virtuoso balances life with ALL and The Descendents, as a solo artist and
studio rat, and as a devoted dad.
BY DANNY R. PHILLIPS
The Punk Rock history books seem filled to maximum capacity
with audacious, self-important, egomaniacal assholes; Lou Reed, Julian Cope,
Johnny Rotten, Tom Verlaine and the late G.G. Allin are just the first five
that fight their way to the front of the line in my head.
Stephen Egerton, guitarist for The Descendents and its
offshoot ALL, is not one of those assholes, far from it in fact. Playing guitar in a band as legendary and
influential as The Descendents may give some the perceived right to act in a
legendary manner i.e. dickish and difficult.
Not Egerton; he is friendly, approachable, chatty and as Jon Snodgrass
of Drag The River told me, “Stephen is easily the nicest guy in punk. He is
seriously a cool dude.”
As if to illustrate this point, Travis Arey of Stiff Middle
Fingers, an excellent, high-energy blistering punk rock cover band from
Lawrence, KS, approaches us outside local venue The Jackpot Saloon (where
Egerton and his band are playing the first Lawrence Field Day Fest, a two day
music festival organized by guitarist Cameron Hawk of Stiff Middle Fingers,
Dead Girls and Pipeline Productions’ Rob Schulte). He begins to talk to Egerton
at length about how excited he is to be playing with him, how big of a fan he
is, how The Descendents is one of his favorite bands, etc. It goes on for 10 minutes while my recorder
continues to roll, unbeknownst to Arey.
Egerton lets him continue his gushing, not out of ego but he is just too
polite to interrupt the kid.
Since joining The Descendents in 1985, just in time to
record the classic Milo Goes to College,
Egerton’s buzzsaw guitar work (fueled by a life-long addiction to coffee, not
amphetamines) has been the template for such bands as Green Day, Teenage
Bottlerocket, MXPX, NOFX, Blink 182, any band signed to the Fat Wreck Chords
label and countless others. Today at the Jackpot, Egerton played songs from his
2010 album The Seven Signs of Stephen
Egerton. Seven features 16 different vocalist from The Descendents’ Milo
Aukerman to Dan Adriano of Alkaline Trio but on this night, he was joined by
guest vocalists Steve Tulipana of Season To Risk, Cameron Hawk, Drag The
River’s Snodgrass and Chad Price (Drag The River, ALL) as well as joining Stiff
Middle Fingers for The Descendents’ “Pep Talk,” a song Egerton said he hadn’t
played in at least fifteen years.
The nerves of my teenage inner-self began to kick into
hyper-drive as I sipped my PBR tallboy (the bar had them on special), waiting
for sound check to finish. Egerton’s
body of work, both as a player and engineer/mixer/producer at his Armstrong
Studios in Tulsa, Oklahoma, surrounds him like the people at the bar,
impatiently waiting for photos or to just shake his hand. In a fanboy moment
that I regret the milli-second after it happens, I admit to Egerton that he is
one of my favorite guitarists and that I am “a huge fan.” My nerves must be visible as he sits
down. He smiles, shakes my hand and
says, “Don’t be nervous man. There’s
nothing to be nervous about, I’m just another guy and I talk a lot.”
BLURT: So, what is the story with coffee? Is it a full-blown addiction?
EGERTON: Yeah unfortunately it is. I started young because I really wanted to be
a grown-up when I was a kid. My Mom
would leave the percolator on so I’d drink some. I used to drink a pot or more
a day, it was probably bad, but I am cutting back.
How did the Seven Signs of Stephen Egerton record
In 2003 or 2004 I moved to Tulsa, where I live now. At the time, ALL was really the only
operating band; The Descendents weren’t really functioning at all so I moved to
Tulsa where my
children could be closer to their grandparents.
I was touring for a while as a road crew guy with MXPX as a tech and I’d
started a recording studio but I didn’t have a real musical outlet. So, as time went on, I felt more and more
compelled to make music. I was filling
up hard drives with songs. I had these
piles of songs. I had sent some to ALL
but at the time, our drummer Bill (Stevenson) was beginning to have a brain tumor
and other health issues (the tumor was
benign, removed, and Stevenson is well on his way to a full recovery). He wasn’t functioning well and if Bill isn’t
functioning, the band isn’t functioning. He’s our skeleton. My wife eventually got tired of me griping
about these songs and said, “Just go record the damn things yourself.” So I did but I’m really a terrible singer so
my wife suggested I start farming the songs out to my friends to sing. I
listened to the songs in the car and I’d imagine who would sound good on what
song and it worked out. I really just
made the record for fun because I really can’t not make music without becoming
Who were your heroes when you started playing
The funny thing is, while guitar is my main instrument, my
heroes were mostly drummers and great songwriters with a few guitar exceptions. For
me, The Beatles were EVERYTHING to me as a kid.
I was always really fascinated by the drums and the rhythm. And songwriting was important but it never
really came to me in the same way, it didn’t and doesn’t come easily; the Seven Degrees record was the first time
I had come to terms with the problems I had as a songwriter. But early heroes on guitar are Carlos
Santana, Jeff Beck, John McLaughlin, Greg Ginn and Steve Jones from The
Pistols. And anything to do with The
Beatles. The Beatles and Black Flag are
the core of what I love most musically.
(At this point, the opening band fires up and we trade our cushy
Naugahyde upholstered booth for the street)
What drew you to
I was listening to pretty typical music for an
eleven-year-old kid then a neighbor gave me a Frank Zappa record. I think it
was the Absolutely Free record. That set me on the course to listening to
music that’s not necessarily typical. It
was like “Whoa, his guy is on another plain here.” From then on, I was fascinated by music that
sounded unusual. I was living in Salt Lake
at the time and there was a good music scene, a good punk scene there.
