Life After Neve: An Interview with Michael Raphael

Many musicians would be content with having Jordana Brewster star in the video to their Billboard Top 20 Single, but to Michael Raphael taping that video was merely a brief moment in a career that has fulfilled childhood dreams and caused enough frustration to quit playing music almost entirely.

His accomplishments dwarf those of many musicians. He has shared stages with Kiss, Nickelback, Rage against the machine, Jessica Simpson, Michelle Branch, and Vertical Horizon while touring the U.S., Japan and Europe; played guitar with Neve (Columbia), Nelson (Geffen) and Jailhouse (Capital); wrote songs that have appeared in The Faculty, Here on Earth, Dawson's Creek, Roswell, Flipper, Baywatch and on ESPN and The Disney Channel. More recently, behind the soundboard he has worked with platinum producer Don Gilmore (Linkin Park, Avril Lavigne) for Columbia Records, who flew him to Canada to work with Social Code (now with Interscope). CoyoteMusic caught up with Michael Raphael one afternoon this summer to find out what the hell a person does after living these achievements, and what one thing would truly make him feel accomplished.

Coyote Music: When did you start playing music and when did you realize it would be a driving force in your life?

Michael Raphael: Actually, my older brother was a big influence. I started playing music when I was 5-years-old and by 5th grade was playing talent shows with a Les Paul. So I guess I've wanted to be a rock star since 5th grade. I remember taking Led Zeppelin and KISS albums to school. What happened as I got older was that I realized I was still living a 5th grader's dream--opening for KISS at packed arenas--so I stepped back and adjusted my life's priorities to fit where I am now.

CM: Opening for KISS would fulfill a lot of musicians' dreams. How did you get that slot?

MR: Neve playing arenas with KISS did fulfill a dream. With all the turmoil in that band it was great to be there with the original line-up. I was a KISS freak as a kid and I'd told Neve's A&R at Columbia that I loved KISS. At one point they learned that some opening dates were open, made a few calls and it happened. Who knows, maybe Gene was doing a favor for the label or something. You know how that works.

CM: Neve was a group you were with that did well nationally but talk a little about Jailhouse, your band before Neve.

MR: Jailhouse was close to being my solo project--I wrote all the songs. That was a different time. Back then it was more about the image. Jailhouse wasn't Poison, but we were about the image. Music then [in the glam metal era of the 80's] was a whole different world. The look was so important. But the music was big in that band, too. Amir Derakh [of Orgy] was in that group and he's sensational. We lasted from about 1988 until 1991.

We sold 40-50,000 albums without having a record deal, our video was on Headbanger's Ball, we had full page articles in Circus Magazine. It was as if everyone but the industry wanted us to succeed. We did finally sign a deal with Enigma Records but it folded soon after and we were left out to dry. Neve started years later. In that downtime I started a family.

After [Jailhouse] I quit being in bands for a while. My manager basically forced me into Neve a few years later to guide the project along, and that's what I did. Neve went around the world--playing around Japan with Rage Against the Machine was incredible.

CM: Did you experience any "hair band" stigma after Jailhouse?

MR: I wanted to re-invent myself with Neve, to leave behind what I'd done before. I didn't want people to know I'd been in Jailhouse. I cut my hair, bleached it, got the new look and Neve came together. It wasn't until more recently that I got comfortable with my past. Now the old videos are up on my website. It's a part of me that's there for everyone to see.

CM: "It's Over Now" seemed to have two lives. Is that right?

MR: It hit big at first as a single from The Faculty. When it hit, our album wasn't finished and then our album was delayed. At that same time, Ricky Martin was blowing up and Columbia's priority went to him. When our album was finally released, Columbia re-packaged the album to make us look like a boy band and made the "brilliant" decision to re-released the same song. Shortly after that we were dropped. Their handling of that situation was the biggest mistake I'd ever seen. Can you imagine releasing the same song twice? I'm cool with that whole situation now, though, 'cause I know how it goes.

I actually just bought the Japanese import of the Neve album online which features the original packaging, the way it was meant to be.

CM: For guys in bands everywhere who long for such an event, tell us what it was like recording a video for your hit song and having a hot, young actress in it. In Neve's case, Jordana Brewster.

MR: I've been married forever so it was different for me than it might have been for the other guys in the band. The video was done in a mansion and we were in our room and she was in hers most of the time. She seemed like a nice person but I saw her smoking during a break and that didn't do much for me. I wonder if she ever saw the video or it carries any memories for her.

Jordana's just another girl out there, too. If J-Lo had been in our video it would of been interesting to hear her take on the business as a whole because she is such a success in every aspect of her career. She is an artist I respect because of her work ethic--also she is not hard to look at.

