SoCal punk legends Descendents are known for three things. First, their mastery of what has now been termed “melodic hardcore.” Second, the quaint line drawing of their lead singer Milo Aukerman they’ve adopted as a mascot logo of sorts. Last but not least is their legendary penchant for consuming coffee. And not that Frappuccino, moo-latte ice-cream-shop gunk you’ve been dropping big bucks for. Here, Aukerman and drummer Bill Stevenson confess all of their coffee madness to APTV’s Bobby Makar. In addition, we asked the band to show us what goes into their perfect cups.
The story of Descendents’ java fixation started long before Black Flag wrote the quintessential love song for the dark stuff. Here, Aukerman and Stevenson reveal their special relationship with the drink that has practically defined their band.
Coffee is so essential to listening to Descendents. Putting on Cool To Be You and brewing a fresh pot of coffee is an amazing experience. It just goes hand in hand. Does either of you remember the first time you ever tried coffee?
MILO AUKERMAN: I used to go out to El Camino with my mom to do theater productions, although I wasn’t in the theater productions. But I was part of the backstage crew or whatever. Backstage at the El Camino Theater, they would brew the big urn, the urn coffee. And I can remember trying it and going, “This tastes like crap.” But then you put a bunch of sugar and milk in, and it’s like, “Oh, this tastes pretty good.” And [I got] a little wired drinking coffee with a bunch of milk and sugar in it when I was 10 years old or so. But it didn’t start me on this long road to addiction until I joined the band. Then it got gnarly.
BILL STEVENSON: Yeah, it was similar for me. We were going fishing early. I think I was groggy and [couldn’t] wake up. My mom made me a cup of coffee with two spoons of honey in it and half-and-half because that’s how she drank her coffee. And boy, one cup of it and you were a fiend. That was it. That was magic.
How did it become such a part of your band? Do you remember the first time someone referenced it?
STEVENSON: I think it really, really became critical when our sportfishing turned into our commercial fishing. Frank and I, and our kind of fifth member at the time, Pat [McCuistion], when we started commercial fishing, we’d fish all night. Frank [Navetta] and Pat had their “black beauties,” their little amphetamines to stay awake. But I never wanted to try those things. I never wanted to take drugs or anything. Drugs have never been my thing, really.
So I started making what I called “a bonus cup.” I would just fill the whole cup up with coffee grounds and then pour in instant coffee, and then just enough water in there to get it liquid enough to drink it and then put in like five, six, seven spoonfuls of sugar and enough cream just to choke it down.
The thing you’ve got to remember [is] espresso was not really readily available, and there was no Starbucks. If you wanted to get espresso, you had to go in and sit down at a legit Italian restaurant. I didn’t even know: I thought I had invented espresso as a kid. I was like, “All right, this is how we’re going to get it” because I had to try to stay awake all night with those guys that were on the black beauties, the amphetamines. That’s how I did it. And then of course, you become addicted. Then you’re a caffeine-addled person, and then coffee’s your whole life because you need it just to get out of bed.
That’s wild. Bill, how many cups of coffee a day are you consuming these days?
STEVENSON: Right now? Currently, I have [an] espresso in the morning, and then I have another espresso at about 2. Right now currently, I’ve got my tolerance way, way, way down. Because when we do a show, then I’ll have maybe, let’s say, eight espressos all at once. I want that full impact. For the last five years, we’ve been playing all these shows, and I would have to drink 12 espressos just to get wired. Because you build up a tolerance to caffeine, I think really way more than people realize. I would need three espressos in the morning just to feel like a human being. But now I’m good if I have one espresso in the morning and then one in the afternoon. I’m on an even keel and steady. I’m positive, and I don’t get too jittery. I don’t get too aggressive. Because you can be like [the] Adderall guy if you’re doing bonus cups and 50 million espressos.
Plus, I’m older. I’m 57, OK? And I’m trying to play these drum arrangements that I wrote when I was in my teens or early 20s. They’re very difficult. So I have to have a ton, a ton, a ton of coffee just to manage it.
AUKERMAN: I’m the same as Bill: I drink two. It’s two, but I drink both my espressos in the morning, and then I don’t drink at all after that. But then, like on show days, I’ll be up to like five or six. I don’t abuse as much as Bill does on the show day. [Laughs.] But I’ll be doing like five or six. Because, you know, in this band, if you don’t drink coffee, you’re always gonna be la beat behind. It’s like that I Love Lucy thing…
STEVENSON: The one where she’s doing the candy on the conveyor belt and it speeds up? Yeah.
