Since their formation in 1978, the Descendents have been considered one of the most crucial punk acts of all time, being cited as a major influence for countless bands over the years. The last decade has seen sporadic tours and one-off shows from the Descendents, with the band set to return to Australian shores for the second time in early 2013. Kill Your Stereo caught up with guitarist Stephen Egerton to chat about the upcoming tour, as well as the band’s plans for a new Descendents record in the near future.
The Descendents are heading back to Australia in February. Are you just as excited as everyone is over here for that?
Absolutely we are, we love it there. All’s gotten to come there many times over the years, and Descendents didn’t get to until a couple of years ago, so we’re really stoked to be coming back, and it’s gonna be fun to be doing headlining club shows. And my wife actually grew up in Perth, so I have a lot of family in Australia, so for me it’s a special treat to get to come back.
And are you guys fans of the bands that you’re playing with?
Absolutely, yeah. We’ve actually toured with all three of the other bands at some point or another, and actually have been involved in recordings with all three of them as well over the years. We toured with Frenzal Rhomb over here in the States, I guess that would have been 2000 or ’99, somewhere in there. We toured with them a long time ago, and Bill Stevenson produced their last record. And Bill and I recorded Bodyjar, we did their first record, and we mixed maybe their second or third record as well, and toured with them over there. So these are all pals. It’s like homecoming for us.
You guys get together quite sporadically. How did these Australian shows come about?
Well, we just sort of got asked, "Hey, do you wanna come over and do these club shows?" and it was just sort of proposed to us and we were just like, "Yeah okay, sure, sounds great!". We get offers here and there, you know, "Hey, do you wanna come play here or there?", so we just have to see how it goes with the rest of our scheduling. Everyone’s got jobs and families, and we do our best to put it together, and you know, when we’re lucky it all falls into place. And in this case it did.
In a way, do you think that’s a factor in why you guys have stayed together for so long, because the band’s not a full time thing?
I think that may be true in a way, because sometimes it can be hard for a band if you’re constantly touring, constantly releasing records, and you’re sort of always in everybody’s face, then you experience big peaks and valleys in peoples’ interest in you. And in the case of us, it’s kind of like, "Oh wow, I haven’t heard these guys in a while, cool, let’s go see them." So maybe, in a way, we’ve managed to keep some interest by not being around as much, I guess (laughs). We didn’t plan it that way, but that seems to be how it’s worked out.
What’s it like when you first come back together after a long period of time?
Well, you know, we played together so much for so many years that for us it’s like home to us. It’s very easy to sort of dive into it. We all practice very, very hard for these shows, but kind of by ourselves. But we have so many years of playing together, practicing together, recording together, that we basically just sort of dive in and it seems to fit together just like we remember it.
When you play shows, do you find that fans who grew up with your music are still coming out, or is it more of a younger crowd these days?
It’s a mix of both, and I think there are a lot of people that maybe missed when we were playing in 1997, when we kind of did our last big, year-long, full-on run of playing shows. And there were a lot of people that just missed that that are coming out, but we see everything from old guys to really, really young people coming to the shows. And it’s always surprising with these new generations, it seems like something that’s almost kind of getting passed down from parents to children, or older siblings to younger siblings or something, because people still manage to keep coming.
You joined the Descendents in 1986, and you were a fan of the band before then…
I had been a fan for years, and so had Karl Alvarez, our bass player. Karl and I grew up together. We started playing together when we were kids, and so we had been playing a long time. We knew Bill a little bit. We had opened at shows for Black Flag before, so we were big fans and knew the music very well. So for us to get to join the Descendents was a huge deal for Karl and I. it was like getting to join one of our top favourite bands ever (laughs). So, very cool for us.
What was it like when you first joined?
Well, when I first joined, maybe I was cocky or something, I wasn’t very nervous about it, I was just pure excitement. In fact, basically I joined the band and six weeks later we went on tour for the first time. This was sort of the end of the Enjoy! tour, but by then we’d already written a lot of what was the Descendents All record, and basically we just kind of dove in head first. We were out on tour almost immediately after we joined, and so, during the process of making Descendents All, I really couldn’t sleep at all. I was just so wound up and excited from the whole thing that I just didn’t sleep for a month or something. That was kind of how I reacted to it. You know, I was never nervous about playing until recently. We didn’t play for a long time, and then when we started playing shows again, all of a sudden I had developed this stage fright thing, and I had it a lot for the first eight or ten shows that we did once we started playing again. But now I seem to be over that and I’m back to my old self (laughs).
You released a solo record a couple of years ago. Do you have any plans to do another one?
Well, I would like to do one again someday, but when I made that record, I didn’t expect the band to be getting back together. I was just compelled to keep making music somehow, even if nobody listened to it, so I figured I’d just go and make a record. And then that went really well, and then as it turned out, we started playing again, so now I think any focus I have on writing music is going to be more devoted to the Descendents. I would like to do another one sometime, just because it was so much fun, and it was just such an unusual way to make a record, because I’m a horrible singer, and so passing it off to friends and having them do it was really cool. Someday I’d like to, instead of just calling my buddies and going, "Hey, do you wanna sing on it?", I’d like to maybe have some guys I don’t know sing on it. Just voices I like or something. So I might do one again sometime, but it won’t be a priority. Descendents will be the priority for sure.
