Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Interview with Jesse Michaels of Operation Ivy/Common Rider/Classics of Love

Operation Ivy
Photo by

By Chris Carlton

Squid Pro Quo: Thanks for taking the time to talk with Squid Pro Quo, Jesse. People know you from your days in Operation Ivy and Common Rider, but I want to ask you about your current band, Classics of Love. Can you give us a little history on the band and how you got together?

Jesse Michaels: "The band started in 2009 when I was making some demos. A friend played a tape of the band, The Hard Girls, for me and I really liked it so I reached out to them and asked them if they would like to play with me. As soon as we played, there was instant chemistry and we have developed a good working relationship. I also really like them as people and we get along and have fun together. I never realized it but to me, this is actually the single most important thing. Given a reasonable amount of inspiration, almost any group of people that get along will produce something worthwhile because with bands, the whole is definitely greater than the sum of the parts."

SPQ: You, like myself, are a big fan of all styles of music. From Cole Porter to Patsy Cline to Buddy Holly. What musical influences do you bring to the table when you're writing songs?

JM: "Lately, the primary influences are '80s hardcore and current neo-hardcore. So as far as old stuff, I am talking about Jerry's Kids, The Necros, Minor Threat, Black Flag, Youth Brigade, Seven Seconds, The Fix, Die Kruezen and so on. As far as new(er) bands, I am talking about bands like Set to Explode, Wasted Time, Government Warning, Socialcide, Nightstick Justice, Double Negative, early Fucked Up and so on. In addition to this, I have so much mid-tempo melodic punk ala The Clash, Menace and Stiff Little Fingers in my blood that it just always comes out somewhere."

SPQ: I know Classics of Love released the "Walking In The Shadows" EP in 2009 as well as a single for Art of the Underground last year. Are there any plans for a new EP or full length? Or a possible tour?

JM: "Yes. We have recorded demos for the LP and are very excited about our engineer and the songs. We have everything written, we are just waiting until the studio is available. So we are going to record the album in August."
SPQ: You were in the band Big Rig back in the early '90s. That band only lasted a few short months. If you don't mind me asking, why such a quick demise?

JM: "That band was primarily a project. I really liked those guys and liked the music they were playing but I did not want to turn it into a band proper because I couldn't exactly write songs in the vein that they were doing - it just wasn't quite the style I was used to. We managed to do a couple nice songs and Lookout! Records agreed to put out the EP. We also did a gig and it was fun. I am still in touch with several of the guys that were in that band, many of whom have gone on to do interesting things."

SPQ: I understand that you are/were a breakfast cook. Being a cook, I find it relaxing to do something I love. How did you get started cooking? Was it a life long passion or just something that fell into your lap later on in life?

JM: "Well, I am a good cook but I was not a very good professional cook. However, I managed to pull my weight and I tried to do extra things and be reliable to make up for my lack of natural ability. This is not false modesty, it's just how it is. The head chef at my restaurant was and is a great guy and he helped me to do it and taught me a lot about cooking and about having an incredible work ethic. There are things you can only learn by having jobs. It was a good experience and something I still do for fun."

SPQ: In this day and age of skinny jeans, bad haircuts and "mall punk" bandwagon jumping, do you feel the punk idealism and energy has been dragged through the mud in order to make a quick buck?

JM: "Every social movement that begins underground and with extremely creative, intelligent energy, eventually gets co-opted by the more normal, mainstream crowd. They take what's cool and make it tacky and obvious, and they are the ones that get the money. It happened with the hippies, it happened with the beats, it happened with goth, it happened with hip-hop, it happened with rave culture, it happened with gay pride, it happened with skateboarding; it happens. That's the nature of the world. Of course, all those crappy bands are annoying but really, who cares? I have been into music for literally 30 years and as far as I remember, there were always crappy bands. Some of the shit that went on in the '80s and '90s was so God awful, it made me want to scream. It's true that so-called hipsters are the single most annoying example of this dynamic in history because nobody has gone so far to co-opt symbols of non-conformity and make them into bland fashion, but what can you do? There are still great bands. These days, all you have to do is find one and follow the connections on the various social media. If you find one that you really like, chances are you will find 100. I think a person could spend an entire year on great Japanese bands alone and never get to the end of it. So yes, there is definitely a lot of shit out there, but there is also a lot of great stuff. The digital age means there's more of both, for better or worse. Well, the hipsters have taken tattoos, collecting obscure records, funny hair, tight pants and screaming into microphones. If real outsiders are so unimaginative that they can't come up with something different, beyond what we are all used to, then they deserve to be co-opted."

SPQ: Are there any newer bands out there that you feel are true to the music? A band where you think, "yeah, they have the right idea?"

JM: "Well, I am not very in-the-loop these days to be quite honest. But just in Oakland alone, there is a great underground hardcore scene; bands like Face the Rail, Comadre, Punch, E-Coli, and so on. Shit, there's dozens of good bands out here. La Plebe is astonishing for example. Frankly, I think the scene is better than ever, it's just that there is such a glut of underground music everywhere that it's harder to get noticed. There are always great bands in Portland and Chicago. Young people are getting smarter, not dumber. If you want to know about a lot of great bands, just use the standard web-research tools and one can find about a million in an hour. I remember just out of curiosity, I went on Interpunk once and started following all the little "people also bought" links from well-known bands I liked and within a few minutes, I had discovered this lesser-known but incredible band called The Observers, who changed my whole perspective on music. Actually they are pretty well-known in the underground punk scene but I mean lesser-known to an old fuddy duddy like me. The Spits were an incredible pop-punk band in the true sense of the word, meaning not just another Ramones knock-off. I don't know if they are still around. Government Warning was fantastic. And so on. The whole Richmond, VA hardcore scene. Out Cold from Boston - not around anymore, but they got it right all the way. In the larger stage stuff, Sharks are phenomenal. At the really commercial level, The Vaccines are great. Don't even talk to me about metal, it's ridiculous. There is tons and tons of great stuff out there. Plus it's all free now apparently, ha ha. Things are way different from when you had to dig through five record stores to find the Descendents 7" and then put it on cassette tapes to give to all your friends."

SPQ: You've played ska, straight-up punk and singer/songwriter acoustic music. What's next for Jesse Michaels? What can your fans expect from you in the coming months?

JM: "They can expect the band I am in, Classics of Love, to record a record. I don't want to jinx it but from the demos, it looks like it is going to be pretty good. So what's next is an album of '80s hardcore-influenced songs, very fast and short, with intermittent mid-tempo punk, ska and rock influences thrown in."

SPQ: Is there a website where we can find out out about news, new releases, upcoming shows and merch?

JM: "Probably either the Asian Man site or my public Facebook page."

SPQ: I want to thank you again for taking the time to talk with Squid Pro Quo. It was great to interview you and I'm looking forward to the new Classics of Love record. Thanks again.

JM: "Thanks for the questions and best wishes to you and all your readers!"

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