10 Years And 13 Albums Later, The Michael Character Is Still Chipping Away
It’s been a busy decade for James Ikeda, vocalist-guitarist of Boston punk band The Michael Character. Since 2010, he’s released 13 albums, earned two graduate degrees (with a third in the works) and played a show in every U.S. state, partially thanks to a Bandcamp bio that promises he’s “absolutely willing to drive very far to play for you and five of your vaguely alternative friends in your combination kitchen/laundry room.” But in spite of all that, earlier this year, he felt like he wasn’t doing enough.
“I guess if there’s a way to sum up the year, it’s been a year of political growth for me,” he says. “I’ve always had this interest in radical politics in a way that I didn’t think was really detached, but it was detached. It was really scholarly and kind of at a distance. It occurred to me at some point in 2020 that I was neglecting my own intellectual political development in terms of my own practice, and I hit a wall in terms of how much further I could go in my own life without really taking the time to think about ‘how does all the stuff I’ve been learning about apply in my own life?’”
It’s not that Ikeda’s work wasn’t informed by politics before. By day, he’s a history teacher at a Boston-area high school, and up until starting his current master’s program at Northeastern, (which he’s hoping to turn into an eventual Ph.D. in history) he was an adjunct professor at Bunker Hill Community College and Quincy College. In his downtime, he’s spent the past 10 years making politically-infused punk music with The Michael Character, aided by a lineup of bandmates that’s evolved through the years.
Now that he’s 30, the project has become a personal archive of a third of his life; according to a self-imposed rule, he releases at least one record per year. The band’s 13th album, “Oh, Shoot!,” arrives today (Oct. 23). Across its nine songs, Ikeda tries to figure out a meaningful direction for his own life against a backdrop of pressing political concerns: geopolitical strong-arming, state violence, the challenges of community organizing amid deep polarization. He knows it’s not a question he can answer with a single album. The point is to keep chipping away.
It isn’t exactly the album the band had been hoping to make this year, but then again, this hasn’t been the year anybody was hoping for. COVID-19 precautions made recording with the full band lineup impossible. Instead, Ikeda worked with producer Ben Greer from Somerville’s Pink Noise Studios, while guitarist Matt O’Connor contributed to the record’s more experimental arrangements from out in Vermont.
Tension is built into The Michael Character’s sound. Ikeda is a self-taught guitarist and has always gravitated toward punk music, a genre that isn’t necessarily known for conveying nuance or complexity. But when it comes to high-stakes discussions, especially political ones, he’s frustrated by…