It wasn't until the pop-punk outfit All had the CD-release party for their
ninth album, Mass Nerder, that drummer/songwriter Bill Stevenson finally
realized what kind of record his group had made.
It was there, listening to the disc in a local record store in the band's home base
of Fort Collins, Colo., that it suddenly clicked for Stevenson: Mass Nerder
finds All sounding like their ancestors ... the Descendents.
That would make the album -- which was released May 5 -- an unintended
revival of a band that rose and fell a decade ago.
It was while still in high school, in 1980, that Stevenson co-founded the L.A.
punk group the Descendents. Chucking the political anger of hardcore for
bratty, adolescent angst, the near-legendary Descendents released eight
albums before their singer, Milo Aukerman, left the group to pursue a Ph.D. in
biochemistry in 1987.
Stevenson then formed All with remaining Descendents Karl Alvarez and
Stephen Egerton (neither of whom were original members) and recruited Chad
Price for vocals. Over the course of their own eight albums, All favored pop over
punk while retaining the propulsive, speed-of-sound pace of their predecessor.
Though All originally set out to make "a very definite punk-rock record" with
Mass Nerder, Stevenson said, it took a little distance from the recording
to realize that meant returning to the rawer sound of the Descendents.
"Sometimes when you go so far east, you end up west," Stevenson said,
speaking from All's own studio, appropriately named the Blasting
Room. "That's kind-of what happened with this record. You never really
know what it is when you're making it. You only figure it out later. We
just played the songs as fast as we could without them falling apart, and
then, there, that's the record."
The resulting product packages plenty of All's characteristic adolescent angst,
goofball humor and girl-crazy grief into a series of agitated yet hummable
numbers such as "World's on Heroin" and "Fairweather Friend."
Of all the records in the Descendents/All catalog, Mass Nerder reminds
Stevenson most of the Descendents' milestone sophomore album, Milo
Goes to College (1982). "It's so dry and punchy and stripped down," he said.
"It sounds like something we would have done as teen-agers."
Guitarist Egerton, who co-produced the album with Stevenson and
Jason Livermore, agreed. "It's a very reactionary record in the same way that
Milo Goes to College is, and I like that about it," Egerton said.
"We've always had a cohesive plan for what we want our records to sound like,
but we just kind-of let things go with this one. We were all in the mood to
play real fast, and this is what happened."
With its pared-down sound of hurried guitar riffs and abrasive rhythms, Mass
Nerder achieves All's one unchangeable goal for the record: to brace "punk
rock with not very many metal overtones," Stevenson said. "A lot of the punk
rock you hear today basically sounds like Slayer only with a bald guy singing,"
he cracked. "We wanted to be well clear of that."
The Descendents-reminiscent sound of Mass Nerder isn't so surprising,
however, in light of events surrounding its creation. In 1996, the Descendents,
with Aukerman back on vocals, released the reunion album Everything
Sucks. Aukerman also took breaks from the biochemistry lab to back up All
vocalist Chad Price on Mass Nerder.
Lines between the two bands thus grew a little blurry. "There isn't any
distinguishing between an All song and a Descendents song," Stevenson said.
"Every song on Everything Sucks was written while we were All, and all
the songs on Mass Nerder were written while we were on tour as
But Descendents fan Carlos Pair said there is a difference to him -- then
again, he's the webmaster of a site called "Shrine to Milo Aukerman."
"They're different bands with different styles," he wrote in an e-mail. "But
Chad sounds good singing for All, and Milo sounds good singing for the