Georgia 'Maq' McDonald plays guitar with rising Melbourne punks Camp Cope. Bill Stevenson is drummer, frequent songwriter and co-founder of legendary punk band Descendents. When Descendents were touring Australia recently Georgia invited Bill for a drink at her local bar – and Melbourne's best punk venue – the Reverence.
Over a mid-afternoon date conversation turns from hot sauce to Tinder, and of course, coffee.
Georgia Maq: How do you take your coffee?
Bill Stevenson: Nowadays I have an espresso maker in my house, so that's what I go to.
How many a day?
I try not to go too crazy because it's like a spiral, the more you drink, the more you need. You get to where it's not even affecting you anymore. But usually, right before we play I'll have about eight espressos.
That's not good! Are you a hot sauce person?
I love it.
Oh my God, smell that. This one's like my favourite one. It's chipotle.
Tell me about it. Tell me about the smell of it.
I can't describe the smell!
You sort of have to as I don't have an olfactory nerve. They cut it out of my head when they took a tumour.
Wow. Was the tumour where the nerve was?
Yeah, it didn't do me any problems with my brain or anything. It didn't hurt me in any way but in order to make sure they removed all of the tumour, they had to move my olfactory nerve.
I'm so sorry you have to go through that. That's so stressful.
No, it's fine. It's crazy what they can do. You may have an ailment or an illness, and a lot of times they can solve it. And of course, sometimes they can't solve it. That was one thing from spending a lot of time in the hospital is you look around and you see that not every story ends well. A lot of the stories end very sadly. A lot of people come around and they just had their legs cut off or whatever, and they don't make it. So I feel fortunate. I'm just glad to be alive.
That's a really beautiful perspective. I haven't even broken a bone. I've chipped a tooth and I've got vocal nodules because I was probably abusing my voice.
What was your first date? Wait, how old are you?
That's a good age. So, you started the band when you were really young?
I was 15. 1978.
That's crazy. So Descendents have been around for…
It kinda is. It doesn't seem like it. It's been Karl and Stephen and Milo and I now for 30 years. And it's been Milo and I for 36 years. Milo joined after we had been going for about two years.
Is Milo like your husband?
[laughs] I mean, he's my best friend. We are like brothers in some way, because we could go years without talking and pick up right where we left off. You have people with whom you have that rapport.
I love those relationships.
But I don't know, you see. I have to be honest about the dating. I was never able to have a date. What do I mean? Okay, well, no girl ever talked to me until my bands got famous. And so, the first thing I had that happened that would qualify as a date would be girls coming up to me at the shows, and that's not really very a fair date. But that was how I was ushered into interacting with women, so I never actually had a date because no girl would talk to me, and then my band got famous, then every girl would talk to me. I have to say, that gave me a strange perspective on how shallow humans can be. [laughs]
I play in a band that's not nearly as famous as Descendents, but we're kind of popular. When we were getting pretty big people who'd bully me at high school would be first in line at our shows.
I had that exact experience. I decided I would go to my ten year high school reunion and I was the king of the high school reunion. But in high school, I was the reject. I had no friends and no girls.
What do you think of Tinder and would you use it?
Personal experience would be zero, because I was already married with a family when those sorts of things were being invented. But young bands record at my studio and I'll be having a conversation, like we are, with one of the band guys, and he'll just be swipe swipe swipe swipe swipe. Then later that night, they'll look through their hundred matches and pick the one that looks the most beautiful, and I just think, wow, this is just cultivating the most shallow aspects of human nature. It represents the worst in humanity [laughs].
Don't go that far! It appears very shallow but I've used Tinder, and it's good for bridging the gap. You see someone around and you match on Tinder, and you can talk.
You're saying it depends on how you use it, and I've never seen anyone use it in a sensible way.
Yeah, at first I was like, "Fuck Tinder". It's just stupid, everyone just wants to sleep with everyone, just go to a show and talk to someone! But some people are a bit awkward and need that.
I guess it just depends on how they're using it……
This place is cool.
