The renowned Bill Stevenson, drummer and song writer for the the legendary punk band Descendents, took some time to chat to our own Ragged Press Contributor Jodie Lyons, ahead of the Australian Tour to discuss, bonus cup coffee, health issues, his experience in song writing about this dad and of course music.
Jl: Hi Bill, I’m Jodie from Ragged Press, thank you for your time. I’m a bit nervous, I’m sorry and I have a few questions. Firstly, Descendents are set to start touring Australia next week. Having been to Australia a few times, is there any places you’re looking forward to revisiting?
BS: I’m just looking forward to visiting all of it. One of the things I love about getting to play music is that I get to see all kinds of different places, it’s a constant new stimulus. I come to enjoy that and people ask ‘what’s your favorite city”, well its like my favorite thing is that, I get to go to a million cities. I don’t have a favorite city I like all of them.
JL: That’s pretty awesome! So you guys released a second show in Melbourne, after the first completely sold out rather quickly. Were you surprised the first show sold out so quick?
BS: Oh, you never know what to think, with the audience size and all that. We started a tiny band and we couldn’t get on any shows for a couple of years. I still think of us as a tiny band. Like teeny tiny clubs, so when, or if, hundreds of people, or even thousands of people come to see us, it always surprises me. Even though it’s been happening now for the past how ever many years, it still surprises me. I still don’t take it for granted, I’m very appreciative and I realize just how fortunate we are.
JL: Your obsession with coffee goes way back, how do you have your coffee? What’s the go too cup everyday?
BS: My cup, lately its just been espresso. Milo, actually, brought me an espresso maker last year and that kind of changed my meaning with coffee, because now you just press that button and you get an espresso instantly. It’s a really good espresso maker and its not bitter, it’s great and its quick and you don’t have to mess around with a whole cup of coffee. So then if we have to play a show though, I would have say, 10 espressos’ before we play or its somewhere between 6 and 12.
JL: Do you still part take in a bonus cup, do you ever drink coffee like that?
BS: Well that was me as kid, kind of trying to invent espresso because I didn’t know espressos existed because I was a little kid. You couldn’t go to Starbucks when I was a kid. Espresso was like only in Italy, you would only go to an Italian restaurant, you know, a nice one. I didn’t know about espresso, and I just wanted to make a coffee that was really strong and that what that is. So now that I can drink an espresso there is really no use for a bonus cup. You know?
JL: When I was reading about it, it kind of reminded me of Turkish coffee, you could almost stand a spoon up in it.
BS: Right, right it is actually like Turkish coffee. Yeah, I like Turkish coffee, It’s good coffee, yeah.
JL: Melbourne is known to have some of the best coffee in the world. Do you think you’re going to hit up a few coffee shops while you’re in Melbourne?
BS: Absolutely, yeah.
JL: Degraves Street just off Flinders holds a good reputation for great coffee shops in the city. Although my favorite coffee shop is not far from where you are playing.
BS: Oh really where that?
JL: It’s called Café Caledonia. It’s just around the corner on Lonsdale street. The coffee is really smooth; it’s feels like a crime to add sugar.
BS: Café Caledonia, Okay I’ll have to write that down.
JL: I’m a self confessed kidult, and in your song “All-O-Gistics”, you have a musical commandment for achieving All, including lyrics “Thou shalt not commit adulthood”, what advice to you have for people to keep from growing up?
BS: I feel like the music keeps me, pretty young and my kids keep me young too. I have to try to keep up with them. The music really keeps me young, whether it’s trying to create music because a creative mind is a youthful mind. A mind that is still active, with new ideas and is excited about things. Even on the other hand I’m just like carrying drums around or moving equipment around or actually in my case as a drummer, active drumming, all those things, help keep me from becoming decrepit or feeble.
JL: Kids sure do keep you young. I’d say, seeing musicians and listening to music and being apart of it, would make you feel alive.
BS: Well art in general does that to me. For instance, I’ve just been on a trip to Italy and I got to see all the cultural and artistic phenomenon that exist in Rome, Florence and Venice. I got to see all that stuff even something as typical as the Sistine chapel. Not that I really care about the Pope or religion or any of that because I don’t. The art work in there is… it was just breath talking. There was so much amazing art I could feel it, I could feel it in my chest, pushing in on my chest you know.
