Celebrating 15 Years of Innocent Words: Musicians Interview Troy Michael

What started on a whim over lunch one day back in 2001 has turned into 15 years of Innocent Words. February 2002 was the first official issue of Innocent Words. We were a quarterly print ‘zine back then, and in some ways, that seems like a lifetime ago. We have gone through countless changes over the past 15 years, and I can honestly say, each one has worked out for the best.

When I started Innocent Words, we had a goal to be a DIY focused ‘zine and I feel we’ve maintained that to this day. I never set out to be as big as Rolling Stone or Pitchfork when I started this; we are as DIY as the bands we cover and we are perfectly happy with that.

Over the last 15 years, I personally have interviewed over 250 musicians/bands, but it’s not about me. I consider Innocent Words to be a small family and I couldn’t do this without them. But as I prepare for an interview, I try to be original with my questions. I don’t want to go through the robotic “10 questions to ask a band with a new album.” One of the best compliments I could get is when I am interviewing someone and they say “that’s a good question, no one has ever asked me that before.”

I am always the one asking the questions and it makes me feel somewhat guilty, even though I have heard some of the most amazing music stories you can think of. During the end of the interviews, I will sometimes ask an artist if there is anything they would like to ask me. It only seems fair.

When IW’s 15th anniversary started coming closer, I thought I’d take that concept further and gather some of my all-time favorite artists and have them ask me a few questions. To my surprise, I got a lot of responses. We started this series in three parts since we had so many responses. Now, we give you the full list of questions. I hope you enjoy it. You might learn way more than you wanted to about me and Innocent Words.

Thank you all for supporting Innocent Words, reading and sharing our stories and reviews. It means the world to me.

Troy Michael
Founder, publisher, editor, writer, minion

Josh Berwanger (The Only Children, The Anniversary, Berwanger)

Josh Berwanger: What inspires you to keep doing Innocent Words?

Troy: I don’t know if there is one thing really. I do admit I get frustrated at times with some things, mostly the fakeness of PR people, but honestly, I absolutely love what I do. It’s not like a “real job.” I had plenty of shitty jobs before I started Innocent Words and I could never go back to that life. When you boil it down, I am just a music nerd with a way to tell other people about music I believe in. I get to interview musicians who I idolized when I was a teenager and some have become good friends. How weird is that?

Josh Berwanger If you could work for any music publication in any era which would it be and why?

Troy: This is a really good question. The smart money would be to say Rolling Stone in the 1960s, they were so compelling and not the shit show they are now. However, my true answer would be Metal Edge or Hit Parade in the 1980s because I read those magazines more than I read my school books. It was the music bible to me. All those hair metal bands and that lifestyle would have been insane.

Luis Cabezas (The Dollyrots)

Luis Cabezas: What guitar riff do you like to jam on the most?

Troy: Honestly, I don’t play anyone’s music because I feel like I would be disrespecting the song that they wrote because I couldn’t play it like them. I just pay my own songs.

Carlene Carter

Carlene Carter: What has driven you and inspired you most to keep Innocent Words going all these years?

Troy: Music means everything to me. I know it sounds cliché, but for me, words can’t express how much music has done for me. It has been there through my health issues, facing death, good times, bad times, girlfriends, you name it. It has literally saved my life and I feel like I owe music so much that I should give back because it’s gave me so much. And let’s face it, I am a music nerd. There is nothing like hearing a song or an album and feeling it with every emotion you have, then you get so excited you should tell a friend. That’s basically how we built Innocent Words, one friend at a time.

Rosanne Cash 

Rosanne Cash: Who was your favorite band at the age of 15?

Troy: At the age of 15 I was deep into hair metal music. It was 1986 after all. Of all the bands, out there though, my favorite was Def Leppard. I was obsessed with that band, still am to some degree. I even owned the Union Jack shirt and shorts. I picked up the guitar because of Phil Collen and Steve Clark and I feel like I owe them a debt of gratitude.

Sluggo Cawley (The Grannies)

Sluggo Cawley: You strike me as an intelligent, caring and empathetic soul – how do you see music and writing about music (hopefully) helping with the crap we will all be dealing with? I’m referring specifically and peripherally to the election of a man who by all accounts is a bigoted sexual predator. Not to mention a corrupt businessman.

Troy: You said a mouthful of truth there, Sluggo. Honestly, the next four years scare the shit out of me. Not only for music and freedom of speech, but for my female friends, those with health issues, and the elderly. Musicians have the power to rally the troops so to speak up. I am afraid all our efforts will be futile though. I think musicians and artists must stick together because we are all in this together.

