Jesse Michaels opens up about the 30 year anniversary of Operation Ivy, the Gilman Street Days, his current relationship with Tim, depression, Trump, artwork...pretty much everything.
"I'm very thankful that anyone gives a shit. I know I hit the punk rock lottery."
- Jesse Michaels, Operation Ivy Singer/ Songwriter
We score the podcast
Ask anyone in the punk scene today who influenced them, and it's pretty much guaranteed that Operation Ivy is on the list. They have been cited by Green Day, Nofx, Less Than Jake, Streetlight Manifesto and many, many more current punk bands as being a major influence.
"Jesse Michaels. Operation Fucking Ivy." I scream to Jessica over the phone. "What?" she asks. "He agreed to do a podcast with us!" Neither of us can actually believe it.
I still didn't believe it. If you'd asked me two minutes before we were to call him, I'd have told you we had about a 20% chance of him actually doing it. But low and behold, Jesse Michaels was live with us on our podcast and ready to answer our questions. Our first mistake: asking him if any topic is off limits. He says he doesn't like to only talk about Operation Ivy. It takes the wind out of our sails a little bit, but okay, we have tons of other questions too. But in talking to him, it quickly became clear that Jesse was moved on from Op Ivy, and actually isn't much of a fan of reliving it.
Over the course of the next hour and a half, we talk with Jesse about his music, artwork, books and movies. He gets personal and opens up about depression. He introduces us to his hairless cat. He blows right by our Operation Ivy questions. But to think of Jesse Michaels as just a front man for punk is seriously selling him short.
Operation Ivy broke up when Jesse was 20 years old, and despite some other music projects and bands over the years, it's really other art mediums that he chose to live his life pursuing. Jesse is such a complex guy that we decided to accompany his podcast with this written piece about him.
Jessica, never one to beat around the bush (and that's one of my favorite things about her), asks Jesse, "Why us?" Since he doesn't do press very often, we are curious why he decided to open up to us. "I don't normally do interviews because it's so often the same questions over and over again...dudes, dudes, dudes, dudes, dudes, dudes...."
And so we celebrate the 30th anniversary of one of the most iconic punk bands of all time.
The rise and fall of Op Ivy
The iconic punk band, Operation Ivy, formed in the spring of 1987. Jesse Michaels on vocals, Tim Armstrong (known then as Lint) on guitar, Matt Freeman on bass and Dave Mello on drums, it was the typical story of teenage friends deciding to start a band. But no one could predict what happened next. Their reputation grew fast and furiously. Operation Ivy quickly became a staple at 924 Gilman Street, a DIY punk club in Berkeley, California. They played shows, wrote songs and suddenly had a cult following, without even having a record out.
In October of 1987, Operation Ivy recorded their first two songs as part of a compilation album to raise money for the Gilman Street Project. The following January, they signed with Lookout Records to record their debut EP, Hectic, which included six songs. They spent the rest of 1988 touring across the country, and were offered a full-length record deal by Lookout. That record, Energy, came out in March of 1989 but the band broke up two months later, never to reunite.
Operation Ivy's recognition is because of their profound and revolutionary music, but perhaps their legacy is because of their short stint as an operational band. Anytime something ends at the peak of its popularity (Kurt Cobain, Seinfeld), people wonder..why?? And, what could have been?? There are a lot of whys surrounding the break up of Operation Ivy. The guys were pretty quiet about it. Tim and Matt went on to form Rancid quickly after, but people have been asking for 30 years if there will be a reunion. Growing up a punk rocker, I've had the chance to see nearly all of my favorite bands: nofx, Bad Religion, Descendents...they are still around. Hell, even the Misfits got back together. But, Operation Ivy probably never will, and there is a felt longing in the punk community because of it.
Quotes from Jesse
30 Years of Operation Ivy:
JM: "I'm very grateful that anyone gives a shit, I know I hit the punk rock lottery, just having people give a fuck about my band. So I'm very thankful for that and Im very aware of that every single day."
MS: Some bands that were around when Operation Ivy was around, Nofx, Bad Religion, etc are still together, still touring and making new music. What do you attribute that to?
JM: There's just certain personalities, like Fat Mike and Graffin, those guys just love to do it forever, you can tell. More power to them. I think eventually it would drive me crazy. I don't know if I could live that way. I hate touring for one thing, but if they love it good for them. Some people just love that shit, they can do it forever.
MS: Have you always been a writer? The lyrics you wrote for Operation Ivy were written when you were 17, 18, 19 years old, so do you remember writing your entire life, in terms of poetry, songs etc?
JM: "Well, as a little kid I did some writing, my father was a writer, so being around him, he didn't teach me about writing directly, but just being around around it was accepted as something that was good. I tried writing as a very little kid, it didn't really work, but I discovered that I could write lyrics when I was around 12, that it was pretty natural for me, so from that point on I kind of wrote lyrics."
MS: Did you have a lot of musical influence growing up?
