An insurance salesman talks about metronomes, friendship, and reasons not to be a rock star.
Micah first met [Jason] in a room too dark for them to see each other. Everyone else in the house was doing what 20-something males will probably always do at a friend’s beach house in the middle of the night. Jason would have been, too, if he hadn’t been nursing a broken foot in his bedroom.
A mutual friend had brought him to the house, knowing that Micah played bass and was listening to a lot of punk music, and that Jason was trying to start a band. They didn’t do much beyond say hello, that night. But not long after, Micah got a phone call.
“Jason had just moved into a new house. They had a pool table. It was right in Encinitas close to the beach. He was like, ‘Yeah, come over and drink some beers, play some pool, bring your bass, and we’ll hang out.’
“I ended up spending the whole weekend, surfing and playing pool and hanging out and playing some music.”
It was the mid-90s, and punk music had found a cush resting place in southern California. If the best sounds in the country didn’t come from there, that’s usually where they ended up.
Success in the punk scene had always depended less on ability than on community. If you could play loud, take a beating, and not care as much as the next guy, the fans would listen to you.
The difference in the ’90s was that the establishment had caught on, and was perfectly fine with making money off being told to fuck itself.
The Warped Tour found an underwriter in the shoe company Vans; the soundtracks of newly popular surf videos provided exposure for new bands that sprang up like dandelions in the sidewalk; major labels picked up DIY releases for distribution.
Some bands, like NoFX, fought against radio play of their songs; that just made them all the more effective as brand representatives.
Punk’s greatest liability–its bad attitude–had become its greatest commercial asset, just like Charles M. Young said it should. This made success both tempting and complicated. If you wanted to make it big and still maintain your credibility, you needed the established guys to invite you along.
Fortunately, that was what Jason did best.
“I think Jason was enamored with that scene. We were planning our tours with Pennywise before we ever wrote a song.”
After only a year’s time, Jason’s magic touch with connections earned their band the notice of Scott Russo, the frontman of Unwritten Law. He helped them produce their first full-length record, Pressure (1996).
“Having the huge personality that he has, he was a hit. People love him. He’s an amazing character. He’s one of a kind. Most people love him or hate him–it’s hard to be indifferent about Jason.”
In Micah’s opinion, their band sucked pretty bad at first; he says they were essentially writing and performing amateur versions of what they listened to. In any case, Micah wasn’t interested in simply being famous. He loved the energy of playing music for a crowd, but he wanted to deliver a live performance that lived up to the promise made by a good recording.
“I didn’t want to be Blink182, where people would watch us and think ‘How did they get big? They suck.’
“I don’t care if we’re making money doing it, I don’t care if we have stuff on MTV. That’s not going to last. That’s going to go away, and then we’ll be a laughingstock because we suck. If I’m going to go up there and perform for people, I want to be good.”
“I don’t think this is a virtue. That was vanity and pride.
“Actually, to be dead honest, I was kind of afraid of being famous. Afraid of the lifestyle. I didn’t want to be a rock star. I just wanted to play music.”
This is one of those records that are pointless to review. Fans of The Offspring’s brand of mall punk—a derivative, minor music form if ever one existed—will have already purchased (or more likely downloaded) this by now, and the rest of us, well, there’s nothing here that will sway us into giving it a listen.
If your day involves any of the following aspects of our culture—skateboards, Napster and beer sold in “Tall Boys”—then by all means, purchase this CD. For the rest of us, well, we’ll have to fill up the disc changer with the Sex Pistols, the Beach Boys and the ultimate pop/punk band, the Buzzcocks. Because really, there is a difference between a diamond and a cubic zirconia. And I pity somewhat those who can’t see what it is.
–James Mann, PopMatters.com, 2000
Micah had cut his teeth listening to Iron Maiden and Rush, but felt resigned to never being at the level of musicianship that those bands had. The thing he loved about punk music was that you could just do it, regardless of skill level.
But–unfortunately, maybe–the more music Micah played, the more he wanted to play it well.
“I started seeing the patterns in it. That’s how I think of music. I don’t think of it in terms of just random notes. Seeing the pattern was my first taste of how music works, and how to get those, who to get what you hear and the feeling and the emotion that it makes out of an instrument.”
Ironically, that love for the music was what ended up isolating him from the other members of his band.
“I was pushing harder practices, using metronomes, getting vocals dialed, and being tight. They were just like ‘Who do we know? What do we need to do to get this on tour?’ And I was like ‘If we write killer songs, and we put on a killer show, we’re going to blow up. People will love it.’
“I could sway people to my direction at times. But for the most part, the bent of the band was to take the easy road, to look towards getting big.”
And God said, let us make Green Day in punk’s image, and let its song “Basket Case” have dominion over radio and MTV, over amphitheater and club, over bedroom and car stereo. And God saw all he had done and said, “This is punk?”
