Record Executive Michael Alago
By Jay Oakley
So, Who The Fuck Is That Guy?, tell me about it?
Well, when you ask me, Who is that guy?, I was a person who lived in Brooklyn my whole life, I said I was going to be in the music business and that was my focus point and by the time I was nineteen I had gotten my first job in the music business at The Ritz. After that, I worked at Elektra, I worked at Geffen, I worked at UNI, I was drunk most of the time and I forgot about it and then I worked at Palm Pictures and that's twenty-four years right there. So, that's who the fuck I am.
When the idea for this film came together about, really putting out what you've been through and all of your experiences with these labels, what was your take on it? Was this something that you were willing to share openly?
Yeah, I had a few meetings with Drew Stone, the director, he loves music as much as I love music, so it all felt like an ego stroke. After we had our meetings and I felt like he could tell a good story I said, "Yes." and I always feel that when one is an open book and not afraid of anything and you just tell the truth then the audience is going to respond to that and I think that's what I did, I told the truth. And, when you tell the truth, one hopes that you get a great response back.
Did you ever feel nervous about your personal life, your personal beliefs and the way that you live your life, did it ever worry you about the reflection that would have when the movie came out?
Oh my God, no! My life is an open book. I have never even been in the closet and people either like me or they don't like me. I never gave a shit about that, at all. We're all human beings and sexuality doesn't come into play unless you're going to be intimate with somebody. All of these people that I've worked with, I was never intimate with them on a sexual level. You get intimate with somebody when you're making music and stuff but, like I said, that was never a problem for me because I was always an open man.
Looking back over the film, how did you feel about the assorted interviews portrayed people's experiences with you?
Like Drew, our director, and myself, he was sitting in front of his computer at his house and I was sitting in front of my computer at my house for like three and a half years and all I can do is speak for myself and it's like, "Is this any good? Let's make it a short film." and you get nervous because after a while, ai yai yai, you wonder is this any good or not. So, what wound up happening, we finished the film, we felt happy, June 8th was our first sold out screening in New York and the audience loved it. They laughed in all the right places, I think they felt emotional in all the right places and we had an incredible Q&A when it was over and I'm glad that the artists that I worked with participated in this and the way I showed them my love, my respect and my knowledge. they gave that all back to me. So, it says something about all of us and that's a beautiful thing.
Absolutely and that's definitely the best thing abut it. You want the message to be taken exactly as directed. You want people to feel the right feelings, maybe cry when necessary and be happy with everything. It sounds like you were happy with the overall presentation of the film.
Oh yes, absolutely.
When you look back over your time, both the highs and the lows, were there any particular moments that you can think of that really shaped your work ethic? Not only as just a gay person in the industry but also just how you had to work as an executive in the industry because of how cut-throat it is.
Well, I was a record executive, I was great at my job, it's secondary that I'm gay because I don't carry that kind of a flag to the office. I'm just another person on the bus, doing the best that they can on a day to day basis.
Talk a little bit about who your favorite clients to work with were, especially looking back over that time, somebody like John Lydon, especially.
[Laughs] Someone else asked me a similar question yesterday. It's like talking about your children. You can't just say, "I love one more them the other." because I had different experiences with all of those artists. You brought up John Lydon. I love John Lydon. I believe in him, I've loved him since the early Sex Pistols days. We've been friends for thirty-six years and never had a bad word between us. Whether it was after the riot at The Ritz in 1981or after I made one album with him, the generic album called, Album, it did OK but the next year we had to drop him from the label. It would have been to expensive to keep him but ya know what, we go through the ups and the downs with certain people and with John and I, we just always remained friends. He's in my documentary, I'm in his documentary, The Public Image Is Rotten, that comes out next year. Someone on the other end of the spectrum, Nina Simone, everyone told me not to get involved with her, she was a has-been but I've loved Nina Simone my whole entire life, she could be my favorite artist ever and I just thought, "Ya know what? This is a woman who made many, many records, she was part of the Civil Rights Movement, she was very militant and I love all those things about her." So, when it came time, around 1992, I'd been at Elektra for a while and I decided I was making a record with Nina Simone and it was one of the greatest experiences ever, a lot of high drama, I didn't care, I egged her on, we loved each other and we stayed in touch the last twelve years of her life until she passed away in April of 2003.
