Exclusive Interview: Photographer Lance Mercer

Interviews
02/02/2018
KEXP
DJ Kevin Cole, Lance Mercer, and art exhibit producer Charina Pitzel // photo by Mackenzie Mercer

Throughout January, KEXP has been thrilled to host the exhibit Sound & Vision III: AIM + INTENT by Lance Mercer | A Retrospective, spotlighting the work of this iconic local photographer. In mid-December, on the eve of the opening reception, Mercer joined DJ Kevin Cole on the air to share the stories behind these shots, and you can now relisten and read their fascinating chat below.

Time is running out to see the show for yourself as the exhibit closes on Monday, February 5th. Stop by the KEXP Gathering Space at 472 1st Ave N, at the corner of 1st and Republican.


TRANSCRIPTION BY EMILY HARROP

Kevin Cole: Welcome to The Afternoon Show. Appreciate you tuning in this afternoon. We've got a beautiful new show hanging in our gathering space. It is Sound and Vision III: AIM + INTENT by Lance Mercer. It's a retrospective of his work, his entire career, including photographs from the earliest days of grunge, and documents of his years in the early '90s as Pearl Jam's official photographer. There are portraits, there are tributes. There are photos of the early years -- folks like The U-Men, Wipers, Fastbacks, Malfunkshun. Then there's the explosion of the early '90s. Photos of Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Supersuckers, and some amazing photographs of bands from that era and beyond. 

Lance Mercer: Thank you so much. It's an honor actually. I mean, this whole project has become -- took on a life of its own, you know? Anything I could do to support you guys, seriously. I was honored to be asked.

Really appreciate it. One: Your willingness to do it. And then, I know that when we initially talked, I probably down-sold it a little, like, "Here's the space, and we'll do 30 photographs and we're all good!"

I don't do much in moderation, Kevin.

And there's a real beauty to that.

I appreciate it. Well, usually, you know what's crazy? At first, I thought, "Well, I don't nearly have enough to fill the space up." And then I had way too many. So trying to figure out which ones to include. I mean, as you know, it's been going all the way up until last night.

Yeah, I think we hung the show on Thursday, took it down, and you wanted to do some more printing. I know you did at least 200 shot photo prints.

It was pretty crazy. That's usually how that works for me. I'd like, start off in this broad, you know, it's just huge, and then have to narrow it way down. And I'm still of course not happy.

Does that create anxiety for you when you have to make a decision, or "I have all this stuff. Now I have 200, but I can only pick 35?"

Anybody that has been around me or talking to me in the last month will admit that there's been a little anxiety involved in this whole process. But it's a good kind of anxiety. I mean, I've said this a bunch, and I'm so thankful for you guys because no matter how crazy my life gets and how chaotic things are, I can always rely on this work that I have to provide some confidence and just feel safe doing it. And my photo teacher said a long time ago, and words to the wise that I still try to adhere to. It's like, if you can get to 75 - 80 percent, then just walk away and you'll be done. But of course, you know, trying to get to 100 percent.

Musicians go through that same struggle, right? You record so much material, and even just mixing a record there are so many choices, and at a certain point, you just gotta go: Stop. Done. And let it go let others appreciate it and do what they will with it.

Absolutely yeah. Overthinking is definitely something I enjoy doing. One of my favorite pastimes.

So I want to go back just to start here. And we're going to play a lot of music and a lot of music that we're going to talk about. And also artists that you're featuring in your show, but you really grew up with the scene as the scene grew. And I'm talking about late '80s, and then into the kind of explosion. What came first for you? Music, or art and photography?

Man, that's a tough one. It was kind of a combination of both. I mean, I was a little punk kid. Kind of lost. Not sure what to do, but I'll tell you, and it's somewhat cliche, and you've heard this story probably many times with different people, but there was a big record collection in our house, so I was exposed to a lot of music. Mainly '60s hippie music, and so of course, being a good punk I put that all away.

But came back to it later.

Yeah, of course! That's how it works!

Then you're like, "Bob Dylan, he's actually pretty good!"

