Milo Aukerman and Karl Alvarez from Descendents take a stand against anti-immigration attitudes
„Strength in difference / be the resistance / unite for justice / that’s who we are / that’s how I feel” – here at St. Pauli we love this lyric by American punk rock band Descendents so much that we decided to make a t-shirt together. It features those lines and is available now. While on tour in Europe, singer Milo Aukerman and bass player Karl Alvarez recently popped in at the “Millerntor”, St. Pauli’s home ground. After checking out the pitch, the player’s tunnel and St. Pauli’s own music school, they sat down with us for a quick chat about football, diversity and a certain questionable president.
St. Pauli: When did you first hear of St. Pauli?
Karl Alvarez: I toured in Germany with the band ALL in the late eighties and we also played Hamburg. Back then I started seeing the shirts in the audience and I understood it was the local football team, but I didn’t see the connection to the punk rock scene until years later. After touring Europe many times and seeing the St. Pauli logo in places as far as Canada, we knew they were on our side.
Milo Aukerman: I first heard about the beer (laughs)!
Have you ever been to a match?
Alvarez: No, but I played a show at the stadium at the 100th anniversary of the club with my band The Real McKenzies. It was amazing! A friend who I was with is a devoted fan. He kneeled down on the pitch, plucked some grass and wrapped it in cigarette cellophane as a souvenir. It was pretty moving.
What makes St. Pauli different from other teams?
Aukerman: I like the politics of what they’re doing, the anti-fascist, anti-homophobia and pro-feminist attitude. I think it’s a very unique combination of sports and political activism.
Alvarez: Milo already mentioned the politics, but I think it’s also the social engagement. The people and the community are responsible for keeping the team going. It’s not some money man at the top calling the shots. This is a society, this is the city! I guess the equivalent in American Football would be a team called the Green Bay Packers. They are also owned by the community and it’s the only other team I can think of where the fans and the team work together like that.
What does the partnership with St. Pauli mean to you?
Alvarez: It means we get to be a part of something that’s now international. Through the music scene, an international bunch of kids recognize what St. Pauli stands for.
The new Descendents St. Pauli t-shirt features a line from your song „Who You Are“. What’s the story behind this song?
Aukerman: The Descendents are not really such a political band. We write songs about food and girls and stuff. But last year America had a new administration come in that really injected a new found activism – not only in our band, but in the general public, because it was such a repressive administration. They brought in all these policies that were anti-immigration. It got me kind of angry, so I wrote that song after the first immigration ban that Trump put together.
The song celebrates diversity.
Aukerman: When I was growing up, when I was learning what it meant to be an American – and I’m sure this is true to anyone in any country – is that you have to welcome the less fortunate people from other countries. That’s why I named the song „Who we are“. We’re all really immigrants in a sense. To me, having people from other countries coming in means strength in diversity, strength in difference. It strengthens who we are as people.
Take that, Mister Trump…
Aukerman: He’s kind of a multi-level bad guy, he doesn’t just hate immigrants, he hates everybody. He just hates. I just had to write a song about this guy who hates everything. Our president is less than human in my opinion.
Nevertheless the song has a positive feel: It’s asking people to stand up. Are you optimists, do you think we can change the world for the better?
Aukerman: Yeah, hence the line “I still believe in our democracy”. It gets harder and harder, but the further this administration goes, I‘m still clinging to hope that somehow we can drag ourselves back up out of what I see to be a lessening of our decency as people. I still have to maintain that hope. That’s why I didn’t want to go „everything sucks“. The only way that we’re going to get out of this is if we come together as people and resist. That’s what the song is about.
Do you wish more people would speak out in that way?
Aukerman: I think everyone can just do what they want to do. There’s a lot of ways to be political. We wrote songs about food that are more political than anything because they are so different. No one ever did that before and that makes it a political statement. So I think the most political thing you can do is just write what’s inside of yourself, write your own feelings and don’t write for somebody else. That to me is what bands should do. You don’t have to have some kind of political agenda necessarily. It just so happens that we wrote this song because it was what we felt. Probably my next song will be about food again, or something like that!
Before you go, tell us what your experience was like today at the St. Pauli stadium?
Alvarez: It was excellent, I was really grateful to hear details about the history of the team that I hadn’t known before. I liked the chapel because of the art. I used to do artwork for bands and used to do my own stickers like the fans do here, so I identify with that very strongly. The musical school was another huge high point because every kid should have a chance to do music and get more instruction than „here’s a bass, you have a show in ten days“, which is what I had…
Aukerman: I just wish we could have seen a game today!