East Bay Punk Spotlight: Jesse Michaels, Murray Bowles & DIY Spots

Pairing with print issue #33 of New Noise Magazine is the story of East Bay Punk. With issue #33, you will receive a limited Flexi of “If There Was Ever A Time” by the East Bay supergroup Armstrongs, made up of Billie Joe (Green Day), Tim (Rancid), Joey (SWMRS), and Rey Armstrong. The song is featured in “Turn It Around: The Story of East Bay Punk.” The cover of the exclusive subscribers only magazine was done by Richie Bucher, who is famous for Green Day’s Dookie album cover. New Noise Magazine has more on Jesse Michaels, Murray Bowles and a guide to D.I.Y. spots within the East Bay.

Jesse Michaels

“Ain’t Nothin’ Wrong with Another Unity Song” | Interview by John Gentile

Preteen Jesse Michaels was not doing well. Shortly after he turned 12, his parents started to bounce him back and forth between his native Berkeley and Pittsburg to encourage him to shape up. “I was fucking up in school a lot,” Michaels says. “They were trying to figure out to do with me. I didn’t have anything against school. I wasn’t in that mental space—I didn’t have whatever it takes to kind of fit in. I had severe depression and anxiety, which can only be described as mental and emotional health issues. I still have them to this day. I was in my own little world, really.”

Of course, this led to clashes with his folks. Both of Michaels’ parents were academics: his mother had a PhD in Sociology and his father was respected writer. Michaels says, “My father was a very intense person. I never doubted that he loved me, and I miss him dearly, but there was a lot of conflict. It was very hard for him to understand that I didn’t do well in school. Being an academic, education was the highest value to him.”

Since he was not doing well in school, he wasn’t getting along with his parents, and he was extremely creative, it’s no surprise that Michaels fell into punk rock. His first exposure came via a MAD Magazine parody of punk in 1979. Not too long after that, his father bought him a book simply titled “Punk” from a Berkeley book store. “I probably read it 10,000 times,” he says. “I read every word over and over, and I was obsessed with it. That’s where I got the idea to be a singer for a band, long before I had any opportunity for it.”

“I liked the creative aspect of punk,” he continues. “I liked that it was an instinctive critique of society. It wasn’t an essay—it was a reaction to how stupid everything is. ‘We’re gonna be weird, because the world is boring.’”

Between his homes on opposite coasts, Michaels formed a number of short-lived metal and punk bands with other Bay Area notables including Dave Edwardson of Neurosis, author Aaron Cometbus, and Jeff Ott of Crimpshrine. “Around ‘85 or ‘86, a lot of the old bands broke up and a lot of the venues closed,” Michaels says. “At a certain point, things got so violent and ugly that the energy died. To me, things felt burnt.”

Just after that, a new scene began to flourish in Berkeley. Michaels already knew guitarist Tim Armstrong; they were both huge Crimpshrine fans and regularly saw each other at shows. Along with drummer Dave Mello and bassist Matt Freeman, they started the band that would become Operation Ivy.

east bay punk
operation ivy

It’s hard to find a more influential American punk band. Combining their love of the early English scene, New York’s CBGB set, L.A.’s sunset strip crew, and 2 Tone ska, they forged a new type of punk that would later be cited as the progenitor of third wave ska. With their jumpy yet hard rhythms, combustible energy, and—perhaps most importantly—Michaels’ otherworldly lyrics that were at once personal and political, Op Ivy set a standard that bands are still chasing to this day.

Across the span of a mere two years, the band played nearly 200 shows, including one of the earliest gigs at 924 Gilman. “The truth with Gilman is that myself and many other people were like, ‘This is great,’ and also, ‘This sucks!’” Michaels says. “There were so many rules. It kind of puts a veneer of respectability over everything—kind of like planned rebellion, if you will. There were control freaks. I had mixed feelings. I never thought it was the greatest place around. I never felt like it was ‘my place.’ But we did play there a lot. They had their shit together, unlike every other club that there ever was, ever.”

Op Ivy’s rise was relatively meteoric. Within their first year, they were regularly playing to 300 people, and by their second year, they were selling out small venues. But near the end of their brief 24 months of life, the band’s personalities were clashing constantly. “We were fighting all the time,” Michaels explains. “It was over stuff like, one person wants the song to go ‘Yeah yeah yeah!’ and the other wants the song to go ‘No no no!’ and it turns into a power struggle. Every band has had this problem.”

With few options left, the band imploded. “I had to stop doing it,” Michaels says. “If the house is on fire, you get out of the house. It might be like a divorce—you might be relieved that you’re out of the situation, but no one is excited or glad about that kind of feeling.”

east bay punk
jesse michaels

Following the band’s breakup, Michaels drifted away from music before returning with his bands Big Rig, Common Rider, and the hardcore-influenced Classics Of Love. He also continually revisited his first love, drawing, and recently collaborated with skateboard company Altamont to release a limited-edition t-shirt featuring his art. “Drawing is something that I’ve done since I was 3,” Michaels says. “It’s probably the closest form to my soul. It just gives me pure pleasure.”

