Seattle-based photographer and author Mike Hipple releases his new book Lived Through This today via Girl Friday books. Made up of photographic portaits and interviews with his favourite musicians from the 1990s, it’s a fascinating window into the past 30 years of music and a great opportunity both to rediscover some great music of the late twentieth century and to find out what those artists are up to now. The list of subjects is a who’s who of the alternative music scene of the period – Nirvana’s Krist Novoselic, Tanya Donelly of Belly, Throwing Muses & Breeders, The Dandy Warhols, Adrian Young from No Doubt – but there are plenty of more niche aritsts, who you may be discovering for the first time as well.
We caught up with Mike to ask him about the book, and he shared his Now & Then playlist with tracks from the ’90s alongside current releases from some of the artists featured within its pages.
Where did the idea for this book come from?
Back in 2008, I started a project I called “The Creatives Project.” I didn’t really have an end game in mind when I started it, I just needed a creative outlet at the time and I reached out to some of my creative heroes and asked to take their portrait. I was surprised at how many folks agreed – these weren’t musicians but artists, authors, and others I admired – folks like Jeremy Fish, Chip Kidd, Dorothy Allison, David Carson, and others. Eventually, I got some musicians to participate – The Raincoats, Alice Bag, and a few others. It all kind of started moving in a more musical direction when I got a call from the ’80s band Nu Shooz to shoot some of their promo images down in Portland, Oregon – which I soon discovered was a hotbed of ’80s musical artists. Music is a passion of mine and once that ball started rolling, it was hard to stop! Once I completed the ’80s book (80s Redux), it just seemed a given to move onto the ’90s.
There’s a real range of bands and artists featured here, from household names to some that might not be familiar to many of our readers – what was your selection process?
My selection process was pretty simple: it had to be a band I loved! And, yes, there are some bands in there that not everyone might know, but I want to kind of want to re-introduce those bands to readers. I include a list of some songs for each band that act as a jumping off point and I’m pretty certain once people check those songs out, they’ll be like “Oh yeah! I remember that song!” If not that, I’m hoping they’ll discover some new bands that they’ll love, too. These artists and songs all were important to me for one reason or another.
Without giving too much away, were there any big surprises when you met these artists and discovered what they’re up to now?
The biggest thing about everyone is how amazingly friendly and down-to-earth everyone was. Everyone really opened their lives to me and were so genuine and kind. Yes, some of the paths people took after their music career was at its height were interesting and maybe a little surprising: Rob Zabrecky from Possum Dixon becoming a magician and Tanya Donelly doing some work as a doula come to mind, but they also seem like a natural path for them at the same time.
Nostalgia has become a strong force in modern culture, with music perhaps one of the clearest examples. Why do you think this is and has meeting your favourite artists from the past in the present day changed your relationship with their music?
I think music is so connected to the memories we make. Those songs you listened to in your youth do hold a certain power to trigger happy memories. For me, music was always such a big part of my life growing up and well into adulthood that I find a song can bring me back to a happy place, or sometimes even a not so happy place. There’s a lot of power in that. Meeting some of these artists that I love has really only strengthened my relationship with their music – I’ve found myself going back and listening to those albums and songs and finding new favorites and re-discovering some deeper cuts I might have lost track of. Plus, I feel like I have some new context for their newer works as well.
How, if at all, has life as a music photographer changed since the era that these bands were starting out?
Honestly, I wasn’t really a “music” photographer before these books came out. My main bread-and-butter work was more editorial work, a smattering of commercial work for clients like Microsoft and Philips, and photo-editing for a news organization. As I mentioned earlier, I started these projects as a way of doing a self-assigned project to find some inspiration among those who inspired me.
You’ve previously completed a similar project photographing your favourite musicians from the ’80s. Are there any other eras or particular scenes that you’ve got your eye on for a future book?
