INTERVIEW: Bill Stevenson of Descendents, ALL and Only Crime
LOS ANGELES, April 30, 2014 — Bill Stevenson is a punk rock iconoclast who has played drums on and written legendary albums with legendary bands such as Black Flag, Descendents, and ALL. Stevenson has also engineered and produced some legendary albums for other bands out of his Blasting Room studio in Colorado. After being diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2007, Stevenson’s bands were forced into hiatus for about three years. Now back and feeling well, Only Crime, a punk rock super group of sorts featuring Bill Stevenson on drums is set to release their third album, Pursuance, on Rise Records. The album, due out May 13, will be the band’s first since 2007. Bill Stevenson took some time to speak with Wells On Music regarding Only Crime, his brain tumor, a new Descendents record, and ALL.
Scroll below video to read the interview.
Kevin Wells: Did you choose the drums or did the drums choose you?
Bill Stevenson: You tap on things. You beat on things or you tap with the pencil or tap with the fork and spoon. As if that would qualify you to be a musician, but I think the early inclinations as a child to rat-a-tat-tat and somehow I ended up with a snare drum by the time I was in junior high. Then I got the drum set a few years after that.
KW: Were the drums your first instrument?
BS: Yeah, as soon as we kind of started the Descendents, I immediately learned functional guitar so that I could write songs. Over the years, my guitar skills got incrementally better to where in the late 80s, I fancied myself as a descent guitar player because I played a lot. I don’t play guitar as much anymore. It started as a song writing vehicle. I was never a shredder. Whereas drums I was more immersed in it early.
KW: What drummers in punk inspire you today?
BS: Right now on new drummers, I guess it would probably be more of a cross between inspiration and envy, but it would be less in the punk rock genre and more in these crazy fast metal drummers that they have now, like that guy who plays in that band Hella or some of these guys that sound like they have ten arms. I don’t know. While I wouldn’t exactly hear myself playing that way, I can kind of appreciate the caffeinated psychotic approach to it.
It’s kind of not that different from the Fat E.P. and some of the songs on that, like Weinerschnitzel and My Dad Sucks. I think Weinerschnitzel and My Dad Sucks, unless somebody proves me wrong, I think those are the first two advents of what they now call the blast beats. So this idea of drinking too much coffee and also having a tantrum or frenzy on the drums. I’m still kind of keen on that and I hear some of these metal bands doing it at these really high speeds. I’m not a fan of the Cookie Monster vocal, but I like the energy there.
KW: How did Only Crime originally get together?
BS: Russ and Aaron and Zach had kind of been talking about doing stuff. They had some riffs and song ideas. I caught wind of it and thought, “Hey that would be fun. I wonder if I could be the drummer.” That was like 2003. The first time we played that body of material that ended up being the To the Nines album, or nine tenths of it, the first time we played that, it was me, Russ and Zach. Either we had no bass or maybe Russ was playing bass. I don’t remember, but we demoed that stuff and we just went from there.
KW: Only Crime has a new record out. What took so long for this album to come out?
BS: I’ll take credit and blame wholly for that. I was deathly ill for a few years. I had a brain tumor. Before I was diagnosed with the brain tumor, I just began to be less and less effective and stuff. I just quit doing things. I don’t know. I put ALL and Only Crime on ice. I just was unmotivated. I wasn’t unmotivated, I had a brain tumor, but I didn’t know I had a brain tumor.
Once they found out I had a brain tumor and they got it out of there, I returned to my normal self and Only Crime was able to be again, as was Descendents and ALL. Only Crime lost 2007, 2008 and 2009. I just was not functional. They were even touring with somebody substituting for me on drums, which if I were not medically ill, obviously I would have prevented that with every breath of my being, but at the time I was totally okay with it because I didn’t want to hurt them. The song writing process kind of dragged on and on.
The brain tumor caused a whole gamut of health problems and I had to tackle each one of those on their own. Long story short, I’m feeling great now and we got our album finished and it’s about to come out [in May] and that’s good.
KW: Are you now cancer free as far as all of that goes?