“As for Operation Ivy, I don’t really look backwards too often,” he concludes. “But that doesn’t really matter. Your own assessment of your work is not that relevant. I’m very pleased that people are still finding meaning in those songs on their own terms.”

Photography Spotlight: Murray Bowles | Interview by Ryan Bray

Not many people can say they put a face to the East Bay’s storied punk scene, but Murray Bowles can.

Arguably the scene’s most important documentarian, Bowles has shot countless punk and metal bands in the East Bay and San Jose over the past 30-plus years. His photos from the then-nascent Gilman Street scene, which cropped up in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, captured Green Day, Rancid, Operation Ivy, and countless other bands on the ascent. He’s even been name-checked in song by NOFX.

“I started by taking pictures of nature and stuff like that,” Bowles says, recalling how he first picked up photography. “My grandfather taught me how to develop film.”

When a few friends turned him on to punk rock in the late ‘70s, he started checking out shows at Mabuhay Gardens in San Francisco and other spots in Oakland. His interest in the local punk scene led to work reviewing tapes and, later, taking photos for the San Jose fanzine, Ripper, something he considered “a natural extension” from going to shows. “I followed what Tim [Tonooka] from Ripper was doing,” he says. “In fact, I used the same camera he was using. I learned to move around and not take all your pictures from the same spot, how to hold the camera above my head and stuff like that.”

Shows were held anywhere and everywhere bands and promoters could find space, from halls and traditional venues to warehouses and basements. Bowles recalls shooting a Necros show in someone’s backyard, and notes that “one of the local kids from the scene ended up sitting on the drum set to hold it down.” On another night, Black Flag and the Circle Jerks each played on opposite floors of a two-story venue. “The next night, someone in Santa Cruz arranged for them to play in a rent-a-garage place, a storage space,” he adds. “That was one of the craziest shows I had seen back in that day.”

But Bowles mainly built his reputation as a photographer in Berkley. He attended the 1986 hearing at which Tim Yohannan received his permit to open up the Alternative Music Foundation, better known worldwide by its address, 924 Gilman Street. The nonprofit space put on punk shows that showcased local bands in a safe, all-ages environment. It also allowed patrons—who each paid a membership to go to shows at the venue—to essentially run the venue by committee.

For many years, Bowles could be found at Gilman, front and center, camera in hand, documenting everything as it happened. Many of his photos appeared in the pages of Yohannan’s legendary punk zine, Maximumrocknroll. Soon, he hopes to have his past work organized in the form of a book. “It was funny how all of that happened,” Bowles says, looking back on the scene’s rise to prominence. “Gilman had been set up where, ‘If you’re a small band, you play at Gilman.’ Op Ivy played their first show at Gilman, and by their second or third show, they were just huge. Green Day—it was the same thing, but way more so.”

Bowles still lives in San Jose and works by day as a computer programmer—but he still hasn’t put down his camera. These days, he sticks to covering local shows, some in clubs, others in backyards and houses. “There’s a house that does three or four shows every summer, mostly metal bands, but some punk bands and grindcore,” he says. “I’m actually seeing more grindcore, metal, and powerviolence shows these days. It’s what people are seeing and playing.”

The shift away from punk and toward metal isn’t the only thing that has changed since he first began shooting. Like many photographers, he’s long abandoned film and moved toward shooting digitally. His days of selling prints at shows for a quarter are behind him, but there are upsides to his new way of working. “The great thing is I’m taking way more pictures, so that’s fun,” he shares.

Your Guide to East Bay DIY
Check this list for some of the top spots in the area! | 
by Jim Kaz

  While S.F., L.A., and O.C. continue to get all the glory when it comes to California’s punk presence, the East Bay has also had a massive historical impact on the scene. Both Oakland and Berkeley have rich histories of counter-cultural activity and going against the status-quo, which epitomizes punk rock at its core, and East Bay bands like Fang, Operation Ivy, Green Day, The Phenomenauts, Rancid, and hordes of others have exemplified this in spades.

The impact of East Bay punk extends much further than just the music. DIY-ers of all stripes have opened businesses, provide services, and have furthered the punk ethos of doing it their way or no way at all—and it’s working. Here are a few of the East Bay’s top shops.

Rudy’s Can’t Fail Café

Named after one of the key tracks on The Clash’s London Calling, Rudy’s opened its doors in 2002 in Emeryville, just a few miles from both Oakland and Berkeley. Co-owned by Green Day’s Mike Dirnt, Rudy’s serves up classic diner fare with a creative twist and is known for its relaxed and welcoming atmosphere with subtle nods to punk culture—not to mention its killer coffee.