AUKERMAN: So we all need to keep the conveyor belt going. So we all drink the coffee. Everyone in the band.
How do you feel about things like Frappuccinos or mochas? Specifically when people say, “I’m going to get a coffee” and then go and get some whipped cream-infused Frappuccino or some unicorn-themed beverage from Starbucks? What is your take? Are Descendents coffee purists, like you only drink espresso? Or do you have a sweet tooth?
STEVENSON: For me personally, I think if you view those drinks you mentioned, if you view them as more like a dessert, that makes sense once in a while to have that. But really, I like just the taste of the coffee itself. And these days, I only drink my coffee black other than when I might mess around sometimes with the coconut oil, the MCT oil or the grass-fed butter to get that Bulletproof effect. That’s real. That’s not just hype: You get way more wired, and you stay wired longer.
But I don’t want to ingest those sugars from the Frappuccino. And I also don’t really want to ingest all the oils for the Bullet[proof] thing. I’ve had heart problems and stuff, lung problems and whatever. I’ve been struggling with obesity my whole life, so I can’t really have those things. But I just love the taste of a really dark, dark, bold jet-black greasy bean. It’s my favorite thing in the whole world.
AUKERMAN: We dialed in our favorite roast, which is a dark roast, French roast. We dialed that in and then we made Descendents Bonus [Blend] coffee beans. That was a merch thing that we had going for a while.
STEVENSON: You can get it from Kings Road. You can still get it. Our coffee is better than anybody’s coffee in the world. Our coffee kicks ass. That’s what I drink in my house. It’s the best.
AUKERMAN: When we first did the initial run of those, we each got like 10 back or whatever. I just went through the 10 bags and had a freakout like, “Now what do I do?” If I get some other coffee that’s subpar, mediocre, not roasted, then I’m gonna put some milk and sugar in there to mask it. You know, I still need the fire, but I don’t like the taste of it.
STEVENSON: Yeah, like just some random truck-stop coffee or something. It’s all bitter. Then you’ve got to dress it up with something. I don’t even like Starbucks. Starbucks’ drip coffee is lame. Terrible. Our coffee is way better than that.
Out of the franchise coffee places, is there a particular place Descendents will patronize? Bill, you say you don’t like Starbucks, but how do you feel about…
STEVENSON: I don’t like going to those places. I like to make my own. My own is better. But when we’re on tour and we have to go to whatever is near, we try to find a mom-and-pop place. But if I can’t, then I rely on, what? What would you say about Starbucks? “Always bad but never worse.”
Ever just casually sip a decaf?
STEVENSON: [Quick snapping tone.] No!
AUKERMAN: We once did a shirt with a decaf pot with [a circle with a bar] through it or whatever. Decaf is useless. Who needs it?
Do Descendents do cold brew at all?
STEVENSON: For some reason, I don’t know if it’s just the ritual. I know they say a cold brew has like 50 times more caffeine in it and all that. But I’m telling you, for Bill Stevenson, if it’s not hot coffee, it doesn’t get me the same kind of wired. I don’t know if that’s scientifically logical or not, but I don’t care.
Cold coffee just doesn’t do it. I like to sit there and drink it and have the steam come up in my face. I sit there, and I brood over it and get sweaty. Then I start stretching and doing my little yoga to get ready to play. It’s all part of it—the heat’s all part of it.
Obviously, no Monster Energy drinks or any of that stuff, just coffee. Right?
AUKERMAN: We had a period where we were doing coffee, plus those…
STEVENSON: 5-Hour Energies!
AUKERMAN: I actually had to quit because we had to… Well, we didn’t cancel the show, but we had to have other people come sing for me.
So that whole thing is you drink a lot of coffee, and then you can’t sleep. You know, as you might expect. So I had a period when there was this one set of shows in Australia where I just didn’t sleep after that combination. And the next night, another show and my voice was gone. Just boom, gone.
You got to go for ALL, right? We all want to go for ALL. But maybe in order to make it to the next show, maybe you’re going to go, maybe not, for ALL, or you can go for a different type of ALL to redefine what ALL is. Because if I’m doing the coffee and the 5-Hour Energy, that night’s show is going to be great. The show on coffee and 5-Hour Energy is going to be a kick-ass show. And then the next shows, they’re not going to happen. So you have to make some concessions. But yeah, that was a bad combo. And I’ve never done it again, even though Bill tried to get me to do it after that. “Come on. You can just do it. Come on!” And I’d be like, “No, I’m not doing it.”
STEVENSON: I just do anything and everything I can. But I cut it short at coke or meth. I don’t want to do that.