ALL Interview By Sev (firstname.lastname@example.org)
I recently had the honor of having a nice in-depth discussion with Bill Stevenson from ALL/Descendents. With Bill being the only original member who's been through every incarnation of The Descendents and ALL, the interview was especially meaningful to me. Thanks to Hector at Epitaph for giving me this opportunity, and to Bill for taking over half an hour of his time to talk with me. This interview took place on August 18, 2002 at the Middle East in Cambridge, MA.
Sev: Let's start off by talking a little bit about this tour. You put together the Motor Memory tour to mostly showcase some of the bands on Owned and Operated Records. What has been the response to this tour so far?
Bill: It's been a really good tour. I think that in each city, it's been a little bit different as far as our audience might take to any of the other groups. Plus we've been rotating the running order every night, so a group might play first one night and play third another night. It's just given the 3 groups a sort of equal opportunity to get exposed to some different people.
Sev: What about the audience response to you guys?
Bill: Oh, that's been great. We haven't toured in a while, and this tour has sort of been like a homecoming tour for us in a strange way. We spent the last 5 years mainly doing support for various people, whether it be the Warped Tour or supporting for some of the newer bands. I think the theory there was that we could play to some of the younger kids that listen to some of those newer bands and that maybe we could earn some fans. But really, sadly, I don't think that those kids are really music listeners. They just want to put something on while they're skateboarding. ALL is too big of an encumbrance for them. They'd rather just stick with the more kind of metal influenced things. Those kids can't really deal with ALL. ALL requires kind of a full attention because there's so much detail. So now we're mostly playing to our fans and hopefully people that our fans may turn on to us. And we're also talking about maybe doing a tour with someone like Mike Watt, where we can play in front of people who are music listeners as opposed to people who just want to ride their skateboard and get in the pit. Nothing against that, but it's just that our music doesn't appeal to them, and it isn't a good match.
Sev: Those kids would probably prefer The Descendents.
Bill: Or the image of Descendents - the fact that it would enable them to tap into that part of LA punk rock history.
Sev: How did you come up with the idea for the Stockage festival, and how did you decide how those bands get to play? Does it have something to do with the message board in your website?
Bill: The idea originally was to have everybody who frequented our website to have a time and a place to all get together and meet each other. Since the majority of ALL listeners are all people who play music, if any of those people have bands, then all those bands could play too. Everybody submitted kind of an application to come play it, and then we drew names out randomly, and that's whom we got to play.
Sev: Did you receive an overwhelming amount of applications?
Bill: You know, we didn't get tons and tons, but we had more applications that available space. This was the first time we ever did it. It was just very exciting to try and actually put together a festival of any sort. It makes you wonder how they put those big huge festivals together.
Sev: A couple of years ago, you played that Punk-O-Rama tour with Voodoo Glow Skulls and Agnostic Front. That was kind of a strange tour, and I wanted to know what your reactions were to that. It seemed like most people just came to see one band. I know the idea of that tour was supposed to be unity of different types of music, but most people just came for one band and then left.
Bill: You know, where did we play here?
Sev: You didn't play in Boston. I saw you guys in Providence.
Bill: Oh, at Lupo's. I remember, we had a fun show that night. That was one of the ones where it worked out ok. That was a diversified enough tour, and maybe that did us a little bit of good. As far as the generalness of your question, which is this idea of people just coming to see one band, and that being not consistent with the original intention of the tour, that's the way of things now. Everybody is very narrow as listeners, and it's not a reflection on the kids of today. It's a reflection on the music business and how the music business has generated these hits, these little 2 minute jingles, the whole MTV thing, the whole tidy little package, and that's all kids have time for. They don't have time to try to accept the band or listen to a band and try to hear what the band is all about. They don't have time for that. The kids' ears aren't even capable at this point. Let me put it this way. My mom would listen to Charlie Parker and go out dancing to it. You had a dance to every move of it. And this is very complicated music, but my mom as a teenager had no problem with it whatsoever listening to it. If we put on Charlie Parker for kids at the Warped Tour, they would just run away screaming. Their ability to listen to music in that way has been taking away from them by these corporations who are shoving these little pop songs down their throat. They don't have the ability to handle it. If they're into metal, that's what they can handle. They can't handle ALL or whatever else they might run into. And it's not even socially admirable to try and listen to anything different, because you got the clothes that you wear, that's your style, and this is your music. Everything is just figured out for you ahead of time, so that's what you get. But I think that tour was better than some. In a lot of cities, I thought it was a success.
Sev: You've now released 2 albums on Epitaph, plus the live album that came out last year.
Bill: Plus Everything Sucks.
Sev: Right, plus Everything Sucks as The Descendents. How satisfied are you with the way things have been working out with Epitaph, and do you plan on staying with them?