JL: Sounds like an incredible trip. So considering you are regarded as one of the godfathers of punk rock and you have been playing in Descendents since you where were like 15, what music or musician, inspired you to take up the drums?
BS: It wasn’t a musical group or musician that inspired me to take up drumming, it was more of a nervous habit or twitch. Where I was just three or four, I would go in the cupboard and below the stove and pull all the pots and pans out onto the floor and I would just sit on the floor and beat on the pots and pans with spoons and spatulas and stuff and I did that, it drove my mom crazy. So I did that for a while and when I got a little older I started tapping all the time, with two pencils on my note book and that would drive my dad crazy. So eventfully he had the sense to buy me a snare drum. So I had a snare drum for a few months and then I decided that I needed a whole drum set, which finally solved my problem for tapping was having a drum set. So here I am, ha.
JL: You also own a recording studio called The Blasting Room, with bands coming in and recording or sending in music to get mastered. Given that you have being playing and influenced other musicians since the 70’s how much has music changed for you in the past decades, has it changed for the better?
BS: Music just keeps evolving, permeating and splitting off and combining. I don’t think music is any better or worse then, if it ever has been. It just is, what it is. It’s just sort of like the longest river in the world, you get on the river and you float down stream for a while and you just end up in a different place. It’s a continuous flow of progress, of alteration and if the river becomes blocked it will divert itself in a different direction. That’s what art dose and that’s what music dose, it just keeps growing and as human too my tastes evolve. I don’t know if my taste change but I feel like they blossom and I’m tolerant of a lot more music types now then, say twenty or thirty years ago.
JL: I can see what you mean about music permeating and growing. To me it’s real freedom.
BS: Well the best music is real freedom, yeah.
JL: Something I love to hear in music and I hear this in your music, is when people are being authentic, even to the point of being un-apologetically authentic. It’s not about what others want to hear, it’s for themselves.
BS: I always joke about and I think I am probably being the worst culprit. My music might make you a little bit uncomfortable because I may reveal a little bit too much of what some would consider to be an ultra personal subject. I think that’s the only way I know how to do it. I don’t do it on purpose, to make people squirm. I don’t. I’m not a fiction writer and I’m not a poet so the only thing, I can pull from to write songs is from my life experience. That’s what I do, I think all of the guys have that in them, they all… we all write about stuff pretty close to the heart and if that involves airing a bit of dirty laundry so be it.
JL: You definitely write a lot to contribute to this band and the music speaks for itself.
BS: Well, the one thing I definitely love about this band is there has always been four song writers. I think that helps keeps the quality of the material pretty high instead of just one person having to write all the songs. We just try to keep it interesting and just try to keep it, you used the word authentic. I think that’s a good word, there is not, we don’t have a lot of fictional characters in our songs. We do only every once and awhile.
JL: It’s great to have songs that people can identify with and relate too.
BS: I suppose the really great song writers can create a fictional song, that makes you feels as though it’s a real recounting of real event. I don’t know how to do that, I never learned how to do that, I suppose it’s because I don’t have an interest in theater.
JL: You have worked with Evan Dando, on the Lemonhead’s album. You produced, played drums and also wrote an incredible song called Steve’s Boy, about caring for your father, it such a powerful song – how did you come to write it?
BS: Well I came up with it, when my father began to and its exactly like the lyrics said. My father was living in the desert, by himself when he began to experience dementia and began to lose his ability to move from point A to point B. He had some Parkinson’s happening, a lot of mental dementia and his physical abilities where failing. The neighbors lived far away because he was in the desert and would let me know they had gone over to his house and he has fallen and be sitting on the floor when they came over, not able to get up. After that happened once or twice, I flew out from LA, and began to take care of my dad. So I stopped everything to take care of my dad. Which would be as if I were a nurse, including carrying him to the toilet sort of thing and cleaning him and everything like that. Because he was demented, he resisted my help and said he didn’t want me to be there and he said he wanted to call the police because I was keeping him hostage, but I was there because he was demented. He didn’t realize what I was doing there, or that he need help and the other thing was that my father and I never really got along that well. It was uncomfortable for him to have the son that was so estranged from him now carrying him back and forth to bed and stuff, so he tried to push me away and have me not take care of him, but I refused to leave, you know. So that’s when I wrote that song, when I was in Denver. You know, it says it all. I couldn’t… I can’t make this stuff up, that’s what really happened. And yet eventually I moved him to Colorado with me. I moved him into my home and not long after he passed away and that’s when I wrote the song One More Day. So Steve’s Boy and One More Day go in order, if you listen to them in order, you get the whole thing.
