Interview: Jesse Michaels of Common Rider

words by Leanne O'Connor | photo by Casey Miller
| Thursday, January 2nd, 2003

Common RiderOriginally published in Verbicide issue #7

After the Plea For Peace tour in Pittsburgh, I had the opportunity to talk with Jesse Michaels of Common Rider — formerly of Operation Ivy — to talk about the show, the band, and other things. Their new record is called This Is Unity Music, released by Hopeless Records.

So what did you think of the crowd tonight?
Great, great crowd!

How is the new record doing so far?
So far it’s doing really well. We’re touring for this one and it’s much better promoted, so it’s doing pretty well.

You didn’t tour much for the last record, did you?
No, we only played a handful of shows. This is actually our first tour. It’s the first time we are really reaching out to people in a live setting.

Alright, lets start out with the obvious question: who’s who, and who plays what in Common Rider?
I am Jesse Michaels, I sing. Matt Giorgini plays bass, Dan Lumley plays drums, Phillip Hill plays guitar, and Joe Needy plays guitar.

How did you form Common Rider?
I had a handful of songs that I wanted to record and so I hooked up with different people and the final outcome came out to be me and Dan and Matt and we recorded an album.

How did you get your name?
I got the name from a Japanese TV show called “Common Ridah”; “Ridah,” which is a Japanese word that means space rangers or something like that. The translation sounded cool, I liked the sound of it.

What is the TV show like, is it any good?
I don’t know, I think its sort of a “Power Rangers” type of thing.

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As a band, is there anything you’d like to accomplish? Any big goals?
Well, we have one goal but its divided into parts. Number one is to play great shows. Number two is to record really good music. Those are the primary goals, and number three is to interact with people on the level of after we play and stuff like that. To just give and receive love, basically. To interact with the audience and to get to know some of the people that our music affects. Basically to keep it down to earth and not turn into rock stars or anything like that.

What about your influences and inspirations?
Well, I am always listening to new things. Now, my first record would be The Beatles Love Songs. Second, I was listening to a lot of hipster stuff like The Strokes, Blonde Redhead, and Yo La Tengo and indie rock. I never get too overwhelmed by these influences, but try it now and something original, but I’m always picking up on new things. Now, I’ve obviously been listening to The (International) Noise Conspiracy every day. They are great; the icon of the blue-eyed soul bands. It kind of reminds me in a way of what Dixies Midnight Runners used to do, take soul and blues elements and add it to a modern sort of pop setting, and in this case, punk setting. Regardless, they are just a great band.

Any other newer bands that you’re really into?
I like AFI quite a bit. Lets see, I like Hot Water Music, The (International) Noise Conspiracy, The Pattern, The Strokes; I know it’s not very original though to say they are a good band, let’s face it. A great band is a great band, I don’t really care if they’re hipsters or whatever, they play great music and I’ll buy their next album.

How are things going on the Plea For Peace Tour, and how did you get involved with it?
We got involved with it because I’ve known Mike Park for a long time, and Mike was very involved in the ska/punk scene which obviously Op Ivy was a part of. We never met back in the Op Ivy days but since then I’ve seen him from time to time and we really connected. I think we have similar values. My thing is pure music, his is more music and also activism, but we definitely go hand-in-hand with what we are trying to do.

What are your hobbies outside of the band? Any other jobs, things like that?
Well, I’m able to scrape by. I’m not a wealthy man, but I’m able to barely support myself with music. I am a very contemplative person. I like to read about spiritual things and meditate, although I’m not religious. I don’t practice any religions, I like to explore the quieter side of life and I also love art and movies and things like that. As for the rest of the band, I know Matt is really into mountain biking; he’s always in good shape. Dan is just a huge music fan who is always getting into one band or another. His biggest thing is Tom Waits. I think he just went and got the new record.

How is the scene different in the Bay Area now from the days of Operation Ivy?
I’m no expert because I don’t go to enough shows, but I think — though I could be wrong on this — a lot of the energy in the Bay Area has gone from the punk scene over to the hipster scene, like bands we were talking about earlier: The Strokes, The Hives. More people are forming bands in that vein. I don’t go to enough punk shows though, for all I know the scene is alive and well. It just seems like there is a lot more energy in those areas, but I could be wrong. Frankly, I hope I am. We’ve experienced such great punk shows on this tour that I hope its doing great in the Bay Area, too.

Any advice for newer bands or people starting out?
I think that the main thing for newer bands is make sure you are enjoying yourself and make that the priority. A lot of the things that people often strive for are financial goals or exterior success. If you put your own enjoyment first those things come naturally. That’s not to say you shouldn’t be organized, but as long as you’re rocking out and having a good time, people will pick up on that. So I think that should be the priority.

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Anything else you’d like to say?
I would like to say to anyone who is reading this to come out to the Plea For Peace shows. I’d like to say thank you very much for coming, for anyone who is thinking about coming. I’ve had a blast every night. And thanks to everybody who might have happened to check out Common Rider.

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