BS: Yeah, it wasn’t cancerous. It was huge, but it was benign. So, once they got it out of there, I staggeringly quickly became my old self again.
KW: You mentioned the writing process, can you tell me a little bit about how that went for this record?
BS: We threw riffs and ideas in and kind of tossed them around. Russ writes the lyrics and a huge percent of the melodies. This particular record, most of the riffs originated from Matt and Russ and Aaron. I don’t write as much in Only Crime. I’m very involved with the arrangements and stuff, but I haven’t written very many things for Only Crime.
KW: What kind of touring will you be doing to support the record?
BS: We gotta figure that out. Just when we get rolling here, and congratulations to him, but Aaron’s wife is pregnant. She’s due in October. So, that’s wonderful for him. He’s gonna experience something in life, you know, you only get that experience one time of being a new parent. That’s gonna be great, but it will dampen an already cramped touring availability. I’m sure we’ll find a way to persevere.
KW: I interviewed Keith Morris last year and he mentioned there was a new Descendents in the works. Has that album finished?
BS: We started on it. We’re not really far into it, but we’re making it a priority to kind of focus on it in the coming months.
KW: When can people expect to hear it?
BS: I’m not sure yet. We’ve got a lot of songs and we’re just trying to get our schedules to synchronize and that sort of thing.
KW: Other than Punk Rock Bowling, will there be any Descendents touring this year?
BS: We just sort of play shows here and there. We’re doing two shows in Europe next week. We’re not doing proper touring where you get in a van for a month. We just do shows whenever we feel like doing ‘em.
KW: Do you have an opinion or do you care to share your opinion on how things played out with Black Flag and Flag recently?
BS: It’s not an interesting subject to talk about. I think it’s disgraceful that it all came to that and it’s just sad. That’s really all I can say about it. Really, really disgusting.
KW: Would you guys ever consider writing new material for FLAG?
BS: It has not been discussed or proposed by any of us. That whole thing was just for fun for us, which makes it all the more just disgusting the way it all went down. It was just a fun thing for us. We’ve never talked about new writing or new material or anything.
KW: Is there anything to report as far as ALL goes right now?
BS: ALL is playing some shows in Europe next week as well. We’re all going over there. So, we’ll do some ALL shows and some Descendents shows. We don’t have any recording plans as such. I guess at this time, I don’t have enough hours in the day. Is that what this is coming down to? That’s what it feels like.
KW: How are you able to fit all of these bands in and still manage to produce other bands in your studio? Do the bands bend to fit your studio schedule or does the studio get slotted in where there is time?
BS: I’m not that organized. I guess that’s part of the problem in getting the new Descendents done. I keep taking engineering and production work because, I don’t know, there’s something about being in music. You feel like you have to take work that comes down the pike because there might not be any more work. I think there is an impending fear of famine in all of us, maybe more so in punk rock. I’ve talked to other people about it, whether it’s Fat Mike or whoever I happen to be talking to, and you wake up and go, “Is today the day that the bottom falls out from under this and I have to go work at Kinko’s?” I would probably get fired from Kinko’s because I don’t have those kinds of credentials or sensibilities. I could just hear, “Stevenson, you’re fired.”
So, I take a lot of production and engineering work and then it gets in the way of my own stuff, getting my own songs together and recording. I had brain surgery three and a half years ago and ever since then, I have been running at 100 percent capacity. ALL and Descendents and Only Crime should all have new albums out by now, but it hasn’t happened. It’s too easy to take those engineering gigs. I don’t know, they’re finite. You work a certain number of hours a day and then you go home. Whereas when I’m working on my own music, it becomes all-consuming to a degree that maybe even is not healthy for sanity.
Only Crime’s new album, Pursuance, will be available from Rise Records on May 13. It is available now for pre-order on iTunes.
Kevin J. Wells is the Sports Editor for Communities Digital News. He also writes about Major League Baseball, punk rock music and food. Kevin plays guitar in the Los Angeles punk band Emmer Effer.Follow him on Twitter @WellsOnBaseball