Only Crime Interview - Bill Stevenson | ThePunkSite.com
Fat Wreck Chords
Avenue Skatepark - Edmonton, Alberta
Wednesday, August 1st, 2007
Only Crime is a punk rock super group, there's no other way
to describe them. While they aren't reaching the tops of the charts of anything
like that, punk purists at heart drool at the thought of them. After all, any
band sporting members of Black Flag, Good Riddance, Descendents, Bane,
Modern Life Is War and Hagfish is sure to get a second
look by anyone remotely interested in the punk rock underground. When I
heard the band was touring Canada I was pumped, even more so when I heard the
show in Edmonton would be at the little Avenue Skatepark venue. Before the
band took the stage to do what they do best, Only Crime's
drummer Bill Stevenson sat down with me to answers some questions about the
band and his other musical endeavors...
I guess starting with the basics, you guys have been on tour with Hostage Life
and Bionic for a few days now; how’s that going?
Bill: I actually think we’re doing better up here than we do in the
States, so that’s encouraging. Only Crime’s really small in the
States and it’s going really well up here so far. The guys in Hostage
Life and Bionic are all really friendly. Jonathan and I used to tour together
as Descendents and Doughboys used to tour together; and ALL used to tour with
Bobby: Before this tour you guys were opening for Rise Against for two weeks,
what was it like being able to hang out with Zach again on the road?
Bill: Oh, I mean, we had just been on tour with him a couple weeks prior when
he was playing in Only Crime. We’re all kind of a big family, all the
bands; we play with each other all the time. Yeah, it’s working out good
for Zach I think, really good.
Bobby: Did it come to you as a surprise when he said he was going to go join
Bill: No, I mean, I have a pretty long history with Rise Against and with
Zach. So I probably knew about it before he did actually.
Bobby: How did you guys find Matt and what’s it like touring
with him? Having him out on tour?
Bill: Matt, I met Matt through Aaron. He comes from that band Modern Life
Is War whose newest album, I heard a recording of a couple days ago and I really
liked it. I liked it better than most of the stuff I hear out of that genre.
Matt’s kind of… either I’m just getting really old or he’s
abnormally talented for his age. I think he’s got an older soul, the
way he plays is more familiar to me as far as where I came from from the roots
of punk and rock and stuff like that; things that were happening more like
in the seventies and stuff. He plays with a lot more of that kind of an aesthetic
which is really, to me, that’s kind of the ideal strumming approach for
this band. So he’s working out great.
Bobby: One reason Zach left was because he always wanted to be on
the road, and with you having such a busy schedule at the Blasting Room,
Only Crime wasn’t
able to constantly tour. Does it become annoying not being able to constantly
tour all the time? I know back when you guys formed ALL it was because Milo
couldn’t commit fully to touring with the Descendents.
Bill: Wow, that’s a pretty complicated question. Only Crime started
as something that we would all do in our free time, whenever we had free time.
But each of us have had different amounts of free time and we went through
a period where I had to turn down like three or four tours that the guys wanted
to do and so I think at that point that became a little frustrating for the
guys. But Aaron still does a lot of touring in Bane also, three of us have
wives at home and I have a family at home. So we are doing quite a bit of touring
but we’re not like the way we were when we were teenagers where we just
hop in the van and we stay out all year. To try and quantify that and what
the right amount is, what the wrong amount or how that may have affected Zach’s
plans – that’s kind of a complicated question. But it really doesn’t
matter though, either. I think for Only Crime, what does matter is that we
are going to start touring more so that whenever we get offered really good
support slots, if they can go they’re gonna go and we’re gonna
have someone else play drums. So that way we don’t have to turn anything
down that’s good. I’ll continue to try and do all the headlining
shows because I think where people that are already fans and they come to see
us, they would expect me to be there. But if we’re just out opening for
some bigger bands, most of the people in the club don’t even know who
we are. So we’re starting to actually kind of pick up speed a little
bit now, which is good.
Bobby: I had a chance to interview Zach a few weeks ago and he said
for me to tell you two words and it was: “suck bitch.” Can you
tell us the story behind that?
Bill: Oh, I’d rather not. It’s kind of inside humor and I don’t
think anyone that would be reading this would really benefit much from it.
It’s inside humor, vulgarity, you know, it’s nothing really exciting.
