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Descendents: Milo Goes Down Under

We’ve generated these long periods where we don’t hang out with each other and in that sense we never get sick of each other,” says Milo Aukerman, vocalist for the pop-punk granddaddies the Descendents, who have been playing on-again, off-again for 30-odd years.

“I think if we had been together for the last 30 years, constantly, I think anyone would get sick of each other after that. But we’ve taken these really long breaks, in some cases five, six, seven years, where we’re not playing together and I think that probably helps. And the other thing that helps is there’s nobody in the band who’s an a-hole.”

The seminal – if they’d never existed, neither would bands like Green Day, Blink-182, NOFX and countless others – melodic punk act are making their second trip to Australia this February. It’s not like the band has had any particularly volatile circumstances around their numerous hiatuses and reformations, it’s just hard to get the time, particularly for Aukerman, whose day job is a biochemist specialising in plant genetics (in which he has a PhD) at DuPont.

“As Bill would say, I’ve quit the band five or six times at this point,” he laughs. “None of the times were ever out of rancour with the band. It was just me kind of wanting to go and do my own thing.”

The Descendents’ last and only other trip out here was for the No Sleep Til festival in late 2010. They came out of hiatus to celebrate drummer Bill Stevenson’s recovery after having a grapefruit-sized brain tumour removed (see BLUNT #96). This time around there isn’t anything as dramatic surrounding the occasion.

“Go where the good weather is!” was a factor, says Aukerman, whose singing voice wasn’t quite trained for the trip last time around. “Last time we went I personally wasn’t fully prepared vocally and had issues with the third show in Brisbane, so I’m looking to redeem myself at the Brisbane show.”

Aukerman turned 50 this year. He confesses that he never thought he’d still be fronting the band at 50. “I even wrote a song, not an outtake, but it was on the ‘Merican EP, where I basically say something like, ‘I don’t want to be Mick Jagger playing at 50 or 60’,” he says. “So I actually hit that number, 50, so I’m sitting there going, ‘Oh great’. It’s typical, you write a lyric saying, ‘I’m never going to be this,’ and now I am that. Obviously I don’t regret having written that line, but at the same time it’s like, ‘Wow!’ I guess it goes to show you we weren’t planning to be doing this at this age. And the fact that we are really speaks to the kind of rejuvenation quality of rock music.

The whole point of it is you’re supposed to be young, and so the older we get, the more desperately we cling to that, to the point where hopefully we never become caricatures  of ourselves.”

On the topic of youth, one of the things that helps Milo and co. stay keen about gigging nowadays is the appeal of having a dad who moonlights as a rockstar.

“I like doing more shows now because [my kids] are getting to the age where it’s fun for them to see dad on stage and we bring them out on stage with us and they’ll help us do a song,” he explains.

“All the other band members who have kids bring their kids up on stage whenever possible, so it’s kind of fun to be in this stage of our existence because a band’s all about being young and everything, so if we can bring the kids up there it makes us feel even younger. They get to experience how goofy the whole thing is and how much fun it is.” The small amount of touring that the band gets to do has to be done while Aukerman takes annual leave from his day job. The high-performing, self-described nerd’s work isn’t all that different to rocking out once you think about it, he suggests.

“There is a very strong connection between the two, mainly related to creativity,” he says. “I kind of ended up in these two seemingly disparate areas because I felt like I could create in both of them and obviously music’s a no-brainer: if you’re going to write music you can really get a lot of satisfaction creatively. But a lot of people don’t realise you can get a lot of creative satisfaction through science, just the way that science generates hypotheses and trying to design experiments and answer questions. And that’s kind of the common link for me – the creativity of both – and I could never choose between the two because each of them fulfills one facet
of creativity for me, so I just do both whenever I can.”

Aukerman believes that nerds have a natural home in punk rock, too.

“I think it’s kind of a recurring theme where guys like Greg Graffin from Bad Religion and people like that who clearly have a brain on their shoulders – and I consider him a fellow nerd along with me – I think also aside from the fact that punk doesn’t have to be stupid,” says Aukerman. “I think more important than that is that nerds bring all that spazzy energy. A nerd is someone who’s kind of an outcast anyway. So nerds are outcasts, but they’re also highly energetic, spazzy outcasts, which I think is just the perfect kind of personality to bring to punk rock: outsiders with high energy. Nerds belong in punk rock, completely.”

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