Sean Boggs sent me this wonderful interview he did with the man himself, Jesse Michaels of Common Rider, and some other band you might have heard of called Operation Ivy. It's a great interview; covering everything from music to movies to sports.
(Photos by Leah Boeringa and Sean Boggs)
A normal guy, a little over six feet tall, walked by me wearing a light brown jacket. He was unloading some equipment out of the back of a white van. His bleached hair was starting to grow out and his natural brown hair was beginning to show.
Then he turned around.
It was Jesse Michaels, you know, that singer guy from Op Ivy? He's not dead after all.
You remember Operation Ivy, don't ya? Jesse sang, two of those guys from that band Rancid played the guitar and bass. Remember now? They are the so- called, creators of ska/punk.
Then they broke up.
What do you say to a man who has inspired your entire teenage life yet you were only in 3rd grade when the inspiration began?
I said hello. Then introduced myself. After catching his breath and gathering his thoughts, he realized that we had an interview scheduled with each other.
Jesse was here, at the Crystal Ballroom in Portland, Oregon as part of the Plea for Peace tour. His band, Common Rider, was scheduled to perform. Common Rider consists of Jesse on the mic and Mass Giorgini and Dan Lumley holding down the rhythm. You may have heard of those two guys, they were both in Screeching Weasel and Squirtgun to name a few bands.
Common Rider has released two albums so far, the first, released on Lookout Records, titled, "Last Wave Rockers," features Jesse and a few love songs. Very ska, very reggae, very good.
Their second album, released this past September on Hopeless Records, "This is Unity Music," features a more passionate Jesse. The love songs are gone, but in their place are better production values, more creative song structures and plenty of heart. This is Common Rider's first tour and Jesse's first tour since 1989 with Op Ivy.
After he finished unloading his equipment, Jesse, my photographer Leah, and I headed downstairs to a small pub.
Well, where else do I begin?
We missed you Jesse, welcome back.
Sean - So, Jesse, how does it feel to finally be on tour again?
Jesse Michaels- It feels good. It varies from day to day, but, overall, the feeling is good. I think everybody in the band is enjoying it.
S - But you're havin' fun though, right?
JM - Yeah, yeah. I am just a little exhausted because I just got out of the car and I haven't quite decompressed yet. In general, it's hard work, but, yeah, it is a lot of fun.
S - Can you remember the last time that you were in Oregon?
JM - Yeah. Hey, I just want a.is this a brewpub or something?
Waiter - It is.
JM - Great, can you recommend a strong beer that is not as stout?
Waiter - Uh, the IPA is very good.
JM - I'll take the IPA. I'll take a pint of that. Okay, I am sorry.
S - It's cool. So, when was the last time that you were in Oregon?
JM - About six months ago with a friend. Why were we out here? Oh, we were just doing a road trip or something, just hanging out, went to a few shows. We have a lot of friends out here. Everybody from Berkeley has friends out here because over the last seven years there has been this massive immigration to Oregon because it's cheaper and yet still relatively hip, I think that is the appeal of it.
Leah - Would you ever consider moving up here?
JM - I would, except for the fact that there is too much rain for me - I get slightly depressed.
S - It was actually raining here for the last few days, you picked a good one. It is almost 60 degrees right now - it's actually hot.
JM - Wow. Cool. Well, it is almost always raining here, I guess I caught a window.
S - What do you think of Portland other than the rain? Ever walked around town?
JM - Yeah, I like Portland, it is very industrial. But it has its problems, there is a lot of alcoholism in Portland. Cool town though, I have always liked it up here.
S - What do you think that you bring to the Suicide Prevention table as part of this year's Plea for Peace tour?
JM - Well, I think, if anything, we bring to this particular tour, continuity from the previous tours. Plea for Peace tours, for a long time, were very, very - they sort of grew out of the whole ska/punk thing, because of Asian Man Records involvement. Now, we don't really stick to that genre, but we have roots in it. Just because of, well, I have been linked with that genre for obvious reasons, and so, in a way, we are brining the spirit of the past tours, though we weren't on them.