Tanya Donelly (Throwing Muses, Breeders, Belly)

Tanya Donelly: You have a wide range of musical loves; can you point to a common thread, however thin, in the music you are drawn to?

Troy: For me, music is very emotional. The highest art form there is. I can go through and pick out any album and tell you something about that music which happened to me. Whether it is about a girl, or somewhere I was, or even what mood it puts me in. But to answer your question, it all started with rock music, the guitar, which to me is a piece of art. I started playing guitar when I was 12 because I thought I was going to be a rock star and get all the girls. Neither of those things happened. I still play guitar though. I have yet to get the girl. I don’t know why or when, but I developed this unquenchable thirst for music. I’d read the music magazines like they were my bible. Anytime a band would mention another band they liked, I had to go get a cassette or CD of that band they mentioned. Also, to put it bluntly, music literally saved my life and I feel I owe it everything I have.

Pete Droge (singer/songwriter)

Pete Droge: Do you have a daily routine? If so how does the magazine fit into it?

Troy: I do have a routine and the magazine is the routine. I am a creature of habit for medical reasons. For the last 15 years, Innocent Words has been everything to me. I hope to break out of my shell this year and accomplish some personal goals.

Pete Droge: How do you balance the creative work involved in making IW happen with the business side?

Troy: Going into Innocent Words, I knew about music, I knew about writing. When it came to the business side, I was clueless. I’ve learned as I went along. Luckily, I have had help from some amazing people. We don’t have a lot of overhead so the business side isn’t that time consuming. I never set out to be a huge publication. I’d rather have the longevity and quality over a big bank account.

Heidi Lynne Gluck (The Only Children, Some Girls, The Pieces)

Heidi Lynne Gluck: What’s your karaoke song?

Troy: I’ve never sang karaoke in my life. I don’t even sing in the shower. If you heard my singing voice, you’d get it.

Heidi Lynne Gluck: What do you like to eat/what do you like to cook?

Troy: I am a very picky eater due to health issues. I eat a lot of chicken and have become pretty good at making various chicken recipes. But my all-time favorite meal is spaghetti and meatballs with salad and Italian bread. I also have a sweet tooth. I’ve never met a chocolate chip cookie I didn’t like.

Regan Hagar (Satchel, Brad)

Regan Hagar: If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?

Troy: It’s no secret I would love more than anything to live in Seattle. But as far as visiting, I’ve never been anywhere outside of the Midwest. Traveling is hard for me due to health reasons, but I’d love to go to Italy. It seems so old and beautiful. The same could be said for Ireland, New Zealand and Australia.

Regan Hagar: What three things in nature do you find beautiful?

Troy: Great question. 1. The ocean. By far the ocean is the most amazing and beautiful thing in nature. I am obsessed with water. 2. I love big old trees. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the shapes, the history, or what they do for the world. 3. The animals, they are way better than humans.

Regan Hagar: What do you do in your free time away from Innocent Words?

Troy: What’s this free time you speak of? There is always something to do with Innocent Words, but I don’t mind. I love what I do. But when I do step away from the computer, I love to watch movies, take walks, and working on my books.

Edward Hamell (Hamell on Trial)

Ed Hamell: What was the most exciting interview? Scariest interview?

Troy: I’ve interviewed over 250 musicians and to this day, I still get a little nervous before each one. The most exciting one? I have three: (1) Stone Gossard of Pearl Jam because he was my first “big interview” and I was a huge fan; (2) Phil Collen of Def Leppard because he was a childhood hero and the reason I picked up guitar; and (3) Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top because it’s fucking Billy Gibbons.

I’ve never had a scary interview, but I’ve had two horrible interviews. Both musicians turned out to be real douches. Come to find out, some other magazines had the same issue with this one musician and we vowed never to interview or support her music again.

Ed Hamell: Did you mourn the loss of the print media version?

Troy: We went to “web only” in December of 2008 and to this day I still miss having a physical magazine in my hands. There was nothing like putting a magazine together then picking it up at the printers, filling up the car, and going out to deliver. I am hoping print comes back the way vinyl has done with audio.

Ed Hamell: Where would you like to see Innocent Words 5 years from now? 10?

Troy: I have always taken Innocent Words year by year. I was very close to shutting it down in 2014, but I was so close to putting out 100 issues and I wanted to make that mark. I do know that I’d like to scale Innocent Words back so I can reach some personal goals like getting my books published.

Gretta Harley 

Gretta Harley: What were the records that first made you fall in love with music?

