FYF Preview: The Descendents Attempt To Clone Themselves
Craig Cameron Olsen
Milo Aukerman is a bespectacled, middle-aged research biochemist and devoted family man. On the rare occasions he's home alone in Newark, Del., Aukerman likes to don headphones and wail along with loud punk rock -- a scene he describes as so disturbing that he never wants his wife or children to witness it.
On his vacation days from the laboratories of chemical giant DuPont, he fronts the Descendents, a South Bay quartet hailed as pop-punk pioneers by everyone from Billboard to Punknews, and whose sound has influenced bands like Blink-182 and Weezer. (They headline FYF Fest this Saturday at Los Angeles State Historic Park.)
With his bandmates now spread across America -- drummer Bill Stevenson and bassist Karl Alvarez live in Fort Collins, Colo., while guitarist Stephen Egerton lives in Tulsa, Okla. -- that "wailing" often has to make do, since they play so sporadically.
"I've been working on DNA cloning for many years now, and I realized at some point I could solve [this] eternal tug-of-war issue by simply cloning myself, so that there could be a science Milo and a music Milo," mulls Aukerman, who holds two gene-related patents.
Formed in Hermosa Beach in 1978, the Descendents are a marriage of hardcore pace and pummel, comically honest lyrics and a Buzzcocks-y respect for melody, which made them pillars of L.A.'s frantic turn-of-the-'80s punk scene. Aukerman sang about the nerdish stuff of their daily lives, like fishing, food and female rejection. There was no filter, no onstage persona.
Yet even as the band prepped their first album, Aukerman's love of science had him headed to UC San Diego. So that 1982 record (titled, with characteristic frankness, Milo Goes to College) became both an arrival and an au revoir.
"When I left for college, the concept of 'punk rock stardom' was laughable," Aukerman explains. "After the success of Green Day and Offspring, stardom was attainable, but was it 'punk rock stardom' or 'pop stardom'? How much selling out would it entail?"
The Descendents have been on again/off again ever since, though they've managed five more albums. Yet their resurgent popularity may be as much because of this hiatus habit as in spite of it: While it takes years for a band to be recognized as influential, remaining active throughout that period can dull the allure of even the most "important" acts.
"Whatever 'legacy' you've cultured is spoiled," Aukerman says.
With his children growing up and Stevenson having had a grapefruit-sized brain tumor successfully removed, the Descendents suddenly started going semisteady once again late last summer.
"My kids ... started asking, 'Daddy, when can we see you play?' Who could say no to that?" Aukerman asks. "[And] there was something about Bill's recovery that really injected life into everybody."
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