Besides its locally-sourced ingredients and unique takes on classic dishes—like the “Your Own Private Eyedaho” breakfast—Rudy’s is also known for its quirky décor. Customers can check out original artwork, vintage toys, band stickers, and more, all while dining in vintage-inspired booths and tables.

Visit Rudy’s at one of their two locations:

Emeryville:
4081 Hollis Street
Emeryville, CA 94608
(510) 594 1221

Oakland:
1805 Telegraph Avenue
Oakland, CA 94612
(510) 251 9400

1-2-3-4 Go! Records

For vinyl junkies, it truly is a great time to be alive. While L.A. still leads the pack in terms of new mom-and-pop record shops springing up, the East Bay is certainly no slouch. 1-2-3-4 Go! Records is one of its leading lights. Originally launched in Seattle in 2001, the company moved to Oakland in 2003 where it’s been headquartered ever since.

Stocking a wide selection of new, used, and rarities, this decently-sized shop is meticulously organized and super clean. They’ve got a wide selection spanning all punk subgenres and related styles, plus great prices that will make you swear off those pesky online retailers for good—as you should for vinyl anyway.

But 1-2-3-4 Go! is far more than a store. They’ve also got a label that releases punk goodies and the like, with albums by pop punk legends, Buzzcocks, Zero Boys, and others.

Check out the East Bay store at:

420 40th Street #5
Oakland, CA 94609
(510) 985-0325

Pirates Press

Located in Emeryville, record label and manufacturer Pirates Press have been doing their thing since the early 2000s. An amazing story in its own right, the company started and out as a manufacturer for other labels and artists. “I started Pirates Press after being frustrated working for another manufacturer,” founder Eric Mueller says. Being the scrappy, resourceful team that they are, the company started signing bands and releasing an incredible selection of albums and singles from both classic and contemporary bands like Rancid, Cock Sparrer, Interrupters, Victory, Slackers, and many others.

“The relationships that I had built with our customers and manufacturers were so strong that it naturally synched up under the Pirates Press banner in 2004. A year or so later, we launched Pirates Press Records,” Mueller says. One of the most obvious aspects that sets Pirates Press apart from other independent labels is the love and attention to detail that goes into their releases—from the deluxe LP covers to the svelte colored vinyl. “I thoroughly enjoy all the elements of my job, managing people all the way down to helping a band choose their colored vinyl selection,” Mueller adds.

Originally located in San Francisco, Mueller moved the business to the East Bay about a year ago. “While the East Bay has its gentrification problems, San Francisco in many ways has priced out so much of its ‘underground’ scenes,” he says, “and the spillover is being enjoyed and reveled in over here.” With a steadfast dedication to their art, the community, and the punk scene at large, Pirates Press have quickly become an East Bay Institution.

Broken Guitars

Owned by Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong and his Pinhead Gunpowder bandmate Bill Schneider, Broken Guitars first broke ground during the spring of 2015. The shop has made a name for itself with its specially curated collection of vintage, rare, and contemporary guitars and amps. Schneider also builds custom amplifiers, known as Dexter Amps and has been involved with Green Day in various facets for years. In fact, the store opened with just a few dozen instruments plucked from both his and Armstrong’s personal collections.

A stone’s throw from 1-2-3-4 Go!, the shop fits harmoniously within the neighborhood, making it a true destination for musicians of all stripes.

Swing by at:

423 40th St.
Oakland, CA 94609
(510) 250-9747

Nu-Tone Studios

Nestled further east in Pittsburg, California, Nu-Tone has been around for over 15 years. Owned by Willie Samuels and Chris Dugan, the studio has seen its share of up-and-coming bands and has worked with a virtual who’s who of punk labels including Bridge Nine Records, Coldfront Records, Fat Wreck Chords, Lookout Records, Nitro Records, Rise Records, Warner Bros., and more.

Artists who’ve recorded at the studio include Against Me!, Green Day, Iggy Pop, Pinhead Gunpowder, Machine Head, Samiam, The Phenomenauts, The Criminals, and others. Equipped with a state-of-the-art console and warm atmospherics, this little studio draws upon its rich history as it helps young artists forge new East Bay punk legacies.

Visit Nu-Tone:
100 Clark Ave
Pittsburg, CA 94565
(925) 784-2455

Unity Mart

Located in the heart of Oakland, Unity Mart is the brainchild of artist Jeffrey Cheung and friends. A Renaissance man in the true sense of the word, Cheung is a musician in the band Unity, a zine publisher, and the creator of the first queer skateboard company—his signature, hand-painted decks being a standout.

The shop sells art, ceramics, screen prints, shirts, knick-knacks, and more. A place of inclusion and diversity, the store reflects its owners’ passion for the community and the music and art that fuel it.

Shop Unity Mart:
644 40th St. #208
Oakland, CA 94609

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