What some people don't realize is that they are just people, not goddesses. My wife and I sat next to Rebecca Romijn once and just asked her if she wanted to get some lunch. It was very laid back. Same thing with males stars. I ran into Tommy Lee at Disneyland. His bodyguards moved toward me but when I introduced myself and just said, "Tommy, I love the new [Methods of Mayhem] album," he waved them off and we had a great 10-minute talk. He's a cool guy.

CM: Do you consider Neve a "success"?

MR: Neve was a moderate success. A song I recorded for the band Busted has sold 3 million copies overseas. That's success.

CM: So you're not playing now. You're engineering and producing for your own company, Earthtone Sounds. How's that going?

MR: I'm booked 11:00am until 10:00pm 5 days a week. Things are going well.

CM: Are you affordable to the common band?

MR: I usually charge either $500 for a 12-hour day where we get one song completely done at a quality better than most demos. Or, for $1,000 the band and I will spend 2-3 days on 1 songs until it is done to perfection.

CM: On a monetary tangent, a client once asked how long it takes to make money playing in a band because he'd turned down a $50,000/year job to pursue music and it wasn't paying off yet. Do you have a response to that?

MR: If someone told me that I would have told them, "You're fucking crazy. You're probably never going to make $50,000 a year playing music. I'm so direct. They have to know and I'll tell them. I'm not being jaded...well, I am jaded, but I am being honest.

CM: Is that what you are like as a producer?

MR: Bands hate me at first but love me at the end. I don't settle for weakness. I'm like a drill sergeant. But I also truly believe I can get any band to the next level--and "the next level" is different for everyone. It depends on the band's goals. If you want to record an album and sell 2,000 albums to your family, friends and local fans, that's easy.

CM: Have you worked with any really good bands lately?

MR: Trying to work with better up-and-coming bands: Karate Kid High School (San Francisco)...

Fear of the Clown was about to sign with Columbia. I watched their rehearsal and told them they didn't have one song. They busted their asses to get better. They moved to L.A., took six months to get their album sounding the quality of Linkin Park. Their deal fell through and the band broke-up. They couldn't take it. A lot of people can't take it.

CM: What *does* it take to get signed to a label these days and really "make it"?

MR: Success leaves clues. I just bought 3 albums (Yellow Card, Story of the Year and New Found Glory) that sound exactly the same. I like them but they're all very similar in their sound. A band can't say, "We want to sound like no one." That's a shame but that's the way it is.

Then there's age. If you're 30 years old you can't get a record deal. There's an age now and it's from about 18 to 24. At 24 years old you're getting old for the industry. I've been working with the writer of Britney Spears' "Every Time" doing spec [free] work with her because I feel there is a very good chance that her project will be a success. She's 25 but she's got talent. And if the talent's there, I'm in.

CM: You seem to have a sarcastic tone in your voice...

MR: Truthfully, I'm glad the industry is hurting financially. When it dies some nice things will start happening. I mean, labels are really fucking stupid. They don't know what's up. In a lot of ways it's great that they're having so much trouble right now. If they all go under we'd all get to hear a lot of great music.

But about making it, what you need these days to get a deal is a great manager and a booking agency. You need a plan. You've got to have a powerful manager who will walk into a label and lay it all down for them and make it a no-brainer to sign you. Labels used to do all that work but now you have to have every aspect of your group working successfully. Then, even with all that, you have to be what that particular A&R guy is looking for.

CM: Is there anything positive in the industry?

MR: Neve's A&R guy was Randy Jackson. What a great guy. If everyone was like Randy Jackson the world would be a better place. Now he's a TV star, too, which is great for him.

No, the music industry hasn't been about the music in a long, long time. Except for maybe the 70's. I was listening to Dark Side of the Moon the other day and it was so good. But in that case you had such great music and now you have two of the band members not on speaking terms.

CM: If you produce what you know to be a great album, the best quality you can produce, and it doesn't sell well, would you still consider yourself a success?

MR: [After a long pause] No. The industry has robbed me of the joy of playing my guitar. It's like a cheating girlfriend--you wanna get back at it. I wanna beat this beast with everything I have so that this beast will die. There is a lot of rage built up in me. If labels were to get bombed I would be happy to see that.

I want to be a great producer. I want to be the next Don Gilmore. Honestly, I think I will be a major, successful producer in the next few years. I'll consider myself a success when I've done several highly successful albums.

After I produced Busted's 3-million seller I did an interview with Music Connection and they didn't print half the things I said...

CM: We'll print everything you've said. And plug your company. Bands: check out Michael's studio, Earthtone Sounds.

Posted on 7/1/04