Interview: Jesse Michaels on Classics Of Love’s ethos and Operation Ivy’s history

February 15, 2012 by Scott Heisel

Interview: Jesse Michaels on Classics Of Love’s ethos and Operation Ivy’s history

I think the record is very classic-sounding; are there any moments on it that you think are modern or contemporary?
Well, I actually think it’s a very modern thing to survey old stuff. You see all these bands that came out since 2000 that are doing old-school hardcore like Set To Explode or Government Warning; they really capture the old sound in a way that bands in the ’90s never got right most of the time. But they sort of update it by taking the original spirit and energy and playing it in a very pure way now. The fact that there’s a completely different context kind of reinvigorates it. In that sense, I think the fact that we’re doing something old, in a way, is a very modern thing to do.

Your lyrics still carry a political undercurrent. Do you view Classics Of Love as a political band?
Um… I wouldn’t say we’re a political band. We’re basically just a bunch of idiots. The lyrics are definitely political. The issue is quite simple, which is money controls politics. That’s what it all boils down to. That’s what a lot of the songs are about. The control of wealth over politics has reached kind of a critical mass. It’s always been bad, but now it’s globally world threatening. I don’t believe that music is a means to an end; I don’t play music to try and change anyone’s mind. But the subject is so in-your-face right now that it’s just obvious material for songwriting, especially for punk music.

Why do you think that bands shy away from taking on those important sociopolitical causes?
My view is if you don’t feel it, then you shouldn’t do it. Songwriting, or any kind of writing, is really kind of about going with an internal compass that has nothing to do with the world at large. You gotta trust your instincts. If people don’t have instincts to write that stuff, that’s just the way it is. I do, because it’s what’s on my mind. But if my instinct was to write happy love songs, I would do that regardless of what was happening externally.

What is the endgame for Classics Of Love? What do you hope to get out of being in this band?
It’s kind of a means to an end. I just think about the next practice, the next show, the next record, and do it bit by bit. I don’t have any long-term projections. I’m not planning on playing punk music for that much longer; my voice isn’t super-strong. But while I still have a little gas in the tank, it’s fun to do and I love the music, so we’re having a go at it.

The band have been semi-active at best in terms of touring. Is that something you’d like to see increase this year, or are you comfortable where you are?
We’re all super-busy. We play shows selectively. If it seems like it’s gonna be a good show or a special show, we’ll take it. We’re probably gonna do a little bit more touring in support of the record; it kind of depends on what opportunities come up. If a band we really like offered us a supporting slot, it would be hard to pass up. There’s probably going to be less touring than some other bands, but we definitely will get out there and play shows.

Who would you want to support?
God… I would have to think about that. We generally get lumped in with pop-punk stuff, but I don’t know if that’s really who we’re best suited for, even though I like that music. It’s always nice to play with a band that already has a draw.

There seems to have been a distinct line drawn recently where you have a number of distinguished songwriters like Blake Schwarzenbach or J. Robbins who, instead of going back to the well of their old bands, they’re forming new bands and moving forward. But at the same time, you have plenty of people who are revisiting the ’80s and ’90s and reuniting their old bands. I’m sure you still get asked all the time about Operation Ivy; are you of the mindset that it could never be relived, or is that something you’re still open to?
Operation Ivy had kind of an unblemished record, as far as staying underground goes.  It’s not because we were super-super-uptight about anything; it’s because we were a garage band. We didn’t get big till after we broke up. It feels to me that it would be kind of a shame to take that very pure thing and subject it to booking agents, cuts at the door for merchandise and all that bullshit that goes along with being in a bigger band. While it’s tempting—I’m not exactly made of money; I’m doing okay, but… [Laughs.] Money is a nice thing, and I know a lot of people would enjoy it, so while it’s tempting, I think it’s a little more classy to leave it alone. That being said, I wouldn’t completely rule it out, but the short answer is no, there won’t be a reunion. It’s very unlikely there will be a reunion, because it would be in poor taste. I’m very happy that people are still interested in that music and that it still has an appeal to younger kids.

Are there certain bands you think have gotten back together and done it right?
Well, let’s see… I went and saw the Buzzcocks, and I was expecting a letdown, but they totally blew me away. They were amazing. They were so spot-on. I think it can be done. I don’t have anything against people doing it in general; it just doesn’t really feel right for me. I think it can be done tastefully.

Do you think there’d be a better chance of Common Rider getting back together since that was more of a conventional band, not a garage band?
In some ways I do, but on the other hand… Playing music at the lower echelon is kind of tough, because it costs money. I’m doing other things with my life; I don’t have a lot of time to invest two months and stop everything and practice [for a reunion]. Again, I wouldn’t rule it out, but probably not.

What do you foresee your career in music moving into after punk rock? What’s something you’d like to do that you haven’t done yet?
First of all, I don’t want to rule anything out. For all I know, Classics Of Love could play for another 10 years or whatever. Who knows? Every time I end up making a plan, it ends up changing anyway. But other stuff: I’ve been doing a country band that does sort of Johnny Cash by way of Leonard Cohen-type country. That’s been really fun. That’s something that’s a whole different approach to music. It’s much more contemplative; it’s quiet. There’s no possibility of a fight at one of shows, you know what I mean? [Laughs.] That’s part of it with the punk stuff. I love punk, but I’ve reached an age where I never really need to be in a room where there’s likely to be a fight again in my life. It’s so stupid. It gets old.

For a punk band, you wanna have people moving, you wanna have an aggressive, energetic response. But that doesn’t necessarily connote violence. People get it wrong because they don’t know any better. We’ve had lots of shows where people were going crazy and jumping all over each other and there wasn’t a hint of hostility or macho shit. I know that Ian [MacKaye] didn’t like physical dancing; he wasn’t into the pit. I understand why: He came from the ’80s era of hardcore, and he wanted to do something different. I thought it was kind of revolutionary that he did question the status quo of a bunch of dudes running around in a circle slamming into each other. But for me, playing in a punk band, the ideal situation is where people are energetic and a little bit physical, but it’s okay if you’re a girl, okay if you’re gay, okay if whatever. It’s not a macho thing; it’s a shared energy type of thing.

With all those qualifiers in mind, then, could you pinpoint over your career the best show you’ve ever played?
I’ve played a lot of good shows. [Classics Of Love] played some really incredible shows in England. We had a fantastic show in San Diego, probably one of the best Classics shows ever.

Op Ivy had a lot of great shows. Op Ivy actually played this show in Providence with Fugazi and Verbal Assault, which was amazing. Op Ivy played with the Zero Boys; that was pretty incredible. Not just because of the bands we were playing with but because the crowd was fantastic. I’ve had quite a few really good ones.

What are some newer bands you’re really into?
I like the neo-hardcore stuff. I’m already out-of-date. I heard the Richmond, Virginia, and North Carolina neo-hardcore stuff, then there was a scene around here with bands like Nightstick Justice and Socialside and other bands like that. That stuff is really cool. Truthfully, I listen to a lot of music; at this very moment, I’m not that up-to-date on great, new punk but one thing I have noticed is every time I do a little YouTube search, the number of good bands is astounding. Far from good punk music being dead, I think the opposite is true: It’s almost like there’s so much of it, it’s hard to keep track of. alt

Tags

interview asian man records operation ivy classics of love jesse michaels common rider big rig

Comments