JL: Its definitely a holistic picture of your experience it is definitely a very hard thing to see your parent deteriorate.
BS: It’s a role reversal that happens, they become the child and you become parent. They don’t always like that idea you know, my father was pretty stubborn man and I had to fight him just to keep him safe you know.
JL: I went though a similar experience looking after my daughter’s grandmother. She didn’t like me at all, she argued with me about things like cooking dinner and bathing her. Its not something I would change for the world having that time with her, even though it was difficult.
BS: Right. yeah, and that’s what I said in One More Day. You know, how I would give anything for one more day. I would pick you up and he would put me down. He would insult me while I was trying to help him.
JL: And you know deep down they don’t mean it.
BS: Oh, I did absolutely yeah, and at the time I was maybe too young to know better, you know and I didn’t take it very well and I would get upset and have crying fits and that sort of thing. Now that I’m older and some time has passed I see now it was the dementia you know.
JL: You’re an incredibly resilient person, overcoming having a brain tumor removed and open heart surgery. you have come back better then ever; you are a machine. did these experiences strengthen your worldly view or change it?
BS: Oh yes, each time I survive some sort of an illness, I obviously appreciate life that much more. I guess that goes without saying each time I have to deal with something of that nature I appreciate my wife more I appreciate my kids more; I appreciate my band mates. I appreciate life much more, um you know when you have your life threatened to be taken from you you have a different perspective about things.
JL: Getting back to lighter topics, can fans be hearing any new albums from your other creation All, in the future?
BS: We don’t have plans right now for it, but its something that we would like to do but as it happens right now we are just focused on Descendents. We haven’t focused on All in many many years so right now we are just focused on the Descendents.
JL: On your new album, Hypercaffium Spazzinate, the song called, No Fat Burger. Was this written in light of your experience?
BS: Well the funny thing is, Milo wrote that one because he was concerned about some family history of heat disease and his cholesterol test was high. So he wrote that song but the funny thing was between the time that he wrote that and when I record actually finally came out, it was like a four-year period maybe because it always takes us a while to get our shit tighter and record and every thing. During that time, I actually had triple bypass, you know because it says triple bypass in the song, he didn’t have a triple bypass.
JL: Wow. In the the documentary Filmage, how would you say if reflected on you guys as band?
BS: I’d say they did a good job. I felt slightly that so much of the interview time was given to me, I felt uncomfortable that maybe they gave me too bigger share of it. Its hard for me to be objective on that. I have to keep telling myself, since I’m kind of the grandfather of the group in terms that of that we were just a trio, it was just me, Frank, Tommy, considering I’m the only original member, even though Milo, wasn’t an original member technically speaking even though I consider Milo to be an original member, he joined the band so early on. I guess what I saying is I think the movie is great and the editors did a great job. I just felt so uncomfortable that I was so predominate in it.
JL: What inspired you guys to start the band?
BS: That was really Frank. Frank was really motivated there, Frank was hot on having a band and calling it Descendants. He heard in high school that someone could play drums and asked me if I wanted to play. We where playing and we herd some dude playing bass down the alley way so Tony was there playing bass. So there we where.
JL: Are there ant bands that you are enjoying listening to at the moment.
JL: The Pears just toured here last year, with Strung Out, they are awesome. So thank you for you time and answering my questions.
BS: Okay well thank you we appreciate the time and we appreciate the support. Okay so see you next week.
Click on the poster below to get more details about Descendents upcoming Australian Tour!