Editor’s Note: This individual needs no introduction, yet I’m going to provide you with one anyway just in case you’ve been living under a rock the past 30 years. What do you get when you cross an A&R representative, charisma, charm and a complete zest for life and discovery? You get Michael Alago. The legendary Michael Alago conversed with Madness To Creation on what he looks for as an A&R representative, discovering Metallica, coping with the Covid-19 pandemic, mental health awareness and Rob Zombie and Charles Manson! Michael has a lot going on with the book “I Am Michael Alago: Breathing Music. Signing Metallica. Cheating Death”, which is available via Backbeat Books. There is also an extraordinary Netflix show called “Who The Fuck Is This Guy: The Fabulous Journey of Michael Alago”, which you can check out the trailer below. Fans can find Michael Alago at the following locations:
Madness To Creation: Hi Michael, thanks for taking the time to speak with me today, how are you doing?
Michael: Good, how are you?
Madness To Creation: The trendy question of the day, how have you been coping with all of the social distancing due to the Covid-19 pandemic?
Michael: Well, I like the solitude of my own home, I probably like it a little bit more than I should, How I’m coping is that I don’t go out unless I’m going to the pharmacy to get my medications and if I can’t get stuff closely delivered in my neighborhood. It’s beginning to get scary out there and I have a compromised immune system, so I take super good care of myself and it’s just a crazy time. I’m wondering if there are people that I never FaceTime with and all of a sudden everyone wants to FaceTime, so is that like a new normal for us because there is that physical distancing thing, and a lot of us aren’t going out because our wonderful Governor Cuomo insisted because our Coronavirus rates are spiking up every day. At home, I’m fine being at home in my solitude, I don’t know if it’s for the wrong reason or not, but there are a ton of books that I haven’t got to yet that I want to start reading. There’s always Turner Classic Movies to watch, I love black & white movies, and I’m doing a lot of promotion for my book, so that’s kind of keeping me a little bit busy.
Madness To Creation: Let’s talk about your book “I Am Michael Alago”, this book spans your career. Let’s say you were to meet Michael Alago 25 years ago, based on your book, what advice would you give him?
Michael: That’s tricky because I don’t know if I would give the younger Michael Alago any advice because all the things that I did in my life that took me to and through the music business, which is where I always wanted to be anyway. The only thing that I would suggest to a younger Michael is to pay better attention to your life and try not to get involved in the drinking and drugs to an excessive level to where you become addicted and then you have to go into recovery, but other than that, all of that rock-n-roll and all of those concerts and all of that energy, all of that makes who I am today.
Madness To Creation: So would you say it’s a balance between some of the struggles and experiences that you went through?
Michael: I guess that you can say it’s a full life, all of those experiences you learn from and all of that recovery that I went through, it makes you become a different person. You become a person that shows up for everything and you become a person that you can rely on, and it’s a wonderful thing to be there for people that need you.
Madness To Creation: Your recovery story definitely resonates and ties in to us covering mental health awareness here at Madness To Creation. We might have someone that might be struggling with addiction or going through recovering, what advice would you have for them?
Michael: I can only tell you what I did to help with my addictions. When we’re suffering with addiction, it becomes very scary out there, and I think one needs to know is that if you feel fearful and you have shame, when you ask for help, there’s always help out there for you, and that’s a big action to take, but when you do that, it’s the beginning hopefully if you’re serious about changing your life, it’s a big step to get into some kind of recovery program. And you know like they say once you get into a program, you can apply this to anything in life. Everything is one day at a time. So, if you’re struggling with drugs and alcohol and if you’re sick and tired of your behavior, or if you’re sick and tired of yourself, I can only suggest a 12 step program because that has helped me, and it’s a big thing walking through those steps, whether it’s AA, NA, GA or OA, there’s an “A” for everybody out there, so once you cross that threshold, you’re getting there with like-minded people wanting the same thing, you want a new life, and that clean and sober life can be extraordinary, period.
Madness To Creation: I want to congratulate you on your 13 years of recovery and sobriety.
Michael: Thank you!
