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L.A. BEAT

Descendents Hang Out In Never-never Land

January 05, 1986|JEFF SPURRIER

"Every time we step out this door we come back complaining," says Descendents guitarist Ray Cooper, 21, nodding toward the open doorway of the band's studio. "You go out there and you're corrupted. In here, it's all clean and virgin."

"Clean and virgin" are hardly the words most people would use to describe the Lomita hangout of one of L.A.'s seminal hard-core speed-thrash acts, but Cooper should know. After all, the two small rooms are not just a place to practice and conduct business--they're also home for Cooper and two other Descendents. This is "Descendents Central Headquarters," a Never-Never Land that functions as a combined clubhouse and sanctuary for the band.

"You make your own rules in here," says bassist Doug Carryon, 21, sipping on a giant cup of coffee--the Descendents' drug of choice. "Everything is everybody's. We have three people's clothing on one shelf, and everyone takes whatever he wants. We share. In here, it's real good. Out there, everybody has their own little area."

Such a distinction is of prime importance to the Descendents. Despite the name, it's friendship, not family, that rates with the band--especially for its founder, drummer Bill Stevenson, 22.

"Friendship and trusting people is the most important thing--not art or money or fame," he says. "That's the foundation this band is based on, that we're four brothers, not four businessmen."

Stevenson wasn't always so full of brotherly love. He admits that just a few years ago during the first incarnation of the band he was a hard person to deal with.

"I was stubborn and selfish," he says. "I was creative and wrote a lot of songs, but I was real overbearing--telling people what to play and how to play it. I was so unreasonable. The music was good, but that's no reason to be mean to your friends."

And friends, he adds, is what makes one band's music different from another's.

"If I break up with my girlfriend and get another one, that would change the sound of the band," he notes. "You are who you associate with."

The Descendents began during punk's late-'70s heyday, when Stevenson and a pair of friends from Mira Costa High School got together to play. A variety of singers floated in and out of the band until 1980, when Stevenson asked a friend, Milo Aukerman, to take a stab at it.

The chemistry worked, and two years later the Descendents burst into the public ear with a critically acclaimed EP called "Fat," which included the cult hit "Weinerschnitzel," an 11-second blast about "one boy and his fast-food drama."

A year later, the band's "Milo Goes to College" LP (on New Alliance) seemed to secure the band's future. The album garnered rave reviews and wound up being named the best punk LP of 1983 by England's New Musical Express.

But the promise of 1983 fizzled in 1984 as various members of the band scattered. Aukerman was indeed away at college (studying biochemistry at UC San Diego), and Stevenson found himself becoming more and more involved with Black Flag. Eventually, he joined that band as their permanent drummer--he's even included on the latest Black Flag release, the all-instrumental EP "The Process of Weeding Out."

Earlier last year, New Alliance had released "Bonus Fat," a collection of old Descendents recordings that seemed to signal a continued interest in the band. This was followed in August by "I Don't Want to Grow Up," an all-new LP displaying more of the distinctive songwriting that always separated the Descendents from the family of generic speed-thrash rockers.

"I Don't Want to Grow Up," exhibits a lighter touch than the earlier records. There's still the mix of humor, over-the-top energy, memorable chain-saw melodies and highly personal lyrics. The album's maturity in style and tone gives it a genuine crossover appeal that's likely to land it on alternative radio play lists for months. But how will it play with the old fans of the band, who had given up on the group for good? Stevenson says he isn't worried.

"I would hate to think of locking myself into a particular style," he says. "A fan that's worthwhile--a fan you'd want to be your friend--wouldn't think like that. They'd think, 'Is this another album that sounds like the last one? Are they stagnating?' That's my idea of a fan."

It would be hard ever to accuse the Descendents of stagnating. They don't stay in one place long enough for that. The group has just left for its second 60-day national tour in the last six months. And, once again, the band will sleep in the van for the duration--just a minor inconvenience, according to Stevenson.

"There are 10 people living in one room 10 miles from here," he says. "That's real poverty. We've got it easy. I'm real thankful that I'm allowed to play music and express myself and be free. We have a real simple existence. I don't want a bed. I haven't slept in a bed since I was 18. I don't want a house. I don't have any material goals."

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