By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Opening bands grumbled because the drummer's kit had to be set up hours before his group's set, and whoever was in charge of doing it complained too, because it had to be perfect. Every night, every tour; no exceptions, no excuses. And since perfection is difficult to achieve in the 20 minutes between acts, the kit (every screw tightened within an eyelash of factory specifications) had to remain in place, no matter how many bands were on the bill, no matter how much room any of them thought they needed.
Screw 'em, the drummer said: When they were headlining, hey, then they could call the shots.
Similarly, bands who wanted him to produce their albums griped because he made them--get this--practice before he would even think about setting foot inside the studio with them. He didn't just suggest it either; he made sure they were in a rehearsal room for hours at a time, every day for a week or so. Hell, his band had been together for more than a decade, and they still practiced for hours every night. On top of that, he'd been making music when some of these hotshots weren't old enough to say their own names. He was playing with Henry Rollins when that actually meant something. If it wasn't done right, he figured, it wasn't worth doing. Not when he could be fishing, at least.
But that was the thing: Even when he was off on a fishing trip, he was still busting his ass, not just content to sit on the boat and wait for a nibble. He had to catch as many fish as he could before heading back to Colorado, turning what should have been a leisurely, relaxing vacation into another outlet for his obsessive behavior. He couldn't really help it, growing up in Southern California with a driven father, a man who believed the sole vacation in life came in the form of a pine box. It took Bill Stevenson--drummer for ALL and before that, the Descendents--most of his life to figure that out.
"I think, in maybe the last five years, I've gotten really in tune with my true personality rather than the one that my dad forced upon me, which was this work-till-you-die kind of thing," Stevenson says, from his home in Fort Collins, Colorado. He's taking a break from work right now, a bit of home improvement, though he wasn't really getting anywhere with his house's stubborn plumbing anyway. "But my true personality is more like, you know, try to do things that are interesting to you, and if it's not interesting to you, don't do it." He laughs.
In that time, ironically, Stevenson has been busier than ever. His bandmates, along with Joe Carducci (a veteran of SST Records), set up Owned & Operated Records a few years ago. The label has since released albums by Bill the Welder (fronted by ALL roadie Daniel "Bugphace" Snow), The Pavers (the new band from former ALL singer Scott Reynolds), Shiner, and Wretch Like Me, as well as an ALL best-of last year. But even with the unmistakable traces of nepotism present in the label's roster (Wretch Like Me, by the way, includes Jason Livermore, the main engineer at the band's studio, The Blasting Room), it is more of a fully functioning label than a vanity project. Besides, it's not exactly as if they're famous enough to sell records based on name recognition alone.
Owned & Operated has also spawned an offshoot, Upland Records, which has put out records by, among others, Drag the River, current ALL singer Chad Price's country-tinged side project. Stevenson and the band run a T-shirt printing business as well, in addition to The Blasting Room, the studio they built themselves, funded by the advance they received from Interscope Records for 1995's Pummel, their one and only major label album. To top it all off, an online retail store (www.site-zero.com) is in the finishing stages, along with an Internet-only 'zine, The Antagonist. Somewhere in there, you expect Stevenson and the band to unveil a plan for world peace.
Not that he needs anymore to do. Even without any of these forays into entrepreneurship, Stevenson would be a busy man. Since 1995, ALL has released three albums (including 1998's Mass Nerder and Problematic, which came out in June), crisscrossing the country after each one. And in 1996, the Descendents--the band that gave way to ALL when singer Milo Aukerman disappeared into a biochemistry laboratory in pursuit of a doctorate degree in 1987--reformed to record an album, 1996's Everything Sucks, and hit the road for a successful reunion tour. On top of that, another Descendents record is scheduled for release early next year.
However, the situation couldn't be better for Stevenson. In fact, this is what he's been hoping for all along. After all, he's not as busy as he looks.
"I'm involved in owning, but not very much in operating," Stevenson says, referring to the band's label. "We usually pick the bands for the label, and Stephen and I record them, and that kind of thing. Then all the nuts-and-bolts, day-to-day kind of stuff, there's other people that do that. My attention span has evolved such that I don't really like to be involved with anything more than one or two hours a day." He laughs. "I've got it set up good now, because I've got the T-shirt printing business, the record label, the recording studio, and the band, so I can just kind of, like a fly, land on one thing for a while and then, whoa, go somewhere else for a while. Which suits my ability for concentration pretty well, which is close to nil."