THE GANG'S ALL HERE

When we last looked in on All ("All for One," December 8, 1993), the band--which descended from the Descendents, among the best, and best-remembered, of the original Los Angeles punk bands--was living in tiny Brookfield, Missouri, population 4,000. Why? Back then, bassist Karl Alvarez explained, "In L.A., we were living in two storefronts and paying a lot of money for the privilege of living like street people. Now we have bedrooms and everything."

Now, in 1995, Alvarez is singing a different tune. "It's like the Goldilocks and the Three Bears phenomenon," he allows. "L.A. was too big. Brookfield was too small. This is just right."

"This" is Fort Collins, where All (Alvarez, drummer Bill Stevenson, guitarist Stephen Egerton and vocalist Chad Price) moved in June of last year. But the reasons for relocating to Colorado go beyond Fort Collins's ideal size. For one thing, Stevenson's girlfriend lives in Fort Collins. For another, Alvarez once lived there, too. "I was born in Boulder, but we moved to Fort Collins because my parents went to CSU when I was a kid," he says. "Even now, I get these weird memory flashes from that time--like, `I remember seeing that when I was in kindergarten, running around with my Batman cape on.'"

When Alvarez was seven, his family settled in Salt Lake City. A decade or so later, Alvarez and Egerton were in a punk band called the Massacre Guys, and Denver was one of their regular touring stops. "We used to play Kennedy's and the old Mercury Cafe," he recalls. "It wasn't like a major thing--we released two singles and that was it--but I made some good friends. Matt Bischoff from '57 Lesbian, he used to have a band called the Frantics way back in the early Eighties, and we used to do gigs with them. So when we see him, or Garrett Shavlik from Spell, it's really funny. It's like, `Hey, you guys are still doing it, too.'"

By the mid-Eighties, Alvarez and Egerton were in Los Angeles as part of the last version of the Descendents. But the combo's shining moment, the 1982 LP Milo Goes to College, soon came true: Lead vocalist Milo Aukerman really did go to college, in preparation for a career in biochemistry. With Aukerman out of the picture, the surviving Descendents dubbed themselves All (after the title of one of the final Descendents' discs) and recruited punk veteran Dave Smalley as new singer. Smalley didn't last long, however, and the stint of his successor, Scott Reynolds, was almost as brief. Fortunately, Price's arrival pleased fans as well as record companies, which finally noticed that the Descendents/All had been releasing cool indie albums (generally on the New Alliance or Cruz imprints) for more than a decade. Interscope eventually signed the group, whose members took the money they'd been paid and poured it into a studio space in Fort Collins they dubbed the Blasting Room. "If we'd wanted to spend it on crack, I guess we could have," Alvarez admits. "But I'm glad we spent it on the studio. Crack's kind of passe now."

The fruit of All's Fort Collins labors can be heard on the quartet's first Interscope CD, appropriately called Pummel. The platter is no departure for the musicians, but given the changing tenor of the times, it sounds newly accessible--probably the most immediately attractive All album yet. Still, Alvarez doesn't think that the act's major-label affiliation had anything to do with the results. "If you've been listening to the last All albums, you could tell that we were pointing in this direction, anyhow," he says. "And I think there's some staggeringly uncommercial songs on this record--songs like `Uncle Critic' and `Hetero,' which don't fit into the cutesy-pie-punk routine that the radio's so enamored with right now. But we've always done stuff that might be considered more commercial than a lot of our peers have done, because we have a certain regard for pop construction and harmonies and things like that."

Thanks to the Blasting Room, All's members are getting a chance to spread their punk theories farther and wider than ever before. Recent bands to record at the studio include Wisconsin-based Alligator Gun, Dallas's Hagfish and two of Fort Collins's finest homegrown combos, Social Joke and Armchair Martian. Alvarez, who's been getting more involved with the local scene in Fort Collins over the past several months, believes that both of these Colorado acts could make a noise beyond state lines, but he emphasizes, "We're not a label. People send us these demo tapes, and there's not really much we can do with them. But we can help certain bands sound better. This isn't meant as a slag in any way, but the dominant thing studio guys in this state are into is hippie music. I don't know if they have an understanding of really aggressive music. But we do."

At present, the Blasting Room doesn't have a set of standard rates--"I guess we're going to have to come up with those, huh?" Alvarez says. "That's the kind of evil, capitalist stuff you have to think about when you live in the good and great country of the United States of America." But no matter what happens with the studio, he feels that All will remain rooted in Fort Collins for the foreseeable future.

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