Approaching the 50 year mark, Bill Stevenson has secured his slot in music history as an icon and pioneer of punk rock. He grew up and contributed to the flourishing California punk rock scene which is renowned worldwide. Aside from playing drums in Descendents, Black Flag, and All, Stevenson has made his mark on music production, running The Blasting Room alongside Jason Livermore in Colorado. Rise Against, NOFX, Lagwagon and countless more artists have created albums in the studio.
When the Descendents played alongside Sublime With Rome and Pennywise in July at Jones Beach in New York, the band took their left coast attitude to Long Island.
We managed to hang out with drummer Bill Stevenson to discuss the Descendents, [Black] FLAG, studio work and much more. Check out below the jump for the UTG exclusive interview.
How did these shows with Sublime with Rome and Pennywise come together?
Well this particular show is just kind of one of three isolated shows with Sublime and Pennywise. We’re not really part of this tour but we are playing a couple of the shows on it so our part is really kind of minimal.
How did you guys get on the shows?
Well you know all these bands have known each other for years and years — we grew up and went to the same high school as Pennywise. I guess back then the punk scene was smaller so all the bands kind of knew each other.
Over the past 20 years have you played with either band a lot or had a relationship with them?
Well with Pennywise it’s been a constant Hermosa Beach connection — that includes Black Flag too — that whole camp. Probably the most shows we’ve done with Pennywise was when we both did the entire Warped Tour together. I guess that was 1997. We did one tour when it wasn’t Descendents but our other band All, where All was playing with Pennywise the whole tour. So we’ve done tons of shows with Pennywise and not so many with Sublime. Sublime seems to have a habit of covering our songs though. I was thinking, if they play “I’m Not a Loser” and we play “I’m Not a Loser,” that’s not gonna be good, is it? I vote that they don’t play it and that we can play it.
Can you tell me about the Australian tour Descendents did with The Bouncing Souls?
That was February. It was Bouncing Souls and Frenzal Rhomb, and Bodyjar, all of which are bands that I’ve recorded at one time or another and/or mixed. That was fun.
Do you still do a lot of producing?
I do. I suppose when it gets right down to it if I have an opportunity to go out and play drums and I can feed my family doing so, probably at this point in my life, one of the things I prefer greatly about drumming is that it gives me an awful lot of physical exercise; it keeps me in-tact. I never realized when I got sick a few years back and I wasn’t as active and I was doing a lot of sitting in the chair and producing, I don’t think I had realized at that point that drumming has been the only thing holding me together for the last 30 years. It’s been my constant thing. The lung doctor, when I had a blood clot rip through my heart and lodge itself in my lungs, the lung doctor said it was probably the drumming that kept me from dying because my heart was so strong that it pushed my blood clot through my heart and out the back end. Usually you die from that. I guess I feel better when I’m being more active and drumming is a good way to stay active.
How is your health now? Are you feeling well?
I feel great, dude, amazing. Also, I don’t want to get into the big long history, I also had a Craniotomy, where they removed a brain tumor, also kinds of other things, but I’ve defeated it all. I haven’t defeated it but I’ve just been blessed and lucky and it’s all gone. I have my health back.
Can you tell me about the recent FLAG situation?
That got really confusing quickly. So originally, Me, and Chuck, and Keith, we played a few songs at a Descendents show about a year and a half ago or something and we had fun doing it, so we thought, let’s play a few shows and also get Dez (Cadena) in there with us. We had me and Chuck (Dukowski) and Keith (Morris) and Dezo and Stephen (Egerton) playing guitar, we were trying to figure out what to call it because we didn’t really wanna call it Black Flag because Black Flag has been kind of permeated and bastardized and I think Black Flag’s good name has been disgraced and dishonored a lot of times in the last 20 years. We just decided to call it Flag so people would know that it was us. You can let the other thing Greg and whoever else he’s playing with, let them call themselves Black Flag and shoulder the responsibility of hopefully being a good band. I’m not sure how that’s all working out. For us it’s just a fun thing so we called it Flag but didn’t call it Black Flag.
The Descendents logo is iconic in punk music. How do you feel about the commercialization of your logo?
I think it’s fun. I guess it’s not really in my circle of concern or influence. It’s cool, who cares?
A company called Diamond Supply sells a shirt that says “Diamond: Cool To Be Me,” have you seen that?
I did see that shirt. That one seemed weird because that’s a bigger company and they make money and stuff. I don’t like that if they’re making money off of us. I have two children to be put through college so I don’t feel like people should be treating us unfairly that way. The one I liked was that band Manic Hispanic — they had an album and a shirt called Mijo Goes to Jr. College. I guess if you grew up in L.A. and you’re sensitive to things Mexican and Hispanic, that’s really funny.
Back when you guys were all starting these punk bands, could you have imagined you’d still be here on stage?
