The Descendent's first album, Milo Goes To College, is essentially you saying, 'Here is our band, now the singer is off to do something else.' Was that a conscious decision?
“Well the decision to go with that cover was made by Bill [Stevenson], our drummer. People who know the album will remember that the cover is a cartoon of me. The idea behind it was kind of a going away present, in the way that you’d give someone a gift card – a ‘Congratulations, you’re off to school!’ kind of a thing. And that makes it that much more endearing, that he would do that for me. It gives the feeling that the album is kind of a sending-off gift to me. In the long run, I don’t know if it served his band all that well, because after that [the band] All came along, who were kind of in the shadow of The Descendents. But Bill and I are best friends, so it really was from the heart, to give me a sending-off present. And in terms of iconography, it really has been something that’s served us well. But at the time I thought it was kind of funny that he wanted to do that.”
You weren't the only member of the scene to also pursue a life in academia. Greg Graffin from Bad Religion and Dexter Holland from The Offspring both did the same. Why are there so many smart people involved in American punk rock?
“Well I think that part of punk is a questioning of what is, versus what should be. Part of that questioning means that you’re unwilling to accept the status quo, and that requires you to think. It means that you think about other possibilities, and things that might become different realities. And that kind of thinking means that you have to have your brain on high alert at all times. You really have to be churning things over. That said, I don’t necessarily put quadratic equations in my songs, but at the same time we’re all thinking really hard about how to make our lives better, and how to improve the world. I think that’s what part of punk should be about, to challenge the status quo; and I think that requires the kind of intelligence that you’re talking about. Greg Graffin is a really good example of that. He’s always putting his noggin to the problems the world is facing. My other personal take on it is that I got into punk rock because I was such a nerd, and I wanted a place where I could be a nerd but still expend this energy that I had. Punk rock was a good place to land all that. So that’s where punk rock and my nerdy side coalesced and really found a home.
If I have one space on my pub quiz team, who should I give it to – you, Dexter Holland, or Greg Graffin?
“I would give it to Graffin. He’s still in academia, whereas I’m not. But in a sense, both of those guys are way smarter than I am because not only did they get their educations, but they were also able to see some kind of undercurrent as to what was going on in punk rock that made them think, ‘Oh, I’m going to stick this out.’ I was the stupid one that got out, [for a time] and they were the ones that stuck it out through all those years. So for that reason alone, they may be a little bit smarter than me.”
Do you like being a middle-aged punk?
“Well I think that punk is for the young. But if punk is for the young, then why am I still doing it? And the answer is, because I want to stay young! I want to keep in touch with my youthful side, and if that means that I’m maybe immature at times, or if it means that I write a song about farting, then I’ll do that. That’s what punk represents to me – youthful energy. That’s why I’m going to continue doing it. It’s kind of like clawing for the last remaining bits of your youth, and that’s okay. People can say, ‘Oh you’re kind of doing a nostalgia trip.’ But to me, it’s not nostalgia – it’s the inherent energy in the music that gets me up in the morning. You could never call that nostalgia. In fact, it’s my lifeblood, really.”