Yeah it's so good. But the building's up for sale because developers want to knock it down and build a million apartments.
I can't stand it.
This place brings people to Footscray. It's part of the city. I'm glad you got to see it before it maybe gets knocked down.
I wish we could've played here. This is the size of club that I like. I don't like big clubs so much.
Do you still get the opportunity to play little places?
Every once in awhile, we do. Usually, it'll be a problem in the streets. The cops will come shut it down. Usually has to be sort of secret. But this is what I prefer, I prefer small clubs. I think back on my memories of seeing bands over my lifetime and most of the memories that are etched in my brain of seeing bands, they were at little clubs.
The ones that come for me are when this person played in someone's backyard, or someone playing in a basement, in a velodrome.
I'm a big fan of the unlikely venue. Like we've set up at a bookstore before, a coffee shop. Or there's this garage we would always play in Wyoming. These are the memories I have, not some big concert.
It feels more human and you feel more connected.
Yeah, less official, less formal. A lot of our first shows were at warehouses or random little storefronts that we could rent. The clubs didn't want to have us so we'd have to make our own shows.
I also wanna know about how punk has become more inclusive and representative of more than just white men. Do you keep that in mind when booking shows or it literally just about whether you like the bands' music? Do you think it matters?
My views on that haven't changed. I listen to music for music's sake but my social awareness as I've gotten older has obviously increased. I was a very ignorant kid, and if you would've told me, "Look, every show just has men in the band!" I would've went, "Oh God, you're right! I hadn't realised." But now, I'm much more aware of it. But that doesn't change how I listen to music. I either like something or I don't, and I don't care if martians are playing it or women or men or cats, I just enjoy music. But the idea of trying to include more different kinds of people from more different walks of life, more genders, more races, all of that, looking at it socially, I believe in that 100 percent and I would go out of my way to include an interesting group that wasn't being included much, yes.
I'm really happy to hear that because for a while I felt like were the token girl band on festivals. People would use us to fill a quota.
Or they can polish their halo by putting you on the bill. I sometimes play with all my old Black Flag guys. We call ourselves Flag and last year we took War on Women on tour. I remember an interviewer saying, "I think it's honourable that you brought this activist group that's standing up for feminism. That's really righteous of you." And we were like, "No, we just brought them because we like the music!" It wasn't, "Oh, let's bring them to represent women." We were just like, "Yeah, we dig it! Let's bring 'em with us." I'm trying to become more socially aware. I was raised in white, middle class bullshit, and so, it's taken effort to break out of that and the narrow mindsets that my father put in me when I was a kid.
I also wanted to know: I listened to Milo Goes to College and coming from where my brain's at, I think it's really fucked when people say 'f*ggot' and stuff. Do you still play that song or change the lyrics? Or be like, "Shit, we probably shouldn't have done that!"?
Okay, well, there's a few things. That particular word that you used isn't on the records but there are similarly offensive words that are, and the song that has those words, we don't play it anymore. The second thing is that times were different in terms of what slang was being used and probably the biggest thing is that we were 15-year-old kids and didn't know any better. We do know better now though so we just don't play that song, because it makes us feel bad to think that maybe we were offending someone in that way. It was a different time and we were young kids, that's really all I can say. I can't try to defend it and I don't want to.
That wasn't meant to be an attack--
No, that's okay! It happened. If somebody put out documents of whatever you were doing when you were 15, you see what I mean? It's hard as a 50-year-old to try and speak to that stuff. Think about the dumb shit you did when you were a teenager. Well, I did dumb shit too and it's on record. It happened and we can't change it, but we can change what we do now.
Yeah, I think if you have a microphone and an audience then you should use it to change things, especially now that Trump is in and the world's being destroyed by lizards.
Yeah, it's definitely a time where we would like to use our stewardship in a little bit wiser of a manner now, more than we ever have before. We have an opportunity to use that stewardship wisely. We can piss it away or we can use it to some good.
Images: Ben Thomson