Interview: Jesse Michaels talks new Classics of Love and more

It had been some time since we had heard the emotional aggression of Jesse Michael’s unmistakable voice, but 2020 brought an unexpected and welcomed dose of fond and familiar relief. On July 29th Michaels posted a bandcamp link to a brand new 5 song EP from Classics of Love.

Immediately noticeable is a much harder, faster, and more stripped-down approach than when we’d last heard from the band in 2012. This is with good reason, as the band consists of a whole new lineup of musicians. The update was a welcomed change as expressed by fans online, who’d missed the more old school sound of Michael’s vocal delivery.

Most often known or referenced for being the front man of Operation Ivy, following their breakup, Michaels continued making music in bands, Big Rig, and Common Rider. He is as humble as he is a recognizable name that thousands have thanked at some point in their life; whether for inspiration or simply improving a record collection.

Recently, Jesse was generous in answering some questions about newly created music with Classics of Love, and what’s made a blip on his radar. He also, graciously and shamelessly, opens up about mental health in our current state of reality.

NN: Since 2012, the music room of Jesse Michaels has been quiet. What have you been up to since then, and when did you start getting back to music?

JM: It has been 8 years since 2012. So, I have been up to a lot of things. Many of them are mundane and have nothing to do with artistic output. Around 2012 I think I released a film but I have a time disorder and can’t remember exactly what year it was. Since then I have done visual art, worked a job at a rehab, sold art online. I have crushing depression and mental illness So my life has no orderly productive flow and is often just about survival.

NN: I don’t think I knew some of those deeper details about depression. I don’t want to pry, but I am interested. The reason being, others likely may find a kinship in a very misunderstood reality.

JM: I do not go into heavy detail about my personal life in public, but essentially it is an illness that my entire family has. There are many, many videos on YouTube by motivational speakers and conservative philosophers who say it is a question of attitude, choices, and getting out of your own head.

They say that basically, if you are depressed you are just being weak and self-absorbed. I do understand that it appears that way and that, yes, sometimes that is the case.

But with serious depressive mental illness my experience is that it is an illness that eats the soul and turns a person into a fuckhead, and there is not that much you can do about it except get punches in when you can. Exercise, and so on. Fight as hard as you can every day and try to be of service; and that’s life. Life says, “Fuck you, depression,” eat it and fight.

NN: When you say a time-disorder, would it be okay to elaborate? How has it affected your life?

JM: I just mean I have difficulty putting an accurate chronological sequence to things in the past. Honestly, it mainly only affects me when I am asked to recount history. When did that happen? How long did I do that? I don’t fucking know.

Photo credit: martinblondeauphotos

NN: So, what ‘got the creative juices’ flowing to culminate in the new Classic of Love EP?

JM: My friend Sharif said, “You should come down to the practice pad and jam sometime and we can record a song.” This led to a fairly long series of events including starting a whole different project –which got canceled because of the pandemic– and then resolving to do the Hardcore stuff. 

This stuff was not originally going to be called “Classics of Love” but I couldn’t think of a name, and the guys in the old band Classics of Love, that I played with from 2008-2012, gave me their blessing to use that name.

NN: What was the music project you were working on (or was that Classics of Love 1.0) and what did it sound like; before resolving to the hardcore songs?

JM: It was an unnamed death rock project. We wrote four songs and intended to record them. Eventually, we may get back around to it. It was spooky punk kind of like TSOL or 45 Grave.

NN: If you don’t mind, can you surmise the long series of events that led to the current group?

JM: Long story short, we were going to do a death rock project. The virus hit and some of the dudes wanted to play it safe rather than jam in a small room. Sitting in a small room with people for hours on end is literally the riskiest thing you can do, besides licking doorknobs or something; so that was put on hold.

However, I found some people a few weeks later who didn’t give a shit. So, we did it. We started working on new music about three months ago (in April) but as I said, it’s a different group of people from the old band.

NN: When, where, and with who did you record?

JM: We practiced at a place called ABC studios in Los Angeles. It is me, Sharif Dumani, and Peter John Fontes. Sharif has a Tascam MS 16 in his practice pad and that’s what we used to record.                  

NN: There is a passion and rage on these songs, truly beautiful. What inspired the lyrics and do you have an affinity for one song over the others?

JM: I really appreciate your generous assessment. Thank you. I tried to take a different approach with the lyrics. Typically, I try to make lyrics that are somewhat poetic.

There are definitely a few poetic lines in these songs, but mostly I tried to go for an approach similar to the old hard-core bands I grew up listening to. Specifically, bands like The Fix, Negative Approach, The Necros, Minor Threat and so on; direct, honest, simply expressed feelings and very aggressive.

I do have a lot of rage inside because I think the world is fucking stupid. I think people on the left are just as stupid as people on the right, now, and most people are blind, dogmatic, deeply uncharitable frauds. And that very statement that I just made conveys the fact that I have a bit of judgment in my own heart.

But this music is not about trying to be a saint. It is about communicating totally-honestly, or as honestly as possible, and the hope is that through that directness it reaches something in the heart that is beyond language, that everybody can relate to; including people that don’t agree with what I think.

I think the most successful songs are the first one and the last one on the EP.          

NN: Who does what in the band? Is it a stew of ideas or does one bring more ingredients than others?

JM: I am the songwriter. Sharif and Peter contribute a lot, including writing parts, but I bring the songs to the table and kind of have a final veto.

I have found that for me, this is the best way to work because I’m really too opinionated to work with two or more people, with everybody second-guessing each other. I don’t think that art by committee usually works.

