By: Tyler Vile

Jesse Michaels

When I got a message from Jesse Michaels agreeing to do an interview with Punk Globe. I knew that Tyler Vile was the person to do the interview. Tyler touched on questions about Jesse's time with Operation Ivy
to his thoughts on President Obama..

Punk Globe: Hey Jesse, thanks so much for doing a second Punk Globe interview. Please tell us a bit about your life as it is.
Jesse Michaels: Most days I get up at four a.m to go to work as a breakfast cook at a hotel. When I get home I work on art and music with what energy I have left. At nights it's either band practice or something else. During basketball season I watch games. Off season I watch movies while I take care of boring tasks such as folding laundry or paying bills. I am married.
Punk Globe: What do you think of the praise you get for your earlier work and do you think people take your music too seriously?
Jesse Michaels: I enjoy and appreciate the fact that people like the music. I find the praise to be something that's none of my business, as is the criticism. I find that it's best for your mental health not to think too much about what people think of your work, either negative or positive. Of course it's satisfying that the Op Ivy record was well liked, I'm only human. But at the same time it's none of my business. The task at hand is to do the next piece of music or else move on and do something else. The way I know how to write is from the direct experience of audience responses to new songs, and then it isn't about Jesse's ego, it's about whether or not a composition works, whether it has the energy.

