The Descendents' Milo Aukerman on dead rock stars, caffeine addiction, and biochemistry
MUSIC The Descendents have been around since the early 1980s, writing fast, coffee-driven punk music with lyrics about trashy, tongue-in-cheek rebellion in songs like "My Dad Sucks" and "I'm Not a Loser." The group has undergone various lineup changes, losing drummer Bill Stevenson to Black Flag for a while, and periodically losing lead singer Milo Aukerman to his pursuit of higher education and biochemistry (which the band named its most popular record after).
Brad Nowell of Sublime and Jason Thirsk of Pennywise died within months of each other in the summer of 1996, right around the time when the Descendents regrouped to record the landmark album Everything Sucks. How is this all connected? These three groups (well, Sublime with Rome now) will play the America's Cup Pavillion together on Sun/4. The Descendents on-again/off-again frontperson, Dr. Aukerman, spoke with me recently about the upcoming show, his dual-life as a biochemist and band leader, and his influence on rockers who didn't make it out of the '90s.
SFBG First of all, happy 50th birthday! Do you think that your famous massive coffee intake has helped your longevity in any way?
Milo Aukerman Probably not. I think coffee can be good for you in moderation; it has antioxidant properties, for example. But like anything else you put into your body, it's not good to overdo it. I am a caffeine abuser, for sure. But I like it, and it helps me rock out. At least I'm not strung out on something harder.
SFBG So when Milo [went] to College after releasing the record of the same name, you split briefly from the band and got a Ph.D. in biochemistry. Why the decision?
MA Actually, first I left to get my undergraduate degree (1982-1986), played again with the band (1985-1987), and then left for my Ph.D. (1987-1992). I've always said I would be a scientist, and that music was just a hobby for me. It's a very intense hobby, and one that makes me some extra cash, but I never considered music as a career, and I still don't. My career is in science, as I always wanted.
SFBG How do you decide to divide up your time?
MA In 1996 I was really burned out on science; I didn't have a permanent position, so it was pretty easy to walk away from for a while. Once I got a permanent position, I couldn't realistically take a break from science. Now, my decision to stay connected with music has been primarily based on wanting to have that creative outlet. While science is creative in its own way, I find that music keeps me feeling alive and young in ways that science cannot. So now, although I cannot really "walk away" from science, I take little vacations from it whenever the band gets together to play or record.
SFBG Do you have a quiet, "clone" of a "Suburban Home" in Delaware when you're back to being Dr. Aukerman?
MA I do have a suburban home! The irony is that Tony Lombardo wrote "Suburban Home" as a way to poke fun at himself, because when he wrote it, he already owned a house. Let's face it, we all grew up and took on more adult responsibilities and possessions, but we still have to look in the mirror and laugh at ourselves. Many of our songs are self-critical, some in a more humorous way than others.
SFBG You're opening for Sublime with Rome at the America's Cup Pavillion. They covered your song "Hope" on 40oz. to Freedom, did you ever meet or play with Brad Nowell while he was alive?
MA They also covered "Myage," "Sour Grapes," and "I'm Not a Loser" — I only learned after Nowell's death how much they liked the Descendents. We never played with Sublime, nor did I ever meet Brad. I looked at their Wiki page, which lists their "Years Active" as 1988 to 1996...that's the exact same time frame as our hiatus before Everything Sucks, so, there you go. But I'm really looking forward to seeing [Sublime with Rome] play; there will always be the naysayers saying "you can't fill Brad's shoes," but if a band's good, I don't care about that shit. Eric shreds on bass, Rome has a good voice and I like their new stuff, so it's all good.
SFBG Do you write songs like "I Like Food" as fast you play them?
MA Those type of songs usually start out in your head as a jumble of lines, and usually induced by too much caffeine. You may repeat them over and over, and say them to your friends for a laugh. So by the time you actually write them on paper, it's pretty quick to finish them. Bill's the master at these; he wrote "Weinerschnitzel," then realizing it wasn't short enough, wrote "ALL."
With Pennywise, Sublime with Rome
Sun/4, 5:30pm, $39.50
America's Cup Pavilion
27-29 San Francisco Pier 33