That's wonderful. There's two band's I wanted to touch on with you. Not just because of the fans but I have a personal connection with them. The first is White Zombie and recently I went to a horror convention in Cherry Hill, New Jersey called Monster-Mania Con and they brought in Sean (Yseult,) J (Yuenger,) and John (Tempesta) as guests. They were incredibly genuine, loving people. I'd love for you to talk about them and your experiences.
Oh, that's so great to hear! I signed White Zombie to Geffen Records around 1991. I saw them in a little club in the East Village (Pyramid Club.) It was a racket, it was noise, it was crazy, I didn't hear any songs but they were so fabulous on stage. I loved the dreadlocks flying all over the place, I just thought that there was a charisma there and that's something you can't buy. You either have it or you don't and when the show was over I introduced myself to them and at some point I said, "I think you all are fabulous and I want to sign you to Geffen Records." And, Rob said, "Ya know, Michael, we're going to be big and I'm going to make films." And I said, "Ya know what, Rob, I believe you." and I signed them to Geffen Records and we made an extraordinary first album and they were just the loveliest, funniest people that I ever met. So, we had a really great relationship. We loved what the Sayer records sounded like so we hired Andy Wallace to produce that first album and it's a monster record.
The other band I wanted to touch on because this is a little more of a personal connection, I've done the press thing for quite a while, I've been a musician for quite a while, I've been fortunate to tour and one of the bands that invited me out for an extended coast tour once was the Misfits.
That was a very special experience for me. Jerry Only treated me like one of his children, still to this day treats me like one of his kids whenever I see him, he is a very, very nice human being. So, I'd love for you to talk briefly about them.
I've loved the Misfits my whole life. I think it started around 1982. They were also a big racket of noise and that noise spoke to me. Never mind, that I thought Doyle was the hottest man in the whole world and I still think he's one of the hottest people on stage. I think they're a very unique band. There's never been anyone like them. They're basically a pop band that dress up in ghoulish outfits. I always tease Doyle to this day because I still have a crush on him and I call him, Angel. We laugh about this all the time because he calls me, Angel, too and I'm sure I'm going to embarrass him a little bit in this interview but I don't care because we've been friends forever and we love to tease each other all the time and they're just extraordinary. So, when I new that Glenn (Danzig) was not with the band anymore, they got a new singer, Michale Graves, and I just thought that these were people who needed to be on a major label. So, I decided to sign them to Geffen and I had my friend, Danial Rey, produce them. Daniel Rey has written and produced the Ramones, he has worked with Iggy Pop, he was in the Masters of Reality and I just knew he had a great feeling for them. So, we used Daniel Rey and, of course, in that same time period, Andy Wallace was really hot and he mixed that album for us, I think American Psycho is an extraordinary record. I still go and see the Misfits as a trio with Jerry Only fronting them, I think the world of Jerry. Whenever I can see Doyle, I run to see Doyle wherever he is around the world and if I can get there I go. I think his new band is extraordinary. His singer, Alex Story, is a very wild, insane, charismatic person and so handsome, I love the mutton chops and I think I've said what you needed me to say.
That was phenomenal, Michael. To wrap this up, I'd like you to put a message out to my readers, to your readers, to the people who will be following everything in this movie. What was it about this project that you wanted to put out there? Is there a particular message that you feel is warranted, is valued for people to take away from this film?
Well, I think what I wanted people to take away from this is that one should always be true to themselves. When you are true to yourself and you put yourself out there in a totally open and honest way, anything can happen for you in your life and I say all of that in a positive manner. So, when you believe in yourself and have faith in yourself and make the most of all of your dreams, I think that's perfect. And, not everybody has wild success. Some people have medium success. But, when you put yourself out there and music is the thing that you want to do with your life, you must continue making music until you're in the dirt. That's what I believe so that's what come off of the top of my head.
That's great, belief is key. I think you did a great job, the film is phenomenal, I'm actually looking forward to watching it again because I really enjoyed it.
Thank you, we all just have to have hope and when you have hope, It's a wonderful thing.
Michael, thank you very much for taking a few minutes to talk with me about your movie. It was a pleasure and I hope in the near future I get to meet you and shake your hand, this was a lot of fun.
Wonderful, Jay. Thank you so much and have a good evening.