Bobby: With all of you guys living all over the United States, how hard is
it for you to get together in the Blasting Room or wherever to write and practice,
come up with new material, new songs?
Bill: We usually get together about… it seems like every other month
we’re together doing something; whether it’s recording or touring
or writing or demoing. Every other month, I mean, we all really enjoy doing
it so it’s not hard to do. I think I suffer from having time management
problems; I don’t seem to be able to manage my time really well. So I
always feel like I’m getting pulled at both ends. But I really like what
we’re doing, I’m really interested in it so we all make time to
do it and everybody flies in. One big difference I think between Only Crime
and maybe some of the other groups that are out there is we’re all pretty
driven in kind of a work ethic kind of way and none of us have any problems
with substance abuse or any of that kind of shit. So we can get together for
one week and get like three weeks worth of work done – that sort of thing.
So we just chug along and get together when we can.
Bobby: You are, of course, a key figure at the Blasting Room. You’ve
worked with a whole bunch of bands, Lagwagon, NOFX, Rise Against, Anti-Flag,
A Wilhlem Scream, Ataris and more. I read in one interview back in 2003 where
you said you always wanted to work with Snapcase from Victory Records but you
never could. Were there any other bands you really wanted to work with but
for some reason or another haven’t yet or couldn’t?
Bill: I can’t think of any to be honest. It seems like, usually, I find
myself kind of making good of what is in front of me at the time and not wishing
I was working on something else. It seems like the bands that would really
benefit from the Blasting Room, the bands whose DNA is really designed to benefit
from our methodology, they usually find us. They call me, they get my number
and call me or email me so I think it’s been working out good.
Bobby: I read in an interview you did a while ago where you said you
and the other members of ALL created the Blasting Room because you couldn’t really
find an engineer that you trusted. So fist of all, I want to know, how hard
is it to teach yourself how to engineer? The story I heard was you taught yourself
in ’85 when you recorded “I Don’t Want To Grow Up” with
the Descendents and how important is it to find an engineer and producer to
work with that you really trust?
Bill: There are probably thousands of bands out there who’ve had the
experience of saving up a bunch of money and going in and recording and having
it turn out shitty despite their best intentions and maybe even despite the
best intentions of the engineer who happened to have recorded it. But if the
engineer doesn’t get it, if the engineer doesn’t get what the band
is doing, then it’s not going to work. Now-a-days I actually think there’s
more of a unilateral awareness of how to record aggressive rock bands, certainly
more so than when we were doing it. When we were doing it, people didn’t
really know what to make of punk rock because it hadn’t saturated the
recording industry – but now it has. The people who are making your…I
don’t know what the bands’ names are, whatever the pop-punk bands
are that there’s so many of now – the people who are making those
records, those are the people who were making the Faster Pussycats and metal
records of the prior decades. So punk rock has found mainstream happiness or
whatever you want to call it. But when we were doing it, nobody really knew
what it was when we started so we kind of felt like we had to take it into
our own hands in order to get it to sound right. In hindsight, we probably
should have actually learned how to do it before we just started doing it.
But I guess sometimes you have to take a leap of faith. “I Don’t
Want To Grow Up”, I mean, it just sounds horrible and it’s mostly
my fault. It sounded just as bad when Dave was in charge of it – Dave
Bobby: You’ve always had a good ear for music and were able to deconstruct
it. I read in an interview that when you were eleven you heard “Love
Me Do” by The Beatles and you thought that something was wrong with it.
You found out later that the bass was out of tune.
Bill: It’s just really sharp. I don’t mean it in a picky sense,
it’s like a quarter step sharp. It amazes me. But so what? It’s
the Beatles. They’re laughing all the way to do the bank.
Bobby: I’m thinking with that ear and being able to deconstruct the
music, what do you think of this new “loudness war” or “loudness
race” which is the tendency to record, produce and broadcast music at
progressively increasing levels of loudness to create a sound that stands out
from others which in turn clips and distorts the waveform of the music?
Bill: It’s a product of, and symptom of, everything that’s happening
in modern civilization. Everyone has to buy a new cell phone every three months.
Faster cell phones, faster computers, you have to pay fucking five bucks for
a stupid cup of coffee, and everybody’s record has to be louder than
everyone else’s. Everything has to be now too, like instant. Instant,
louder, bigger, make your dick bigger, get richer, it’s all part of the
same shit to me and it falls on my ears with that same kind of cheap temptation
like a prostitute. That’s how it hits my ears. I don’t like it.
