PART ONE: Among the music and madness, I pulled our very own Troy Michaels away for a moment to discuss his passion for sound. As the creator of Innocent Words, Troy knows a thing or two about what exactly makes a melody into a hit, a musician into a rock star, and a beat into an emotion. His adoration for the musical greats, if not impressive, is entirely infectious. His knowledge, both vast and most likely unmatched, is quite intimidating! Nevertheless, I went in deep with Troy Michaels and uncovered the extent of his musical affair.
While I know you as a Juliland contributor, I really don’t know too much about your roots. Tell me, who are you and where did you grow up?
I am Troy Michael, nothing more nothing less. I was born and raised in a small town in Illinois where corn and bean fields own the landscape. A place where time comes to die, a place where people still wear their high school colors and will turn their nose up at you if they don’t know you. This makes excellent fodder for an outcast like me who lives for music, photography and arts of all kinds.
I work from home publishing Innocent Words magazine www.innocentwords.com which means; in this town I don’t have a “real job.” But it’s what I love; it’s what I do and who I am.
You say you love what you do, but I’m curious to know what propelled you to pursue a more artistically driven lifestyle. Who and/or what were your biggest influences growing up?
You’d probably expect me to say a musician answer for this, but in reality my grandfather was my biggest influence, I guess more so now than when I was a kid. He passed away when I was in the 8th grade. He was retired by the time I was a kid but he was a milk delivery man, when they had those things, he was also a traveling cigar salesman for Dutch Masters. However, his biggest accomplishment is he got involved in politics to help the people who needed it. For example, when the local country club and tennis club wouldn’t allow the poor to use their tennis courts and swimming pool he became Parks Commissioner so he could change the rules to allow ALL citizens to use the park and country club. He was a great man who did amazing things, he was funny, and he was a standup guy. I wish I knew him better as a kid.
If I had to say “what” my biggest influence was, hands down it would be music. It sounds cliché but music has been a part of my life since I was six years old and I saw “Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park” on TV in 1977. Music has everything to do with who I am, what I went through and to be honest, music saved my life.
I have to ask, what was the very first concert you attended? And perhaps most importantly, how did it change you?
My first concert was Kiss and not the painted face Kiss of the 1970s. This was in 1984 on the Animalize tour in Terre Haute, Ind. I was 13-years-old, I was in eighth grade and my older brother took me with some of his friends.
A new band called Queensryche opened up and they were horrible live – but I’d later go on to like them. Then the lights went down and the pot was heavy in the air with the opening chords to “Detroit Rock City” started to play. Kiss rose from the back of the stage with their name in these huge blinking lights. It was amazing. I was so excited I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to jump around and rock out, but I didn’t want to miss a thing on stage, and of course look like a fool. The loud crowd singing in unison, the drum solo from Eric Carr, the guitar solo from Bruce Kulick and of course, Gene Simmons spitting blood and breathing fire, it was all there.
I grew to hate Kiss because, well so many reasons, but I find myself going back to Love Gun and Destroyer and listen to them for the good memories. In the end, how did it change me? I don’t know. I thought I was going to be a rock star, but who doesn’t at one point in their life.
What inspired you to create Innocent Words?
I bounced around from job to job working at music stores – from small indie CD stores to chain mall stores to college campus music stores. It was the best. But as we all know indie cd stores are on life support. I knew I needed something more substantial and got tired of hanging on by a thread with working in retail. I had always been a writer, privately. I finally got the balls to send out some of my writings to publishers. I got a few essays and poems published in books, which gave me confidence, something I desperately needed. With that going for me, I got in to the underground zine world. The more I wrote the more I got published. While working at two CD stores at once I also was writing for 5 or 6 magazines for little to know pay. With the experience, I got a job writing sports at a local newspaper. I learned on the job. This amazing guy named Charlie Deitch took a chance on me and gave me that jobs. I learned so much from that guy and still do to this day. However, I was working at one CD store during the day, another CD store on the weekends and the newspaper at night and in between freelancing for music zines.
I grew tired of the music editors telling me I couldn’t write about this band or that band because they weren’t popular or no one had ever heard of them because they were only local. This really pissed me off, I mean, some had to give Led Zepplin or Hendrix or the Stones their first big break in the press right?
