AltPress is an alternative rock music magazine. They have been in operation for thirty years and in that time, have featured some of the biggest names in rock on their cover including Nine Inch Nails, Nirvana, Oasis, and Marilyn Manson.

This month, Adore Delano, a famous drag queen, graces the cover of the magazine’s first ever “pride” edition.

Publisher Mike Shea discusses the magazine, why they decided to launch a pride issue, how they chose Adore for its cover, and more via an exclusive interview.

Writing, publishing, and interviews

Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you get interested in rock and how did that guide you towards writing and publishing rock-related articles?

Mike Shea (MS): I got into punk rock thru MTV back when it started in the mid-80s. I thought that Billy Idol was the coolest rocker around. I loved the rebelliousness of his personality, and his style was more FU than anything the hair metal bands were wearing. I think he was also my first male rock singer crush, so I’m sure that influenced everything too. Soon after, I graduated into Goth, and after making friends with some of the true underground punks in Cleveland, I was introduced into deeper cuts like all the Batcave stuff from the UK and American post-Ramones era punk like Black Flag, etc.

Back then, my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio was pretty Bruce Springsteen, “Born in the USA.” It was an industrial town, so underground music wasn’t really talked about a lot here, though there were definitely micro-communities of rebellious music fans all over town.

One of my favorite bands, The Smiths, ended up bypassing Cleveland on their tour in 1985 and I was pretty pissed off about it, and I wanted to know why. Having been previously my high school’s newspaper and yearbook editors, I knew how to make a newspaper, write stories, negotiate to print, get photographers to take pictures for us, etc.

I talked to some friends, and I started a fanzine to bring together all of the local sub-communities of music misfit fans here in town. It was called “Alternative Press” literally because it was an alternative to the other print media in town who wouldn’t report on our scenes.

MM: What was it like to get AltPress off the ground?

MS: I borrowed some money from my mom to get us going, and after a few local benefits show to help raise additional funds, we eventually ended up sharing office space with my editor in his apartment down on Coventry Road in Cleveland. Our first staff meetings were at Arabica’s coffee house up the street (which is now the Grog Shop concert venue). My editor had a stipulation that we could share the space with him unless he was going to bring a girl home and then we would have to split.

For the first decade, we were right there in the beginning of the careers for, now, major acts like Nine Inch Nails, Smashing Pumpkins, Marilyn Manson, Rancid, Green Day and many more. By the time the mid-90s rolled around, we were one of the top three music publications in America, behind Rolling Stone and Spin.

Essentially, we would discover the cool new underground band, they would grow, and then Spin would cover them, and then Stone would cover them because Spin did. There was a pipeline in print to grow an artist’s career. It was pretty harmonious until the late 90’s happened and everyone got super competitive and stupid at the newsstand.

AP continued to grow. We were the first ones on the UK Brit Rock explosion in the mid-90s and gave the first US covers to Oasis and Radiohead. Later on, we were the first on Nu-Metal and first covers with Limb Bizkit, Korn, Disturbed and even a pretty odd Creed cover there too.

My team was out on Warped Tour that summer with our booth and they reported back that there was a new wave of young bands that were only selling 40-60,000 records (which was very low back then) but their fan bases were nuts and would buy anything.

We thought, maybe it wasn’t about how big your band was in order to carry a cover of a major publication, maybe it had to do with fan enthusiasm. So we did a split cover with AFI and Saves The Day, two of these smaller but with crazy fan-based bands. It sold out. Then we did Good Charlotte and eventually Dashboard Confessional, and when Emo exploded, we were right there, and AP was brought into a new generation of young music fans, giving the first covers to Fall Out Boy, Paramore, Panic! At the Disco, My Chemical Romance and later on Twenty-One Pilots.

MM: Were any AltPress interviews particularly memorable?

MS: I actually remember more the off-the-mic moments where you could hang out with artists and just talk like people.

Interviews with artists, especially those that are media-trained, can tend to be cat-and-mouse games of information gathering. So, when you meet an artist who knows how to drop the facade when the recorder is off and can just talk with you instead of at you, it’s pretty great. Speaking with Brendon Urie a year ago backstage about my experience when I was a teenager in the early ‘80s when I was trying to figure out why I was attracted to guys more than girls. He was blown away when I told him about how I had to go to my city library into one of the hardly-visited wings where they kept the psychology books and that the only book I could find that talked about homosexuality said it was a mental disorder.

Urie is very LGBTQ-friendly as an artist, and it’s a legitimate position for him, not done for cameras and positive press. We talked about it for a while, and I’ll remember moments like that for a long time.

Pride and rock music

MM: Why did you decide to do a pride issue now?

MS: Because it’s about damn time! Twenty years ago, much less ten, the rock community, including the underground community, were still pretty in the closet and music fans, in general, didn’t know what to think about a gay singer/musician. If someone came out, it was the bassist or the former guitarist and it never really moved the needle. Bit by bit, yes, but it never really kicked the door open. Once Millennials came into their own that began to change and, in a way, the old 80’s gay activism “I don’t care what you think” mantra was reborn and artists began to come out and not care what anyone thought.

Between that and the legalization of gay marriage, the closet doors in the music community were taken down and artists have been coming forward ever since. You can tell there’s a difference now when young artists just state their sexuality from the beginning, and their fanbases continue to grow regardless, instead of in the past where artists came out much later after the spotlight began to fade.

MM: How did you choose Adore Delano for the cover?

MS: Adore Delano was just a super perfect fit for us. She represents everything AP has ever stood for: that entire punk rock, a DIY philosophy that she uses to guide her career. She came from the alternative rock community and was an AP reader when she was growing up too.

She’s essentially a disruptor in the drag community when you come to think of it, and we live in an era where disruption is King (or Queen in this form.) She’s shaking things up and bringing drag into a new era, and we wanted to support that. Plus, she’s absolutely amazing to work with and is very real. There are some bands we’ve had to work with over the past years who don’t realize that their band is bigger in their head than it is in real life. We love working with appreciative artists these days.

MM: What impact has the LGBTQ community had on rock music?

MS: There’s been plenty of books, articles, and thesis statements were written about rock music and minorities and the LGBTQ community’s involvement and influence from the roots of rock to disco to heavy metal.

From a contemporary standpoint, though, I wake up every day being very glad that I’m living in a time that had evolved from when I was growing up as a confused teenager back in the ’80s. My gay music icons back were Boy George and Jimmy Summerville. There were no gay country singers, and Rob Halford (Judas Priest) or George Michael being gay was only rumors that were brought up by those who usually told you BS stories anyway.

Today, between out artists from all genres of music, including the traditionally homophobic worlds of country and hip-hop/rap, and the ever-growing countless list of LGBTQ-friendly straight artists out there, there is essentially a flood of support compared to where we were even ten years ago.

In a way, Trump is making us stronger, more pissed off and more active. The biggest problem has been apathy and cynicism, and I think Trump has woken a lot of people up to becoming more of an activist in their daily lives. Musicians have been at the forefront in many cases, and I think it’s awesome.

Think of it this way: a year ago, after Trump’s inauguration, the Oscars and Grammys begged artists on stage to not go political and just say your “thank you” and move on. By the end of the year and into this year, both organization’s television hosts came out on stage and said: “say whatever you want, use the show tonight as your platform to the nation and world.”

Things have changed, and that’s awesome.