“Today, to play until I dropped would take around two and a half hours,” he muses. “In the last six years, I’ve had several very serious life-threatening illnesses, and so I’ve been up and down in terms of how fit I am, how well practiced I am. Right now, I’ve been practising a tonne. I play for two and a half hours every day at full energy, so that’s how I know. But if you’d spoken to me three months ago, I’d just come out of open lung surgery, I’d say I could maybe play for about forty minutes before I’d just be too tired.”
With their seventh album, Hypercaffium Spazzinate now arriving after a twelve year gap between albums, there is plenty to discuss in terms of how the band realised the time was right for a new release. But without wanting to prod too bluntly, open lung surgery is a hell of a thing to undergo; how Stevenson managed to return to music after this shows a huge level of dedication.
“My operations have been reparative, so each has made me better. I had a huge brain tumour, and that slowed me down. It made me unfit and morbidly obese, and when they took it out, I rebounded well and started doing gigs. Recently there was the open lung surgery, along with open-heart surgery at the same time, so they have to break all your ribs to get in there. For three months I couldn’t use my arms properly, but now I’m playing like crazy. I’m back to testing the waters. Sometimes I’ll go out and do a tour with Black Flag. I just finished three weeks with them. I’m not going to say it was easy, because part of that music is that it isn’t supposed to be easy, there’s an element of struggle. But it was so much easier than last year when my lungs were clogged.”
This is one of the most understated remarks I suspect I’ve ever heard, but then, Stevenson is nothing if not jovial. When he speaks of his bandmates and their history together, it is as though he is talking about them for the first time, his voice animated and excited. It comes as no surprise, then, that the strength of this camaraderie sits at the very heart of Descendents.
“These days, Karl [Alvarez] and I still live very close to each other in Fort Collins, Colorado. Milo [Aukerman] lives in Delaware, and Stephen [Egerton] lives in Tulsa. So, we don’t all live together in the same room any more like we did when we were kids, it’s definitely a different era for the band. But I think that the fact Descendents have not just all been in each other’s faces all the time is probably the main reason why we’ve managed to keep the thing going over so many years. We sort of only do it when we want to, so it doesn’t occupy every single moment of our waking days. When we do shows nowadays, we’ll go out and then get to just come home again for a while. Those are the most fun, because we get together and it’s like a party. We’re so happy to see each other, and we’re just trying to keep the band fun. That’s the reason we started it, and it’s the reason we’re still doing it.”
Hypercaffium Spazzinate is a fine showcase of this, and not only reveals a band still on top of their technical form, but one who is also still happy to be experimenting and have the chance to just get out there and play. The musical landscape has evolved a lot since they first began, but through all those twists and turns, the soul of punk has kept burning.
“I think the soul of music is constantly changing. At one point the soul of rock and roll fragmented itself into this thing that we call punk rock, and it has its own soul too that is constantly changing. For instance in high school, I listened to The Ramones and then Black Sabbath’s Paranoid right next to each other, and to me those two share a soul. But there’s a person who would say the soul of punk rock involves a Mohawk and spitting on people, so that person would disagree with me.”
“The punk rock world has definitely become extremely larger than it was when it started, so that has maybe caused it to fragment and mutate. To talk about Blink 182 punk, that’s a different conversation than to talk about some band playing in a dingy basement for seventy people. But I would say the soul of punk rock, if it can in fact be identified,” he laughs. “The soul is there in that basement.”
Hypercaffium Spazzinate is out now via Epitaph. For more information visit descendents.tumblr.com.