Bill: I think Epitaph is a great label. I think they're very well organized. For this kind of music, I think they're the best at it, as far as consistency. Some of these upstart labels in the last 3 or 4 years that have come around, they're just putting horrible, horrible records out. It's called pop punk, but they're just Poison with haircuts. It's just horrible music. And all those labels will be bankrupt in 3 or 4 years, but Epitaph I think is strong. We're still talking to them about our future plans, but I would certainly like to include Epitaph. Great label, great people.
Sev: Have you considered just going your own way and release your albums on Owned and Operated?
Bill: It would be kind of a big undertaking for us. Owned and Operated is such a tiny little label, and we don't even know what the fuck we're doing. And we have horrible distribution.
Sev: Regarding new material, there's been a lot of talk about 2 new ALL albums and a new Descendents album. Can you shed any light on that?
Bill: We recorded about 30 songs, two-thirds of which would be sort of the new Descendents record, but we don't have everything totally figured out as far as a which songs are even which. A lot of the times we don't even figure that part of it out until we've tried recordings both ways.
Sev: Do you write songs without having any idea if it's going to be a Descendents or an ALL song?
Bill: We always just write song and don't have any idea whether it's a Descendents or an ALL song. With Karl and I having ended up being kind of the main songwriters, when we write a song we're just writing a song. But that having being said, usually Milo's songs end up on Descendents records and Chad's songs end up on ALL records. But other than that there's tons of gray area, and we don't ever totally know what we're doing.
Sev: Are you still not sure when those recordings are going to come out?
Bill: I would like to think that we could get it out in January, at least the Descendents record.
Sev: Are there plans to tour as Descendents?
Bill: We don't have any plans yet but we'll make some, as time gets a little closer.
Sev: Back in 1995 you released Pummel and had a brief stint on Interscope Records. Being your only album on a major label, do you look at that as more of a positive or a negative thing?
Bill: I don't think it really affected us. We're too old to be affected by those kinds of things. I understand how a newer band could get caught up in a lot of the hang-ups that could come about by being on a major, and just seeing that kind of money and excess running around. For us, we just made a record, Interscope released it, and did a pretty mediocre job with it. At the time when Pummel came out, Interscope was primarily focusing on bailing out the murderers out of prison, and making those kind of records with them - the different hip hop things. That's what they were focusing with at the time and not really on the rock. They didn't really do much, and even with the half-assed job they did, it still sold like twice as many as all of our other records. But they sold it the wrong way. It was in a lot more stores, but they didn't do anything with it that was interesting, I don't think.
Sev: Being the only member who's been pretty much in every incarnation of The Descendents and ALL, why do you think ALL has always been sort of like in the shadow of The Descendents, even now that ALL has more records out, more tours, and overall more songs?
Bill: Well, most of that is just history. The Descendents came out in a very crucial time in rock history - the late 70s LA punk rock movement. The fact that we were part of that - even though we weren't really part of it, just coincidental with it - that makes Descendents really valid from a historical point of view, whereas ALL to have started in 1987, is a little bit different and that means nothing. And since people are buying records based on anything but music; they buy it based on clothes, fashion, or image of the band, they can buy Descendents records by tapping into the history. It's just the same reason why they buy Black Flag. They don't know anything about the band or the music - someone told them they had to have on in their collection. And so, ALL doesn't really tie into it exactly that way, even though it's of course extremely similar music. To figure out what the differences are between the 2 bands is kind of an impossible chore. And people just want to keep tapping into that part of history.
Sev: You run the Blasting Room from Ft. Collins which has established itself as one of the most sought out recording and mixing studios. Why did you decide to open up that place and what do you love so much about it?
Bill: For me it's possible to enjoy music on a lot of different levels. I can enjoy it as a drummer; I can enjoy it just singing songs in the car with my daughter; I can enjoy it as someone who is recording a record for a different band, maybe trying to help them realize some potential in their sound that hasn't been realized. It was just part of my interest in music itself that led me in that direction. At a certain point, the band ALL decided to build the studio for ourselves, for our own projects. Shortly thereafter, the Blasting Room developed its own wings as a business. Actually, at this point, it is more a financially viable concern that the group is, but with the arts you're always trying to balance your creative interests with your $1400 dentist bill for your daughter's bill.
Sev: What are some of the projects that you have coming up? Will you be producing any albums in the coming months?
Bill: Right when we get home I'm working on more ALL and Descendents stuff, maybe for about a month. Then I have this band Hangnail, they're on Tooth and Nail Records. I guess sometime in the near future I'm going to do something with Russ from Good Riddance. He's doing some side project and I may end up recording that. I've been talking to the H2O guys. We're pretty good buddies with them and we've been shooting shit about that, but nothing concrete yet. I'm not sure what's next, because the first I got to get finished is our stuff, and I kind of got my head up my ass on that right now.
