Descendents’ Bill Stevenson on His Raw Lyrical Style and the Strained Relationship With His Late Father
“It’s a really great and diverse lineup and I can’t wait to play,” Descendents drummer Bill Stevenson tells about the band’s upcoming appearance this weekend (Sept. 15) at the Riot Fest in Chicago, during a recent chat with Noisecreep. Also slated to perform on the stacked bill during the 3-day event are Rise Against, Elvis Costello, Iggy and the Stooges, The Offspring, A Day to Remember, Coheed and Cambria, and many others.
Stevenson promises the kind of Descendents set list that will please both old and new fans of the Southern Californian punk institution. Besides manning the drum kit for the group, Stevenson has also penned the lyrics for some of the Descendents most beloved songs. “I’ve been plagued with what I would call an underactive imagination. Usually, if I’ve written a song about it, it’s happened,” Stevenson admits. “I haven’t had much luck crafting a song together from some fictitious, or would be, premise – that’s just not me. Now, that’s not to say I don’t take certain artistic liberties, or embellish certain things, with my songs, once I start writing them.”
Recording and releasing music since the late ’70s with the Descendents and All, Stevenson, 49, says that he’s at peace with the “warts and all” nature of his songwriting: “If you go all the way back to songs I’ve written like “Weinerschnitzel” and “Myage” and string them together, you get my life – they’re like my diary. It’s all there. I pretty much wear my heart on my sleeve and I guess I just don’t have the ability to write fiction much,” laughs the punk rock vet.
Listen to ‘One More Day’
With lines like, “Spent the last years in denial of my grief because you hated me,” the lyrics to “One More Day” are Stevenson’s rawest moment as a songwriter. Noisecreep wanted to know more about his father: “He was coldly supportive of me, I guess. He bought me drum stuff and he paid for our first couple of recordings, but my father really wasn’t one to embrace music emotionally.
“When we started the Descendents, my father was 65. I was born when my father was already 50, so he couldn’t relate to me. In fact, a couple of days before he died, he asked me why I wrote the Descendents song “My Dad Sucks.” I was like, “Dad, Frank [Navetta, late Descendents guitarist] wrote that song.” So yeah, he lived for like 20 years thinking that I had written that song about him. That just shows you what a disconnect we had. He thought I hated him and I assumed he hated me. Look, he grew up during the Great Depression, so he was coming from a much different place than I did. He had an old-fashioned way about looking at everything. But I don’t begrudge him for that now.”
Shifting our conversation to the future, Stevenson tells us that despite the fact that it’s been eight years since the last Descendents studio album, the band is in fighting shape for their appearance at Riot Fest this weekend: “Me and Karl [Alvarez, bassist] live near each other in Colorado and we practice together every day, as a rhythm section. We’re sounding really tight because of it. Stephen [Egerton, guitarist] lives in Tulsa, Okla., but he practices a lot to and we send each other tapes of us practicing and he sends us back his guitar on top of it. There’s nothing worse than a bunch of 50-year olds up there sucking, so we work really hard to sound really good [laughs].”