Excitement levels hit their peak when it was announced back in August that the Descendents would be coming to Australia for select dates (Melbourne, Sydney & Brisbane) on the ‘No Sleep Til’ festival this December. They started before most of us were born, and are one of the bands most people have had on their ‘wish I could see’ lists for years, most of us never expecting to be able to cross it off our lists in 2010, but we can! Deborah Konopnicki caught up with a revitalized drummer Bill Stevenson to chat about this upcoming run of shows, the future, the present and a little bit of ALL too. Click below to expand this post and check it out.
Bill! How are you doing?
I’m doing very well thanks, Deborah. How are you doing?
I’m good thank you. I know that you’re a very busy man at the moment so I appreciate you having a chat to us today.
You’re quite welcome. They got me stacked up pretty hard today, but it’s ok. I’m on the home stretch now!
You’re recording the new Rise Against album tomorrow, yeah?
Yeah! How did you know?
I’m totally psychic… (laughs), no… The publicist mentioned it. You’ve worked with those guys before so do you know what to expect with this new record?
Yeah. We’ve been with them since the very beginning so we’re basically family. They’ve already been out twice for demos and working on song structures and stuff this year. They’ve been out in August for a week and then they were out in September for a week. We’ve been working at it. Yeah, they’re family, and especially now that they have Zach in the band. Zach was The Blasting Room’s first customer ever! Our kids play with their kids. It’s like one big team.
Is that your main focus for the next while or are there going to be any other records that you’re going to be working on?
Well, right now it goes; I wake up tomorrow and it’s Rise Against all the way through until December 14th, and on that day I will hop on a airplane and hop on down there and see you. I’ll be squeezing in practices in the morning because Rise Against, they don’t usually show up till about noon-each day, so Karl and I will start practice at 10am or 9am. We’ll probably start a month or two before the shows with just the two of us. We’ll all be tight by the time that we get down there!
Do you think that it’s going to be difficult getting into some of those earlier songs? Do they need much rehearsing or are they just kind of like riding a bike?
It’s funny. The older that the song is, the more time that we’ve played it. Let’s say, all of the songs off of the ‘Everything Sucks’ album, those songs we just put into our pocket and we just need to bone up on them a little bit. The more important thing for us is to just be sure that we’re in the physical condition to do it all; that we’ve got our calluses and all of that stuff. That part of it. Conversely, the material from ‘Cool To Be You’ – we’ve never played any of it live! These Australian shows are going to be the first time that we’ve ever played any of it live. That stuff, that’s the stuff that really going to have to practice. I mean, I could play “I’m Not A Loser” with my arms and my legs cut off while I was asleep, but like “Maddie” for instance, “Maddie” is a song that is complicated and because I’ve never played it live I’m going to have to practice that several hundred times.
How does that feel? Playing that material for the first time live on the other side of the world?
Well, it could be exciting! There will be a little bit of a “Well, I hope we pull it off” kind of thing for whatever the few songs are that we do. We have so many records, so it’s not like we’re going to play ten songs off of the new album and particularly because we’ve never been to Australia before we’re going to make sure that we cover all the albums. So, it’ll be fun. It’s going to fun no matter how it goes.
Well, a question that you’ve no doubt been asked by everyone today so far, but can you pinpoint a reason that it has taken you guys this long to come and play shows in Australia? What made 2010 the right time for The Descedents to make their live debut down under?
It was very much coincidental serendipity. The honest answer would be to say “I don’t know!” and then to move on. Here’s what I think happened (laughs). June 23, I had neurosurgery after having a rough year trying to figure out what was wrong with me and to figure out why I was sucking and why I wasn’t being Bill. So, on June 23 I had the surgery and to say that it went well would be the understatement of the year! It made me 20 yeas younger getting that thing out of there that was bothering me. It wasn’t cancerous, it was just this growth that was just in there taking up real estate and pushing on my brain and making me less of me. So I was sort of getting phone calls from all of the band guys. Milo was the first person that I talked to after the surgery and he was practically crying because he was so concerned about me before they knew what was wrong. He could tell just by my voice that I was not only all better, but that I sounded like I was in high school again. Then I talked to Stephen and then I talked to Karl, and it seemed like just a few days later when I got home from the hospital that we got this offer from Australia to do this festival and I was like “Hell, I was just talking to Milo the other day, I’ll call him and see if he wants to do this!”. Typically he’s been pretty not available for much Descendents stuff because he’s very committed to his bio-chemistry work that he does. So I called him and he said, “Yeah… Yeah! That sounds fun! Let’s definitely do it!” I think it was just happiness in the air. I guess to make a really long story short, it was because I didn’t die! Then Karl and Stephen were on board, but they’re always on board and so there you have it. The most random coincidental kind of thing without us planning it in any way.
How are you feeling at the moment? Is your health continuing to improve?
Ohhhh… I can’t even… They haven’t invented adjectives for how happy I am. What I’ve been saying is that it’s the 15-year-old Bill’s world but the 47-year-old Bill just lives in it. Yeah, it’s great! It’s so great. As soon as I woke up from the surgery I was like “Woah! Yeah!”. He gave me my life back and he took 20 years off of my age. I immediately lost all of the weight that the meningioma had caused me to gain. It just fell off of me like it just wasn’t meant to be there in the first place. It was just like magic. Magic!
That’s great to hear, man.
It seems that after all of these years that the band is still constantly referred to as one of the most influential of the era. What would you attest that longevity to? Just in terms of the relevance of the band and in influence that it has had on an entire scene.