Doesn’t it seem like you just think that whatever you’re doing, that you’re not gonna be doing that in 10 years? Then what happens is then 10 years goes by, and you say, “Oh, I’m not still gonna be doing that in another 10 years.” You just keep pushing the date back. When I was 15 I said there would be no way I’d be playing when I’m 25. Then, “No way I could possibly be playing when I’m 35.” But here I am, I’m gonna be 50 in a month and a half and now I’m having such a good time playing it feels like it’s keeping me together psychologically. We even started recording a new Descendents record. It just feels fun and as long as it does and I’m healthy and up for the task I’m gonna keep doing it.
Can you tell me about the new Descendents record you’re writing?
It’s in the embryonic stages. I have my studio, The Blasting Room, Stephen lives in Tulsa, and he has a studio too. Milo even has a real small recording apparatus in his basement. Karl still lives by me. So I went in a couple of weeks ago and recorded, so we got 11 songs done, just the drums. We’ll be passing those around, Stephen will be putting guitars on ’em, Karl will be putting bass on ’em, Milo will be singing on ’em. We’ll get rolling but it’s not gonna be like “Oh it’ll be done in a month!” It’s gonna take us several months.
The last album you guys released was Cool To Be You in 2004. Why such a big gap in between records?
We’ve always taken a really long time between records. There was a little period where we were putting them out successively, quickly, but we’ve never been a band that’s on an agenda. Some bands have an agenda that they have to have a record every two years. Whenever we’ve got a bunch of good songs, and we’ve got the desire to record them, then we do so and put a record out. I think to do it any other way than that is really kind of phony.
Looking for a beer?
No, I was looking for a water bottle. I should’ve known I wouldn’t find any in the Pennywise coolers. I’ll have to talk to Fletcher (Dragge) about that.
Milo Goes To College is highly regarded as one of the greatest punk albums of all time. How does it feel to hear that, and what music influenced you looking back?
Oh wow, you know, I think we were blessed to have been part of that late 70s L.A. punk movement, the whole punk movement, but since we lived in L.A. that was our part of it. It was awesome. I could go out and see The Germs, The Weirdos, X, The Go-Go’s, The Crowd, The Flyboys, The Blasters, Black Flag, Fear, The Chiefs, Minutemen — it was magic. There was so much good music happening compared to Supertramp or Styx on the radio or Boston or Fleetwood Mac, I’m not criticizing those bands per se but it was just so boring compared to what was happening in those little tiny clubs. It was great. I can’t even pick an album or two because it was just like “OH MY GOD!” The whole world opened up.
We have this new song on the new record, Milo, he refers to a lot of the bands in the lyrics. It’s about what you and I are talking about right now. So first thing comes in and it’s just guitar and vocals and he’s just like “X marks the spot on the map where the treasure was found!” Then the drums kick in and every line is about a different band we liked back then, but it’s fast and upbeat so it doesn’t feel nostalgic. It just feels kick-ass and we are really proud to have been a part of all that or to bear witness to it.
Is there any new music that you’re into?
When you get towards 50 new becomes a “relative term.” New for me is like, “Well did it come out in the last four or five years?” You’re not going to talk to this guy about Charlie Parker right now, you’re not that stupid. I like the new A Wilhelm Scream record a lot. They’re just so good. A Wilhelm Scream sounds like five bands playing at one time. What’s in my radio right now? Sometimes it can just be new or new to me, I just got turned onto this band called Café Tacvba and they’re from Mexico and they do all this crazy music. Dez turned me on to them, it’s new to me, but it’s not new. I like some of the songs on that new Bouncing Souls record, I like that song “Baptized” but the one I really like is “Fast Times.” I love that song plus they let me sing on the chorus. I love those guys. We had a great time. It was a good year that way. I got to do the holy trilogy of the Souls, Hot Water Music and the Alkaline Trio all in one year. It was cool.
Is there anything you guys haven’t done as band yet that you’d like to?
Well there are some obvious things. Somehow we’ve managed to have never been to Russia, China, South America, so there’s some stuff like that. Is that just punk rock’s version of territorial pissing? Like you feel like you have to go there and conquer? I don’t think it’s that. I would just like to see some of these places. The music, we don’t necessarily have conscious agendas, we just keep it fun, whatever that means.
Aside from the new album, anything special coming up?
Well, let’s see, albums and shows. What else can bands give you? Videos? Burlesque?
When is the album coming out?
I can only give you the most useless of estimates. I figure it’s going to take us every bit of 6 months to finish it. Maybe it would come out in nine months? That doesn’t really mean anything really. We’ll finish it as soon as we can.
Would you say the sound of it is different than past records?
I think all of our records have had in some way, their own identity. I don’t think we’ve done like Milo Goes To College Part 2 or Enjoy! Part 2 or Everything Sucks Part 2. I don’t think we’ve ever done that and I’m sure this one will have its own life, too. We’re not clever enough of strategists to sort of go in this or that direction. We write songs and if they impact us and make us feel something and if they sound fun and good, we record them and put them on the record. That is about as calculated as we get, which isn’t too calculated.
Are there any other grounds that we need to cover?
Well, do you know where there is any good, strong coffee around here?
Well, we’re on the beach so…
[laughs] So we are all good!