June 2017


The Always Inspiring
Jesse Michaels
Interview By: Shawn Stevenson

Jesse Michaels is known for his band Operation Ivy. But, his work has not been restricted to performing exclusively with them. He's been in other bands, written books, made films, and most recently has collaborated with Altamont Apparel, designing and illustrating a line of shirts for them. In addition to that project, he has a new web series on the way titled "The Corridors" which is currently in the editing process. He doesn't seem too interested in the past, as he is motivated by his current projects and what lies ahead in the future. You can check out his designs for Altamont @ altamontapparel.com. In the meantime, here's a quick Punk Globe chat with the man himself.

Thanks to Ginger Coyote and Chad Romiti for setting up the interview.

Punk Globe: You’ve been around for quite a while. Obviously, you did Operation Ivy and many other things since then. Your past is well documented where it counts, certainly. What are you doing right now? You have a collaboration with Altamont Apparel. What is going on with that?

Jesse: I recently did a clothing collaboration with Altamont, yes. Basically I created a body of illustration and we cobbled together some shirt designs from that material. I am also working on a web series, I completed a short film last year and I am doing paintings. So I have a few irons in the fire for sure.

Punk Globe: What kind of stuff are you designing for them? I think I read something about a Mod vs. Rocker themed t-shirt, what else are you designing for them?

Jesse: Yes, the shirt is a Mod vs Rocker thing. The theme was suggested and I ran with it. I like all that stuff. The movie Quadrophenia was big for me as a kid although I was never a mod myself. But it's fun to draw and I am into youth cults in general. This line of shirts is all I have planned to do with Altamont right now.

Punk Globe: What lead you to start contributing artistically to the skateboard scene? How long have you been involved with that?

Jesse: I was a skater as a young kid. In the 80's skating was much smaller and very connected to punk and hardcore music. Now it is much bigger and sort of all over the place but that was my initial tie-in to skateboarding. I loved it but I wasn't super good at it, just OK. But me and all my friends were around when the first Bones Brigade video came out where Lance Mountain does an acid drop off a roof. I stopped skating a long time ago but I still watch skate porn on youtube some times.

Punk Globe: Are you familiar with Mike Vallely and his skate apparel? He’s also thriving with his own line of stuff.

Jesse: I am familiar with his famous fight tape and I know he is an old school legend. That's very cool that he is doing clothing. I would like to do more actually, it's pretty fun. I can't claim to be a huge part of the skating world but I can claim to have lived / breathed / eaten skateboarding for a few years of my life.

Punk Globe: Do you have any other art projects planned ?

Jesse: I am selling paintings online at my Big Cartel store. I have four pieces in a group show in August. I am also exploring some more fine art stuff just for fun.

Punk Globe: What lead you to concentrate more on doing art rather than music? And do you have any other music related projects planned for the future?

Jesse: I had some vocal difficulties that made it hard to sing. Lately I have been working with warm ups and vocal conditioning and I am going to see if I can get back into the game. So you might call this a training period. I doubt I will ever be a full time musician again but life is weird and unpredictable so who knows. I definitely would enjoy performing again in some capacity just for fun.

Punk Globe: You’ve also written a few books. Do you have any plans to do another one?

Jesse: I have plans to release a dystopian science fiction book in the next few years and maybe another comic novel about a weirdo. Comic meaning humorous, not literally comics. But speaking of graphic type novels, I have been fooling around with an artist and we are maybe going to do something in that area as well. So I have a lot of creative irons in the fire. I work on different elements of the arts every day because I love it and it's natural for me. In some ways I wish I was a mono-focused artist, say JUST a writer or JUST a visual artist, but it just isn't my style to work that way. However, right now, the visual stuff is probably the main thing.

Punk Globe: You’ve also started making films, what lead you into that?

Jesse: I have always made movies and I like writing so it was quite natural for me to get into that game. Film is truly a synthesizing medium that combines the visual, the aural and the musical. It was a natural progression for me.

Punk Globe: Did you have any professional training before you made a film?

Jesse: Not really. I read a couple books on directing and just went for it. When I didn't know what I was doing I would either pretend I did or just ask somebody. I now have done two music videos, several phone films and one "real" short film, and several episodes of a web series. The key to directing is just knowing what you want and having a good instinct about how to talk to people and not be a fucking dick. I suppose some directors are fucking dicks but that's not my style. I try to bring the best out of people because making movies is a pleasure so we might as well all enjoy the wonderful opportunity.

Punk Globe: Do you have any films that you’re working on now?

Jesse: I am working on a web series currently. We are almost done. Then editing is going to take a while. It is called "The Corridors" and it is about a supernatural detective. Kind of a psychic detective that goes into a parallel dimension and saves people who have been sucked into it. I act in it. I have absolutely no idea if it is any good. Literally no idea. It might be utter shit. But you just have to go for it. That's my film school.

Punk Globe: Which medium do you get the most satisfaction from? Is it easier to do art and writing? Those two things can be done solo rather than being in a band or making a film where you have to collaborate with other people.