The solution… unfortunately, I’m no genius. I hear problems and
faults with a lot of things and I don’t know how to solve them, I don’t
know what the answer there is. I feel like you can usually do little parts
within your own community. Like the stuff that we master at the Blasting Room,
we try not to get too stupid with the volume so that things at least have a
little bit of balls to them. Otherwise they just don’t have any guts
Bobby: Throughout your careers, the members of Only Crime have worked with
important bands that have helped define and shape the sound and style of punk.
You with Descendents and Black Flag, Russ with Good Riddance, Aaron with Bane
and Converge. Do you think there are any bands that are as relevant to punk
Bill: I think A Wilhelm Scream and Rise Against and Modern Life Is War, I
think they’re all offering a lot. It’s funny, I mean, Descendents
or Good Riddance, I don’t know. Descendents get a lot of credit for stuff
but most of what we did it was all right there in front of us, we just maybe
assimilated it in a way that made sense. I guess, it’s kind of that way
with Miles Davis. I don’t know if he really invented anything but he
kind of assimilated it in a way that is palatable for people, or at least,
in a certain art movement. The Descendents were never mainstream popular, but
it was like pop music but for people that didn’t want to listen to pop
music. I don’t know. It’s really hard to be that self aware. I’m
not that kind of person. I’m just like “I’m gonna go and
try and kick ass and try not make any mistakes” then load my drums out,
put them in the trailer and go to the next town. I don’t think of stuff
in terms of what people might think of it or how it might affect culture or
things like that. Every time I start thinking about those kinds of things I
just get really insecure and I don’t want to play music.
Bobby: You just finished recording A Wilhelm Scream’s new one
Bobby: I’m looking forward to that, it should be good.
Bill: Yeah, it’s pretty crazy. They’re just, to me; they’re
like a one in a million band.
Bobby: Last year I took a music class and when we were studying Elvis,
one thing our teacher brought up was this graph about Industrial Logic and
Logic. Where Cultural Logic is some sort of rebellion in the subculture to
break free from the norm which creates a new sound. Then the major corporations
come in and pick it up, mass produce it, which creates another rebellion. You’ve
been in the scene and music industry for so long and you’ve seen so many
genres come and go. Pop-punk, hardcore punk, grunge, metal, ska, emo now, do
you think that graph would be a good way to describe the music industry? A
cultural revolution which creates a new sound which then gets mass produced
which in turns causes yet another new movement?
Bill: Are you sure you weren’t taking a marketing class?
Bobby: Nope, it was a music one.
Bill: That’s crazy. Why don’t they talk about notes and chords
Bobby: It was a history of popular music from the nineteen hundreds to two
thousands and so.
Bill: Ohhhh, I see. Yeah, right, I guess I would be a millionaire if I knew
how to analyze all of those trends and all of that stuff. When I start thinking
about music that I enjoy and listen to and also music that I want to create,
I try and be blissfully ignorant and pretend that it lives in its own little
vacuum and that no ones going to co-op it and put it on the radio. I’m
not going to wake up one morning and have my radio alarm go off and it’s
some band playing a song that sounds like one of mine. I just try to pretend
like none of that ever happens.
Bobby: Okay, a few more questions. In 2004, the Descendents recorded “Cool
To Be You” and played a few shows. Do you have any more plans to record
and to tour in the near future?
Bill: We’ve done a few recordings since then, I think they’ll
be a few more records. We don’t have any concrete plans right now. I
think it’s really kind of limited because Milo doesn’t like to
tour, he’s pretty much – between being a dad and being a scientist,
he doesn’t want to offer really much time to it. So it kind of limits
what we can do.
Bobby: Are you working on any other projects like the Lemonheads or anything
else right now?
Bill: I’m probably going to start another Lemonheads album maybe in
the spring or so. I think I’m going to do a tour with Lemonheads in December.
It will probably take us a year or more, we work like one week at a time throughout
the year at different times.
Bobby: You are, of course, known as the Drum Ogre. So as the Drum Ogre, do
you think ogres were successfully represented in the Shrek trilogies?
Bill: *laughs* Yeah, I suppose Ogres are like everything else, there can be
a lot of different kinds of ogres. Lots of different kinds of humans, cats,
dogs, ogres, yeah…