Funny you say that, because Bob Dylan was a big -- my middle name actually. So what I realized is that looking at The Clash, London Calling, the album cover for that, The Ramones. I didn't have to be Ansel Adams to take photos. Because I knew that I wanted to take photos, and there was this music, and the energy and feelings I was getting from going to these shows. There's this thing when people go to shows, and they take photos, and they try and show you the photos, and tell you how great the show is, and the band's really tiny in the frame. And I knew that I had to get closer and there were just all these things that kind of happened really fast at once. But mainly it was I wanted to get the same feeling that I was getting while listening to these records. So whether it's people that want to start bands listening to the Ramones, and realize, you know, three chords and start a band kind of thing. I just applied the same principles in photography. Now, the photos were horrible, but it didn't matter. I just brought my camera everywhere. I had a really crappy Pentax Scale K1000 camera that you get a Kmart for hundred bucks.

Are we talking like post-high school right now?

No, no, it was actually before that. I was like 14 or 15. I knew by about 16 that this was what I wanted to do, and I was pretty determined.

And were you at the time realizing that these photos, in your opinion, you didn't think they were very good. I've seen some of them, they're awesome! And they do actually capture the sound and the energy of the bands, and I think that's such a hard thing to do.

It really is. I'm still striving to do that. And I don't want to ever feel like I've accomplished that yet. I can look at a few photos and go, "OK. Well, that does it for me." But I'm still teachable with all that stuff.

At what point did you get serious and go as a 16-year-old, "OK. I'm going to the shows, I'm capturing photos. This is good, but I want to learn more, I want to know more. I want to commit to this."

I was at Nova High School, and there was a teacher there who asked me what I wanted to do. One of the first teachers that ever did. And I told him. And so he looked into the Seattle Central photo program. And so by the time I was 17, I went up there and I enrolled in that program. Now that was a commercial photography program, and I needed to get bigger cameras and more expensive gear, like I had no idea what I was getting into, but I just kind of jumped in. And so that was where it became very serious. You know, I left my last year of high school to start that program, being the youngest one there and again still bringing in photos of where I was at, which was the band I saw two nights ago. And then the second year, they had a photo studio. So then I started bringing in bands to photograph them. And it was a commercial photography program, so there was a lot of, like, wine and cheese photos that we had a shoot, which I hated. So I'd bring in bologna and Wonder Bread, and the whole idea was to get in and out as fast as possible.

You had a perspective --

I think it was more just being lazy. But I think everybody has this. We have different people in our lives that had an impact that we'll never forget. And I had a few of those along that way too and the person who ran the photography program up there, Bart Atterbury, he gave me a hard time. I mean, he was on my ass all the time. And I realize now it was because he was pushing me and challenging me. And so I graduated there with this fine art portfolio, which was completely opposite of what all the other students were graduating with.

Mother Love Bone's Apple // photo by Lance Mercer

 

And it's amazing because you can see that reflected in your work. If you look at the cover for a Pearl Jam's Ten, right? You're bringing probably some of that experience with you, versus just being in a club, capturing bands playing live.

Man, you nailed it. Because, as much as I didn't want to learn the commercial aspect of it, lighting, in the studio, and all that. Really quickly Jeff came to me with this idea for Mother Love Bone's Apple. And I was able to apply -- you know, I shot it in the apartment, on the kitchen table, and with lights. I was able to apply that skill set and it came in handy.

They became tools for you to achieve the vision, not handcuffs.

Exactly. And that's another thing that when I was teaching, and just in general, is: learn this stuff and forget it. You never want to be encumbered by any of that stuff when you're trying to capture something, you know, the technical stuff, just put that aside.

That's a good point. You want everything to be intuitive.

Exactly.

U-Men // photo by Lance Mercer

 

Like as a musician you wanna just play. You don't want to think about playing, but you've got to think a lot and practice a lot to get to that point. Tell me, and tell listeners, about The U-Men. What they were like at that time and the role that they played. And I know, for me, I grew up in Minneapolis at that time. When you hear the records from the Seattle scene, Pacific Northwest, and you think, The U-Men were like '83-ish right?