–Neil Strauss, New York Times, 1995
After releasing their first record, and a change or two in lineup, the band made a couple more recordings for surf movies, including Jason Weatherly’s “Factory Seconds.” This gave them more studio experience and taught them how to write and record better.
In the wake of this success, they were invited to play the 1999 Warped Tour…or maybe it was the 2000. Micah can’t remember; it wasn’t necessarily a highlight, for him.
“It was nice to say we had played it.”
The best show he remembers was the time they opened for Pennywise at the Palace Theatre in Los Angeles.
Michelle, Micah’s wife, agrees from the kitchen: “That was a cool show.”
“And,” Micah says, “we played with Pennywise in TJ, as well, and Blink.”
Michelle laughs: “That was not good.”
“It was a good one, actually. You remember that one?”
“It was a good show. I mean, it was just sketchy.”
“Yeah, it was a good one, though. It was fun. Nothing bad happened, so it was good.”
That’s one thing that sucks about skating is that if you’re not in the magazines, or if you just want to take a break for a little while, you suddenly fell off, you know. You quit skating. You suck.
–Kris Markovich on BlueTorchTV, 2008
“We were right in line to go on tours with Unwritten Law and Blink, at that time. But there were some falling-outs. There’s always kind of a little drama going on between band members. Part of it–Wade, the drummer from Unwritten Law, did our album cover for Millennium, and I know that he felt snubbed because he didn’t get album credits for it. That was our bad–we just obviously had overlooked it. There might have been some girlfriend issues between a couple of people at that time.”
He hastens to add that it might just as easily have been the decision of labels who were bankrolling the tour; maybe the headliners didn’t get a say in who went on tour with them. But, he says, it wouldn’t be that weird if hurt feelings were the real cause.
“They’re the ones holding the cards. If all of a sudden they don’t get along with us, because of something we did or they did, there’s no reason they would want to spend two-three months on the road with us. They’ll spend those months on the road with someone else.
“It wasn’t like we were trying to burn bridges. We would have loved to have taken those tours.”
But Micah suspects that something more than social politics might have got in their way. Their moderate success in San Diego and the surrounding beach towns was enough to keep them in beer. They all worked regular jobs, had girlfriends, surfed on the weekends. Their connections had secured them a spot in the scene; beyond that, the idea of eating Wonderbread in an unfurnished one-bedroom while practicing themselves into a tour spot wasn’t particularly appealing to anybody. The status quo was good enough.
“A lot of bands that make it to the level we had gotten, and make it, have a certain level of commitment. Whereas for us, I guess I could say that everybody in the band wasn’t necessarily motivated to make it. I don’t know if I would have been willing–it’s a big sacrifice. I know that I was happy with the relationship I was in, and I know that that would have put a big strain on having a relationship.”
Michelle, who looks like Reese Witherspoon and has been cleaning up the kitchen during our interview, looks up, her brown eyes wide.
“Me and you?” she asks.
Seeing my recorder, she retreats.
The band’s lack of motivation to be great had landed them in the category of “pretty good” bands. They still played shows and practiced intermittently, but nobody was managing their time and talent. All the guys were working regular jobs–the band was clearly a side thing.
Also, Micah had gotten married. At the end of 1999, he and Michelle moved to LA, so that he could learn his father’s insurance business.
It wasn’t his intention to passively quit the band. But one weekend, when he was down from LA to hang out with friends, he heard that Pivit was playing a show. As he tells this part, the good-natured smile he’s been wearing while talking to me begins to reveal an edge.
“I was like ‘Really? Nobody told me they got somebody new.’ I actually went and watched the show with their new bass player. They’d actually recorded a song with their new bass player, too.”
He pauses for a moment, trying to qualify his feelings at that moment.
“I never really had to watch an ex-girlfriend make out with somebody, but there’s got to be something that’s pretty weird about that. I knew that my emotions weren’t rational. They weren’t deep, either. The bottom line was, what were they supposed to do? If they were going to make another go at it, they needed a bass player. He’s a cool guy. Really a good bass player.”
But six months after that show, Micah got a call asking if he would do their next gig with them. He didn’t hesitate.
“I said, ‘Of course I can come do it–I’m still friends with you guys.'”
Intermittent gigging like this continued for another year; Micah would drive down from LA to San Diego to practice, a couple nights before the show, then drive down again to perform. In 2002, renowned producer Ryan Greene helped them make what would be their last record, Thanks for Coming Back.
In 2002, while Pivit was performing in a bar, Jason forgot the words he was singing, and walked off the stage.
“After the song was done, I went back and said ‘Jason, I’m done. I’m not playing anymore.’ And he was like, ‘Whatever.'”