Troy: My first three records were Kiss ‘Love Gun’ (1977); The Go Go’s ‘Beauty and the Beat’ (1981); and Prince ‘1999’ (1982). I didn’t realize it until now, but that is diverse, which I pride myself on diversity. Even before that I would lay in front of my parent’s cheap all-in-one stereo and look through their small vinyl collection of Dolly Parton, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Linda Ronstadt. I was so fascinated with the cover art, the liner notes and gatefold art. I was just five or six years old and I was obsessed with these things.

Gretta Harley: What are the most exciting new musicians / bands that you’re looking forward to hearing in 2017?

Troy: Honestly, I fear for the future of music. Based on recent trends and future trends, I don’t see too much exciting. There will always be a band here or there which will come out of nowhere and blow my mind, but you must dig to find it. There looks to be some good releases coming this year though – Blondie, Bruce Springsteen, The English Beat, KXM, The Dollyrots and UME.

Kristin Hersh (Throwing Muses, 50 Foot Wave)

Kristin Hersh: What is your guilty pleasure song?

Troy: I always find this question interesting. I don’t think I ever feel guilty about any music I listen to. If it moves me, then it’s good in my opinion. I think one thing people might be surprised to hear is that I like some mainstream hip hop when I hear it in movies or on TV, but I don’t actively seek it out.

Kathy Moore (the Guessing Game)

Kathy Moore: Do you notice any musical trends happening currently that would point to an exciting music scene?

Troy: I do see an upcoming trend in music for 2017, but it is far from exciting unless you like “country pop” or “soul pop.” I am hoping with all the reunions of bands from the 90s there will be more guitar-driven bands coming back and hopefully, considering the recent election, some music with some rebellion.

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Allison Moorer

Allison Moorer: Who is the person who has given you the best interview over the years, and why?

Troy: I could kiss ass and say you, because I always love interviewing you. But truth be told, it goes deeper than that. The three best interviews I’ve done are from Phil Collen of Def Leppard, dUg Pinnick of King’s X and Ed Hamell of Hamell on Trial. The reason I say these three guys is because Phil and dUg were my heroes when I was a teenager and here I am 30 years later interviewing them. They are friends now. So, weird. Ed is a huge influence on me and one of the funniest kind-hearted musicians I’ve ever met. When I talk to them, they are still music nerds after all these years.

Kelly Ogden (The Dollyrots)

Kelly Ogden: If you were living in the RV with us on tour, what would you eat for breakfast.

Troy: Cereal. I love cereal. But I’ve never turned down a doughnut.

Louise Post (Veruca Salt)

Louise Post: What’s your favorite season and why?

Troy: Being in Illinois I love the change of season, but my favorite is spring because everything is new again. And I LOVE winter, only if we had the snow like we did when we were kids.

Louise Post: What’s your favorite type of pastry?

Troy: I’d cut someone for a piece of butter streusel coffee cake fresh out of the oven.

Louise Post: Who is your hero, and why?

Troy: I have three heroes. One, my grandfather. Though he had his faults, he stood up for the less fortunate in my small town. The second would be Abraham Lincoln. I love and admire what he overcame to make the country a better place. Finally, my music hero is Johnny Cash, pretty much for the same reasons as the others. I love how he helped the downtrodden, plus we share the same birthday.

Rachael Sage

Rachael Sage: Are the reasons you continue to work so hard running your own amazing publication the same as when you first started?

Troy: Yeah, I think so. I started Innocent Words in 2002 to write about bands and musicians I loved and believed in. I was freelance writing for a lot of publications and I’d suggest a band and they wouldn’t let me write about them because the band wasn’t popular enough. I thought that was insane because someone had to give the Stones or Zeppelin a chance when no one heard of them.

Rachael Sage: If you could talk to yourself 15 years ago, and give yourself any advice, what would it be?

Troy: Don’t put every single second of every single day into Innocent Words. Have a life, a social life. Go on vacation. I’ve never had a vacation. What we are doing isn’t rocket science. No one will die if I don’t get a review in or a press release posted. But then I feel like I let people down.

Rachael Sage: What do you think your secret is for continuing to operate a successful music publication when so many have folded or given up?

Troy: I don’t think it is any one reason or secret. First and foremost, I have a wonderful staff of writers and editors who make Innocent Words what it is today. We don’t have a lot of money or a budget or anything that the big publications do, but I think what works for us is staying true to ourselves. We never ever put ourselves or our writing above anyone.

Kim Shattuck (the Muffs, the Pandoras)

Kim Shattuck: What song contains your favorite guitar solo?

Troy: Oh wow. Off the top of my head – Jimi Hendrix “Voodoo Chile,” Def Leppard “Photograph,” Dokken “In My Dreams,” and anything Jimmy Page did in Led Zeppelin.