Yeah, they were pretty early on. they had this pinnacle point, and it was like '83 -- I'm horrible with dates -- but I just remember a summer where they were phenomenal. And we all -- you know, it was packed shows. Something just clicked. Now, I know that it wasn't the hallucinogenics that everybody was taking at that time. John Bigly, the frontman, he had this presence that was amazing. Preparing for this, I was listening to all these records, and it did, it brought me right back to that time. And that's a perfect example of, I wish I would have gotten more photos of them because they were so much fun. Just every show, back to back, never knew what to expect, it was always unpredictable. Now I didn't have my camera for the infamous lighting the "boat on fire" show, which is Seattle historic, but that was a perfect example. I mean, very unpredictable, and a different kind of music. I was coming from this hardcore punk background, determined that that's all I was going to listen to and Slamdance to. And I kind of broke it up to like: the U-district and then Capitol Hill. Like, U-Men, Capitol Hill, you know.

So, did that mean more arty?

Yeah, way more arty. You know, I didn't have to wear the black motorcycle jacket, you could actually wear paisley colors and smoke cloves.

What's interesting is my parallel to that would be Hüsker Dü, and how they went from being really hardcore, but not wanting to be limited by that, kind of the rules and the perception, and busted out of that.

[ Music Break ] From Seattle Syndrome Volume 1, that is The Pudz, "Take Me to Your Leader." It's the Afternoon Show. Kevin Cole with ya. Lance Mercer joining me this afternoon. We just opened a retrospective of Lance's photographs that are in our gathering space and Lance from four to six today will be hanging out in the space meeting you. And right now he's hanging out with me. The Pudz.

Yeah. Oh my God.

Super energetic. The shows must have been awesome.

They were. Well, The Pudz was a little short-lived. That was Rob Morgan and I lost track of how many bands he had. It was like I think he had The Fish Sticks and Maggot Brain. I can't remember. There was a lot of them, but it was not that often that bands put out singles, or put anything out.

It was hard actually to put out a single.

Yeah, very hard. And so when it did, like The Veins were one band, The Farts, but very few. So if a record came out that was a big deal. I mean, even The U-Men getting signed to Homestead, that was, because Seattle was just up here in the corner and bands would once in a while come through. They'd stop in Portland and maybe go to Vancouver.

That's part of what made it great.

Totally. I wish it was still that way.

In a pre-internet world places like Seattle and Minneapolis were cultural meccas for the regions. So any weirdo in South Dakota, North Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin had to go to Minneapolis to find their people.

Exactly. It brings up Montana and Idaho, Eastern Washington, Oregon. And Green River, a lot of those people, Jeff, and bunch of people from Montana came out. And so there is this convergence. But, like the scene, it starts small and we all knew each other. And then it grew, and we all wish it was that way again. It's not going to happen.

Fastbacks, 1994 // photo by Lance Mercer

 

So real quick. Fastbacks right before that, "Someone Else's Room." That track had Duff McKagan on drums, who was probably 17.

The interesting thing about The Fastbacks, I would go see them as well a lot and took a lot of photos of them. You know, here they are playing on a bill with all these hardcore punk bands, but equally as liked and loved. I mean, with soul-pop sensibility, and girls background singing, and all that stuff. I mean, it was really different. But it fit. And it worked.

It was great energy.

Absolutely. And, well, Kurt, you can't go wrong with that. But Duff was -- I remember going to a show, and I was just a little kid, and he had a leather jacket, and spiky hair, and he was tall. I mean, he looked like Sid Vicious to me or something. But he was playing in all the other bands too, like drums or bass. The Living, The Veins, a bunch of different bands.

Speaking of Sid Vicious, there's a shot in your show. Who is that?

OK, that's Todd Nelson. He was a guy that I went to school with he ended up singing for this band Gut Reaction. That was an interesting story because he was all very quiet, and I didn't really know much about him. We got to know each other. He kind of hung out in the scene, but he wasn't really, you know, he just kept to himself.

Introverted?