JM: "I loved music as a kid, and my father is a funny guy, he was very much an intellectual and an academic, so he didn't care much about rock n roll, he thought that punk mucis was kind of funny, so he would buy me things or get me things as a kid because he thought it was clever, creative and funny...he kind of supported me, he took me to my first show, which was the B-52's and from there I was super obsessive and I was crazy with it."
The Gilman Days
MS: Do you look back at the Gilman Days fondly?
JM: "Well, when I grew up, from about the time I was 16 to at least 30 or so, I was just a really, really unhappy person, so when I look back at those times it's mostly as like, oh my god I was so fucking unhappy and lost, I mean, that's just real. That's not to say I didn't have some fun times, but I was just so fucking miserable for a large part of my life. I'm definitely happier now probably than I ever have been."
JM: "It doesn't diminish how much I liked music and cared about the bands and my own band and all that stuff, it's just, my interest in all that stuff was kind of powered by being an angry kid. I think if I was a happy, well-adjusted kid, I probably wouldn't have been so into punk. Back then you had to go out and seek out and go through hardship to be part of (the scene)... people were going to give you shit, the shows were scary, so it was at little bit different and most of my friends, a lot of us came from questionable emotional lives, and it's probably still true.
After Op Ivy
MS: Is there anyone from the Gilman Street Days that you are still in touch with?
JM: "I do have some friends, not so much from the early Gilman days, but more like after I was in a band in my 20's, there were people that hung out around Gilman and the other clubs, there were a lot of other clubs we all went to, and I still see them. Not that often, you know we're grown up and I live in LA now, but I still see them from time to time. And the older you get the more you appreciate people you have history with, so now I make it a point to stay in touch with these people because I realize how valuable they are."
NOTE: We didn't ask, but Jesse said,
"Tim and I get along, but we are in different worlds."
MS: You've mentioned that you can't sing anymore, or that your voice is not in a place where you can't sing anymore, what does that mean?
JM: Well, if I start singing punk rock, it's going to last about ten minutes before it's totally blown out, I mean I might be able to get away with it through a whole set, but it's just not the same anymore. I mean, I don't like to perform at a sub-par level, so basically I can go for about ten minutes before it's blown out and then I'm just struggling the whole time. It's just not super fun. I've kind of moved beyond my music, I don't think it's always something people need to do for their entire lives, but even if I was still into it, I think it would require surgery or something. I would have to go to a doctor."
MS: What do you attribute that to? Does it have to do with singing at a young age? Or screaming at a young age?
JM: Probably a lot of screaming, a lot of smoking. I don't have any technique, I just blow it out.
MS: Your contribution to the Leftover Crack songs really great, I really like that.
JM: Thanks, yeah, I think that performance came out pretty good, but for that I was in the studio for 15 minutes and I couldn't have done it more."
Writer Fiction: "Whispering Bodies: A Roy Belkin Disaster"
JM: "I love literature and I would love to write more novels, but there's just no money in it. Unless you get picked up nay a production company and sell movie rights, you're basically working on something for a year for a couple thousand bucks, and I'm not superficial or materialistic about that kind of thing, but I'm not 18, so I have to figure out a way to bring dollars into my life, and writing novels is sort of very time-consuming and not a big, most of the time you don't make a lot of dough, so it's not very practical. That being said, if something happens and there was an opportunity to (write a follow up book), it would be fun to do it. I have the whole idea for the follow up, I have it all worked out."
MS: Have you ever thought about writing an autobiography?
JM: "I thought about it, but I don't know how much has happened in my life. So, there's the band stuff, which is like, whatever, we played a show, you know what I mean? I wasn't in Motley Crue, we were like really boring, earnest punk rockers. We played a show, we thought about the scene, and then there's a long period of doing nothing and then there's some art things... I haven't really had a very colorful life. It's been colorful in my mind and there's been a lot of drama in my emotional world, but it's not exactly very cinematic, I don't know if it would make a good autobiography. But maybe in a while more, when some more stuff happens."
"I've had an art practice since I was a little kid. Now I make paintings and sell them on the internet."
"A lot of the creative projects I'm doing are a labor of love. I paint in bursts. So like every month I'll paint for like a week." "when I was little kid, that was the first thing I got into, I would draw."
Films and Web Series
MS:Tell us about the movie you made last year.
JM: I made a movie, obviously it was a big crew, but if I had a title for everything I did on that fucking project, it would be like half the titles. It's done, it came out great, and we have submitted it to a bunch of festivals, we should hear back this month. If it doesn't get in to any, I'll put it out on YouTube. It's a revenge story, it has a little bit of crime, a sense of foreboding.
After I got out of school, in school I studied Literature...I knew I wanted to write for maybe television or movies, but because my background it punk, the only way I really know how to do anything is just make shit. Right now I'm doing a micro-budget web series, and it's about a detective that can travel between dimensions.
Thanks to Jesse for chatting with us. We hope there will be a part 2 with more "humping the couch" content. (inside joke) ;)