I’ve always found it difficult to talk about my own art. I find that I either fall into one of two traps. Either I come off conceded or I come off falsely humble. So with that disclaimer I think that we started the band for the right reasons which was that we started the band because we were all obsessed with music as listeners and that then translates into this compulsive playing thing. You combine that with the need to express yourself creatively and your need to relate to other people, and us all being kind of social outcasts, all we had was each other to kind of express to one another what we were thinking and we did that through our songs. For many years we had no one in the audience. None. We started the band for the right reasons – not to be rock stars, not to make money and not to meet chicks. We continued doing the band for the right reasons and I think that punk rock listeners are a lot smarter then bands give them credit for and I think that they can smell bullshit a mile away. When they hear our songs and our lyrics, they can connect with it in a certain way because they can feel that often at times with The Descendents that there is yearning involved that is real, that is not fabricated. Also bitter resentment that is real and not fabricated that comes from having the last bite of some football player’s hotdog thrown at your head while you’re walking down the hall at school. I think that people perceive those things as being real and have identified with us. We’ve all felt left out, we’ve all felt like an outcast, we’ve all been treated poorly by others in relationships and these are the things that we often write about and we do so in what I would call an uncomfortably honest way. Our lyrics tend to make you feel a little bit awkward or uncomfortable and I think that people in some weird way enjoy that. I think that people enjoy that Milo feels just as awkward as they do or me or whoever wrote the song. It’s comforting. It’s a weird kind of reverse cathartic thing going on there. It’s almost like a healing. Some of the lyrics are just as pertinent now as a 47-year-old as they were when I was 14, but some of them have changed and it’s more like “Well, I remember feeling that way and it was real back then and if I look out into the audience and I see that acne faced kid out there yelling the lyrics, I damn well know that he still feels it and they makes me still feel it.”
Is there anything that you’re most proud of out of the back catalogue? An album? A song?
Oh, gosh. Ok, so you’re a woman so I’ll use an obvious analogy. So we have like seven or eight albums. Of your eight kids, do you have a favorite?
Well, I don’t have kids so that’s probably the wrong question to ask me! (laughs) but I can totally see your point.
(laughs) Yeah. Even if I did have a favorite, I would feel weird saying it because it would hurt the feelings of the other seven albums. I don’t really know! There are little moments that I think are really great. Starting at the beginning, I think that “My Dad Sucks” was great! I think that “Clean Sheets” was great. I think that did something for punk rock. I think that the idea of an actual developed full pop song being delivered with a punk rock attitude was great. Those are just some that come to mind but there are 20 others right behind it. To chose whole albums over other album; I can’t do that because they all have such a broad spectrum of stuff on there that I really dig or really hate.
Do you think that there is going to be another album on the horizon?
Well, because of the kind of train wreck serendipity on which these shows were booked, we haven’t really made any concrete plans other then to say that we are going to do some shows in North America in 2011 that Milo said that he can get a little bit of time off from work so that we can squeeze some shows in. At least people that have never seen us, at least they’re going to get the chance to see us even if they have to drive a little bit. We’re not going to play like every little town, but if people want to see us then they’ll be able to. Even if they have to fly or whatever.
Is there anything happening with ALL at the moment or due to the nature of your schedule is there just no time?
You know, we were just starting to do a bunch of shows and having a really good time when the meningioma started crushing me down. I actually had to cancel three show which I’ve never done. I’ve never cancelled a show but it just started to make me too weird. All is going to doing a lot of shows because we had a lot of fun doing the six or eight that we did. We had the most fun a few months ago. I was fresh out of the surgery. I had just had my staples taken out of my head a few days before and we went and played a benefit. This is so funny; we went and played a benefit for a buddy of ours – actually, I shouldn’t use the word funny – we played a show for our buddy Rod, he has terminal lung cancer and has a short amount of time left but he’s a very good friend of the band. The part of it that’s funny was that I’m out there with my head stapled back together, playing a show for my buddy who is also ill. We had a great time with him and it was a healing for everybody. We just had a wonderful time playing. I think that ALL is going to do a lot of shows because nobody in the band has a really, really huge encumbrance the way that Milo does. Milo has his bio-chemistry research which basically consumes him as well as him trying to be a father and a husband.
Has your mind been wondering to thinking about what the first show is going to be like in Australia when you get here? There is just this sense that it’s going to be such a monumental occasion for all of your fans as well as you guys.
I think I have no idea because to quote a wise old punk band “We couldn’t sell out a telephone booth” (laughs). So, this is the lyric from one of our songs. The people that I’ve been speaking with when doing these interviews, they just keep on telling me how it’s going to be a mad house and that everyone is so excited and so happy. I mean, if we have really huge shows with a really huge reception then that’s going to be quite an honor and quite flattering. For me, it’s going to be a really nice way to end what was the toughest year of my life. The only people that I’ve really spoken with about it are the journalists and Cameron from Bodyjar who is a very, very good friend of the band. They all say that they’re going to be insane. It sounds like something to look forward to. It’s very gratifying for the ego to have people digging your band.
Just one last question for you today, kind of on a similar level but what are you most looking forward to in the coming months?
I’ve got to be honest with you now. This meningioma caused me to put on 170 pounds above my already naturally big frame. I have now lost 130 of those pounds, and so what I’m hoping is that I can get my ass on a surfboard again and see what I can do! I grew up on Hermosa Beach, I was a beach kid but I haven’t been able to surf for many years just from being old and out of shape. In recent years, I got so big that I just couldn’t make it happen. I just couldn’t get up! Every time that I tried to make it happen it just wouldn’t work. So, I’m hoping to at least do a little bit of body surfing. That’ll be fun. That’s my little personal, selfish excitement.
CATCH DESCENDENTS PLAYING SELECT DATES OF THE NO SLEEP TIL’ FESTIVAL THIS DECEMBER