Sev: Do you have to turn down a lot of bands from using the Blasting Room or do you try and fit in most people?
Bill: We try to make room for a lot of it. Recording studios have undergone a big revolution. It's weird; both fields that I'm in have undergone big revolutions in the last couple of years. The music business is starting to scare me because people can just steal our music. They don't have to pay for it.
Sev: From the Internet?
Bill: From wherever. Even burning it. They don't have to pay for it. That's frightening, to have 2 kids and have chosen a business where someone can just steal. Like in that guy's store, if me and you could just walk in and take what we want, he would be fucking terrified. So that's scary. And with studios, the technology has evolved such that everybody and their brother has an amateur studio in their basement. The naive player thinks that he can just do a record because his body has pro tools in his basement. What a lot of people don't realize is that what you pay for when you make a record, a lot of what you pay for, is the expertise, not just the equipment. So what you're hearing now is a lot of weird sounding records being made by people that are in over their head technology wise - weird, thin, plastic records. And even with a lot of the technology, like say for instance the pitch direction - you hear all these vocals on the radio that are laughable. That's going to be laughable in 10 years when people hear records that are going to be made. They're turning people's voices into this sort of keyboard sounding thing. I think that's going to be laughable. It's a funny time right now for music because of these plastic records. And also that is alienating the live audience, because the live audience goes to see them, and the band sounds like a rock band, but their record sounds this perfect plastic thing. They see them and it's a totally different thing.
Sev: That's true, I think that if a band can't pull it off live, then what's the point?
Bill: Yea, it's a lie.
Sev: Can you tell us a recent crazy tour story, hopefully from this tour?
Bill: The funniest thing most recently was that there was this big bottle of Jack Daniels that the guys had drunk. I woke up, I didn't know where we were, and there's this empty bottle. I had it sitting on the ground, and I was pissing into it because we don't have a bathroom on the truck. So I'm sitting there and I'm right by the back door of the truck. We were parked where we weren't supposed to and this lady opens the door of the truck to tell me to move the truck, and she opens it and it's broad daylight with all these people. (Laughs) I'm pissing into this whiskey bottle, and her face is like 8 inches from it since the truck is high up. I didn't know what to do, so I just go, "No hablo ingles!"
Sev: Haha. She just left right then?
Bill: Yea, I just said "No hablo ingles" and she was out of there.
Sev: Having done this for over 20 years now, what do you see as the major differences in the punk scene today than when you guys first started out?
Bill: It's just so different. I can't even compare them in that way. You'll hear stuff right on the television, like the Gap commercial, that sounds like Sex Pistols, so I don't even know what to think of any of that. I guess you have to dig through all of what's going on and try to find the punk scene underneath it all, and depending on who you are the punk scene means different things to you. For some people, it means a very certain kind of devout politics thing, say with people that are interested in Propagandhi or something like that, and I can respect that as something that means punk rock to someone. For other people it means a certain approach of freedom to music, and maybe to them it might be going to see Mike Watt play, or maybe us, and maybe some of the really experimental things. Punk rock is as punk rock does. You look for different things and other people look for other things in it. It always comes down to clothing. It always comes back around to fashion.
Sev: What are 3 bands that you consider to be underrated, or bands people need to watch out for?
Bill: This band that is going to play tonight, Someday I. They're really remarkable. They're so ambitious, rhythmically and harmonically. A lot of people might like Element 101. They're pretty cool, and they have pretty interesting records. They recorded in the Blasting Room as well.
Sev: After this tour winds down, what else can we expect from the ALL/Descendents camp in the coming months?
Bill: We're going to go to South America in October, and I think we're maybe going to go to Europe in the spring. Then we're trying to get some of these records finished. I'm not sure exactly when this will happen, but we've also been working on a record that would be more extremely ambitious arrangements - maybe a little bit less vocal or pop song oriented. I don't know how familiar people are with ALL. We have 5 things that we've been playing that have structures but then there's improvising too within the structures. When I say that, the first thing I think of trying to compare that to would be maybe The Process of Weeding Out by Black Flag. Or something by Charlie Parker. It's almost like a hard bop framework but with the rock performance thing.
Sev: Is it going to be just instrumental, but almost jazzy structure wise?
Bill: I don't know. Some of them sound more African. Sometimes Santana sounds more African. When Santana is really getting down they sound kind of African, so it's not exactly like Latin. It's pretty polyrhythmic - that's what I should have said instead of going through all these terms.
Sev: Will it be ALL or Descendents?
Bill: I think ALL. Or maybe Descendents. If it's instrumental we could call it Descendents and sell 10 times as many. So it's cool that way.
Sev: That's all I have. Thank you so much for everything.
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