I’m just kind of curious about how the record was put together. How did you assign the songs to all those different vocalists?
Well, what happened is, I had been writing these songs over the course of a few years, and they were just stacking up on my hard drive. And I was kind of griping that I didn’t have anything to do with music, and my wife was like, "Just record all those songs you’ve got, just go ahead and start doing them," so I said, "Okay, fine," And I thought that was a good idea, so I started recording them, thinking that I would be able to sort of somehow sing over them, but then a little bit of the way in I realised very quickly that that wasn’t going to work, so my wife suggested, "Hey, why don’t you ask some of your friends to sing on them?". And so I knew how the songs went, like how the vocal melodies were supposed to go, and I knew what they were supposed to sound like. So I would just listen to the songs and sort of picture different friends of mine, what I thought their voices might sound like. And then I’d go, "Oh yeah, so-and-so would sound really cool on this song." So then I would contact them and go, "Hey, you wanna try singing over this song? I think it would work for you," and amazingly everybody did. They liked them and were interested in doing it in the first place, and it managed to fit together really well. I think the first song I got back I was like, "This might actually work," and by the time I had three or four, I was like, "No, this is great, this is gonna be perfect." (laughs) So it really came together nicely, and it was really just a matter of auditioning the melody, imagining my friends singing it, you know, this friend or that friend. And then it came together. So it was really cool.
You do a lot of producing and mixing for other bands. Are you working on anything at the moment?
My focus in recording nowadays is more mixing and mastering than anything else, and I sort of am constantly working within reason. Right now I’m doing a fantastic band, I think they’re from Holland, called The Real Danger. I did a band from Brazil a while ago who’s on tour over here at the moment. They’re very good. I do a lot of records for MxPx, Less Than Jake, I do a lot of the records that are on the label Paper + Plastick, that put out my record. So I’m sort of constantly working, but more than anything else, mixing and mastering. That fits in really easily to the rest of my life, you know, raising kids and that sort of thing, so that’s kind of become more my focus, and I really enjoy that. As a side thing, I actually write music for television shows a little bit. I’m getting into that a little bit, like reality TV shows, I just kind of do background music.
Oh really? Which shows?
Well, the funny thing is, I just started into this, and I can’t actually talk about them yet, so there are privacy clauses and that stuff until the things are actually released. But just some smaller reality TV shows, and I’ve done several of these now, and that’s actually been really fun, just because I can sort of dabble in kinds of music that are outside of my norm a little bit. And try different instruments that are outside my normal thing, like a string section in something, which is something I would never think to do otherwise. It would never occur to me probably. But it’s been really fun. So I do a little bit of that to round out my fun musical life (laughs).
Obviously the Descendents have influenced a huge number of bands. Do you find a lot of bands come to you to produce or mix and master for that reason?
Absolutely. I mean, I think that’s what brings them to me, and it’s word of mouth too, just friends going, "Hey, this worked out really well for me, why don’t you go to this guy?". But most bands who contact me are Descendents and All fans, for sure. And a lot of people that like my record too, surprisingly, they really like the sound of the record and maybe they weren’t as familiar with Descendents or All, but they come to me anyway (laughs). So that’s been cool.
You guys have spoken recently about the possibility of a new Descendents record. Can you give us any details on that?
Yeah, that is sort of in the works. We don’t have any kind of a timeline set up for it yet, but everybody is definitely wanting to do it, and everybody is writing for it, so I’m very sure it will happen, and we’re all very stoked to do it. We’ve been having a good time writing songs, and so I’d say we’ve got well over half of it written but not recorded yet. So unfortunately we can’t follow a very strict timeline, the way we would if we were a full time band, just because it doesn’t fit in for us. We have to sort of work around the rest of our lives, but I would like to think something could happen as early as the middle of next year.
Can you give us any details on subject matter?
I would say that so far in the songs that I’ve heard, I would say there’s a highly personal focus to it. Put it this way, I haven’t heard any songs about farting or anything (laughs). Sometimes we just like to write silly stuff, we enjoy that. But so far, that isn’t where everybody’s lives have been, and the way we’ve always written our songs has been based in, either something funny, or a personal situation that was happening that’s affected us. And right now, there’s a lot of that floating around, and I think that makes for the best songs, so I’m looking forward to that.
Is the element of humour still in there at all?
Well, I know that it’ll surface, and I know of at least one song that’s barking up that tree, because we could never do a record without some of that, but I would say there’s a more serious tone in what I’ve heard so far from everybody.
And just to finish up, is there anything going on with All at the moment, or are you just focusing on Descendents?
At the moment we’re kind of focusing on Descendents, but we’ll likely do more All in the future. All, it never had the kind of exposure that the Descendents have, but we still really enjoy doing it. Chad’s an amazing singer, and I’m sure we’ll get together and do something in the future for sure.