When mild-mannered Milo Aukerman isn’t practicing rocket science in a DuPont lab or being a suburban husband and dad, you might find him on a stage far from Delaware fronting as the lead singer for the legendary punk-rock band the Descendents. Dr. Aukerman (second from left in photo) recently took time to discuss his interesting “hobby” with TSD.
TOWN SQUARE DELAWARE: So….I’m wondering if there is a separate “Linked-In” group for international punk rock stars with PhDs in biochemistry?
MILO AUKERMAN: There’s only a few of us, so email seems to work okay. I was thrilled to meet Greg Graffin last year; he’s in Bad Religion, has a PhD and teaches at Cornell. We are “linked” together in the sense that we are punks with an intellectual side, and it turns out there are more of us out there (i.e. fans of the punk genre who are also academically minded). The point is, punk can be intellectually stimulating, it’s not always aiming at the lowest common denominator.
TSD: A lot of people might be surprised that the punk scene is still going. Are there any particular places where the punk ethos still thrives?
MA: I think the scene will always be around, as long as there are kids wanting to make loud, fast music on their own terms – without the meddling of the music industry. The scene may only exist in garages and tiny clubs, so it’s not high profile…but it’s there, nevertheless. The key is the DIY aspect; that sums up the punk ethos. I don’t see it being extinguished, as long as there are teenagers who want to rock out, and they can find a place to play and record.
TSD: So you’re saying Wilmington isn’t exactly the epicenter of the punk world?
MA: No, but there are local punk bands, and I’m sure they are part of a “local scene,” even if it’s tiny. I don’t know if there’s a thriving live scene, because it doesn’t seem like there are many clubs willing to book local punk bands.
TSD: What is, or how do you define “punk” music?
MA: Everyone can have their own definition, but for me it has to be loud, fast and angry sounding. Rebellious in nature, but what constitutes rebellion does not have to be political. A broader definition might be any music that challenges convention, and embraces difference and weirdness. As long as it’s loud and fast!
TSD: Your group, the Descendents, is in demand around the world. How do you fit in the odd gig in Australia between your day job and life as a suburban dad?
MA: First of all, I don’t try to do too many shows in a year, and they’re usually “one-offs” (meaning I fly in, do the show, and fly home). I actually can’t do more than 10 or 20, because I end up using my vacation time from my day job, which is a limiting factor. I try to bring my wife and kids whenever possible, and they enjoy seeing dad rock out. Basically, I’m not out of town more than your typical salesperson, and probably less. So far, it hasn’t been a burden on my family.
TSD: What’s the typical crowd like for your gigs? Older? Younger? Everything in between?
MA: I would say most of them are young, teens and early twenties. However, we do get a decent number of oldsters, people who saw us back in the eighties and nineties and are still coming out to the shows. Sometimes they even bring their kids, so there’s a whole new generation growing up with our music!
TSD: You guys don’t particularly go in for the spiked-hair and angry leather Sid and Nancy brand of punk. Did that movie and the UK-driven punk scene of the late 70s/early 80s create inaccurate stereotypes?
MA: I don’t think they were inaccurate, but they were stereotypes in the sense that they captured one and only one aspect of punk (i.e. the fashion), and used it to define the genre. It always bothered me that punk was more known for its fashion than its music, because for me it was all about the music. I couldn’t be bothered with the fashion part of it; nobody in the Descendents did. In our local scene (South Bay, Los Angeles) the bands dressed like normal Joes, no Mohawks or anything, just a t-shirt (unripped) and jeans. I viewed it as a conscious effort by the bands to focus on the music.
TSD: How did you discover you had what it took to be a lead singer for a punk band?
MA: Maybe I never had what it took, in some sense. I remember when I first got up to the mike and “sang,” the rest of the band said “OK, he can’t sing, but he’s got a lot of energy!!” The cool thing about punk is you can be a talentless nerd, and still make a go of it, because there’s no fear of rejection! In addition to being a nerd, I was not a natural performer at all, and rather shy. It took me awhile to get over my stage fright, actually. I didn’t even look at the audience for the first couple of shows. Plus, I had no actual training as a singer, and did a lot more screaming/yelling/barking/growling when I first started. Eventually I learned to actually sing melodies, and my voice strengthened. It took about a year and a half before I finally felt like I was doing the songs justice. I’m not being falsely humble here; I may have had some talent, but it was hidden and it took a lot of hard work to reveal it.
TSD: When you’re not on the road, being a husband and dad, and doing rocket science in the labs at work, what do you like to do in Delaware?
MA: I’m always listening to music, obviously. I wish I had more time for outdoors activities, like biking, hiking etc…maybe once the kids are a little older, we’ll do more of that. We go to the Delaware beaches whenever possible; I enjoy bodysurfing and any kind of beach frolic. I do enjoy a beer or three, but it’s gotta be a craft beer, so I’m partial to Iron Hill Brewpub. Our recent discovery is Two Stones Pub in Newark; they have some wicked good beers on tap! Kid-friendly, too.