If I could actually play an instrument, I would be happy to serve a more complementary role, maybe a bass player. That would be a dream for me. But unfortunately, all I really have to bring to the table is caveman song writing, so that’s what I do.            

NN: Can we expect more from Classics of Love or are there any other musical ventures/releases in the works?

JM: My plan is to try and do a full-length record of material like this (the current EP).    

NN: (Not where, but) What kind of clinic were you working, and have you done that before?

JM: I was working at refuge recovery for a while. It was a Buddhist based rehab; good place. They are no longer operating but nice people, some of whom I still see. A few of the clients stayed clean and I still see them. They are an inspiration; good people.

NN: What was the last film about, and is there any way to see it?

JM: It is called 54321 and it is on YouTube. You may have to fuck around with search terms because oddly, there is another movie by the same name.

NN: Have you kept up with new writing, or perhaps new books or graphic novels?

I read mostly spiritual texts, most of them written before the 20th century. The old Russian Orthodox mystics and also old Sanskrit Adveita texts. Don’t get it twisted, I am not a scholar but I do dabble in that stuff. I did happen to chance across the work of John Michael Frank in comics. He appears to be what they call a “genius” or something close to it. Brilliant stuff.  

NN: On spiritual texts, do you have any personal favorites or most often suggested to others? What draws you to them, or what do you draw from them?

I believe in, and sometimes experience, a universal consciousness some call “God” and those texts help me to feel that presence. The Writings of Ramana Maharshi, and the orthodox Christian text called Unseen Warfare are two that I find helpful, but everybody truly has to find their own thing. Fritjoff Schuon is another one.

Most would find the Christian stuff too, “Chrisian,” but I thirst for that kind of absolute moral conviction even though I am not myself a Christian, and do not agree with every word. The thing that connects me to the inner life may be absolutely useless to somebody else.

NN: Has any new art landed on your radar? Have there been any records, novels, or films that surprised you or garnered more attention than anticipated?

JM: I thought The Favorite was a brilliant film. I loved Ex Machina, It Follows, and The Invitation. I have not seen anything more recent that was as good as those movies.

The art of Danny Fox. He is a painter whose talent level is equivalent to somebody like Basquiat or Mattisse.

All the YouTube videos of “Too Wet Crew” and “Poundhouse.” Doug Lussenhop is the guy behind those. I love all that weird absurdist shit; Tim and Eric, Eric Andre. I think @wint is a Twitter genius.

I wish I was a more sophisticated consumer of art and literature but a lot of the times I’m just trying to make it through the day.         

NN: What do you enjoy most about the work of John Michael Frank?

JM: John Michael frank is insightful about the human condition for sensitive types. It can all be read on his Instagram page which has many short comic vignettes. His book, Dark Garbage, is brilliant; but I have not finished it yet to be honest. He also has others which I have not read.

NN: Are you working on any new video projects?

JM: I have a lot of ideas but no funding. I may try and go back to doing phone movies. I write scripts in my head. They are completely idiotic, funny to me, not sure if they would be to anybody else.    

NN: How have the unfolding events of the last 6 months affecting you and your mindset?

JM: I find much of what is happening in the world extremely frustrating and depressing. I do not care to elaborate because public political speech is no longer safe.

If you want to know my opinion, get the book The True Believer, by Eric Hoffer, and look at today’s political groups on both sides, and see if anything sounds familiar. The True Believer is not an easy text, but pretty much sums it up. Animal Farm, by Orwell, is a little easier and does the same.

NN: Did you happen to see the, obviously, prank flyer during Punk Rock Bowling 2018, regarding a club show with a reuniting Operation Ivy?

JM: With respect, I don’t care. I say that not trying to be a dick, but joke-reshuffling the deck with OPIVY stuff is not on my radar. However, I wasn’t like bummed or anything.

If you are interested in the possibilities of an OPIVY reunion, it is not absolutely out of the question, but not in the works; especially given the current state if live music for the foreseeable future. If it ever were to happen, a lot of things would kind of have to fall into place and I am not even sure if it’s really possible.

NN: What are your feelings regarding the lasting relevance of OPIV and the lasting song for-song importance of Energy?

JM: I am very grateful for the lasting relevance of that music. I respect and appreciate anybody who gets something out of it. I feel lucky to have participated in something that has real meaning to a lot of people. The inner spirit of the songs Is 100% alive in me even though in some ways I have changed superficially. In other ways I am exactly the same as I have been since I was like six or something. —

As for a physical release of the new Classic of Love EP, Michael’s has stated, “Yes, later this year, probably on Asian Man.” And so we wait.

Another upcoming time capsule in the works, 1-2-3-4 Go Records are re-issuing the Big Rig “Expansive Heart” 7″ original on Lookout! Records. Big Rig was a very short-lived project from Jesse Michaels (Operation Ivy, Common Rider, Classics of Love), Doug Sangalang (Screw 32, Limp, One Time Angels), Kevin Cross (The Nerve Agents, Pitch Black), Jeremy Goody (Pitch Black) and Brandon Riggen. This was Jesse’s first recorded project post Operation Ivy. In 1993, they played a single show and left behind a demo and this EP. There will be 1000 total copies housed in a faithful reproduction of the original 8 panel booklet/sleeve, 800 copies are available on WHITE vinyl, and 200 on “Highway Strip” color vinyl.

If that isn’t enough Jesse Michaels, Aggronautix released a limited run of 500 throbblehead figures.

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