Michaelangelo Matos Q&A

April 18, 2022
Michaelangelo Matos knows more about Prince than you.

“When I do research I use a lot of files and folders. I turn a lot of printed matter into type using onlineocr.net, and I make large documents of material that I convert to pdf and highlight on my iPad. I reduce these docs a couple of times, adding ideas and organizing as I go. When I write, it’s easy because I have endnoted every citation in advance, so making the notes is a snap.”

In your book on electronic dance music, you conducted more than 300 interviews and reviewed a ton of publications. Do you love the research part of writing books? Or does it ever get overwhelming?

Of course I love it, to a fault. And of course it gets overwhelming, because the digital age allows me to take endless photos of book and magazine pages and microfilm screens with my phone, download tons of pdfs of old publications — in the case of The Underground Is Massive, there were several old mailing list archives as txt files that totaled many thousand pages when converted to pdf. For sheer volume, that’s entirely different than going to the library and Xeroxing things or copying them out.

How do you organize your reporting for books? Do you use any kind of software tool?

No software tools, just a lot of files and folders. I turn a lot of printed matter into type using onlineocr.net, and I make large documents of material that I convert to pdf and highlight on my iPad. I reduce these docs a couple of times, adding ideas and organizing as I go. When I actually write, it’s easy because I have endnoted every citation in advance, so making the notes is a snap.

You wrote the 10th-ever book in the 33 1/3 series with your 2004 book on Prince’s Sign o’ the Times. Did you think at the time that 33 1/3 would still be going  strong? Have you ever wanted to do another 33 1/3 book?

I’m not surprised, no. And no, I haven’t.

Did you do and do you still hear a lot from Prince fans after his passing? You wrote one of the best books on his work, and I think one of the first.

It’s not actually one of the earliest — the first were out in 1984, and there were several between those and mine, from 2004. I don’t hear from fans all that often. However, when he died my inbox had a dozen offers from editors within about five minutes. It was eerie.

Your book on the year 1984 was such a fun read, and filled with your legendary research and eye for cultural analysis. How do you compare the cultural power of today’s pop icons — say Kanye/Taylor/Beyonce — with the triumvirate of 1984?Would you say pop icons hold more or less relevance?

I don’t think anyone has called my research legendary before, so thanks. It’s hard to gauge today’s pop icons because I pay basically no attention to them; in 2011, I got off the new-release treadmill and have been far happier as a result. I do listen to and write about new music because I get to pick and choose; before, I operated under the mistaken notion that I should keep up. I also have a hard time hearing music through deafening hype, and all three acts you name are surrounded by it. I like things by all of them but the only one I have a real handle on is Kanye, whose first three albums are great and whatever else I’ve heard has been swollen guff. 

Did you know early that you would be a music journalist and author? Was it a set decision in your life from early on, because you loved music so much?

Yes, I did. I knew I was a writer at 8 or 9, knew I would be a journalist early, and music became my subject/obsession around 12, in part because I liked reading about it.

You have one of the great pen names in all of literature. Forgive me if you’ve answered this a million times, but is that your real name?

It’s Michael Angelo Matos, which I modify. I tell people this whenever they ask, sometimes showing my ID.

I’d love your one-word take on some of the music critic icons of our time. Lester Bangs? Greil Marcus? Robert Christgau?

Early heroes all. I still like reading all three even as their musical interests now, in Marcus and Christgau’s cases, have basically nothing to do with mine.

I consider you among the rock critic icons of today, along with Hanif Abdurraqib, Rob Sheffield, and Jessica Hopper. Who else should we be reading?

Well, thank you. I don’t read a lot of new music writing, comparatively speaking. But Chris O’Leary, who does 64 Quartets and wrote two big Bowie books, and Leor Galil of the Chicago Reader, are two favorites. And Alfred Soto, by whom I read everything.

What is next for you?

Not sure.

Photo by Seze Devres