S - What do you want to walk away feeling after this tour is over with?
JM - We are happy to be playing and we love to rock out and stuff, but when you look back at things, you usually think in terms of the more altruistic element of what you have done. I hope that, when we are done with this, we can say that we played good music, we had a good time, but also, we did something that was an act of service to people, to our fans, or the kids who come to the shows. Something that actually could have enriched lives, if that doesn't sound too high-handed.
S - What is next for Common Rider?
JM - Well, first we will probably take a break. I am gonna try to write more stuff. We have to make a decision about what we are going to do next. We haven't really figured it out, so far this band - oh, this beer is really strong, so far this band - tastes like a .7 or a 7 or something. Whew.
This band primarily moves from one project to the next. Um, we will plan something; we'll do it, and then decide the next thing after that. And we are still in the process of doing things. Although, we have tentative plans to do very short tours of the UK and Japan, with Plea for Peace.
S - Oh, you are gonna take the show overseas?
JM - Yeah, but it is gonna be much smaller, like we would be headlining, if that is imaginable. But, with a couple local bands from wherever we went. I think that is correct, but I am not sure. That is what we are hoping to do.
L - Do you guys get any response from those people overseas?
JM - Who knows? People may be completely indifferent or there could - I would imagine it would be much like here, where you'll get 80 to a 100 kids who are really into it, a handful more that catch on and a certain percentage who are like, huh, what the fuck is this?
S - How do you take criticism?
JM - (Long pause) It depends. I haven't encountered too much of it, but, when I do, I take it well. I don't invite it. I am not the kind of person who enjoys and seeks out criticism. I am pretty secure in my mission in life and with what I am doing, and I generally don't cater too much to other people's feelings, although I pay attention to them. I do okay with it.
S - 1989 - what music did you listen to back then?
JM - Well, '89 I can remember very well because that was a period in my life when I was the most excited about music. Public Enemy was huge, Stiff Little Fingers, The Buzzcocks, The Clash of course, local East Bay punk bands like Crimpshine, Neurosis, the early stuff, a lot of hip-hop, Boogie Down Productions, and a lot of dancehall type reggae, which was in its first wave back then, stuff like Yellowman.
S - Ever get into the whole grunge scene?
JM - You know, when Nirvana came out, I have to admit, sort of a guilty pleasure, I was just as blown away by them as everybody else. So I was really into them. Never really found any of the other bands interesting. I thought Nirvana was a really, really exceptional band. From the very first time I heard them, I was pretty blown away. I didn't think it was much more than a heavy rock band, I didn't think it was anything particularly new, but I though they totally rocked from the beginning.
S - Where were you on September 11th?
JM - September 11th, I was in a recording studio in Lafayette, Indiana, we were working on the new Common Rider album, and actually Mass called me that morning and told me what was going on. And, he was all worked up about it, he's like, 'we're under attack,' so, totally freaked me out.
But, one interesting point about that, was the day before we had recorded the song Cool This Madness Down for the record and in the song their was this entire verse that had an extended metaphor about someone working on a large tower, which sorta represented, you know, a consumerist society, and every night the person would get done building the tower it would crumble to the ground. And I am sure you remember the big hoopla after that happened, everybody was running around changing and taking songs off records and stuff and I did the same thing. I took that verse out of the song cuz I didn't want that verse to be misconstrued as a reference to September 11th.
Just kind of a weird, interesting story, it's like a total coincidence.
L - Did you take it out entirely or just change the words?
JM - Well, I changed it. I changed the words.
S - Did that day inspire any other songs that weren't recorded yet?
JM - You know, part of my feeling about that event, I don't mean to downplay it, is that this is the kind of thing most people in the world live with every day. So, when it happened here, I don't consider myself a highly political person, and I have over the years, had enough of a political consciousness to know that this is the reality that most people live with all of the time. So, when it happened here, I was like, 'okay, this is a terrible, terrible thing,' but it's not something that is out of the blue. It is not something that is so unpredictable, or so weird. So, in a way, it had an impact on me, but it didn't change my view a hundred percent, because I have always been sort of aware of this kind of thing going on anyway.
