It’s not entirely surprising that Descendents drummer Bill Stevenson would have a broad and rich range of musical influences.
He recounts loving each of the hundreds of 7” singles his parents owned and allowed him to play to ruination on his little record player. Songs by Frank Sinatra, the swinging jazz of Louis Prima, and novelty tunes like ‘Purple People Eater’ and ‘My Friend The Witch Doctor’.
What is a little surprising is the song he’s chosen for Don’t Look Back. A country pop tune that tells the terrible tale of forsaken love, made famous by Kenny Rogers.
‘Ruby Don’t Take Your Love To Town’ is written from the perspective of an incapacitated war veteran who is lying in bed, listening to his wife getting dressed up ready to go out on the town.
Incapable of going with her, his desperation and despair is apparent in the lyrics, ‘…she’s leaving now cuz I just heard the slamming of the door, the way I know I’ve heard it slam one hundred times before, and if I could move I’d get my gun and put her in the ground, oh Ruby don’t take your love to town…’
The impact on young Bill Stevenson was immediate.
“When I was a kid I just thought, ‘if I was ever gonna write a song, it’d have to be something this important, something worth writing about’,” he says.
“But then on the other hand the next single I would put on was Shep Wooley’s ‘it was a one eyed, one horned, flyin’ purple people eater’. That song was cool too, so maybe they don’t all have to be serious.”
But the brutal emotional punch of ‘Ruby’ left its mark on Bill and continues to influence his approach to songwriting to this day.
“I kinda like it when songs make me feel bad, make me feel uncomfortable, take me out of my comfort zone,” he says. “I feel like there’s some kind of healing that happens through that.
“I feel the same way when I write about something that maybe is giving out a little too much information, being too public, and when people listen they feel a little uncomfortable. I feel like it’s therapeutic to listen to and also to write that way, for me.”
Perhaps it was this willingness to tackle uncomfortable topics, like issues with family and relationships, with biting humour and energetic melodic hooks in Descendents that turned a whole generation of kids onto them. Kids that would grow up to form their own bands like Blink 182, Green Day and NOFX.
But Stevenson is keen to give his band’s oft spoken of influence a broader scope.
“With music I kinda look at it like a long river,” he says. “The water flows down, it picks up little twigs and it lets off twigs elsewhere, so its picking up things and putting things down as it goes. One year we might influence a band, and that band could put out a record five years later that we would hear and that same band could be an influence on us. It’s kind of like a never ending fluency.”
Hear what it means to have singer Milo Aukerman back on board, full time, for the first time in Descendents' nearly four-decade career, plus more about the songs that changed and shaped Bill Stevenson on Don’t Look Back.