Yeah, I guess that's a nice way of putting it. And so when he was in this band, onstage he just let it all out. It was very personal. And it was really obvious that it was personal. And I was shooting film back then. I was trying to struggle with low light situations, so technically not that great, but that was one photo that I got out of that, that actually ended up getting used for a C/Z records comp called Another Pyrrhic Victory.

It's a great shot and I encourage listeners to come down and check out this show. This is in the beginning section of the retrospective of Lance's work. And, you know, so you're a teenager shooting this kid who, I guess now it looks like his hair's pretty spiked out, but it's pretty wild, and actually kind of long, he's flipping his hair back. But it's a great shot and that definitely captures an energy that you can feel.

Thank you so much.

Malfunkshun, 1986 // photo by Lance Mercer

 

So earlier you mentioned sort of starting out as really being a punk kid, and loving punk, and that was sort of all happening in the U-district and then The U-Men were more Capitol Hill, right? They were more of the art scene. At a certain point you went from kind of shooting the punk scene, and maybe it was the music scene was evolving, but shooting some long-haired rockers, like Andy Wood of Malfunkshun. And there's some great shots. So tell me about that transformation and what that scene was like in these photos of Andy Wood. First of all, just tell listeners what he meant to the scene.

So again, like The Fastbacks, there was this other band that people kept talking about, Malfunkshun, and they would play in the same clubs and shows. First, my judgment was that I didn't like them, without seeing them really. You know, they had long hair, long songs, not my bag. But there was a friend of mine, and she told me, "You just have to watch them, and you have to watch Andy in particular." And I remember they played at the Grey Door, and I watched him and I was mesmerized. First of all, by looks. White face and crazy clothes. But he got the whole audience to sit down, which was, at that time, people didn't do that, we were too busy slamdancing. So his persona onstage, like I said, was mesmerizing. It was like he was playing to a sold out Colosseum. He took all those elements that we are anti. This rock star behavior, and all that, but it was campy. He just did something with it that made sense. And these are guys from Bainbridge Island. So, like any other little isolated place, they created their own music, their own thing. It wasn't influenced by really anything else. It was like T-Rex. So I was mesmerized, captivated. Started seeing them more, and then became friends with them, like any of this. It was friends first, fan first then, oh yeah, you happen to have a camera. I got to get into shows. And at the time we were shooting films, so not everybody was proficient in doing that. It was before digital, obviously.

Yeah, you couldn't take five hundred photos.

Yeah. So eventually they asked me to do a photo shoot of Malfunkshun, because I was at the school and I had access to the studio, so I did some live stuff. But then we set up a shoot at the studio. Unfortunately, Kevin, the guitar player couldn't make it. You know but they had at the time Andy's girlfriend Xana, I'm kind of jumping ahead a little bit, but it was still Malfunkshun. And I was like, "Well, I can't do that."

You can't shoot the band, because the band isn't here.

Exactly. And it's like, "Well, can you cut him out, and put him in?" I got asked that a lot, it's way before Photoshop, it's like, "No, I can't do that." So the idea was that Xana would hide her face with her hair, just a bad idea. I mean, I love the photos but it wasn't Malfunkshun necessarily. But at the same time Andy was -- you know, bands pretended like they didn't want to have their photo taken, when in truth they love to have their photo taken, but you know, turn away, hands in pockets. Andy was the exact opposite.

You can tell in the photos.

And he became my muse, for lack of a better term. He embodied everything that I wanted to do with photographing people. He had this character. It was beautiful in all aspects of it.

ANDY “LANDREW” WOOD, 1989 // PHOTO BY LANCE MERCER

 

I want to know more about Andrew Wood. Incredible, dynamic character. Obviously, Malfunkshun must have broken up, that turned into Mother Love Bone. And you were mentioning in the last break how Andrew Wood was able to take some of the things that a lot of the punk and independent scene were sort of rebelling against. And that being this being super glamorous, or even being pretentious in a way. But he took it to a different level and was so authentic. Absolutely. He can hear it in those songs and now listening back, the guitar solos, and everything is so amazing.

