Descendents’ Milo Aukerman: You’re Never Too Old to Think Farts Are Funny
The Descendents’ frontman, Milo Aukerman, is no longer a scientist. The 53-year-old still holds a degree, of course, but he’s no longer a practicing scientist. Devoted fans of the pop-punk hero might be taken aback by this — Aukerman has pursued a decades-long career in biochemistry for nearly as long as he’s anchored his band, a staggeringly influential California four-piece that formed in the late ’70s and spat out brief, aggressive tracks about such frivolities as bathroom humor, schoolyard crushes, and not wanting to grow up. They also helped spark the careers of modern-punk institutions like Blink-182, NOFX, and Green Day. But unlike his, well, descendants, Aukerman has, in the past, described music as his “hobby” and never technically done it full-time — until now.
The decision was a long time coming, according to the singer-songwriter, whose boxy, bespectacled likeness has appeared on five out of Descendents’ seven albums: 1982’s scrappy Milo Goes to College, 1985’s breakneck I Don’t Want to Grow Up, 1996’s hook-heavy Everything Sucks, 2004’s politically alert Cool to Be You, and now the forthcoming Hypercaffium Spazzinate, out July 29 via Epitaph. “[Science has] gotten less and less interesting to me,” Aukerman explains over the phone from his home in Delaware. “Also, working in a corporation has become a misery of sorts. As I was discovering this and realizing maybe I should just do music full-time, lo and behold, [my job] laid me off anyway.”
In devoting his full self to Descendents, Aukerman’s living closer to the band’s deep-rooted mantra of “going for All,” which is both the title of their 1987 album and a life philosophy that boils down to never settling for less. (“All” is also the name the rest of the band’s members use when performing and recording without Aukerman.) Below, the husband and father of two offers more words of wisdom, delving into how music can be a stable career (if you redefine “stability”), the do’s and don’t’s of passing gas, and the importance of moderating one’s caffeine intake.
To achieve longevity, a band’s connection has to be about more than music.
[Drummer] Bill [Stevenson] and I are friends from high school. Over the years we’ve stayed in contact and there were significant periods where we lost contact. And when I say “lost contact,” it’s not because of any kind of animosity. I always had my other thing going on — the science. I think what tends to be the common bond is [that our friendship] goes beyond the music. There’s that song [on Hypercaffium Spazzinate,] “Beyond the Music.” Think of it: If our connection was just music, then it does make it hard to reignite everything. Bill is, on some levels, my soulmate. Along with my wife, of course.
It’s never too late to redefine your career.
Music’s always been my release from the drudgeries of my normal job. When my normal job was exciting, that’s when I was least interested in pursuing music. But there have been times when my job has been less and less creative, and then I’d search for something else to use as that outlet.
I was working at [the science and engineering company] DuPont and they had put me out in Siberia doing some things I didn’t want to do. So at some point, I was like, “Well, I should just quit my job,” and then they did it for me. The last day of my job, I had to turn in my badge and turn in my company computer. I did all that at the site, and then I drove to the airport to get Bill to record vocals for the record. For the foreseeable future, I want to try this whole music-as-a-career thing, which I’ve never really done before.
Music can be a source of stability.
One thing that is surprising [is how I thought] my backup career was always going to be science. The instability of music trashes your dreams and then you go be a corporate tool. Then you come to find that it was the opposite. The stable thing for me would have been [to be] a musician. I learned that very, very late in the game — that you can actually have a stable career in music.
[But] music is always going to have an element of instability associated with it because you’re basically self-employed. That’s probably something that kept me from going whole-hog in. It was like, “I can’t employ myself.” But I’m coming around to the notion that self-employment is the way to go. The last several years have opened my eyes to how I could reinvent myself as a musician as opposed to a guy who has a career doing something else and does music as a hobby.
Practice moderation — especially with caffeine.
I practice moderation in many aspects of my life. [But] caffeine for years was not one that we practiced much moderation with. I have had some issues in the past — like acid reflex. I remember having that problem back in the ’80s and not knowing what to do. I learned after the fact, like, “Oh, I should have stopped drinking coffee.” But then saying, “No. That’s never going to happen.” I’ll suffer through the acid reflux ’cause I’ve got to have the coffee.
But in more recent years, I’ve found that if I overindulge in caffeine before a show, it can really f**k with me for hours. I’m not going to sleep. As a singer, that’s a death knell. I’ve had a couple instances where I lost my voice. I can at least lay partial blame on drinking way too much coffee and then not sleeping. And I have to blame Bill for some of it because we’ll be partying down with the coffee and he’ll bring in the 5-Hour Energy drinks on top of it. I’m okay drinking two or three cups before a show but then if you pile the 5-Hour Energies… That screwed me over so many times. And Bill’s like, “Come on, man. You gotta do it!” He’s totally baiting me, and I’m drawing the line.
But I’ve pushed him back — I bought Bill an automated coffee machine where you push the button and it grinds the beans. He was ecstatic. Next thing I know, I talked to him and he’s like, “Yeah, I just had 16 cups of coffee this morning.” With his health troubles, his doctors are telling him, “You need to cut down.” We’re getting to that age where the doctor says stuff and you go, “No, we gotta go for All!” [But] we don’t want to go for All and then die. That’s not the point. Go for “All,” but stay healthy, too.
You’re never too old to find farts funny.
There’s no way I could do what I do if I took myself too seriously. It doesn’t matter how old you are — farts are still funny to me. I even wrote a song for the record about farts. It didn’t make the record, unfortunately. It was a country song. I’m probably less mature than my kids in some regards. You don’t have to give all that stuff up when you get older.
While we’re on the subject: If you have to let one rip, leave the room.
My wife calls me “old dog.” So you can imagine that the plumbing’s not working as well. I get the smackdown. The wife saying, “Cut that out and light a candle.” That’s what my song [about farts] was called: “Light a Candle.” It’s a love song but it’s a love song about farting.
I really don’t have free reign here at the house. I do the best I can. Maybe I leave the room and maybe that way I can crank it up to ten, but I definitely don’t wanna be just flaunting that in [my family’s] face. I’ll say, “Excuse me,” and then my wife just says, “You don’t f**king mean it. If you meant it then you wouldn’t do it.” Early in our courtship that was definitely a bridge that we crossed, where I ripped one and she didn’t tear my head off. I thought, “Okay, I can live with this person. She’s the girl for me.”