Classics Of Love

By Tom Aylott

Recently, Tom caught up with Jesse Michaels of CLASSICS OF LOVE (and formerly OPERATION IVY, BIG RIG and COMMON RIDER) for a chat about their new album, the scene and politics. You can chat out the results below:

Hi Jesse – how are you today?

Pretty good. I was productive, useful and relatively happy, thanks.

You’re on the edge of releasing the new CLASSICS OF LOVE album – how did the recording and writing process differ from the EP and the 7″?

The EP consisted of our first 6 songs. The 7″ was also fairly early into the development of our set and it was like a snapshot. The album really represents what we have to offer as a fully developed band. We played for two years, weeded out a lot of material, were careful to use what worked and had time to discard songs and also record a couple extras so that the final product represents the best we have to offer. So the main differences are the amount of time we took and how much material we had to choose from. The main difference in the recording process is that we spent more time in the studio.

What events and bands inspired you personally when writing the album?

I was inspired by the events surrounding the financial crisis. Also with the rise of corporate governance in the United States I was inspired to write an almost entirely political record. I don’t think of it as propaganda, I just hope that people will hear it and say, “Yeah, I feel that way too.” Events in my life that inspired me were becoming a happier person and kind of getting more of a plan about things, like going to school and stuff. I know a lot of people get inspired by depression and darkness but I generally create better and more real music when I am in a good space.

Of course the main event and inspiration was meeting the people I am currently playing with. I knew it the second I heard their demo tape which is the only reason I got in a new band to begin with. Three years ago i was making demos of my own material with Mike Park, who is the head of our record label and I asked him if there were any good bands in San Jose. I had no intention of starting a band at that time, absolutely none. If anything, I was trying to wind down and move on. In his car he played me a tape of a local band called the HARD GIRLS. Even though it was not the style of music I normally listen to I could sense their creative power and natural energy. The fact that I was able to hook up with them is absolutely the only reason I started playing again. I may be a reluctant musician but after twenty years I know how hard it is to find good people to play with and when they turned out to be not only great musicians but great people I felt that I had no choice. They didn’t even drink! It was almost too good to be true.

So we went through a lot of hardship but kept doing the work. Driving two hours to band practice, lame gig after lame gig with just enough really good ones to keep hope alive. That’s what the song ‘Gun Show’ is about on the record. Doing the work out of some love that you can barely even feel anymore. Anyway, then the songs started to wake up. From the initial spark of playing mid-tempo post-punk we found this faster, more traditional groove and it started working. People still weren’t responding much but you know, I knew we had something. Now with the album, we are starting to get a little more attention, which is great, but I never did it for that. I did it because I felt I had no choice. So playing with Mike, Max and Morgan has been the main inspiration for everything. It’s true that my role is to write but their contribution is equal and in many cases greater than mine.

Last time in the UK was your first trip over with a band – did you enjoy your time over here and are Classics Of Love planning another trip?

I love the UK. English people are so smart and funny and well-mannered. I know you have your share of total pricks also but you don’t meet too many of those touring. We all had a really great time and people were great. We don’t have any trips planned just yet but there is a good chance we will do something next year depending on what opportunities come up. I would love to come back. It costs money, time and energy but it may happen next year.

Avoiding comparisons to previous bands, how would you describe Classics Of Love to someone who had never heard you guys before?

I would describe it as eighties-style punk. The punk music of the early eighties, from hardcore to mid-tempo stuff that was happening back then is a definite inspiration and I think you can hear it. This isn’t intentional at all, it’s just the way it happened for some reason, maybe because I grew up listening to that stuff. At the same time, we are not a nostalgia act. We take that basic template and try to do something new with it.

You make political and social references in places on the album and have regularly within your music: What are your feelings on the political climate in the US ahead of this year’s election? Do you think the Obama administration has done a good job?

The political climate is almost, though not quite, irrelevant. It’s more about money than politics. Governments are pawns of business conglomerates. Obama is far right of Reagan. I don’t know how much people in the UK know about the government out here but he just signed a bill called the SDAA which effectively throws out the bill of rights, which is the part of our constitution which in theory protects us from all-out dictatorship. Just signed away the legal foundation of our entire system on his lunch break. Very little was written about it in the newspapers. Fiscally he is right of Reagan or Thatcher. We have become so used to extreme business influence that what is now called liberal would be considered center or right in the past. Obama is a politician. Politicians do what they have to do to win.