Yeah, he embraced it all.

And then tragically died right when the debut album was going to come out. So tell me what was happening at that time and the sense of energy that was going on here in Seattle around Mother Love Bone. They get signed to a major label.

You got to remember, like we were talking about, no bands were being signed at that time. I mean, there is Soundgarden, that was happening at the same time, but I was definitely closer to -- like I was saying, shooting photos of Andrew, and the idea of a major record label coming to Seattle to sign a band. I mean, it was just unheard of. And of course, the idea of that was a lot larger than I had anticipated or thought it was. But again, just something clicked with all those guys. And when you have somebody like Andy fronting a band, like I said, I remember seeing him play at the Paramount, and there was only -- I mean, there was a lot of us there but it only filled the first couple of rows. But he was singing to the people on the balcony, you know. So he had this persona, and at the same time the more I got to know him, I mean, he's human, and had his struggles, just like we all have and do and I don't know what happened, or what was going on, but I think there was a lot of pressure and, you know, I can only guess. I did a session with him and his girlfriend Xana, and there's a photo I included -- I did a lot of photos with him, so it was hard to pick one. I wanted to put all of them in.

There's a couple that are hanging.

Yeah, actually I pulled the one on the right, but there's another one of him that just with it as a quiet moment. That's a lot of what I was trying to get because it was easy to shoot him as "Landrew".

Larger than life.

And there was a moment during the session we did where he just kind of settled down and a lot of it is: What do I feel when I look at it again? It brings back a lot of memories. Yeah, it's hard, man. He had such a big impact on the scene in general, and who knows where that would have gone. It's just so interesting to think of the "what ifs" with him, and Mother Love Bone especially.

Yeah, the band at that time was Andy Wood, Jeff Ament, Stone Gossard, Bruce Fairweather, Greg Gilmore. And again, the major label debut, you shot the cover images for the cover that was right about ready to come out. And then he overdosed. What was the impact? I mean, that must have been just devastating.

It was devastating. I mean, it was right after my daughter was born. I just remember, you know, it's really hard. He was -- I mean, there had been others that had passed away, but it had such -- just cause everybody, I think, everybody was expecting, you know, they're getting signed, the record is going to come out, it's going to be huge. And everybody wanted the best for him. I mean, this was his dream.

Yeah, it seemed like there was a lot of love for him.

Yeah. Well, it's mentioned a few times and there's a documentary somebody mentioned, it was so perfect. He made you the most important person in the room. If you met him, you never would forget. And that's how it was. He could make anything exciting. I think that was mentioned, going to the store, buying a pop, whatever.

Well, your photographs are unforgettable.

Thank you. I mean, the documentation of that, I'm just happy that I was able to have that opportunity, honestly. Because it's still difficult with his passing, but you know, you can only get one day. Yeah, and he's up on Olympus, you know looking down.

So, he and Chris Cornell were friends, I think they were roommates at the time.

They were. Yeah.

It was his passing that was the impetus for Chris's tribute project Temple of the Dog that really played a key role in Pearl Jam becoming a band. I think that was the first time Eddie sang with those guys. And then you eventually became Pearl Jam's official photographer. Spent some real intense years with them on the road. And there are some great photos of Chris here.

[Photographer] Charles Peterson, you know I can't do this without mentioning him, just because he captured some amazing shots of Soundgarden, and especially on Louder Than Love. But yeah, they were a band. I mean, I still have flyers of them opening up back in the punk days. They've been around a long time too. They were definitely very impactful in the whole situation for me.

Eddie Vedder, hanging out // photo by Lance Mercer

 

You were Pearl Jam's photographer from the beginning until '95 ish. Went on tour with them went all over the world.

I did. Yeah, it was pretty exciting. Yeah. You know that show was pretty special in so many different levels, and there is this photo that apparently people like, but it's where he's hanging from the rafters and he used to do that thing where he climbed. It was during "Porch," one of their songs. I kind of figured it out, I was able to anticipate by that time. But he climbed up on the trestle, and then everybody was always trying to figure out how you would get down, and people have asked me this a bunch. He was able to get down with the mic chord, just kind of shimmy down with the mic chord, which is crazy.

