Milo Aukerman (The Descendents) Interview


1. Its well documented that you spent the period of time between Milo Goes To College and I Dont Want to Grow Up away from the band at college. How did your first experiences away from the band and the touring life affect what was to come later? Was there ever a time where you doubted either aspect of your career when in its early stage?

That first hiatus (1983-1984) was crucial to my decision to always have a life outside of music.  I realized during this time that I was as passionate about science as I was about music, and thus began my internal tug-of-war between the two that exists to this day.  Along with these conflicting passions, the element of doubt definitely contributed to my music/science vacillations:  I never really took seriously the notion of having a career in music, hence it was easy to “shelve” it at any given point.  Likewise, I seriously doubted whether I would ever get a job in science (luckily, I did).  I feel very fortunate that things worked out as well as they did, given my noncommittal attitude to both things!!

2. Was the sketch of you on the cover of Milo Goes To College always the album cover?

Yes, it was Bill’s idea.  By the time recording started, he already knew I was off to college in a few months, so he hit upon the MGTC concept.  (As a joke, he also called the record “Milo Jumps Ship!”)  We contacted a friend of ours, Jeff Atkinson, to do the drawing.  He based it on a cartoon figure that another friend, Rodger Deuerlein, used to draw in high school for laughs (something like “The Misadventures of Milo”).

3. After doing a quick internet search of old show fliers I came across various dates with BLACK FLAG, THE MINUTEMEN, CIRCLE JERKS, BAD RELIGION,DOA, HUSKER DU. Shows that people my age generally look at and still doubt could have actually occurred. What do you feel in hindsight was the coolest bill the Descendents ever played on?

I don’t know if it truly existed, but it would have been us, Black Flag, Minutemen, Saccharine Trust, Husker Du, and Red Cross.  We played with all those bands so often in 1980-1983, I’m assuming one show had them all.  The one show I remember best from that period was at Mi Casita in Torrance, us with Black Flag, Red Cross, Husker Du and St Vitus.  Lotsa pictures and video from that one…killer.

4. Punk Rock is always in a state of change. What was “punk” about Black Flag in 1984, NOFX in 1996 and say Set Your Goals in 2010 are vastly different. What do you feel is the common thread between all the bands that fill in these gaps. Will there always be one thing that is punk?

I would say it is the DIY aspect; that was definitely true of Black Flag and NOFX eras.  I can’t say whether it applies to the third band you mention (I’ve never heard of them).  My guess is that DIY spirit still exists today in some bands/scenes, but it’s unfortunately obscured by the watered down corporate “punk” which clearly lacks that independent spirit.

5. No doubt there were artists you looked up to that aspired to play with or play like and succeeded at. How does it feel to be on the other side of the equation and know what an impact your words had on the lives of strangers?

It makes me wish I had tried to contact some of my heroes and get across how they changed me, the same way people have done with me.  I’m sure my heroes’ reactions would be similar to mine in the same circumstances:  Excitement, gratitude, bewilderment.  Excited because it’s yet another celebration of the power of music, and from generation to generation it always inspires.  Gratitude because I never imagined people would find such a strong connection to our music; it has truly been a windfall of appreciation.  And bewilderment — I can’t figure out the how or why, it just happened.

6. When you decided to release new material in 2004, how did the band get associated with Fat Wreck Chords?

We’ve known Fat Mike for a long time (since the 1980’s), so when we told him we were doing a record he really wanted to put it out.  It’s a great situation for us, because we’re fans of NOFX and he’s a Descendents fan…you can’t ask for a better working relationship than that.

7. You are playing some dates in Australia in December. What kind of preparations must you go through to momentarily halt your professional career and get back on stage for the first time in years?

The idea is to NOT halt my career at all; I have no plans to “go on tour” per se.  The Australian shows are what I would call “one-off,” and that’s likely the only way the Descendents will operate from now on (i.e. occasional shows here and there).  Currently, we are “cramming for the exam,” getting ready for the Aussie shows.  For me, the most important thing is strengthening my voice so I don’t blow it out after the first show.  Going home early would totally suck.

8. Are there any plans for any other shows following the Australia dates?

See above; I’m limited by how much time off I can get from my job.  Do not expect any comprehensive tour, but just a smattering of shows here and there.

9. Its clear that Blink 182 was very influenced by your sound, when did you first become aware of this world renowned band and is it true that imitation is the ultimate form of flattery?

I met them in 1997 at the Warped Tour.  I hadn’t heard of them before that, but judging from the crowds at their show they were getting big…they had just released Dude Ranch.  I liked their music, you could definitely hear the Descendents influence in it.  I don’t get too hung up on other bands “borrowing” our sound; it is flattering and plus we borrowed the sounds of other bands before us, it’s all rock and roll anyway, the same three chords.

10.  You have been making music for thirty years, what is your proudest moment of your career?

Doing a sex interview with Playboy magazine; that is truly the pinnacle of success!

11. If someone had never listened to your music before, what would be the first thing you recommend to them?

Probably Somery; it’s got a little bit of everything (pre Everything Sux, anyway).

12. It can be argued that ALL is the bands most pop infused record.
Was this a natural progression of the band or something deliberate?

It was natural; we grew up listening to the Beatles and Beach Boys, and we got a lot of satisfaction writing those types of songs. There is a visceral element to writing pop songs that can’t be beat; it’s the goosebumps on your arms when you come up with a melody or lyric that conveys an intense emotion.

13. You have found success in both professional fields you have tackled. What are your plans for the future?

I have kids ages 6 and 8, and OK so it’s a little trite and boring, but they are my focus, my future.  I’m not really very ambitious, I just want to be creative in whatever way makes sense for my life at that moment.  So my kids are an outlet for my creativity, and will continue to be for some time.  Once they’re out of the house, maybe I’ll conquer the art world (…NOT…).

14. Are you at all surprised by a sudden new found interest in vinyl records by the general population, indicative of giant retailer BEST BUY vowing to convert half their music selection to vinyl by summer 2011.

Cool — I’ve got a lot of old punk on vinyl, so it looks like it’s time to fire up the turntable.  I’m not an audiophile, but I have no doubt things sound better on vinyl.  Problem is, the scratches; I was never good at taking care of my records.  Although all the scratches and pops can make some punk sound even better…

I will close out my questions by asking you something I recently asked Henry Rollins.

 ——-People have romanticized the 1980s hardcore scene as this utopia of musical breakthrough. To close out my questions, I ask you frankly.
Was it as fun as everyone wants to believe it was?

Ohh yeah.  You have to remember, this was before the corporate record labels took all the fun out of it.  There was a naivete to the scene, meaning that bands played gigs partly just to hang out with friends, partly just to get exposure, but never with any idea to get on Billboard top40 or anything.  This lack of expectation for “commercial success” meant that bands could experiment, and it seemed like every new band that came out would sound completely different than anything else.  I mentioned the amazing shows with Black Flag, Minutemen, etc.; aside from the jawdropping music that these guys were making, they were our buds and really looked out for us, booking us on their shows and urging us to record our stuff.  It was not only a musical breakthrough but a new model for music production (i.e. the DIY ethic), and I feel incredibly fortunate to have taken part in it.


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