When Milo Aukerman bounds onstage these days with his fellow middle-aged punks in The Descendents and begins to sing, “I don’t need no booze or drugs/ I just chug-a-lug-o my coffee mug,” he means it literally. Those lyrics from their 1996 song “Coffee Mug” perfectly summarize how the Californian vets energized to play their upbeat classics, as well as where those tracks emerged from in the first place.
Case in point: without all that java to pep them up before they recorded their debut album Milo Goes to College in 1982, Aukerman might not have even been part of the band, and the other members might have chosen a different genre entirely. That alternate reality surely would have left many a punk out in the cold, considering how nearly every pop-punk band to have followed cite The Descendents as a key influence.
Ahead of their Apr 28 gig at Mao Livehouse Wukesong, Aukerman explains just how integral all that caffeine proved to be in the evolution of one of the most revered, nerdy, and fun, West Coast punk bands over the past 40 years.
Just how much coffee does a middle-aged punk need to perform speedy punk songs?
The older you get, the more it takes. [Drummer] Bill [Stevenson] drinks about eight espressos before he goes on. And I go: “Dude isn’t that overkill?” And he goes: “That’s just so I can play the beats.”
Much has been said about how coffee had an impact on how hard and fast you played back in the day.
When I came along, it coincided with the band drinking of a lot more coffee. We veered toward wanting to play fast short songs, which might not have suited the older lineup.
That’s right: before you joined, the Descendents was fronted by a female singer, Cecilia Loera.
I saw them play countless times when she was still in the band. They had this boppy, new wave sound before retooling it to punk. With Cecilia leaving and me wanting to come in as more of a rock screamer guy, going “Bah!” all the time, that dovetailed nicely with all the coffee we were drinking and the quickening pace.
How did you end up stepping in as the frontman?
Bill would sell copies of their first single to classmates at our high school. It blew me away. I went to watch them play, and just stepped up to the mic and said: “I can sing this because I’ve been listening to this record nonstop.” And we kept going from there.
What was it like to leave the band and begin your molecular biology degree, just as The Descendents were earning a real following?
I’d decided long before that to go to college. But the longer I was away from music, the more I missed it. I’d keep coming back to play shows. I couldn’t get it out of my blood. Now the good news is I don’t have to miss it anymore, I just do it all the time.
And how did that career switch come about?
When I was first hired by [the chemical company] DuPont, I was doing exciting research. Then, slowly but surely, the company took away my autonomy. By the time I was done I wasn’t even working in DNA anymore, I was working on plant soil. I was literally working on dirt! So when they laid me off, I breathed a sigh of relief. The Descendents were in the middle of making a record, and I just made the band my full-time gig.
A lot of 56-year-olds probably look back on what might have been. How does it feel to still live the punk rock dream?
It’s great, though now I have to disavow the song “I Quit” [from their 2004 EP ‘Merican] where I sing about not being like Mick Jagger “playing the pixie at 50 or 60.” There are worse things to live down.
The Descendents will perform alongside Shanghai’s Round Eye on Apr 28 gig at Mao Livehouse Wukesong. Tickets are RMB 280.
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Photos: Kevin Scanlon, Spotify