the energy from?
I think it comes from the fact that we’re kinda like a unified four in the terms of robbing early 80’ies punk rock. There’s that song on the new record full circle that’s kinda harkening back to those days. And most people grow out of that and we never have! I mean, cranking up that BLACK FLAG or such is so much part of me and I just can’t give it up. And when we#re writing songs we are relying on that DNA we got from that early 80’ies punk rock. And I think we will continue to do that because we love to play live. We write songs and it just feels so good to play them live. It’s just such a good feeling. That’s what we wanna do, just play hard and fast.
We did an interview with Doug Dagger from THE GENERATORS and he said that the early 80’ies punk scene in L.A. Was kinda scary. How did you feel participating in that sce
I kinda separated it. The music was such a rush for me, but you’re right, the music that was such a rush for me was an invitation for someone else to bust some heads. It gets your blood flowing and it’s a question of what you’re gonna do once that blood is flowing. And I’ve been in situations in clubs in the early 80’ies when I’ve been like: “Yikes! Maybe I should move way to the back and not so close to the stage where the people are with the chains and the brass knuckles. And people managed to sneak in all sorts of weapons … But for me, I stayed up at the front because it was such a draw even at the expense of getting my head bashed a little bit …
So you never got seriously injured or anything?
No, you learn how to watch out. You wanna lose yourself in the music as much as you can but at the same time you wanna keep an eye on your back, see if there’s any kind of people who might start something.
Speaking of playing live, doing shows and still recording – do you ever feel like: “ I’m too old for this.”?
Well, when we started doing shows again and recording in 2010, there was a point where I was like: “Oh man, can I still do this?” And after the very first show I knew: “ yes, I still can do this.” But there’s a catch, I can’t do it with the same kind of lack of preparation like I did in the 90’ies and 80’ies. So now I have a certain set of preparation. I don’t wanna ruin the show for someone else by losing my voice. That’s a point where I realize that my voice is the voice of a 50+ year old so I have to do some preparation cause I still want to sing as aggressively as I did back then. I don’t wanna modify the level of aggression. I had some scares in the UK and in Australia related to my voice. We still try to correct those issues, putting in the time practicing in my basement and getting my voice ready to do that.
Anything you miss from the early days?
We used to play to small crowds and we’re no longer able to do this. We used to be able to play a club packed with 200 kids and everyone was right in your face and this communal feeling … If we’d try to do that now we’d probably end up having to do that five days in a row. Small clubs are fun. I’m happy now because I also remember the early 80’ies playing to an empty club where it was like playing to one person or the bands playing for each other. But a nice small club, playing to like 200 kids, that’s a good time for sure.
You’re playing a couple of festivals in Europe this summer. Any chance of a club tour in Europe in the near future?
I think we can come back to Europe and hit a couple of more clubs. What we’re doing now … I have a lot more time than before because I left my science job which opened up the opportunity for me to do music full time. So now instead of doing 10 – 15 shows a year why don’t we do like 40 – 50 shows so we can hit more places and, like you said, play more club shows. So that’s something to look forward to in the next years.
I read that as well that you quit your job. Any reason for doing it now? I mean, that was like a constant in DESCENDENTS history, you going to college or having a science job …
It actually wasn’t my choice, the company laid me off. And believe it or not, it was kind of like a perfect situation for me. I have been doing this job for like 15 years and the first couple of years were great and then it started going downhill and the last couple of years got so bad that I was thinking: “I should just quit.” And at the same time the band is going great and I had so much more fun with the band than at my job. And while I’m still moping over my decision the company started laying off people in January while we were recording the new record. Sop I lost my job and immediately started tracking vocals so it was pretty seamless. To me it was the best thing that could ever happen to me.
Can I ask you this? How much of a risk is that for you?
I guess it’s always tough when you have an occupation that you had so much training for. But in terms of stability … you know people always complain about music as an occupation. Like, if you wanna pursue a career in music you should learn a real job, something more stable as a back up. And I think for me it’s 180 degree the opposite. That’s what I had to learn. The science gig was not a stable career for me, music was so much more stable in the end. So it’s really kind of astonishing that it goes all backwards for me. I feel like it was totally the right decision to make. And honestly I am in a very lucky position because for most people music wouldn’t be a stable position. But for me, compared to the science gig, it totally was.
DESCENDENTS always had the iconic Milo drawing as a logo of some sort. I was wondering how much do you identify with that drawing?
I guess I identify with him from a perspective of like me at 16 or 17 year old self. Because this whole thing was done by a friend of mine in high school. And the idea was to document the flailing attempts of Milo. The whole thing is a caricature so I definitely don’t feel like such a flailing person now that I got my life together. I still consider myself a nerd but I am not a flailing person. There are times when I’m like: “ What would 16/ 17 year old Milo do?” That helps to stir up the juices in order to find out what kind of image we’re gonna generate. But it’s not my life now. I’m not that person any more. Although my wife might disagree with that … tell me I’m flailing pretty badly …
Just about wrapping it up with some final questions here. Are you into collecting records at all?
When you say records you mean vinyl, right?
I don’t have a vinyl collection. Music is on in the background, in my car, in my house when I’m relaxing.
I’m asking because we usually ask for a most wanted record …
I guess I’m not really collecting. I have vinyl from way back when I was a kid. I like to look in to my vinyl collection an from back in the day out of curiosity. Usually I listen to music digitally, like in my car or at work. I don’t collect vinyl now.
What was the last song you listened to before this interview?
M: CHEIFS – they’re an L.A. Band form the late 70’ies, early 80’ies and I was a huge fan back then. I listened to the CHEIFS lately to figure out the lyrics. We do cover them (either no justice or drop out) and so far I always made up lyrics.
What’s your favorite current band?
PEARS – they’re kind of like us: aggressive, melodic punk/ hardcore …
Favorite band of all times?
Early L.A. Bands mean so much to me. I don’t listen to them all the time but when I sit down to listen to music I always go back to them. X – I have a huge amount of respect for them. They basically converted me from a new wave kid to a punk rock kid. We went to see DEVO and X was the opening band. And by the third song I was like: “OK, new wave – screw that …” So I got into the early L.A. Stuff, I started listening to Rodney on the ROQ, FEAR, GERMS … my gateway drug to punk rock.
Alright, that’s it, thank you for doing the interview.
And I hope to see the DESCENDENTS on a club tour in the near future.
Yeah, yeah, I hope so too. I know playing only festivals is a huge bummer – there’s a huge scene over there, hopefully we get out there for some club shows real soon …