Madness To Creation: I read the chapter in your book on Elektra Records and I have to say that I’m quite jealous. You got paid to listen to music and go through demo tapes and all of that. When you worked for Elektra and Geffen Records, what were some of the things that you looked for when you wanted someone to be on that label?
Michael: You got to remember that I did my job mostly in the 1980’s and the 1990’s, and I officially didn’t work in record companies until around 2005. Every single day there were these boxes of cassettes and independent vinyl of artists looking to get on a label looking for a major release cause I worked for major labels. When you go through these boxes of tapes, a lot of things are rotten, a lot of things are good, and you get excited by “good” but good is not great. I think as an A & R person, if one doesn’t focus on great then you’re doing yourself a bit of a disservice because there’s lots of good people out there, but you can’t get involved with all of those good people because they would take up a lot of your time and it would take up a lot of the corporation’s money and that’s just not how I thought about things.
When I listen to these independent artists, you’re looking for a sign of something different in the music, their approach to the music, the lyrical content of the music. Are they saying something that is a little bit different, are they saying something that potentially has universal appeal, and all of that that kind of happens when I listen to someone, then I have to go see them live. Going to see some artist live is kind of a make or break because you’re going there to see if they have any kind of charisma on stage. How are you relating to the audience and of course, how is the audience relating back to you? I kind of felt that I had this instinct of knowing who is going to succeed, I had no idea where that came from, but I’ve always felt very lucky and very blessed in knowing that I have that pinpoint way of looking for greatness.
Over the years, I didn’t sign a lot of artists, but I was very specific about those songs and things that I could relate to and if I could relate to them and thought that they could sell records, then I would sign them, but really sometimes it’s very few and far between that you find greatness, certainly I don’t think I found greatness in those boxes that I got every day. Every day in my job, if I wasn’t going out at night to see someone, I would meet with artists, managers, lawyers, and publishers and most of the time something came out of all of that.
Madness To Creation: In the book you also talked about your cross country trip to see Metallica in a small club. What is one memory that sticks out from seeing Metallica and what is one memory that sticks out to you from the band as a whole?
Michael: About a year before I even started at Elektra, it was probably 1982 and I saw Metallica at L’amour in Brooklyn and to this day, I never saw anything like it, my thought at that time was that I was going to book them at The Ritz, which is the nightclub that I worked at from 1980 to 1983, that didn’t happen, so here we are in 1983, and I become friends and a colleague with Johnny C of Megaforce Records, they were a fantastic independent label, but they really didn’t have the funds to take that artist to the next level, so John sent me a box of records, and I listened to Anthrax and to “Kill ‘Em All” by Metallica, at the time John asked if I would have them do a demo with Raven on Megaforce Records, and I liked the band so I gave them demo money to come back with five of their best songs. They came back with terrific material, but the problem was that I heard “Kill ‘Em All” and that just blew me away and I knew that I had to have these people in my life, but they were under contract and I had to figure that out.
I was going to the West Coast for business and I knew that Metallica was playing at The Stone in San Francisco, and I went to see them and that show completely blew me away, and it’s like what I spoke of earlier in our conversation, when I saw James Hetfield, the lead singer of Metallica on that stage, I thought, “wow, this young person has it all”, he’s charming up there and he was very charismatic and he knew how to whip a crowd into a frenzy, and the crowd responded to that, and I thought, “you know what, I definitely have to sign these people”, and backstage I found Lars, cause back then that’s who he mostly spoke to, and I gave him my business card, and back then I was 23 and wearing Misfits shirts and band t-shirts and jeans, so it took them to figure out that I was the A&R executive at Elektra Records. Then, I went back home, had some dinner and did my everyday work, I didn’t exactly pursue them when I got back home. Fast forward to 1984, Lars called and asked if I was still interested in them and I said, “absolutely”, and they said that they were coming to Roseland to play with Razor and Anthrax.
I went to see them in the summer of 1984 and again, they blew the roof off of the place, they were playing a form of metal that I hadn’t heard before. They were combining speed and punk, along with British heavy metal, American hard rock and heavy metal, and all of that mixed together was called Metallica. Nobody else had done anything like that before. We were listening to a lot of traditional metal, it was fantastic, and these young people come along and they surprise the whole world because they were that great live in those early days. Flyers were getting handed out and their demo cassettes would be handed out, and the metal underground fell in love with Metallica, and that band just kept growing and growing because they were always that great even in their early days.