While the moment wasn’t a huge surprise, Micah hadn’t necessarily seen it coming. Things hadn’t been going terrible with practices. His role as the workhorse had been paying off.
“I actually had a punk band playing to a metronome, at one point!”
He chuckles, like a frat boy remembering a long-ago prank.
Maybe that’s what made this split final–it was proof that things hadn’t really changed.
“I felt like ‘You guys obviously don’t care. This is going nowhere.’ There was no coming back after that.”
For the next three years, Micah fell out of touch with the guys. Once he and Michelle started going to church, that aspect of their lives kind of took over. From the little that he heard, his quitting was the end of the Pivit era.
“I think they basically shut it down after that. Chris went to another band. Adam went to another band. James went to take care of his family. Jason…was just Jason.”
But then, four years later, someone had a bright idea to have a reunion show. Someone called the guy who booked for the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach. “What you just saw the other night,” Micah says, “is exactly what happened that night, too.”
What I’d seen the other night was, in fact, their third reunion show. Micah says these happen every few years, when someone gets the idea and makes the call to the person who books for the Belly Up. That night, they were playing a triple bill, middling for Death on Wednesday and Agent 51.
Micah’s wife was dressed in tight jeans and a cropped satin jacket, her hair teased up around the crown of her head; she looked tough, and glamorous. It was the way I’d longed to dress in high school, but was too afraid to try.
As we waited for the doors to open, I realized that I recognized the people waiting in line with us–the guys with their calf-length shorts, studded belts and trucker hats; the women with stiletto pumps and intensely dyed hair. Many of them smoking, all of them looking a little bit hacked off at the banality of having to wait for a door to open.
They were the people I’d longed to be friends with, in high school, but was too afraid to talk to.
Back then, I knew this kind of thing was happening–that people I did Spanish homework with, and compared results with our TI-89s, were lining up in the dark to present fake drivers’ licenses in exchange for a night of feeling truly grown-up. But even if I’d been brave enough to join this scene, I’d never have known where to find it.
It was a weird feeling to be at this show, ten years late.
Weird, but not bad.
Kind of awesome, actually.
I felt vindicated for waiting. It wasn’t a scene I needed to identify myself, but one that I could enjoy autonomously…and that from the privilege of a seat in the “reserved for band” section.
“Adolescence was sure tough,” says Dee Dee.
Adds Tommy, “Especially when you don’t grow out of it.”
–Charles M. Young, Rolling Stone, 1976
Even while geeking out over my first mano-a-mano with southern California punk, I can’t help wonder what it’s like for these people to revisit the scene that used to be their whole identity. I wonder what it’s like for Micah to drive the time machine for these people, many of whom he recognizes in the audience from his position on the stage.
“I trip out on it. All this time later, it’s like ‘How do you still really care about it that much?’ But I guess some people do. Some people don’t really move past where they’re at.
“This decade sucks so bad that it’s cool to still be in the 90s. There’s a part of you that just wishes, even if it’s irrational, ‘I wish I could go back there.’ There’s part of me that wishes I didn’t move on. I would say it’s just life. I have moved on, and that’s the way it is.”
With most musical genres, the audience ages with the artist. But in this case, this is really an art form that speaks almost exclusively to rebellious, angry teenagers.
–Andrea Blaugrund Nevins, “All Things Considered,” 2011
Before the show, we went to somebody’s house in Encinitas, where the guys in the band and their friends primed their swagger with cheap beer, while Michelle and I sat on the couch, sipping wine coolers and dishing about romance. (Again, myself giddy with delayed gratification.)
Micah says those times are fun, because he loves the guys, but they’re also sad.
“They think they’re still 20-something years old, and they live for those kinds of nights.”
He mentions the roommate of one of his friends, who we hung out with during the pre-show wine cooler reception. I remember who he’s referring to–a short, blond guy, less talkative than the rest, whose face seemed sad and whose eyes seemed to wander lost.
“This is the thing that’s coming to my mind right now–he has a kid. He’s got a baby mama. Life’s a little hard. And he loves his kid, he wants to be a good dad. So he started asking me about insurance, how it works, because he wants to get somewhere. And then he starts saying, ‘My lifestyle, man, I just don’t know what’s going to happen.’ Basically, just resigning himself to the fact that he lives like a 22-year-old.
“It’s not so much moving past the past, as much as not understanding what it means to be an adult, to take responsibility for yourself and your action, and just think you’re relegated to this life of partying.”
But it still feels good to him, to be up there playing for people–for those people in particular, his former community. In fact, he compares it to leading worship at his church on Sunday mornings, which he does really well and with increasing frequency.
“When worship is in a really good place, you know, you can see they’re totally into it…you feel so connected to everything that’s going on. It feels the exact same way as that, whether you wrote the music or not. At the end, maybe, to reflect on it, it’s maybe ‘Oh, so cool, people are doing that to our songs.’
