Michael Alago has worn a lot of different hats. In the music industry, he's credited for signing a largely unknown Metallica to Elektra records in 1984 and has also worked with such huge names as White Zombie and Nina Simone. He also executive produced Cyndi Lauper's last two albums, including her Grammy-nominated Memphis Blues. But music isn't his central interest anymore. These days, Alago is focused on his photography for the Rough Gods series of books, including the most recent Brutal Truth, which features men who are often very muscular and tattooed and practically demand to be ogled. Whether that's because they're usually fully nude is anyone's guess.
Alago took some time out to chat with Out and tell us about how he chooses subjects for his photos, what's on the horizon for Rough Gods, and about the contents of Nina Simone's purse.
Hi Michael! How are you? How's your day going?
I am feeling good. Having a cup of tea. Just fed my cat named Harry. Getting ready for my 12 step meeting this morning then hitting the gym and the rest is up in the air.
So, we've seen your, er, rousing book, Brutal Truth. How did that name come about?
I was seeing the word "brutal" everywhere for some reason and I was still trying to figure out a book title.
I always thought of my pictures as simple and in your face mixed with some truth telling so when I put the words "brutal truth" together it really summed up what I thought the images in the entire book were all about.
Would you like to tell us a little about Rough Gods?
"Rough Gods" is the moniker that all my pictures go under. I have been branding the name for the last 6 years. You can see the images at my websiteand on my "Rough Gods" Facebook page where I have over 66,000 followers and growing. It's a wonderful feeling to have folks appreciate the work.
How did you get started as a photographer?
I have always loved photographs and the stories that they tell. I remember getting a Polaroid camera as a teenager and loving the instant photograph that popped out of the camera. As an adult I used the camera to shoot mostly "tricks" that i picked up on my travels around the world on any and every late night boulevard that I could find. I now love experimenting with a bunch of camera types from digital to iPhone apps and still use Polaroid film when I can find it.
How do you choose your models?
I choose my models at first by their physicality. I then set up a meeting so that i get a sense of them. I shoot men that I find attractive and most of them are large, muscular, and tattooed. I also try to find as many redheads as I can as I love that porcelain skin and freckles. Hey--is there a big, gay, redhead football player reading this?
What inspires you to take these types of photos?
I love and admire the male physique and I want to show it in all its full blown beauty. That can result in a head shot of a strong profile or a nude portrait. Most of the time the images by nature are erotic because of the look in a man's eye and a full blown hard-on. :
I purposely make the images as sexually charged as possible to provoke conversation because I still feel that America still has a problem seeing the human body nude, especially the male physique naked and in your face.
What about your poetry?
Well, I have a writing partner, Mina Caputo, whom I love to write with. We published our first collaboration called "night blooming jasmine will never smell the same." We are working on a follow up called "today is the day."
What mostly gets put down pen to paper are my observations of the world around me, the people I meet and the experiences that come from those meetings. Sometimes they are poems and sometimes they are rants.
What do you hope people get out of viewing your work?
I want people to get excited when they know they are going to see "Rough Gods" images. I want them to feel sexually charged and free and uninhibited and know that I have presented the sexiest images that I have to give.
What do your old music buddies think about what you do now?
That's funny because I really don't stay in touch with many music business associates from back in the day. Right now is part two of my life and part two of my life involves creative writing, shooting sexy pictures and then executive producing the occasional record for the likes of Cyndi Lauper, Rich Morel, and Mina Caputo so. On the other side of the musical spectrum though I now want to produce the next hard rock/heavy metal record that will change the face of music again like I did when I signed Metallica to Elektra Records back in the summer of 1984.
Working with Nina Simone must have been amazing. Want to tell us a little about that?
Nina Simone is my favorite artist in all the world. She was a tough cookie to work with and by the time I met her she had already recorded for many record labels and was known for being a difficult diva. It was a gift working with her. She spoke about the beauty and the troubles of life with that world weary voice that enchanted everyone who heard her sing. The record I executive produced for her is called A Single Woman. It is a record that speaks of love loneliness and loss. It was modeled after Frank Sinatra's record A Man Alone, which we both loved. I thought she was so beautiful and when she smiled all was right with the world...but don't get on her bad side cause she had quite a temper and you never knew if she was packing a pistol in her purse.
What's next for Rough Gods?
I am shooting lots of photographs and working on my third book of men. The first book "Rough Gods" was self-published. This next book, which is still untitled, will be my second book for the German publishers Bruno Gmunder. I was hoping for a Christmas 2012 release, but I think the first quarter of 2013 sounds much more like it.