Except for the gray hair, or lack of hair, this could be a shot from a punk rock show circa 1978, but it’s from an April show at the Standing Room in Hermosa, California, where the band played their first hometown gig in nearly two decades.
Photo by Lisa Johnson
You produced the new album with drummer Bill Stevenson.
I’m neck-deep in that stuff. I record a lot of other bands, and like I said, I do TV shows as well. Bill and I both mix and master. Much of what I know I learned from Bill. For many years we did our albums on tape and had engineers working with us. Then, starting with Everything Sucks , we tracked the album entirely ourselves—just the two of us, as far as engineering went. And then we had that one mixed by Andy Wallace [Run-D.M.C., Slayer, Jeff Buckley]. That was an awesome experience.
For the new album we used engineer Jason Livermore. He set up the drum mics and got us great drum sounds. I record the drums because I tend to mostly produce the drums—a glorified engineer role where I’m suggesting parts and critiquing performances.
For the longest time Bill recorded the guitars, but at a certain point I was able to just do it on my own, without another engineer, using Pro Tools. Bill recorded the vocals on the latest record, and he and I did a lot of the editing together. I did some mixing in the beginning, but in the end we went with Jason Livermore again, who’s a fantastic mixer. I taught him. [Laughs.] He did the mixing, because when you work on an album, you’re probably too close to it.
You get some pulverizing tones on the record, especially apparent in the spots where there’s only guitar, like the intro to “Testosterone.” How did you record the guitars?
There’s a blend of miked and direct guitars on this album. When I recorded the guitars down here I did them just direct using an amp simulator, and I later sent them into [Livermore’s studio] the Blasting Room. Ribbon mics are big in our camp, and we used a Beyerdynamic M 160.
How do you decide whether to go direct or mike the amp?
It’s usually blended together. The direct tracks tend to be very midrangy, with not a lot of air around them. Sometimes a miked track can broaden that, or sometimes we like to use a little DI box behind a miked guitar. It also depends on the amount of overdrive. Some of the tracks are a bit more overdriven than others. Frank Navetta, the original guitar player, tended toward a cleaner sound, like a Twin and a Tele, as opposed to a lot of his contemporaries, who were Marshall guys. I like to mix it up a bit.
Some of your new songs, like “No Fat Burger” and “Comeback Kid,” are about the consequences of getting old. Can you reflect on what it’s like to have been in a punk band for 30 years?
An interesting fact about the band, which is touched on in some of our recent songs, is its sheer longevity. The bass player and I met in junior high school and have been hanging out ever since. With Bill and Milo, it’s pretty much the same. They were best friends in high school.
When the band started, there was no future in punk rock and there was no business structure or even any money in it. If you were lucky you got to play parties. You played punk for the sheer enjoyment of it and for the friendships. A lot of bands broke up when their friendships ended, or when the members got jobs.
Stephen Egerton and the Descendents prove that old punks don’t fade away or burn out in this live performance from 2013 in Gainesville, Florida. On the first number, the title cut from their 1996 album Everything Sucks, Egerton interrupts his cannonballing rhythm attack for a solo at 1:40, letting some single notes ring out and resolving with a bent-string climb.
We still play together because we’re great friends and because the music is absolutely essential to us. It’s how we express ourselves completely, and doing it together is a high comfort zone for us. Generally speaking we don’t put out too many albums. It’s usually several years and sometimes even a decade or more between them. The albums reflect where we are at the time—no one’s just sitting around trying to write hits—and to us the songs are very personal. “No Fat Burger” is relevant to a bunch of guys who are getting older.
It’s so cool to have people that are still interested in our music. There isn’t a day that goes by that we don’t go, “It’s weird that we have so many new people checking us out.” We’re stoked that people still care and that we’re able to do it. And that we’ve survived. We’ve had some major health issues with some of our guys. Karl had a heart attack some years ago and Bill is the Million Dollar Man. He’s been through the ringer with all kinds of stuff: a huge blood clot that almost killed him, a brain tumor. He’s just been slaughtered, but is up there kicking ass like never before.