Q&A: Milo Aukerman of Descendents—”You Can’t Deny the Need to Rock”

Milo Aukerman of Descendents helps celebrate Goldenvoice's 30th anniversary on Dec. 18, 2011 at GV30 in Santa Monica, Calif. (PHOTO: Andrew Youssef)

The Riot Fest has expanded their veritable smorgasbord offering of punk bands from their home-base city of Chicago (September 14-16) to such cities as Brooklyn (September 8), Toronto (September 9) and Dallas (September 22). One of the bands who happens to be hitting all of those cities are the legendary caffeine-fueled punk legends Descendents.

Led by the rapid fire vocals of Milo Aukerman, the pummeling riffs of Stephen Egerton and the locked in rhythm section of Bill Stevenson and Karl Alvarez, the Descendents are guaranteed to melt your face. Due to their sporadic touring schedule, their appearance make the festival worth the price of admission alone. Check out our interview with Aukerman below as he discusses why the Descendents don’t play often as they should and his favorite brand of coffee.

Since the band members of Descendents are scattered all over the country, What are the semantics of getting together and rehearsing when you book some gigs?

I do Karaoke! To rehearse, I play instrumental versions of all our songs, and sing along to them. Stephen also plays guitar along to a recording of Bill and Karl rehearsing. Bill and Karl can actually practice together, because they both live in Colorado. But we’re all pretty dedicated to it, and in the weeks leading up to a show, everyone’s putting in their time, just in different locations.

Have you been writing any new material? Any possibility of a new Descendents album?

We are all writing new stuff, and there is definitely a commitment to record at some point. But we also have our regular lives, and I don’t think any of us can drop everything to spend a few months in the studio. Basically, any recording will likely be stretched out over a long period, as we share files and fit things in around our regular schedules.

Seeing that the Descendents tour sporadically, what are the primary factors involved in everyone getting together to play a show?

I think what you’re really asking is, why don’t we play more often?  Mainly because we all have regular jobs, at this point. So the primary factor is just clearing everyone’s schedules to line up the dates. I have a normal nine-to-five job and have to use vacation hours to play shows (if they don’t fall on a weekend), so that tends to limit our ability to tour “for real.” If it weren’t for that limitation, we’d probably be touring all the time, because we are good friends who love to play together, the pay is good, and you can’t deny the need to rock.

Since I have some background in chemistry, If you could be any element on the Periodic Table which would you choose and why?
I’m a very gassy person, so being a “Noble Gas” really appeals to me.  Actually, I’m Super Gassy, so I’m going to choose Krypton.

What are some of your daily activities working as a chemist? Are you allowed to listen to music while you work?

I do mostly molecular biology and genetics, actually. Lots of DNA work, cloning and PCR, sequence analysis. And my division focuses on plant genetics, so I spend some time growing plants, cross-fertilizing plants, and studying plant traits. Certain tasks can be repetitious and mundane, and for those I do put on music in the lab. Everyone in my lab listens to music all the time, so it’s a fun atmosphere.

Has your background as a chemist ever come in handy on the road while touring? If so, do you have an anecdote to share?

The band has often discussed that I should just set up a tiny lab area on whatever tour bus we’re using, and keep the experiments going on the road!  Part of being a molecular biologist is having an appreciation of microbes, and the touring environment is a cornucopia of such little critters. I’ve often felt the urge to swab certain “hotspots” of microbial activity (my microphone, for example, or Bill’s shoes) and inoculate a Petri dish to see if I can figure out what bacterial species populate our stage and van.

Are there any bands on the Riot Fest line up that you are looking forward to check out?
There’s a band playing at the Brooklyn date, the Menzingers, that I want to check out. Their latest record is definitely worth a listen. Gritty, heart-on-your-sleeve pop punk.

Do you have a recording setup at home to demo songs?

Yeah, Bill and Stephen hooked me up with some Pro Tools gear. I know the bare minimum to cut a demo, at this point. Plus, I can barely play guitar, and I have to use a drum machine (I don’t own any drums). But it’s fun, and I’ll probably even use the rig to record vocals on our next record.

How do you prepare for these shows physically and vocally?

As I said, I do Karaoke. It’s the best solution I can come up with to rehearse, given that I’m out here in Delaware instead of Colorado. The challenge is that it’s just not the same as singing live, in terms of the energy level. At a show, I tend to sing very loud, and it’s been hard to duplicate that through Karaoke, so getting the proper vocal conditioning is my biggest obstacle at this point. Physically, I try to stay fit by running/walking, swimming, biking, etc.

How has the energy and reaction from Descendents fans evolved over the years?

Early on, it was only the “diehards” who came out to our shows, and the shows were rather small (50-100 people). Even so, I appreciated the intensity of those early fans; you knew they would drive hours and hours to see the band. We still get the “diehards” now (and I appreciate them even more now), but also we get the more “casual” fans.

Maybe they came to get laid, or see some other band, or just wanted to party.  That’s all cool with me; that’s why I’m there too! (Except the getting laid part… I’m happily married). So I’ve really enjoyed the expansion of the audience to include a lot of different types of people, so we’re not “preaching to the converted.”

The other thing that’s been great is to see some older people who probably first saw us back in the eighties… and they’re still hanging tight with us! And bringing their kids to the shows! It blows my mind to think of our music as “multi-generational.” Given the juvenile nature of our music, I just never would have expected that.

What is your preferred brand of coffee?
Peet’s Espresso Roast, ground and brewed in a Gaggia automatic machine.  The building that my lab is in has this arrangement, and it’s free.  I can’t wait to show up every morning.

For those folks who are unaware of your catalog, What songs would suggest that they check out to grasp a better understanding of what the Descendents are about?

“Weinerschnitzel,” “I’m Not a Loser,” “Myage,” “Hope,” “Bikeage,” “Silly Girl,” “Clean Sheets,” “Coolidge,” “I’m the One.”

—Andrew Youssef

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