Rank Your Records: Descendents Albums Rated by Vocalist Milo Aukerman
With the release of their new record, ‘Hypercaffium Spazzinate,' we had the frontman reflect on the band’s catalog of legendary power pop punk.
Early press photo. Image: Naomi Peterson
In Rank Your Records, we talk to members of bands who have amassed substantial discographies over the years and ask them to rate their releases in order of personal preference.
Thirty-four years ago, Californian punks Descendents released Milo Goes to College.
A frantic 20-minutes of aggressive hardcore and longing pop, the album blasted songs about love, losers, parents, and girls in Jordache jeans, and captured the feelings and frustrations of suburban teenage punks from Los Angeles, to Chicago, Manchester, Sydney, and Buenos Aires.
It’s become one of the greatest punk albums ever.
The band has since produced a number of other classic punk albums including Hypercaffium Spazzinate, that is released this week on Epitaph.
We asked Milo Aukerman, the band’s 53-year-old frontman, to rank the punk pioneers' six studio albums that preceded Hypercaffium Spazzinate.
6. Cool To Be You (2004)
Noisey: You know one album had to come at number six.
Milo Aukerman: Yeah, the main reason is that Bill [Stevenson] came in and put down some good songs, but I felt like my performance wasn’t up to snuff on his songs. I think I did pretty well with some of Karl [Alvarez]’s songs but I didn’t hit the mark on Bill’s. Also Stephen [Egerton] didn’t contribute any songs and his lack of presence was really felt. It’s more laid back and doesn’t have the aggression of earlier albums. The circumstances surrounding the record really weren’t ideal. We were not a touring band at that point, I was coming in with my voice being really rusty, and I think that rustiness probably contributed to my perception of that record.
5. I Don’t Wanna Grow Up (1985)
Was this written and recorded over a short time?
No, but we didn’t have the right way to rehearse the material. Bill was touring with Black Flag and we rehearsed in Tony [Lombardo]'s garage. Bill was playing on a kid’s toy drum set and we were all playing at an extremely low volume because we were in Tony’s garage. So when we went in the studio, I think the sound of it kind of reflects that toy part of it because it’s a little more lightweight compared to the debut.
I’ve read that the producer was drunk for most of the time!
Production was definitely hampered by the producer having some issues. Bill had to step in. It was the first record he'd ever been behind the board at. He was like, “Aww, I ruined the record” because he says he didn’t know what he was doing. He was a total neophyte behind the board there.
It includes “Silly Girl” which is on one of your most pop moments.
Yeah, we still play that live but give it a little more balls. Some of the songs on that record are Bill’s best but he’s kind of self-conscious about them because they’re written from a 19-year-old’s perspective. He was writing those very romantic based lyrics. But people love them, and I have no problem singing them, it’s just that Bill’s like, "Ugh, i wrote those lyrics…”
But it also has your song “Pervert".
[Laughs] Yeah, we still do that one too. On that record we mixed up the romance with the more disgusting kind of stuff.
4. Enjoy! (1986)
The poo album! You’d been touring a lot at the time, and some of these songs sound like the kind of fart jokes you’d hear in a touring band.
When a band tours as much as we did you become a little insular to the reality outside of your van. Inside is your own little world, and you find yourself laughing at things that make no sense to anyone else. There was a potty humor thing going on and we were just more entertained by our farts than anything else.
But there was a shift to some more experimental stuff.
The experimenting kind of worked half the time and didn’t work half the time. The times it did work, it worked great, and the times it didn’t work you’d go, “Meh, whatever.” It had some good collaborative things going on. “Green” is a good example and “Sour Grapes", is a perfect example.
3. All (1987)
Bill has said that this is the closest you came to Milo Goes to College at capturing the true essence of Descendents.
Bill felt like we nailed it from a production point of view. And the two new guys in the band brought in songs that blew us away. Karl’s “Coolidge” is the best song on the record. And then there’s some songs that didn’t quite work. “Schizophrenia” makes me cringe now. I’m gonna call them "experimental" but you could call them filler of a sort.
Were the Minutemen influencing this kind of jammy "experimental" stuff?
Yeah, even Black Flag at that point, because they had the process of weeding out, and I think that was a touchstone for Stephan to bring in some of his crazy wacky melodies he’s bringing in, and then Bill or I would put words over them.
2. Everything Sucks (1996)
Your return to new and old fans.
Yeah, we ended up getting people who listened to us back in the 80s, who’d made tapes for their younger brothers, in some cases even for their kids. Multiple generations were coming out to see us play. That was completely unexpected. For that record, the other guys had been playing as ALL for say, eight years, and had gotten to be top notch songwriters. We had about 35 songs to choose from. That was one of my favorite records to make because we had such a positive attitude about it.
Had the time away revitalized you?
Yeah, I was working in science and not making a lot of progress in my career. I was burned out. I decided that if I could do another record with the band and I had some songs that I could contribute, we should try. And the guys were all really psyched to do it. It really was the right time to do that record. I mean songs like "I'm the One" and "Everything Sucks" that are just perfect for that combo.
1. Milo Goes to College (1982)
This had to be number one!
Sure, it captured who we were then. I’d like to be able to divorce myself from the public perception of the record and just talk about my perception of the record, but I think the two are intertwined. It was our first record, it was a real magical time for us, so I think I’d put it at number one regardless. It’s had these incredible legs and still has an affect on people.
It’s one of the most influential punk records ever.
No, for sure. It was also the introduction of the Milo character, that image alone has become such an iconic figure in punk music.
Yeah, it’s got that going for it. It’s where it all started. We put out music before then, but that was the record. But it didn’t make a huge splash right when it was released, it was a slow burn kind of a thing. We toured that record in '85 and '86, two years after it came out. Those first touring cycles helped raise it’s stature but it took a while.
‘Hypercaffium Spazzinate’ is available July 28 on Epitaph.