S - Big subject change: I hear you love movies.
JM - I do, I love movies.
S - Have you seen any movies recently that have been amazing?
JM - Ah, yes, this is a good question; I like to talk about movies. A recent movie that I have seen that was good was this amazing movie, people should try to see this, its called, the Believer, and the Believer is about a Hasidic Jewish guy who becomes a Nazi skinhead. It sounds crazy, and it is crazy, but its really, really smart. The guy is out of his mind. It is just about his life and the cool thing about this movie is they never really explain why he is doing it, it's just about this incredibly conflicted person.
That was really good. What else have I seen? You know, I love movies, but most of the ones that I see I don't think are that good. Its always tough sorting them out.
S - What are some terrible movies then?
JM - I hated Shallow Grave, that movie made me angry. And I hated Happiness. I generally hate movies that use extreme violence or gratuitous shock value in place of having a heart. For example: movies that combine extremely sadistic violence with humor I find offensive.
L - You're not a fan of Tarantino then?
JM - Yeah, like, okay, my take on him, these are dangerous questions, I'll sit here and run my mouth.
L - Good.
S - That is the point.
JM -.my take on that guy is he is so smart and he is so good that he is going to make good movies no matter what. However, that element of his movies where he combines humor and extreme sadism I think is gimmicky and cheap, and I hate that element of his movies. But, anyone who could watch Pulp Fiction and say that it doesn't haven anything good about it is just crazy. I mean, it's just so smart and has so many cool homage's to things that people who care about movies like, that you can't entirely hate it.
S - In a previous interview, you stated that your mother liked Last Wave Rockers, has she always been this supportive?
JM - Yeah, well, she's my Mom, she likes everything. So far anyway. She gets all the records, and, you know, we don't give them to her for free, she has to pay for them just like everyone else doeS - just kidding. (laughing.) Make sure you put in there 'I'm kidding,' it sounds really mean.
S - Does she ever comment about you days back in Op Ivy?
JM - Not really. You know, Op Ivy wasn't big when it was around, so the whole phenomenon has happened afterwards. Both my parents are involved with academics, so, their main comment has been, oh, this or that student has come up to them and they told the student that they were related to me, and the student freaks out. Their main exposure has been on that level. And they think it's funny, just like I do.
S - Did you keep any souvenirs along the way?
JM - I didn't, I have a, you know how some people obsessively collect things, I obsessively get rid of things. So, I don't have that much old Op Ivy stuff.
S - So do you regret anything then?
JM - No, no regrets. I never regret getting rid of things.
S - Do you have any siblings or ever been married?
JM - Yeah, I have a brother and a sister, a younger sister who is named Louisa and an older brother named Ethan.
S - What is the most extravagant item in your house?
JM - I live very modestly, I'm almost monk-like in some ways. I mean, I don't have that much stuff. The most extravagant item in my house might be my guitar because I do have a guitar that was custom made for me.
S - The GPC?
JM - Yeah, so I would say my guitar and maybe my computer, but my most people's standards, that is not very extravagant.
S - Favorite foods?
JM - I'm not a vegetarian, and I like filet minion which is sort of a guilty pleasure because I have vegetarian leanings. I eat that once in a while, but generally speaking I like to eat vegetarian things. I really like pasta. I really like bread with olive oil and garlic and I like salads.
S - Are you a sports fan?
JM - I am really into basketball.
S - Do you like the Lakers, because they are our enemies up here in Portland?
JM - No, I can't stand the fucking Lakers. I hate the Lakers. Hate them. And I hate Phil Jackson. I think that they would have won regardless, but it bothers me the calls they get sometimes. Any team that Phil Jackson is coaching gets crazy calls all night long.
S - What teams do you like?
JM - I like Detroit because of Ben Wallace. I really like, uh, for some reason I can't remember, I am totally brain farting, uh, the team that Jason Kidd plays for.
S - The Nets.
