You might not know the name Michael Licata, but you definitely know the artists he's worked with -- from Chris Brown & Rihanna; to Blues Traveler & Ricky Martin; and even Drake & Ringo Starr. As diverse as the artists he's worked with, so are the different hats he's worn in the music industry: manager, agent, drummer, writer, producer and even musical director. His current endeavor, and possibly his most important to date, is a dual role with the exciting Femmes of Rock. Early this year they played the Weidner Center, and this October they will be back opening for Cheap Trick and Bad Company at the Resch Center. Michael takes time out of his busy schedule to chat with Wisconsin Music about his past, present and future.
WM: You're not only the manager of the Femmes of Rock, but you're also their drummer! When did you first start playing drums?
ML: I was eight years old. My dad had a huge record collection, and I would grab pens or pencils and play along to them. I just heard the beat. I never really focused on any other instrument or vocals. It was all about the groove and the pocket for me, even as a kid. My parents bought me a drum kit when I was ten and I never looked back. In high school I played for the orchestra, the jazz band, the musicals and two different rock bands. I just never stopped.
WM: What were your musical influences? Things your dad listened to or did you gravitate towards something on your own?
ML: I was pretty open-minded to pop and rock as a kid. Growing up I played in some Top 40 bands, but the defining moment in my life was hearing AC/DC. My style is pretty much the same. Meat and potatoes, two and four, back beat, hard hitting groove. I played the same hard-hitting style with Ricky Martin as I do now with Femmes of Rock when we're playing Metallica. No nonsense!
WM: What do you consider your first professional gig?
ML: The first thing I ever did that was on a national level was play over five years in a top 40 show band out of Miami. We played five one-hour sets a night. That was when people used to actually go out and see bands… not that I want to date myself! (laughs) But people would come out five nights a week. That was like school for me. The first real GIG that I had was with a pop singer named Jermaine Stewart. He had a hit in the late '80s called "We Don't Have To Take Our Clothes Off", and I'm in the video for that. You can't miss me, I'm the only white guy! I was his drummer and music director. I saw the world with Jermaine and he was the greatest guy. We were the best of friends until he passed away in 1997. So that got me in television and touring around the world, and it took off from there. If you watch the video for that song, you'll see for a horrifying moment me wearing this long trench coat.
WM: Are the rumors true that you're going to be wearing that outfit in Green Bay during the concert with Bad Company and Cheap Trick? (laughs)
ML: I would… but I'm wearing it now! (more laughs) I actually have that coat in my closet. I'm going to give it to my son someday. He'll probably disown me when he sees the Duran Duran outfits his dad used to wear!
WM: You've played drums for a lot of great talent, including Savage Garden and Ricky Martin. What was your favorite gig, minus your current one with the Femmes of Rock?
ML: Man, that's tough. Because this is, by far, my favorite gig. I get to play all my favorite drummers! It's very challenging when you have a specific style, like I do, to have Rush thrown at you. To try to do Neil Peart on a small drum set was rough. It took me a month to learn Nina's crazy arrangement of seven Rush songs, but I did it!
I get to drum the Who and Led Zeppelin every night, all my favorite drummers. But it is challenging. Otherwise my second favorite gig was working with Jermaine Stewart. That really was a band of brothers.
WM: In your impressive career, any Spinal Tap moments?
ML: There was some in every single band. But early in my career in that Top 40 cover band we were playing live on television in Montreal. It was for a telethon and they supplied the drum set. Both the kit and the chair were very rickety. In the middle of one of the songs I leaned backwards and fell off both the chair and the drum riser! I had to scramble to get back up and continue to drum as if nothing happened. (laughs)
WM: This October 27th you're returning to Green Bay, opening for Bad Company and Cheap Trick. Why is this a dream concert for you?
ML: That's easy. My four favorite bands growing up were Kiss, Aerosmith, Cheap Trick and AC/DC. I've met members from all those bands except for Cheap Trick. They are just legendary to me. When we got the call to do this concert, I was over the moon.
We are going to leave everything we've got on that stage. We want to be the band that had the opening slot and won everybody over. That's our mission.
WM: Things are moving fast for the Femmes of Rock! What's on the horizon?
ML: In eighteen months with the Femmes of Rock, we are just on fire. Everyone is like-minded. Nina and myself manage the band, and we have a great agent. We bleed on stage, nobody is phoning it in. I don't see many bands out there anymore that are just crushing it the way that we do. I don't mean to sound arrogant … that's just a confidence thing. I'd pay to see this band because I like the music, I like the arrangements and I like that everybody in the band is playing with real passion. We're not trying to get a record deal; we just really enjoy what we're doing.
So there are many things in the pipeline. We already have a few videos and a EP that we sell at the shows, but there's plans for another EP and video. We're going to keep pushing and we hope to take things to the next level in 2019.