Jesse: Ultimately the thing I like best is performing a great song with a great band in front of great people. That is hard to control though, to get all those elements. And there is a ton of bullshit that goes into that circumstance arising - band practice, song writing, arguing, making dumb jokes in somebody's Volvo -- you know, band shit. So I don't chase it. But if you want to know what the peak moment is, that's it. I also love putting paint on the board. Any painter will tell you that the pleasure of just laying paint is the soul of painting. I say that without pretentiousness, it's just the truth. As far as writing goes, I don't really do it enough to get a lot of pleasure out of it. Writing scripts is sort of whatever.

Punk Globe: You stay busy doing so many projects. What’s a typical day like in your life? How do you create? Are you more structure oriented or do you fly by the seat of your pants?

Jesse: I write a list with all the shit I want to do on it. It's about 1/2 creative and half stuff like "clean the refrigerator." Then I end up doing half of it if I am lucky. Somehow, even with that stop and go and very inconsistent process, I manage to get some stuff done. Probably because when I have a deadline with a human being on the other end of it, I get scared and get to work.

Punk Globe: What about school? Are you still attending classes?

Jesse: No, graduated from UCLA in 2016

Punk Globe: Where do you think we are headed politically? Do you think we are doomed by the current administration? What will it take for people to rise up and change things?

Jesse: I have no idea. We are absolutely fucked but the younger generation is demographically much more liberal. I don't usually trust the people who "rise up" any more than the government. The only hope is for some global evolution of consciousness in which people stop being fucking assholes. I don't think that is going to happen but I work on myself and try be a better person.

Punk Globe: With fake news so prominent in the media, do you have any media outlets you like to get your news from? Who or what do you trust?

Jesse: I don't read much news, it makes me sick. I mean it varies from article to article. The New Yorker, the NYT, The Economist, The CSM and even the Jacobian all have good stuff from time to time. I am not politically astute. I see all the problems of the world arising from the basic human condition of habitual fear and selfishness. My worldview is somewhat like that of a Buddhist or a mystical philosopher. The mind itself is corrupt. The eye can't fix the eye. We need a new optic, a new way of seeing ourselves and the reality around us. The entire human race must somehow become less selfish and especially must find a way to prevent the worst among us from continuing to rise to positions of prominence.

Punk Globe: You have a history with Gilman Street. Do you still support that venue or go to see bands there when you’re in Berkeley?

Jesse: No - I am 48 years old. I don't really care about punk that much. I am trying to make it as an adult in a crushing market that I am not cut out for, I don't have time to duck into night clubs and do laps around the pit. That takes nothing away from my love of that music and culture, but come on, life has phases.

Punk Globe: Here's the inevitable question about Operation Ivy. Is there still no way the band will ever play again? There’s a new generation of fans who would love to see the band live.

Jesse: I don't know, probably not. People assume these questions are inevitable but actually they aren't. They are a bi product of music festival culture and the internet. They are a bi product of the market. Will it happen, could it happen? I don't know. There are no plans. You just have to understand that this is as remote as if you asked your plumber if his high school football team ever thought about scrimmaging again. Sure, if the circumstances fell together it is a possibility but that is not foremost in his mind. Right now he is trying to fix a U-joint.

Punk Globe: Are you surprised at all that there is still such a demand for the band to reunite?

Jesse: I am honestly not sure what you are talking about. Very few people have approached me about this, just a couple kids on Facebook and maybe a few very half-baked proposals. But if it is true, I am flattered and glad the music is still meaningful to people.

Punk Globe: Outside of the Punk genre, what other artists do you like? Not just musically, but as a whole. Anything you particularly like that people might be surprised by?

Jesse: I love basketball, Philip Guston, Black metal, thrash metal, traditional metal, weird instrumental stuff, CSNY, hippy folk, good skateboarders. I like modernist painting and a lot of contemporary stuff too although I don't know as much as I would like about contemporary painters. I like Tim and Eric and weird funny things on the internet. I like well written crime and horror novels. I liked Ex Machina, Road Warrior, Whiplash and It Follows.

Punk Globe: What advice can you give to kids who want to start a band in 2017? Things are much different today than when you started. They have all this new technology, but it’s harder to make a living. Younger people have more responsibility and rent is so expensive. Do you think it’s possible to do what Operation Ivy did back in the 80's? Stuff like touring, etc. without any financial support.

Jesse: I honestly don't know. The best person to ask for advice about this kind of thing would be peers who have done it. If you enjoy playing music, do it. I agree that if there does not to appear to be any practical reward it would probably be a mistake to pursue it to the exclusion of all other life activities but you know, that's what kids do. Get obsessed. That's what I did. I avoid giving advice.

Punk Globe: How can people keep up with your projects? Do you have a website where people can check in on you?

Jesse: No -- this is another thing that is in the works. I really need an assistant, a slave and a robot. Seriously. But I will try to get a website up this year for sure. Web stuff is so boring and difficult for me, that's part of the problem and getting somebody else to do it costs thousands of dollars I don't have. You know. Thank you for the interview. The essential truth can always be found within one's own soul .

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