Do people take Op Ivy too seriously? Maybe some times. I don't know. I am just glad people are still into it. A lot of music gets dated and if people listen to it it's like, "Oh yeah, I remember blah blah. Ha ha, that was funny when we used to listen to them, we were so stupid." Maybe since our music was so painfully earnest it makes people feel guilty to dismiss it or something. Or maybe that's what they say when I'm not around, I don't know. Anyway, believe me, I'm glad people are still into it and I don't really care why they are. As an artist I am like a three-year-old that needs attention.
Punk Globe: You had a no interviews policy for a while, right? Was it just promotion for your new band that led to this change of heart
or is there something deeper to it?
Jesse Michaels: The reason I don't like to do interviews when I don't have a current project is because I do anything I can to avoid thinking of myself in the third person. That's what makes you nuts, that's what decreases your artistic power, that's what makes you feel like a ghost. Bukowski talks about it over and over again in his books, how when a writer starts thinking about himself in quotation marks so to speak, when he starts seeing his own name in capital letters, he essentially becomes a complete asshole. I would like to avoid that. Bukowski of course was a complete asshole anyway but he was right about that point. The reason I am doing interviews now is to promote the band and also because it is part of the job. Music is one part of the job. Talking to youths at the shows is another part of the job. Representing the band in print is another. It would be nice if you could just check in at the practice pad and record and then fuck off back to the house but it's not that simple unless you're already super successful or something. Also, these days, if you want to have people show up at the shows, you have to let them know that you exist ON THE WEB. The community is much more electronically based. People spend more time online than they do outdoors or hanging out. If you want to connect you go where the people are. Hey INTERNET!!! HERE WE ARE!! CLASSICS OF LOVE!!! THAT'S THE NEW BAND!!! DON'T BE FOOLED BY THE STUPID NAME, WE KICK ASS!!!!
Punk Globe: There's some footage of the acoustic gigs you did with Jeff Ott and Kevin Seconds up on YouTube. What were those shows like?
Jesse Michaels: Those shows were really fun. We did two shows, one in L.A. at the small room of the Knitting Factory and one in Riverside. Jeff is a great guy and it was the first time I got to spend much time with Kevin. He is the definition of a Mensch. MENSCH is a Yiddish word that means " a really good guy." Playing and singing is awkward for me and it was my first live go at it, but I pulled it off reasonably well and the audience was very forgiving. That is not false modesty by the way, I am really not a natural singer-instrumentalist but I have improved and playing those shows definitely helped.
Punk Globe: Are you going to continue your solo career
alongside Classics of Love?
Jesse Michaels: No, this band completely fulfills my need to create music. If something happens and I don't have any other options I will go back to doing singer songwriter stuff. I have limited time, otherwise I would do both. But since the band is working out, and I only have time for one thing, the band get's priority because I like playing with other people better than trying to do it all myself.
Punk Globe: From what I've heard of Classics of Love, you guys seem like a fairly straightforward punk band. Have you purged yourself of the reggae and ska influences that were so pronounced
in Op Ivy and Common Rider?
Jesse Michaels: Well we do two Common Rider songs, "Carry On" and "Midnight Passenger." So those are both Reggaeish numbers, in the sense that The Clash played reggae, i.e. trash reggae. Basically we try things and if they work then we keep them. We have tried to do reggae and none of it sounded that great. I am going to bring in more stuff. We've only been a band for about seven months. The next thing I want to try actually is some hard, two-tone style ska stuff. But really it's substance over style. Whatever works, on a song by song basis.
Punk Globe: Has it always been easy for you to convey your
views and struggles in your music?
Jesse Michaels: No it has never been easy. Song-writing may seem easy and there are people who struggle with it more than me but it is hard work. You have to do this crazy mental emotional struggle to get to the right way to put the lyrics. Then you have a break through and it's very satisfying. To me, it seems like solving a Zen koan. A koan is like "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" Then the Zen student struggles with it in their mind for weeks or months until they get beyond their mind altogether and they have some kind of luminous experience. Well, trying to write a song isn't that different from that. You fuck around with the words and it all sounds artificial until finally you get beyond the mechanical and into the realm of the soul, so to speak and they all fall into place.
Punk Globe: Do you see a correlation between emotion and politics?
Jesse Michaels: Yes. Politics are largely an emotional matter. Personally, I am not political. I don't think politics will ever make a significant change in the world. It's a big boring struggle with some good and some bad but the rich always, always win, unfortunately. There has never been a time or place in history where the rich haven't prevailed. There have been brief periods of respite but it's like plugging up a leaky faucet with your finger, eventually the pressure of class hierarchy comes bursting through. But the reason I am not political is not for moral reasons. It's just that it's not my calling. People have things they are good at, things they are more interested in. Well, politics bores the crap out of me. So why do I have political themes in my music? Because the way the world is disturbs me and when I manage to write a song that says something bold about all the misery and unfairness and horror, it eases my sense of disturbance. It's all very narcissistic in a way. I'm looking for a little relief. Plus it makes for better art. The punk rock type music that is most interesting to me has a political edge.
Punk Globe: Having been in a punk band at a young age, I'm curious to know if you think people underestimate the intellect of teenagers who use punk as their outlet to make a difference?
Jesse Michaels:No, they are right to think that most punk teenagers are idiots, as I was. However it just so happens that punk teenagers, as a class, make the best rock music that has ever been created. Not all of them. Don't get me wrong. There are 100 shit punk bands for every good one but when you get a good one then it doesn't get any better than that. Actually, generally we are talking about people in their twenties more than teenagers.
Punk Globe: You've said that the left wing needs money to carry out their goals. What brought you to that view?
Jesse Michaels:Not exactly. I wrote an essay over at which stresses the idea of people who are interested in changing the world entering into it rather than retreating from it. The article has some grammar problems and could have been rewritten but it basically articulates my ideas on the subject. I invite anybody who cares to read it but I'm not going to restate it here.
Punk Globe: What do you think of President Obama, is he one of the "Diebolds...Cheneys...Bush's etc." that you mentioned the left needing in your Punk Voter article?
Jesse Michaels:Obama is a very good politician. He is left of center. He is trying to build an institutional, left of center power base that will last for more than four years. However, Obama represents a state which is like a bulldozer tearing through peoples lives and destroying the environment and creating billions and billions of dollars for a specific class and type of people, meaning rich industrialists. I don't have to give anybody a boring politics 101 but to put my views simply, it would be naive to think Obama will really change anything, he works for the rich just like anybody in federal government but it is too simplistic to say he is "just as bad" as Bush or Cheney. I voted for him. But this country's government is more or less controlled by trusts. Why does he have the same billionaires who created the financial crisis fixing it? Do you think they are going to regulate themselves? Why has he legislated the continuation of extraordinary rendition? And so on.
Punk Globe: You're writing a novel aren't you? If you don't mind, please give us a brief synopsis of it.
Jesse Michaels: I have finished a novella. Brief synopsis: A man with agoraphobia (fear of leaving the house) gets involved with a murder mystery in his building. It's supposed to be funny. We'll see. I'm untested as a writer of fiction.
Punk Globe: Some of your songs have a very poetic quality to them, so I'd like to know if you have any interest in writing poetry.
Jesse Michaels: I guess I probably already do without intending to. I have hundreds of pages of lyrics that didn't make it into songs. I've written some poetry but you know, I've already got art, fiction and music and at a certain point you just have to stop taking on new things.
Punk Globe: Have you had gallery showings of your artwork?
If not, is that something you'd like to do?
Jesse Michaels: I would under the right circumstances. It is hard to get into galleries and then they want a lot of money and nobody who is interested in buying my stuff has any money so it's easier to just sell prints or cheap originals at shows for me.
If I connected with the right curators I think I would enjoy it but the art world
is a bit tricky.