Honestly, no. I don’t feel as invested in some of the bands from other decades as I do with the bands from the ’80s and ’90s. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the music from the 1970s or 2000s or whatnot, I just don’t feel I have as much of a relationship to it as I do with music of the ’80s and ’90s. I was a teenager in the ’80s and a young adult in the ’90s – those songs and artists are so entwined with important life events and experiences, they’ve become a part of who I am in a way that some other eras just aren’t. Music is such a personal thing for everyone – I’m probably not the person to write those other books! I’d love to maybe go back and expand these books, especially the ’80s one. There are lots of artists I haven’t got in these two books that I’m still interested in hearing from! In the meantime, I’m still interested in telling these artists’ stories and have launched a podcast called Lived Through That as well where I’m going into one single story from the artist – not necessarily musically related but a story of a pivotal moment in their lives. That’s been a lot of fun getting that together as well and showcasing a different side of the artist. That’s available now for free wherever you listen to podcasts.
Check out Mike’s Now & Then Playlist with tracks from his favourite 90s artists and the music they’re creating now:
Tanya Donelly (Belly / Throwing Muses / Breeders / The Parkington Sisters / The Lost Seas)
She was in so many great bands that kind of defined the era – Throwing Muses, Breeders, Belly – and there are quite a few songs form the 90s that I absolutely love: Throwing Muses’ “Not Too Soon” and “Dragonhead,” Belly’s “Feed The Tree,” and “Slow Dog.” Belly released a new album back in 2018 with the stellar single “Shiny One” and Tanya still releases music it seems all the time – a collection of covers with the Parkington Sisters last year and a collaboration with an artist Dylan at the Movies under the name the Lost Seas, that come out next year. And, I’ve been telling everyone about this song she released on her Bandcamp during the pandemic called “Bless the Telephone,” a cover of a song by Labi Siffre, which is just amazing.
Sean Dickson (Soup Dragons / McHiFi)
Sean Dickson from the Soup Dragons had some great songs back in the day – “Hang Ten,” “I’m Free,” and “Divine Thing” to name a few. He’s still been doing a ton of great work – he does a lot of DJ and producing work these days and releases some new music here and there, including the uplifting “Testify” he released with Crystal Waters in 2016. This year, he’s worked on a gorgeous project with singer David McAlmont called McHiFi – they just have one single out “Bunker to Bunker” now but they’re hoping to release a whole album early next year. I’ve been working with Sean on my book and podcast and he shared the album with me and it’s amazing – atmospheric, beautiful and haunting.
Miki Berenyi (Lush / Piroshka)
I remember my roommate at the time brought home their EP, Scar and I remember being mesmerized by it – the sounds obviously (and “Thoughtforms” in particular) but the whole presentation. I knew of 4AD Records prior to this obviously, but this was also the beginning of a massive appreciation for the art of Vaughn Oliver. We were all art school kids and admired his work tremendously. I’ve followed Lush along over the years and they’ve remained string the entire time really. The Blind Spot EP they released after reforming in 2017 featured some fantastic songs – “Out of Control” is the best song I’ve ever heard about what it’s like to be a parent. That reunion didn’t last, but Miki Berenyi joined forced with Elastica’s Justin Welsh, Mick Conroy from Modern English and K.J ‘Moose’ McKillop from the underrated band Moose to create Piroshka and released some fantastic material – including “Everlastingly Yours” and the newer “Scratching at the Lid.”
Check out Joyzine’s recent interview with Miki here.
That Dog were one of my absolute favorites in the 90s – “Old Timer,” “He’s Kissing Christian,” “Minneapolis” – all were on constant rotation for me. Singer-songwriter Anna Waronker released two fantastic solo albums after the band broke up in the mid-90s and, in 2019, released a new album with That Dog (Old LP) that was a strong return to form. The first single from that album, “If You Just Didn’t Do It,” seemed to pick up right where the band left off and still sounds as fresh and glorious as it does when I first heard them back in 1992.
Cornershop’s breakthrough 1997 album When I Was Born for the 7th Time, was the first of their albums I heard and, like everyone else, absolutely loved “Brimful of Asha” and “Sleep on the Left Side.” They’ve continued to release a string of great albums through the years and in 2020, they released maybe their best album to date, England is A Garden. Standout tracks on that album include the single “St Marie Under Canon,” “Cash Money,” and “Highly Amplified.”
Magnapop were wholly unappreciated in the 90s – go back and listen to “Open the Door” and “Slowly, Slowly” and tell me you’re not still playing those songs on repeat in a few weeks! They’re still putting great guitar hooks and melodies out there, releasing The Circle is Round in 2019 with the song “Dog on the Door” a particular favorite of mine.
Interview by Paul Maps