How are you doing? How does it feel to be alive and on tour in 2009?
It feels goodÖand bad. Up and down. Which is pretty much how it always feels.
So youíre playing a little mini Midwest tour, and then heading to Europe on the Plea for Peace tour?
What weíre doing is playing five showsóChicago, Minneapolis, Springfield, Elgin, and one other, and then weíre going to the UK. We basically had two trips planned, and they ended up merging together.
Is it weird at all to be on a touróno less have a charitable foundationónamed after a song you sang 20 years ago? [Operation Ivyís ďPlea for PeaceĒ]
Well, not exactly. For one thing, it wasnít one of our more well known songs. It came out a long time after we broke up. And also, Mike [Park] has really made it his own thing, so I donít even think of that association very much.
Have you ever toured without an album to support?
Yeah, Op Ivy did. Op Ivy toured without an album to support. We had a 7-inch at the time.
Do you have the material to fill a whole show now?
We have 14 songs now, so itís a pretty strong setlist. And then we have an EP that weíre selling [only] at our shows. [street date is June 23rd]
Do you do any of your solo songs on tour with Classics of Love?
Many of the solo songs ended up being Classics of Love songs, so yes and no. I do those songs, but I play them with a full band now so itís a little bit different.
Speaking of your solo stuff, you did some acoustic shows with Jeff Ott last fall. How did the idea for those come about?
Someone approached me to do some shows, and it took me awhile to learn how to play and sing, because I didnít really know how to do both at the same time. And Jeff got on board, and then Kevin [Seconds] got on board. And it just worked out really well. I was happy to play with Jeff, I hadnít seen him in years. I mean, we used to be friends, we used to run the streets of Berkeley and take drugs and stuff. And now weíre both older and weíre both a lot more healthy and normal, although still probably pretty crazy. It just worked out, it was a nice time. And it was great to play with Kevin too, heís a great guy.
Do you stay in touch with other veteran East Bay punks and old bandmates, like Tim Armstrong [formerly of Operation Ivy], Aaron Cometbus [in S.A.G.], or even Billie Joe Armstrong [who played on Common Riderís Thief in a Sleeping Town]? Are you still close with any of them?
Well Billie Joe is in a whole different world. Once youíre a superstar, youíre almost like in a different universe, so heís not easy to stay in touch with, though Iím always happy to see him every time I bump into him. Aaron actually lives in New York, though we do stay in touch when we can. And the Op Ivy guys I donít get to see very much just because we have separate lives, but Iím always happy to see them when I do.
One thing Iíve been curious aboutówe live in this information age of instant accessibility to almost everythingóyet as far as I know, there isnít really any S.A.G. [an early band consisting of Jesse Michaels, Aaron Cometbus, and Jeff Ott circa age 12] material floating around out there. How is this? Do the recordings still exist?
Well, when me and Aaron were 12, we did some songs on a tape recorder, and thatís what that was. It wasnít a real band, and it was never put out except on really obscure tapes. Aaron is an archivist, and Iím sure heís got that stuff buried somewhere, but who knows where. I donít think anyone [else] has it, basically. And itís recorded on a tape recorder, two kids in a bedroom, so you can imagine what itís like. Itís not gonna be number one with a bullet on the billboard charts or anything.
One thing that did get re-released two years ago was Energy/Hectic/Turn it Around on Hellcat. It had gone out of print on Lookout! but what was the process involved in re-releasing it?
Lookout! more or less folded, they were having problems, and so we decided to move it somewhere a little bit more solid. Itís a pretty popular record, and we wanted it to have a more solid situation. Lookout! was having a lot of problems, and Op Ivy, since weíve broken up we just kind of want to let it be, let it do its own thing. Itís great that people still love the music but itís not like we want to be taking trips down memory lane, so we just never really dealt with it. And then at some point things got so crazy, itís like ďWe have to move this,Ē because people were jumping off Lookout! and it looked if we didnít do something smart, we could end up doing something stupid. So then we decided to move it. And we did the work, had the meetings, and got it somewhere where we felt like it would be a good place for it.
Since many of the solo songs became Classics of Love songs, did you do the solo shows and tour with the idea of getting back into playing live music, or were they entirely separate occurrences?
I prefer playing in a band to solo stuff, I donít really like playing solo stuff. But I will if itís the only way to play music. I didnít have a band of people to play with, but because of the process of the solo shows, I ended up meeting people. I got in better touch with Mike Park, and he really helped me set up the band.
What can you tell us about the band and the EP?