Madness To Creation: Do you still keep in contact with Metallica to this day?
Michael: Every so often, Lars will text me and we will chat, if they’re in the tri-state area, I will go see them, a couple of years ago, they were doing two nights in Quebec so I went and saw them. Last September, I happened to be in London and they were playing so I went to go see them, so you know, everybody has their own lives and they do their thing, whenever I get a chance, we see each other.
Madness To Creation: Let’s say you had your own label right now, what are a few bands from today that you would want under your umbrella or under your roster?
Michael: There’s a new band that got signed to Century Media called Ether Coven, they are brutal as fuck and that’s exactly what I like. I heard an independent CD that my cousin sent me, and she said, “my next door neighbor’s son is in a band”, like I haven’t heard that for 30 years, but it was my cousin so I made sure that I would listen to their independent release called “There Is Nothing Left For Me Here”, and I thought, “wow, you guys are good”, I went down to South Florida to go see them, they were wonderful and I started chatting them up and asked, “do you want me to get you a record deal, I can get you a record deal”, so I got them a deal, and we got on of our favorite people to produce it named Eric Rutan of Morbid Angel to produce the album called “Everything Is Temporary Except Suffering” and the record came out about three months ago, so if I had my own label I would sign Ether Coven, I would also sign Black Anvil and if we were going back in time, I would sign Slayer.
Madness To Creation: Later on in the book, you discussed working with Rob Zombie and how he wanted to contact Charles Manson. Two questions for you, first, do you like learning about serial killers and secondly, what were your thoughts on working with Rob Zombie?
Michael: We’re talking about White Zombie’s first album “Le Sexorcisto Devil Music Vol. 1”, and we all know that Rob has a dark side as you know by the horror films that he currently makes, and he wanted some kind of sample of Charles Manson’s voice, and the assistant Tony tried to get through by a letter that he sent, obviously because he was locked down, we never got through, and we never got to use his voice on the album.
Madness To Creation: Do you like learning about serial killers?
Michael: It’s not my thing, but I get interested in horror and things like that but it’s never been my focus, but recently, there’s been this resurgence of Ted Bundy tapes, so I have found that very interesting so I watch that stuff either on Amazon Prime video or Netflix, and there was a movie out on Netflix called “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile” that showed viewpoints of Ted Bundy’s girlfriend and James Hetfield plays the sheriff for the first 90 seconds of the film, he’s the one that arrests Jane Bundy and the young actor Zac Efron portrays Ted. It interests me, but it’s not a main interest of mine.
Madness To Creation: I know that you have other interviews today, so is there anything else you would like to add in regards to the book or what fans can expect from the book?
Michael: It would be nice that people check out my documentary on Netflix and on Amazon Prime video called “Who The F**K Is That Guy: The Fabulous Journey of Michael Alago”, it’s been on Netflix for two years now, it’s done great, and that’s what got me the book deal with Backbeat Books. The book covers a whole range of things from growing up in Brooklyn to getting my first music job at The Ritz when I was 19 and then for the next 25 years after that, I worked for record companies and I worked with everyone from Metallica to Nina Simone to Cyndi Lauper, White Zombie, a real nice variety of people. I cover a lot of my music career in the book, I cover addiction and recovery, I cover acquiring HIV/AIDS when there wasn’t a medication out there and how I survived all of that, and now that I live a sober life and I’m thriving, I hope that I can impart some wisdom and some goodness in my book “I Am Michael Alago: Breathing Music. Signing Metallica. Beating Death.”
Madness To Creation: Any book signings once Covid-19 is over?
Michael: Just doing phone interviews every day, and waiting for this to be all over so we can plan accordingly, there’s really no use in planning now because people are still finding out and learning about the virus. We still don’t know when it will be okay to not have physical distancing with people anymore, all of that part is up in the air. I’m grateful that Amazon sells my book where you can just order online, and getting to talk to people like you and others on podcasts and the like is a blessing.
And there you have it! Fans can order the book via Amazon here
* Promo Shot Credit: Carol Friedman