Everything Sucks (Epitaph)
An interview with singer Milo Aukerman
by Scott Hefflon
I guess I should start with the obvious question: You left the band about nine years ago, and now you’re back; what was the spark?
It wasn’t so much a spark as a rediscovery of the fun of making music. I’ve stayed associated with ALL, on a loose basis, for the past several years, so I’ve always been in the loop, so to speak. Also, I kinda got back into writing music earlier this year. I hadn’t written a song in years, because I’m a scientist. I rediscovered how fun it is, so I called Bill and said, “Hey, I’ve got these songs, what do you think?”
What made you start writing songs after all these years?
It’s probably a combination of many things. I was getting a little frustrated with my life doing science, there was something missing. That something was obviously music. Also, I’ve been getting a lot of email from people all over the place telling me what the music meant to them. It really made me appreciate it. That’s something that never really dawned on me before. We were just a bunch of punk kids in a garage slamming out tunes, getting all sweaty. It was gratifying to hear that kind of response.
You never realized how much your music affected people?
For a long time, I never got the letters because they went to ALL HQ. I probably did ignore them for a while, a bit of denial, I know, but it helped me confront the reality that, “Hey, I’m a scientist now.” I reached a threshold, so it stopped being “Leave me alone. I’ve got to go do my experiment.”
Have you found a balance between music and science?
I’m just playing it by ear right now. I really wanted to do the record with those guys, but I’m still not clear if I can completely give up science. It’s my day to day life. I can definitely say that if I only did science, I would be only partially fulfilled, and if I did only music, I would only be partially fulfilled. Music is a very visceral thing, so I can get my rocks off doing that, but when it comes to feeding my head, science definitely does that better. I get enthusiastic about both. Each trips my trigger in a different way. I just have to figure out how to do both.
You took a few years off early on to go to college.
Yeah, in 1982 Milo Goes To College came out, then I left to go to school, and we didn’t reconvene until 1985 when we put out I Don’t Want to Grow Up. There was some gigging in there, but Bill was in Black Flag, and I was in school… It’s funny, about the time I got passionate about music I also got passionate about biology. I kind of launched myself into two disparate directions at the same time.
“This Place Sux” sounds so autobiographical – the transition of hanging up your lab coat and getting back into music again.
It definitely relates to my frustration with my science environment. While I really like the lab I work in, I’ve just beat my head really hard against things, and I’ve been very frustrated by various elements… I guess it’s a bit of a cop out saying it all sucks, but it was one of those songs that you just have to write to get out all the pent up aggression and frustration. I know it’s idiotic to take a failed experiment personally, but I do anyway. I’m very self-critical, not only in science but also in music, and I find it excruciating when things don’t go right. It’s a real problem for me.
Does it ever get really serious?
I don’t see it as a hazard, I think it can be a healthy thing that fosters growth. There was a period when I was in the band in the late ’80s when I felt jealous, kind of behind the others in the band, in terms of songwriting. Bill is such an incredible songwriter, if we’re doing confession time here, there have been times when I’ve been like, “God, I wish I could write songs like him.” Having that kind of frailty, where you can never be satisfied with your accomplishments, it wears you down.
Isn’t it ever kind of weird to sing a love song written by someone else about someone you’re not in love with, with the same passion as you sing your own songs?
Bill and I have always been completely in the know about each other’s romantic affairs. For example, a song like “Pep Talk.” I’d broken up with a girlfriend of many years, and Bill came up with the first line of that song, “It’s not the end of the world,” and it was perfect.
Bill wrote a song about your breakup?
It was all piecemeal. He wrote the chorus with that line. Bill’s said he writes songs, even lyrics that are very personal to him, with my voice in mind. Then when I sing it the way I think it should be sung, he says it comes out the way he heard it originally in his head. Or so he says. With a song like e “Silly Girl,” I’m fully aware, every time I sing it, of who it’s about, and the anguish he went through in that particular relationship. That may be a bit specific to our relationship, just because we’ve been such close friends for so many years. We come from that same area of full-on cheesy romance. We both go for that in a big way.
I was surprised by the number of touching songs Karl Alvarez wrote.
Yeah, he totally nailed this one. He blows me away with his songwriting. It’s really powerful, poppy, catchy stuff. And the lyrics are great.
Don’t take this the wrong way, but I always pegged you and Bill as hopeless romantics, but I never guessed Karl was such a closet sap.
He has that side, though. His favorite band in the world is probably the Beatles. And The Last is by far the favorite band for all of us. Those guys are the kings of sap. They write the most romantic songs ever. There’ve been times when we were on the road, all bummed out and tired, and somebody would pick up a guitar and break out into one of several Last anthems. That’s probably where all of our male-bonding comes from, singing all those Last songs together, sobbing in our beers.
Does it ever get to you, singing the same love/breakup songs and reliving the same pain?
The more time I get between myself and the specific situation, the easier it is for me to sing the song. I remember singing “Get The Time” once and thinking, “Ugh, I don’t think I can make it through this.” Enough time has passed now that I’d make it through OK. While the song still means a lot to me, I don’t feel the same anguish I did originally.
How do you feel playing the old songs again?
It’s scary for me, because they’re all hardcore. I still have this science albatross to contend with. They’re so prolific, and they love to make records and tour, so this is the perfect thing for them. If we were to do a mondo tour, that would entail a drastic reconfiguration of my life. We just did a mini/weekend tour, and it was total mayhem. It was fun, but it was also really draining. The first show we did was right after shooting the video for “I’m The One” for six or eight hours. It was an impromptu show in LA, and I was totally spent. It was embarrassing. I practice now, jumping around the room, bouncing off walls, stagediving on the bed, striking a couple poses, ya know.
What’s it like singing songs about ex-girlfriends and how much they meant to you when you’re married?
It’s a matter of putting myself back in the frame of mind I was in at the time. My marriage doesn’t preclude my feelings prior to marriage.
Your wife doesn’t accuse you of holding a candle for any lost loves?
Actually, the main reason I got back into writing music again was because my wife had been bugging me for years to write a song for her. I’d never written her a song because by the time I met her, I was out of the band and living the life of a science geek. Just last February, I wrote her a song for Valentine’s Day, and once I started writing, all the other songs came out too. The song for my wife triggered the whole process.
It’s not “We” by any chance, is it?
Yes, that’s the one. Good eye, good eye.
That’s why I get paid the big bucks.
The funny thing is, people ask me where all the angst-ridden songs are going to come from now that I’m happily married. I have plenty to be angst-ridden about without my marriage being on the rocks.
I love the first lines in “Rotting Out.” “Shove all your problems under the rug/Then you wonder where the smell came from.” Bill was telling me that song’s a few years old.
No, I wrote that late last year/early this year. Maybe I had a snippet of a lyric back then. That’s the deal with “Eunuch Boy.” I brought that in as a complete lark. I was like, “Remember this!”
There’s no song, “something”-age, on this one.
Karl wanted to call “When I Get Old” just “Age.”
You don’t smell a bit of irony in a veteran punk band reforming and writing a song called “When I Get Old?”
I think a lot of what we do is a desperate attempt to continue to sow our oats. The more I interact with the “grown up” world, the more I become dissatisfied with the image, and my potential role in it. Even when I’m behaving myself at my job, I feel like I’m being immature and not living up to someone’s expectations of me. And this isn’t even when I’m being a dork, this is when I’m just hanging out. I think the band makes a conscious effort to maintain youth as best we can. Being in a band is probably the best way imaginable to not be a grown up.