There was? In Utah?
Oh yes. Because Salt Lake
is such a straight-laced place it has a very bizarre underbelly. Oh yeah,
absolutely. Punk rock fit in really well
in Salt Lake believe it or not. We had bands going back to the late
Seventies. When I first read about punk
rock, I was fascinated by the idea of it and the first band I was ever really
able to hear from that was The Sex Pistols, who I was blown away by. From there, I just checked out other bands
that I had heard of: The Clash, Patti Smith, Television, all the New York stuff, Richard
Hell and the Voidoids, The Ramones. I
loved those bands. Then later a friend
of mine ordered Black Flag’s Nervous
Breakdown through Goldmine Magazine and that floored us, along with The Germs.
stuff was huge for us, and then later it was the D.C. stuff. Salt
Lake was funny that way;
it introduced me to a lot of cool music.
As a fan of The
Descendents, was it weird for you to replace Frank Navetta?
Well, really at the time it presented itself as a
mind-boggling opportunity that had fallen in my lap. Frank and Ray (Cooper) had both quit. They needed somebody, might as well be
me. (laughs) I was just thrilled to have a chance to play
with them because they were such a huge influence on me.
approach to ALL and The Descendents differ?
We just kind of show up with the songs we have at the time
and just see where it goes. I don’t
really try to have one band have a different sound then the others; it’s just
me trying to play.
I’m sorry to hear
about your Oklahoma
Thunder losing the NBA Championship…
You know, this was my first year ever giving a shit about
sports because every asshole that ever beat the crap out of me for how I looked
was a sports fan so I just grew to hate it.
Then watching the Thunder come from nowhere to the Championship was
You said you move
to Tulsa for
your kids to be close to their grandparents.
How do you balance being a musician and a dad?
I’m very fortunate in that my main day job is mixing and
mastering records. I do most of my work
in my spare bedroom; I have a studio at home and sometimes I record bands there
but mostly I do mixing and mastering so it works out convenient for me. I’m there all the time; I’m the guy that
takes [the kids] to the bus, my wife’s job is set hours, I have complete
flexibility in my schedule. I live a
mile from school, if I need to take care of something I do. I really like it because my Mom had to work
and my Dad was gone, so to be there for them feels good.
fulfilling: Playing live or helping a band find their sound in the studio?
Well, they inform each other for me. I learn things that I bring to each
thing. I try to bring my experiences to
bands if they come to me but I mix more than anything now. I love mixing records; it’s me, alone in a
room, I send them an MP3. If they like
it, we move on.
are playing in Chicago, Dallas
this summer. Any hope of a full-scale
Nah, I don’t think so.
Milo, our singer, really can’t do that
with his work. We’ve been playing about
twenty shows a year. He can take that
much time off; we eat up his family vacation every year but his wife is cool
with it. We’re just gonna keep doing
what we’ve been doing but we can’t pull off a full blown tour. We’ve been offered several tours but had to
turn them down, which is tough. Three of
the four of us are heavily involved parents and we’re enjoying how we’re doing
it now. We fly in; we rock out, have
fun, don’t burn it out, go home and back to normal. I love it.
Do you think the
subject matter of many Descendents songs (food, coffee, and chicks) was kind of
an antidote to some of the hardcore bands of the time?
At the time, I think (hardcore punk bands) found themselves
perceived as tough guys though they would never posture that way, because they
were writing songs about heavy things that were very, very real to them
regardless of whether or not it fit into anyone’s idea of what punk is or
should be. They didn’t care about
that. Plus, The Descendents didn’t fit
into the Hollywood punk rock scene, in a funny
way, they didn’t fit into the south bay scene where all their contemporaries
like The Minutemen and Black Flag came from.
They were just kind of their own thing.
There really wasn’t anyone like that; later on people thought it was
cool that they did that but it was hard for them at the beginning.
Tell me about the
upcoming Descendents documentary Filmage?
Filmage was done by a couple friends of mine, we’ve been friends
for years and work in the film editing industry, they came to me and said “Hey,
we want to do this documentary.” I said
ok, put them in touch with everybody, we all said we’ll help, give you what you
need to get it done.
What’s been the
response to the teasers you’ve put out?
Really positive, people are excited. Although we don’t have a plan yet, I’m hoping
it’ll be done as soon as September. I’ve seen more than half of the film and they
did fantastic. It looks great.
Any new projects?
Not really. I’ve put
all my other stuff on hold to see what The Descendents decide to do. I do have an instrumental band called
Slorder. It’s ongoing.
I hear a glimmer
of hope there. Tell me a Descendents
tour is going to happen!
Yeah, it could. I’ve
got a lot of songs piled up, I’m gonna give them to The Descendents guys, see
which ones they like and I’ll find something else to do with the rest.
question: Where does your legacy in punk rock lie?
I don’t know if I have one.
The way I view what I’ve been able to contribute musically is, and this
will sound bad for me to put it this way, I have aspired to be a great
songwriter and failed miserably. It’s
like the Tortoise and The Hare story; all my best friends got way better at
what they did. I’m just trying to play
catch up and get to where my buddies are.
Like, I taught Karl (Alvarez, bassist with Descendents and ALL) how to
play bass when we were in the Massacre Guys.
He wrote better songs than me in a year.
It’s just how life is but I keep on slowly
moving forward and hopefully I’ll get to where I’m going.
[Photo Credit: Mitch Jones]