JM - .yeah, them, because Jason is an old Berkeley boy, you know, we love that guy. Oh, I like Sacramento a lot - Bibby. Those guys are great.
S - You haven't been following the baseball playoffs?
JM - No, I am not a big baseball fan. I mean, I respect it, it's kind of the American sport, and I see the beauty and the science of it, but I have just never taken the time to get into it.
S - There is a lyric in Conscious Burning where you say, 'When I step down they'll retire my mic forever, hang it next to jersey 23 at the United Center.' Cannot help but wonder if you are comparing yourself to Michael Jordan?
JM - Well, (laughs) well, this wasn't something that I normally do in a lyric, but the song was supposed to be like a rap or a dancehall reggae battle motif, so I certainly wasn't literally comparing myself to him.
S - What are your favorite songs from both Op Ivy and Common Rider?
JM - My favorite songs from Op Ivy are probably Sound System, Take Warning, the Crowd, pretty much the hits. And from Common Rider I really like Castaways and I really like, what is that called, Midnight Passenger off the new one.
S - Are both of those on the set list tonight?
JM - Yes.
S - Good. I love Midnight Passenger.
JM - Right on.
S - Are there any songs that you have recorded that you aren't happy with?
JM - (Laughing) Yeah, I ton of them. Actually, I never listen to our shit, most of it I find hard to listen to, even the ones I like. So there is a lot of stuff that I am not a big fan of, but at the same time I don't want to talk a shit about it because I know other people like it, which I am grateful for.
S - Okay, well, we are both 19, which is the same age you were in Op Ivy, so do you have any words of wisdom for us so that we can make it to our thirties?
JM - Yes, yes, the main thing for 19-year-olds out there to remember is that the early twenties through the mid-twenties are a period of incredible mental anguish so you have to remember that it is temporary and it goes away. And as long as you get through it, you are on the winning side.
S - How did the deaths of both Joey and Dee Dee affect you?
JM - Well, I was very sad, I wouldn't say very sad, I didn't know them, but I certainly felt sad. I think one thing that is sort of sad about the Ramones is that if you think about the millions and millions of dollars that have been made in punk rock in the last fifteen years and you think about the fact that they basically invented it, especially pop-type punk. I mean, they were really the inventors, and I think that they never quite got their due. Although they are a respected band and in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, so, it just made me realize that, wow, I hope at some point those guys get what has been coming to them all along, the surviving members.
S - You brought up the Rock and Roll hall of Fame, do you think that Op Ivy will ever be considered?
JM - I don't think so, you know, as big as Op Ivy was and as lucky as we were, there is still a massive discrepancy between what gets acknowledged in the mainstream and what is acknowledged by fans. You really have to be plugged into the machine, to a certain extent, and if this sounds bitter, it's not, I am nothing but grateful for everything that has happened with Op Ivy. But it's true that unless you are sort of plugged into the industry slash media slash corporate machine type of aspect of music, in some ways, you go unrecognized.
S - If you had to walk across the street right now to that record store and buy two CD's, which two would you buy?
JM - Oh, wow, that is a tough one. I might check out that new Queens of the Stone Age, cuz everybody is talking about them.
S - They are playing at the Crystal tomorrow I think.
JM - Yeah, they are following us by a couple of days. At a couple of the shows our guys have gone over and seen them. I haven't checked them out. So, Queens of the Stone Age is one that I have been meaning to get and maybe a Creation record, I have been wanting to listen to Creation lately.
S - Is there anything else that you would like to say?
JM - Just thanks to all of the people who checked us out and come to the shows.
S - We are done.
JM - Cool, that was a great interview. You have really original questions.
S - Oh, I have read most of your interviews and the interviewer always asks the same five damn questions: What have you been up to? Do you talk to Tim? And it is like, well, I know the answers, why do I want to ask them?
JM - Yeah, I answer those questions about four times a night. That and the reunion question too. 'Are you gonna do a reunion tour?'
S - Is Tim here?
L - Can I have his phone number?
JM - (Laughing real hard) Where's Tim?