Kim Shattuck: What or who is your favorite vegetable?

Troy: I am a sucker for radishes, except if you eat to many, you get some wicked burps. Carrots are a close second.

Jean Smith (Mecca Normal)

Jean Smith: Do you think art — and music specifically — can impact the direction the US is taking?

Troy: I sure hope so. Music is the most powerful form of art in my opinion. When George “Dubya” Bush was in office I remember a lot of bands speaking up against him and the hypocrites in D.C. But recently I haven’t seen that. Maybe bands got too comfortable with Obama being such an inspiring leader. I was hoping to see A LOT more bands rallying and speaking out against 45, but it hasn’t happened. Music can impact and empower people, but make a difference? I don’t think so. I think those assholes in D.C. do whatever they want whenever they want.

Rikki Styxx (The Two Tens, The Dollyrots, The Darts)

Rikki Styxx: What’s your favorite concert of 2016. Why?

Troy: Me and a couple friends got to see one of my all-time favorite bands, Soul Asylum on July 9 at Thalia Hall in Chicago. We got to hang out with Dave Pirner for a little bit after the show. You can read all about it here: http://innocentwords.com/innocent-words-concert-review-and-photo-blog-soul-asylum-at-thalia-hall-chicago-july-9-2016/


Maria Taylor (Azure Ray, Little Red Rocket)

Maria Taylor: Do you play an instrument? if so, were you ever in a band? if so, what was the band name?

Troy: I’ve played guitar on and off since I was in sixth grade. I never played in a band seriously. I’d get together to play cover songs with friends, but nothing ever came of it. I still play guitar, I am obsessed with them.

Maria Taylor: Do you prefer:
Beer or wine? I can’t drink due to health reasons, but if I did, it’d be wine.
Baths or showers? Showers. I love water, but I don’t want to soak in my dirty water in a bathtub.
East coast or west coast? Pacific Northwest, specifically, Seattle.
John Lennon or Paul McCartney? John because he was more of a rebel.

Gina Villalobos 

Gina Villalobos: What do you think is lost on bands that came out, formed post Facebook, compared to bands that were pre-Facebook?

Troy: That is simple. Work ethic. Musicians have it so much easier today with social media to promote their music. With sites like iTunes and Bandcamp to get their music heard, not to mention recording. Anyone with a computer can make an album and put it out without leaving their bedroom. It’s sad really. They don’t know the hardships of touring in a beat-up van or literally playing for a meal or figuring out where they are going to sleep on the road. How many bands would know how to use an actual map to find their way on tour these days? Those hardships made bands last. It was make it or bust for bands in those days and I think that is why bands like the Rolling Stones, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, Pearl Jam have lasted. I don’t foresee a band having the longevity these bands have had.

Kim Virant (Lazy Susan)

Kim Virant: What song makes you super happy?

Troy: The list is long, but my top five would be 1) Led Zeppelin “Kashmir” 2) Bruce Springsteen “Born to Run” 3) Def Leppard “Photograph” 4) Prince “Little Red Corvette” 5) Soul Asylum “Just Like Anyone.”

Gary Westlake (the Guessing Game, Flight to Mars)

Gary Westlake: When did you realize, you were doing what you were meant to be doing?

Troy: It was gradual. Even after 15 years, I still question if I made the right choice, especially when the bank account is low. But money doesn’t matter to me. I am rich beyond my wildest dreams thanks to everything we have accomplished.

Sean Yseult (White Zombie, Star & Dagger)

Sean Yseult: What is your all-time favorite record?

Troy: Damn, you go right for the throat, don’t you? That’s a tough call. Considering I am a child of the 1980s, I must go with Def Leppard ‘Pyromania.’ Even though Kiss’ ‘Love Gun’ was my first record and made me fall in love with music. ‘Pyromania’ took it to a whole new level. I was, and still am to a certain extent, obsessed with that band and album. It shaped who I was as a kid. I knew I wanted to be in music in some sort of capacity, even though I was only 12. I just listened to that album the other day and it makes me feel like a wide-eyed pre-teen.

Sean Yseult: What is the best live show you ever attended?

Troy: November 13, 2005. King’s X at a club called the Highdive in Champaign, Illinois. They are one of my all-time favorite bands since their debut album ‘Out of the Silent Planet’ came out in 1988 but I never got to see them live. They came to town for a show and we all hung out, went to dinner, hung out on the tour bus. I had all access to take photos. I felt like a rock star, if only for a brief moment. That band, those guys are so underrated, but more than that, they taught me more about life and music than most bands.


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