Descendents. Photo: Kevin Scanlon

Feel This! – Descendents’ Milo Aukerman Continues to Achieve All

Music Interviews

Milo Aukerman, founder, voice and mascot of the punk rock band Descendents has made a name for himself since the early days of hardcore punk, bringing the awkward teen ethos to the forefront with songs about being a geek, gawkily approaching women, eating food and drinking coffee, and the quest for ALL! Quooh Quaahhh Quah Quah!

Never has achieving all been so prevalent than this stem in the Descendents’ career, with each member taking on heavy loads of their own between families, side bands and musical production. However, a lot of the gaps in the band’s career due in part to Aukerman putting his Ph.D to use and pursuing his second career as a biochemist. “I was working for a biotech company, and the first few years I worked there were great, but then it started to get kind of lame,” he says. “Just like working for any corporation, you have to deal with ‘the powers that be’ dictating what you’re going to do. That’s not why I got into science. I got into science for the freedom and creativity of it.” After anticipating quitting on the grounds of not being able to work in the corporate science world, Aukerman received a blessing in disguise after the company went through a downturn and had to lay off most of its workers, including him. However, he still doesn’t rule out the possibility of going back into science on an academic level, mentioning that he will fit in better at a university than a corporation.

With their on-again, off-again schedule, Descendents hadn’t properly been on tour since the late ’90s outside of a few festival shows in and out of the U.S. “What we’ve been doing for a long time, especially in the States, is we’d go and do two or three shows in a row and come home,” says Aukerman. “Now, it’s more like how it used to be, like being stuffed in a van, though now it’s a tour bus. It feels much more like a real tour.” Being back on the road has offered them the opportunity to play cities they haven’t been to in years, Salt Lake being one of them. “We haven’t been to Salt Lake since ’96 or ’97,” says Aukerman. “Two of the members [bassist Karl Alvarez and guitarist Stephen Egerton] are both from Salt Lake, so it’s always good to return. It’s always been a good time there, and Karl and Stephen show us around their old stomping grounds.”

Descendents. Photo: Kevin Scanlon
Photo: Kevin Scanlon

Up until last year, Descendents hadn’t written or recorded any new material since 2004’s Cool to Be You. When the band announced that they would be releasing their first album since their reunion in 2010, fans everywhere went berserk. Hypercaffium Spazzinate was released in July of last year, and with songs like “Victim of Me” and “Feel This” having so much charge behind them, you can tell the Descendents haven’t aged a day. “Stephen contributed a lot of songs that brought back a lot of those aggressive elements of what we do, and he hit it out of the park,” says Aukerman. “We still have a fondness for early ’80s hardcore. Just because we’re getting old doesn’t mean we can’t feel young in our music.” However, they are not above including some tee-hee, ha-ha moments toward the fact that they are not as young as they used to be. “On Paper” goes into how a college degree and perfect credit score don’t always lead to success in the adult world. “No Fat Burger,” calling back to their song “I Like Food,” details how after a certain age, they have to cut greasy burgers, cheesy fries and Weinerschnitzel from their diets, though Aukerman will never lose his love of chocolate–peanut butter ice cream.

While Hypercaffium Spazzinate was received well by most fans, a backlash hit from their U.K. fans regarding the album’s title and its use of the word “spazz,” which, in England, is used as a derogatory term toward people with cerebral palsy. “That came as a shock to us,” says Aukerman. “After the backlash, I wrote to one of the guys instigating the online protest and explained to him how spazz takes on a different meaning in the States than it does in England.” When the Descendents played in England, Aukerman met with a representative of the group and also a person who had cerebral palsy and reached an understanding that the album title meant no harm to anyone, especially to people with a mental health condition. “I remember growing up, you call someone a nerd or a dweeb,” says Aukerman, “so when naming the album, I used ‘spazz’ as a pseudonym for that.” There’s a song by the Descendents called “Talking”—it’s mainly about expressing the importance of communication between two lovers, but the message still stands outside of the song: “We’re searching for what to say / Communication’s the only way.” I’ve got to hand it to Aukerman for standing behind his lyrics, especially when they exceed situations.

Descendents are a band that transcends fanbases, beyond the “dad punx” who saw them “back in the day”—I’ve seen people from crust punks to thrashers to hardcore kids of all ages who, whether for the catchiness of their melodies or the aggressiveness in their delivery, all find something they like about the band. Right now, they’re at a point in their career where the hype surrounding them is so massive that it makes sense to stick around for a while. This is the longest they’ve stayed together as a band (seven years), and according to Aukerman, it’s going to stay that way. “We’re pretty committed to not dropping under the radar ever again,” he says. “We’re going to try to put a record out in the next few years to keep things fresh and to make people aware that we’re here for the long haul now.”

Descendents will charge up The Complex on July 21, marking their first return to Salt Lake in 20 years! If you’re not a loser, don’t miss this show!