Michael LaRocco (Professor/Musician)

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In this offering, we get up close and personal with Michael LaRocco.

Dr. Michael LaRocco is a media studies professor, media artist, and musician from Chicago, Illinois, currently residing in Louisville, Kentucky. He makes music as The Unshored, and plays guitar in Sallah, the self-proclaimed “world’s greatest” Indiana Jones-inspired black metal band. His academic research is on the history of media technology, especially video cameras and virtual reality systems, but he writes and lectures on heavy metal music and culture as a side project. His greatest contribution to society thus far is having shot the video for “Jones BBQ and Foot Massage.”

The first record I ever bought with my own money was…

I grew up in the 80s, so the first piece of music I ever bought was the cassingle for Technotronic’s “Pump Up the Jam.” I was way into cassingles as a kid – they were cheap, so it was easy to collect a lot of them. It was probably my favorite physical media experience, laying them all out on my bed like baseball cards. The first full album I bought – also on cassette – was “Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em” by MC Hammer. I was a full-on 80s hiphop kid, as I was from the South Side of Chicago and that was the style of my neighborhood. Grunge changed all that, though!

The record that made me want to make music was…

Metallica’s “…And Justice for All.” By age 13 I was a diehard metal fan, and it was around then that I started playing guitar. Songwriting was challenging for me at first, but I eventually settled into a style that was highly influenced by “Justice” – thrashy, layered guitar parts, weird solos, long songs, meandering bridges. My bass is audible, though…

The record I’ve played more than any other is…

Megadeth’s “Rust in Peace.” It’s one of my favorite albums ever, and it was my daily training regimen for playing guitar when I was like 19. I would put the album on and just play it front to back. Playing along with albums was a huge part of my learning how to play, and how to write riffs. As far as riffs go, that album is the gold standard for me.

The record that always make me feel good is…

Little Feat’s “Feats Don’t Fail Me Now.” I’m really indebted to my wife who introduced me to a ton of great music apart from heavy metal, and this album is probably my favorite in that regard. I first heard it up at her family’s cabin in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It’s just a small cottage out in the woods in the middle of nowhere, and there’s a certain peace there that’s really magical. “Feats” is one of our go-to records there, and listening to it connects me with the peace of the cabin no matter where I am. It’s a good example of how records can evoke a sense of place.

The record I turn to when I’m feeling down is…

When I was depressed as a teenager I would turn to Type O Negative’s “October Rust,” as that album was really melancholy, but its depth corresponded to teenage emotion. Now when I’m feeling down I listen to Yob. “Clearing the Path to Ascend” hits me the hardest. It just has such emotional depth, it allows for a kind of catharsis I can’t get anywhere else. As I get older I’m trying to get more in touch with my emotions after burying them for decades, and music is really helping me do that.

The record with my favorite cover art is…

This is a really hard question because there are plenty of albums where I like the art but I have no connection to it, or it isn’t iconic, or doesn’t activate any nostalgia. The one that checks all the boxes for me is Metallica’s “Master of Puppets.” It’s the album that got me into metal, I had the tab book, I had the shirt, it’s just the cover that I’ve loved the longest. That said, shout-out to every Derek Riggs Maiden cover.

The strangest LP I own is…

I have a lot of weird records, but I think “Christmas With Colonel Sanders” [see photo] is my favorite. I lived in Chicago pretty much my whole life and I recently moved to Kentucky, and my wife and I marked the occasion by stopping at a flea market along the way and buying that record for a dollar. Sadly it’s not the Colonel himself performing, but a compilation of Christmas songs performed by various 60s music artists. I’ve never listened to it.

The rarest LP I own is…

Probably some of the Pearl Jam imports I bought back in the early 90s, prior to listening to metal. There was a record store just outside Chicago called “Crow’s Nest” and they had an “Imports” section. Pearl Jam only had two albums at the time and I was obsessed with them, so I had to scour all the record stores if I wanted to hear new stuff. I genuinely miss that treasure hunting. Thinking back, it reminds me of how rare recordings were so special prior to digital music sharing. They’re still cool, but lots of previously rare stuff is super easy to get – it’s like, on YouTube. I have a recording of a show Pearl Jam played in Italy, and last I checked it still wasn’t available online, so I guess that’s a sign rarity!

The last LP I bought was…

Gojira’s latest album, “Fortitude.” I really haven’t been into their recent releases, and I’m like a broken record on Metal Twitter because I always rant about “old Gojira” ad nauseam. That’s a band that I truly got into on the ground floor. My buddy Nick from Krallice was studying abroad in like 2003 and he caught them touring on “The Link.” He brought me a copy of that and “Terra Incognita” and he was like, “This band from France is super weird!” Like nobody in the States knew they existed, but I was obsessed with those two albums, trying to get people to listen to them. I love the weirdness on those records. I was a little disappointed because they got away from that quite a bit as the years went on, but obviously it worked out for them! But I do like this new record, and it feels kinda cathartic to fully accept their evolved form.

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The Unshored’s latest self-titled album was released on May 27, 2015. Digital download is available. You can check out Sallah’s Bandcamp page here.


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