The current system in the US is set up so that you can not win without acting in service to the oil, communications, energy, insurance, pharmaceutical and food industry giants. That’s just how it is. Tyranny has been privatized. I believe if he could do whatever he wanted he would do great things. I honestly think this is true of him and many other leaders. But that is not the game they are playing. They are in a culture of “win at any cost.” The way that you win is by doing a dance with the real power which is the power of the wealthy. That is their real identity and their real mission. The results are obvious.

Most of the songs on the new album deal with this issue, either directly, in songs like ‘We Need a Change’ or ‘What a Shame’, or poetically and philosophically. Of course everything is couched in my weird poetry so you can’t always make out the message, like a newspaper editorial, but that’s just how I do it. I like CONFLICT and CRASS and bands that give you a direct, clearly articulated political statement but that isn’t my style. I need abstraction to communicate feelings as art. Even so, the whole record is more or less political, hopefully without preaching.

If you could make one change, big or small, to politics in the US right now, what would it be?

I would get money out of politics.

What are your opinions on the punk scene now compared to 20 years ago? Do you think the scene has as much to say as it did?

The punk scene is a broad thing. In order to look at the good, you have to cut out all the commercial stuff, all the “kind of/sort of” punk, and then you have 1000 great bands. Once you’ve limited it to that, every city has great bands. I will say that a lot of bands play every bit as good as the old bands if not better, but they have less at stake because everything is easier and they have access to so much information that it’s almost like they are doing punk in quotation marks. But that is a generalization. The truth is that there is a ton of great stuff out there and I am not qualified to make a blanket statement.

Since you started recording music, the way that artists and fans interact has changed significantly because of the internet. Do you think that, overall, the internet and streaming services like Spotify are having a detrimental effect on punk / music in general?

I don’t know enough to say definitively. There is so much going on and I am doing other things with my life than following new music the way I did when I was eighteen. But from my extremely limited perspective i would say the following: among truly underground bands, the music is actually better overall but people seem to care less, including the musicians. That could change at any moment, it’s just a very casual observation. For example, I might have some idea that “there will never be another BUZZCOCKS!” and the next day a band will pop up that is better than THE BUZZCOCKS. That’s the nature of art- it’s unpredictable and in fact it tends to work against the force of predictions, against whatever boxes you try to put it in.

Do you actively hunt down new music to listen to, or do you find yourself picking up your old favourites more often than not? What are your “go to” albums from your collection?

For the last ten years I have been listening to a lot of very broadly varied stuff. Every time I meet somebody they turn me onto new music. Among the things I have gotten into are 70’s funk, shoegaze, northern soul, skinhead reggae, DAVID BOWIE, ROXY MUSIC and SEREOLAB. I know this stuff is old news for everybody. I am not a music expert by any means. I get lost in conversations with people who are sophisticated about music. I just get into what sounds good at the moment. Right now it’s BOWIE and weird instrumental stuff.

Part of my problem is I simply can’t remember the names of a lot of the stuff I have heard so i am not a great person to ask. I like old rock, I like stuff that is artistic and smart and good without being pretentious. ROCKY ERIKSON seems like some kind of genius to me. I like rock like the kind they drool about in Mojo magazine (ha ha). THE BAND, BADFINGER, all that stuff. As far as the albums that have meant absolutely the most to me over the history of my life, they are pretty much what you would guess: ‘London Calling’, ‘Nobody’s Heroes’ (SLF), ‘Inflammable Material’ (SLF), ‘The Clash‘, ‘The Specials’, ‘End on End’ (RITES OF SPRING), MINOR THREAT‘s Discography, ‘Banned in DC’ (BAD BRAINS), ‘Armed Forces‘ (ELIVS COSTELLO), ‘Nation of Millions’ (PUBLIC ENEMY), ‘Midnight Marauders’ (TRIBE CALLED QUEST), ‘Ace of Spades’, ‘Leave Home’, whatever the really good English Beat record is called and so on. No big surprises. But I don’t listen to those records over and over again.

Are there any bands that have taken your ear recently that people in the UK may not know about yet that you’d like to recommend?

Like I said, I am pretty much the wrong person to ask about this. A couple of things I have heard lately that I thought were exceptional have been Oakland’s own THE STREET EATERS and a band from LA called KING TUFF. THE STREET EATER are an indefinable punk two piece that you might say sound something like music from Olympia Washington in the nineties but really are pretty unique. KING TUFF is a pure psyche band. They are very young and very fucking good.

CLASSICS OF LOVE release their self-titled debut album through Asian Man Records soon. For all the information on the release, head to, and to read our review of the record, head to

More from the band at


Try these three interviews

Interview: Greywind [Reading 2016]

Interview: Arcane Roots [Reading 2016]

Interview: Trash Boat [Reading 2016]