There is a lot of bullshit. Pettibone has transitioned well from doing punk art to doing gallery art. Some other people have also. Maybe I will at some point but right now I'm kind of more at the selling prints at shows stage.
Punk Globe: You've said that the commercialization of punk in the 90s and early in this decade really turned you off from the genre. How do you feel about the fact that your friends' bands, like Green Day and Rancid, were arguably a large part of that?
Jesse Michaels:I'm not sure I said the first thing which was the premise for the second question. If I did, it's not entirely accurate. I have always been happy for Green Day's and Rancid's success.

What I have said is that a lot of commercial punk is unrecognizable as punk to me. There has always still been a lot of great bands. The bands or music that may have turned me off did so because it was low quality, not because it was commercial. You can write bad music without being on a major label.

Here is my view about the commercialization of some punk bands or markets: Who cares? One band is successful, another isn't. One band is pure, another one is more teen-mall-culture oriented.

You can't stop it, you can't control it. What starts on the edge always moves towards the center, in every case, every time. From On the Road (Beat Generation classic) to "Dobie Gillis" (Beat Generation commercial parody). From the Yippies (fringe radicals of the early Sixties) to the hippies (mass movement of the late Sixties) and finally you have the Eagles (bland long-hair rock of the seventies).

There are people dying on the streets. This is a trivial issue, the kind of thing people with no real problems debate on message boards. The thing that really turned me off punk for a while was much more kids debating petty bullshit ad-nauseam than any increase in commercialism. Remember: Almost ALL the original bands were on major labels: The Clash, The Ramones, The Damned, many of the old L.A. guard and so on. All those bands that all the punk puritans wear the Tee-shirts of while they are on the Internet assailing somebody or something that has absolutely nothing to do with their life. Also, after they rail against CBS or Sony or whatever it is, they go watch movies, television or video games manufactured by guess who?
Punk Globe: If Operation Ivy hadn't been so acclaimed, would you personally be more or less inspired to make new music?
Jesse Michaels: I think probably less. The fact that I can be sure that a certain amount of people are interested and that a lot of people have actively encouraged me to do it is very inspiring. I am grateful for this and don't take it for granted.
Punk Globe: You mentioned in the interview with Dod that people with alcoholism or drug addictions should receive help, have you been in such a situation and if you have, what did you take from it?
Jesse Michaels:If you feel you have a drug problem, see if you can get help. I recommend it. I have some experience with it. Drugs and alcohol tend to warp the mind of the user. You have to get all the way free of it to even begin to see what's going on. At that point you can have some perspective. But in order to get that perspective you have to get distance, or sobriety so to speak. That is achieved by forming connections with other human beings. That's why it's important to get outside help with this problem, just as it is with other forms of mental illness such as bulimia, psychosis or enjoying Radiohead.
Punk Globe: What is one thing you've taken from
your study of Buddhism?
Jesse Michaels: How to be patient and that no particular religion or religious fixation, including atheism, is exactly correct. The appeal of Buddhism is that it tries to avoid dogma in favor of experience.
Punk Globe: Above all, what would you like people to learn from you?
Jesse Michaels: Think for yourself!
Punk Globe: On behalf of Punk Globe I'd like to thank you for agreeing to do this interview. I want to personally thank you for all of the inspiration you've given me over the years and all of the times I've been uplifted by an Op Ivy or Common Rider song. Do you have any final comments?
Jesse Michaels: Thanks for the interview and I'm truly glad you have enjoyed the music. Forgive me for deleting a few questions, I'm a bit pressed for time right now. Final comments; Try being nice! Not you, the interviewer, that's my comment to the world. Be nice! You people that think good manners are boring or repressive are setting yourself up to become complete pricks! Hold the door open, bastards!