The perfect storm hit when the day time CD store closed and the weekend job just wasn’t enough. I said fuck it, I’ve always wanted to start my own magazine to help the underdog indie musicians and I did. I kept my night job at the paper to keep learning and pay bills while bringing in two friends to start a new zine. After the first issue, those two guys quit and I carried on as Innocent Words. That was over ten years ago and we’ve went from a print zine to a tab sized magazine to an online only magazine. We’ve rolled with the punches and keep getting up. I like to think of us as the Cool Hand Luke of music zines, we are too stupid to stay down.
It has been argued that the greatest artists and musical legends existed more in the past than our current future. If you had the chance to see three musicians perform that you, unfortunately, have not had the pleasure of already seeing, who would you choose?
Led Zepplin: In my opinion, the greatest rock & roll band of all time. To see the original line up play live in an arena setting would just blow my mind. The funny thing is I wasn’t a huge Zepplin fan when I was younger, but right now, they just blow me away.
Jimi Hendrix: This is another cliché answer I am sure, but as a guitar player myself, I just want to see if this guy was real. I’ve seen the live DVDs, heard the studio albums, outtakes and all that, but to see Hendrix play live right in front of me would just blow my mind. I want to see in person all his tricks from playing with his teeth to playing between his legs and how the hell he makes that Stratocaster scream. If he set it on fire like at Monterey that would only be a bonus.
Mother Love Bone: Mother Love Bone was Stone Gossard (guitar) and Jeff Ament (bass) pre-Pearl Jam with Bruce Fairweather and Greg Gilmore (drums) and lead singer named Andy Wood. He was like Freddie Mercury, Michael Monroe and T Rex wrapped in a L.A Lakers basketball jersey with a boa and huge sunglasses. He was a showman and a poet.
In the broadest sense, what are your TOP 5 musical moments?
I will go from five to one, with one being the best.
5 – The Shins: The first time I really felt like Innocent Words had made it was when the Shins were on a Sub Pop Package tour that played near me. I scored an interview with the entire band. We were hanging out upstairs after the interview and out of the corner of my eye I saw the local newspaper and the University of Illinois newspaper in the wings. Those two newspapers had turned me down when I tried to get a job there, and when they say me hanging out with the Shins they had this huge surprised look on their face. I have to admit, that felt pretty good.
4- Pearl Jam: Getting a press and photo pass to see them live for my very first time during the Riot Act tour. I was right up against the stage with my camera when the house lights went out and Stone Gossard and Eddie Vedder walk right in front of me on the stage. For three songs, I got to shoot photos while my all-time favorite band was in just a few feet in front of me.
3 – King’s X: November 13, 2005 I got to see King’s X for the first time. I had been a fan of the band since I was a teen when they came out in the late 80s. I had befriended Doug Pinnick while doing interviews with him. He invited me and my friend Scott to soundcheck then diner before the show. We also got to hang out on the bus and I got to go up on stage with them to shoot photos.
2 – Becoming friends with icons: It is still very weird to me that I get to interview people, bands I used to look up to, who I wanted to be like. I still get nervous and I’ve done hundreds of interviews. Sometimes the interviews are just that, interviews, even though I think I remember every one of them. The other part is, sometimes you hit it off with these “rock stars” and you stay in touch and become friends. How can a music nerd become friends with these rock stars? Well i9t took me a little while to learn this, but rock & rollers are just people too. Sure I’ve had my fair share of egotistical assholes, but for the most part, these are just music geeks like me. When you boil it all down, it’s all about respect, but still blows my mind a kid like from the cornfields could call or email so and so just to talk and hang out.
1 – A simple thank you: This may sound dorky but the greatest moment of doing Innocent Words is not the interviews, not the bands, not the live shows or all that can come with it. The best thing in the world is when someone says “Thank You.” It could be a band, a record label or a PR company thanking us for a review, interview or basic news coverage. I am not saying everyone needs to thank us, but in this day and age of social media and digital downloads, a thank you is few and far between.
Also anyone who has ever told me they really like Innocent Words and what we are doing just makes my whole day. So thank you to all those who read Innocent words, follow us on social media or just pass the word along.
To be continued…