Reviews & suggestions for punk rock fans.

Before There Was Rancid, There Was Operation Ivy

How Operation Ivy Became Rancid

In anticipation of Rancid’s new album, Tomorrow Never Comes, dropping on June 2, 2023, I’ve been listening to their catalog. So much so I’ve developed a healthy obsession with Operation Ivy, a band considered the stepping stone to Rancid. Often talked about for its hardcore and ska fusion, Operation Ivy was one of the many who played the 924 Gilman St venue and helped develop the “East Bay Sound.” What is truly remarkable is how much Operation Ivy accomplished during their short tenure from 1987 to 1989. Peep the words below for the story of Operation Ivy and how it eventually became Rancid.

Story of Operation Ivy

Operation Ivy was born out of Berkeley California, and comprised of Jesse Michaels (lead vocals), Tim “Lint” Armstrong (guitar, vocals), Matt “McCall” Freeman, and Dave Mello (drums). The name refers to a 1952 U.S. nuclear testing program, and swiped from another Berkeley band who had changed their name to Isocracy, a band known for their wild performances at laundrymats where they covered the audience in garbage and shredded paper. The name would fit as Operation Ivy would have a nuclear-bomb-like impact on the punk rock world.

After listening to a radio interview (this one) from back in the day, I’ve found that the members of Operation Ivy had been playing since they were twelve years old for the most part and considered themselves veterans of making tunes before joining forces. Operation Ivy’s first show was in Dave Mello’s garage, and then they played regularly at 924 Gilman St where bands like Greenday, AFI, and The Offspring also began to perform. Their high energy and talent gained them a fan-following faster than their lyrical riffs. By ‘88 they signed to Lookout Records!, dropped a 6-song EP called Hectic, then by ’89 released their LP Energy, a classic punk rock record all should be aware of. In those three years, they created a sound that would influence numerous bands (Sublime, Goldfinger, No Doubt, etc.) that dominated the 90s radio stream when punk rock took a moment in the sun and entered popular mainstream.

I believe Jesse Michaels summed it up best when describing the approach of Operation Ivy (in this interview), “You talk about terrible things honestly, and then through this weird alchemy of music it becomes a moment of release that somehow goes beyond the petty problems of the world.” Beyond their revolutionary tunes, their lyrics were catchy and funny while speaking the truth, and (in my opinion) where the true genius of Operation Ivy lies. I highly recommend taking a moment to read through a few of their songs. For example, one of my favorites is “Vulnerability” with lines like:

And sympathy is only friendship’s whore you know
And maybe we don’t know who we are anymore
Another spectacle and it’s respectable
To take it lightly like another tv show
So desensitized so dehumanized
Why stop and think we can you find someplace to go
We’re drowning

“Vulnerability” by Operation Ivy

Pun rock poetry, for sure. The majority of their catalog holds plenty of depth and if I can be so cliché – has stood the test of time. Hear for yourself with the playlist YouTube below.

Despite their success, it appears they broke up due to their strong opinions. Jesse Michaels (in this interview) stated “We had strong opinions. The opinions didn’t always match up and eventually, it did seem like a good idea to do different stuff.” After Operation Ivy, Tim Armstrong and Matt Freeman would remain together and would eventually form Rancid in 1991. Since then, Rancid has dropped ten studio albums (and a new one this Friday, June 2, 2023) and sold over 4 million records making it one of the most successful punk groups of all time.

Never forget where you came from. In this case, Operation Ivy.

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