“But at the time, it’s more like it’s everybody’s music.”
Micah has a hard time saying whether he misses being in the band. What he really liked about it, over the long term, was the feeling of brotherhood he had with the other guys. But even if the opportunity were there to start playing shows again, he wouldn’t necessarily want to be in a band with them.
In order to enjoy playing music, Micah has to know where to set his expectations. With Pivit, he knows by now that music is a very secondary consideration. The band is about being at the front of a scene.
“We’re going to go have a nostalgia fest. We’re going to play all the songs that we already know, and we’re going to invite all our old friends, and it’s going to be fun, and if we screw up, who cares?
“The very second we go ‘Hey, people are into it, let’s get in the studio, write some songs, do some shows, and basically go try and impress some people,’ I will not have fun anymore. It will be a chore. Because I won’t be on the same page with them; it won’t be that good. And sometimes I’ll feel like I know what we need to do to get it good, and nobody will be willing to do it, actually learning their parts and practice them.
“Any forward motion will–it always has–proved to undo the band’s integrity.”
After reflecting for a moment, he continues,
“I don’t know that I have enough talent to ever really be musically satisfied in a band context. I can never be in Rush, you know?”
“The things that I value and love about music, is kind of a curse. Because it’s what drives me to want to do it, but at the same time, it’s the very thing that makes me totally discontent doing it: I can’t do it as well as I’d like to do it. And I can’t work with people who are as good as I’d want them to be.”
Primal punk is passé. The best of the American punk rockers have moved on. They have learned how to play their instruments. They have discovered melody, guitar solos and lyrics that are more than shouted political slogans. Some of them have even discovered the Grateful Dead.
–Michael Goldberg, Rolling Stone, 1985
His own perfectionism is something of a mystery to him.
“Michelle will tell you, I’m not even close to like this when it comes to my family and house affairs. But for whatever reason, when it comes to music, I’m not going to half-ass it. I want to write parts; I want every note to be there for a reason.
“It took some headbutting with other musicians to learn this, but most are totally the opposite. They’re like, ‘Let’s just get up there and jam.'”
His tone doesn’t change, nor does his affable expression, but his face sort of goes flat, two-dimensional, just for a moment, when he admits,
“I find it very hard to find people that think that way.”
The same thing happens when he’s listening to a record, Micah says. He gets sucked in by the intricacies, things he can hear that seemingly no one else can.
“Oftentimes I’ll be like, ‘Oh, listen, I love this little part,’ and Michelle will be like, ‘Oh, I never even heard that, unless you told me.’ And to me”–he lifts his hands helplessly–“that’s making the whole part.”
Several times, Micah has used the word “right” when talking about playing music, as in “If I’m going to do it, I want to do it right.” When this is pointed out to him, he sits back, seeming amused and shy at the same time.
“I’m surprised. But I did say it that way.”
He doesn’t have an explicit reason for it.
“It’s like, why do you like looking at a sunrise or something? It just does something to me. I love music, and whatever it is it’s doing to me. And the fact that I get to participate in it, and it works out the way it does when I enjoy hearing it, just makes it that much better.”
I wonder if everyone has that feeling, about something…that it’s worth way more than their best effort, that it ought to be right if it’s going to be, at all. Sometimes I wish I didn’t have it; I think I would be more relaxed.
Micah says he often thinks the same way. He’s learned to temper the perfectionism with music.
“It goes back to expectations. I can totally enjoy playing music just in a worship context, where nobody really knows what they’re doing. That can be cool–I’ll just lock in with the drummer and do my thing.”
His conversion to Christianity is no secret among not only his friends from Pivit, but their whole scene.
“Wade, from Unwritten Law, I’d seen him after ten years…he’s like, ‘Hey Micah, man, how you been? I heard you’d gone all spiritual.’ So apparently, when people talk about me out there, that’s the guy now.”
Micah shrugs wryly.
“Whatever. The way I look at it, it’s a part of me. Unless I’m ready to just write everybody out of my life from my past, then I need to go and be a part of them. So if that means going and doing a Pivit show…”
His eyes flick up to the corner of the ceiling.
“I could just not do the show, and everybody be like ‘Aw yeah, Micah, he’s all Christian now.’ Or I can go do the show, and do music that’s not particularly edifying, music that [I’m not] particularly proud to show my kids, but music that connects me to a lot of people from my past.
“I’m not going to not do a Pivit show just because of some religious convictions over cuss words.” He laughs, eases back in his chair. “These people mean more to me than that.”
I ask Micah if he hopes this last show was their last.
“You know, I hadn’t thought about it. I kind of assumed it was the last show, I think. But yeah. I do.”
See more photos of Pivit’s last (as in most recent) reunion show at the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach, California.
Check out videos from the glory days of Pivit.