I think itís a pretty universal punk rock sound. What Iíve experienced after many years of going to shows and playing shows, thereís a certain electricity that happens when some bands play. It doesnít so much matter what style theyíre playing, but you can feel it, and itís raw and itís powerful, and itís great. In other words, you can go to a Black Flag show or Ramones show or Stiff Little Fingers show, and you would feel this vibe. So what weíre trying to do, to put it very simply, is play really good punk rock music with high energy. Thatís the main thing. To try and capture that electricity thatís always been around and put it out there. People say it has a very East Bay sound, Iím not exactly sure what that means, but a lot of mid-tempo stuff. Pretty strong melodies, but without being too pop--weíre not trying to be a pop-punk. But we do like hooks and big choruses. My favorite bands historically have been the Clash, Stiff Little Fingers, Social Unrest from the Bay Area, the Adverts, Buzzcocks, the MisfitsÖso all those things are in there but thereís a lot more. Thereís something new happening there that doesnít have a name yet.
How did your friendship with Mike Park develop?
I met Mike in Florida at some ska show that he was involved with, Iím not sure if it was the Plea for Peace tour or not, but he was there. It was a Florida ska band, and I think Mustard Plug played, the Toasters played, Buck-O-Nine, anyway, thatís irrelevant. Anyway, I met him, heís a great guy, we hit it off. Then later on when I was doing Common Rider, we ended up being on the Plea for Peace tour and he was always around, and we just developed a friendship in that way.
Not that I necessarily want to have a political conversationómost people who are familiar with your music and work with PunkVoter should know a little bit about your ideasóbut thereís one line in particular from Common Riderís ďFirewallĒ I wanted to ask you about that says ďThis creature of appetite is bound to devour itself one day.Ē Are we at that point already? Banks are collapsing, people are overspent and in debt, is this what you had in mind or are you more optimistic about the current situation?
Well, Iím not optimistic or pessimistic. I just deal with each thing as it comes. The ďcreature of appetiteĒ line, not to be too analytical about it, itís about the way people in general live based on their appetites and desires. For example, ďI want to be rich,Ē ďI want to have kids,Ē ďI want this,Ē ďI want that,Ē itís part of the human condition, Iím not saying Iím any different. If you look at society, that overall pattern of billions of individuals living that way creates these monstrosities like corporations and wars and so on. And to me, if there is no consciousness change in human beings, eventually it will have to destroy itself because itís a destructive entity. Human beingsóthey way they live nowóare a destructive entity, itís not even a matter of argument, you can just look at the world. So it was a statement about that, but it wasnít really a political statement, it was just an observation, kind of a common-sense observation.
You studied Buddhism for a period in the 90s, is spirituality something that youíve taken with you from that experience, or was it more of an experiment or trial that has since ended? Is it something thatís still affecting you?
Yeah, it definitely is. My life has a spiritual basis. Thatís not to say that anyone else should do what I do or think what I think. I think you can pretty much dispense a religion and still be on the right track. I just think thereís more to life than what we see in the daily world, and Iíve experienced it. And itís really very simple. Iíve noticed, and Iím not a Saint by any means, but Iíve noticed that when I manage to decrease my habitual self-centeredness, Iím happier and better, and people like me more. Because Iím expressing authentic personality rather than a false face. Thatís the way I try and live and the way I try and do that and is how I treat you. I try and treat people around me well, and I try and do things that are motivated by the aspirations to do the right thing and be conscious of that. So if thatís spiritual, then yes I still do have those values. Again, Iím not perfect, I have the same normal human appetite and ego desires just like everyone else, and I donít strive to be perfect, I just strive to have an overall sense of pointing myself in the right direction in terms of doing the right thing.
What was the last album you heard that really blew you away, that really knocked your socks off?
Probably the Observers record called ďSo Whatís Left Now,Ē it blew my mind when I heard it. Thereís lots of records Iíve liked, I like the new High on Fire recordÖ but that [Observers] one really blew my mind. I heard a song from the new Dillinger Four record that really blew my mind, really fucking good song.
Good thing to be saying a the Triple Rock!
Whatís something thatís on your mind a lot?
I think a lot of people wonder how to just live. Because life is confusing and difficult and no one likes to talk about it and I donít blame them. And since Iím a little bit older than most people who are involved with this scene--I donít exactly have a lot of advice-- but I will say that if you experience a lot of confusion, depression and anxiety, drug problems, anything like that, youíre not alone. Things arenít usually as bad as they seem, and things can get better if you point yourself in the right direction. And I donít mean to be Mr. Posi-core, but thatís something that when I was in my 20ís, if I had heard someone a little bit older say that I would have found it encouraging. And being a little bit olderóIím 40 nowóIíve found that itís true. If you try and do the right thing, things get better. It takes time, but thatís my message.
Is there anything I didnít cover youíd like to add?
Hereís something that comes to mind: I think that bands should spend less time getting all their performances perfect on their records. Itís better to sound like a real band than to have everything stapled to a grid, and I think the aesthetic of making everything sound totally perfect has hurt music. And I think itís more of a product of the music industry than what people actually want to hear.