Totally crazy, incredibly dangerous. He's like 30, 40 feet up. And that chord could snap, it could.

Made my life easier, I got great photos from it! Much better than standing flat-footed on the stage.

Incredibly exciting. Now there's this just incredible image that's one of the centerpieces of the show here. And I've seen the photo a ton of times of Eddie hanging from the scaffolding, and it's, again, at this show where there's like 30,000 people in Magnuson Park. And it was a cool event, it was a larger voter registration effort. And incredible for the band. They were just really hitting their stride. I love the shot because when I saw it here in the gathering space for the first time I noticed all of Jeff Ament's basketball figures...

Yeah, the basketball players, right.

...that I know he has kind of on his bass amp, but you framed that shot! Were you thinking about that in advance?

No! I could tell you, it would sound great if I said, "Oh yeah, I perfectly planned all that.

Yeah! "I know he's going to climb."

You know, by that point -- it's funny, when they first started I remember going to San Francisco to Cow Palace and I realized really quickly I was going to need to get better lenses and bigger lenses. Going from small clubs to bigger venues. But also you're kind of like a sports photographer. You spend more time anticipating and figuring out what people are going to do. So I always enjoyed being with the same band over a period of time, so that way -- I've always said musicians have basically five moves onstage and variations of those moves. So if you just put yourself in the right spot, chances are pretty high you're going to get something. You just kind of figure that stuff out. And so it becomes intuitive, figuring out where I'm going to be, and so having the access helped.

You've also played in bands -- The Briefs -- we're going to run out of time here today, so we probably won't get to The Briefs, but how did being a musician also kind of impact your ability to anticipate moves or be in that right spot?

Well, people who know me know that I have a pretty healthy ego, so being on stage was, you know, I was just going to jump around and act like a fool. Like if I can just kind of disguise my lack of talent bass playing, I'll just jump around. And it was strange. I remember being on the other side of the camera, that way. They fired me pretty quickly as a photographer, so I had to give in. What was your question again? I'm sorry, I don't know if I answered it.

Well, if being a musician actually also helped you in terms of being able to capture those really kind of magical moments, like the one of Eddie on the scaffolding, or there's a great stage-diving shot from a Lollapalooza.

Yeah, that all came in. I mean, they were on the same level with me. My love of photography and my love of music, you know, going to shows, seeing live music, and trying to document it as best I can. So yeah they kind of go hand in hand. I mean I don't know. I still love going to see live shows. I mean nowadays it's a little different. As far as you know to access and all that. But that time with Pearl Jam was historic for me and definitely paved the way. I mean the gratitude I have for it is pretty deep just because it got me into a lot of doors. I was able to kind of quit my day job, have a regular job doing what I love. Not everybody gets to say that. So I have to remind myself that all the time.

It's great work. But it also is important work as a documentation of an era. We were talking just briefly off-mic about having a purpose in life and how important that is.

Yeah, I mean, for instance, being able to -- when you asked me, and I've mentioned this already -- but being able to kind of dive through my work. And complacency is the enemy for me. So I have to always stay in touch with what I love to do, and I've stepped away from it before. But being able to dive back into it and not only realizing all these people that have passed away but how much work that I've been documenting for so long. I get a lot of gratitude from that. And it's important to me, it's who I am.

I wanted to kind of, you know, we're in the early '90s, we were going to go chronological, but we're going to have to fast forward now. Life throws us curve balls, and you've had some really serious curveballs, including having friends pass away on the cusp of really being able to fulfill their dreams. And tons of stuff, including a couple years ago you found out you had cancer.

Yeah. Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. In 2014 I was diagnosed.

So tell me about what it was like to get that news, and how that impacted your outlook on life.

Well, it's pretty interesting as an artist. Going through this work, I have this section of tributes, and I realized, just last night I was thinking about this, a lot of these people have died. You know, drug overdose, or cancer, and it's something that affects a lot more people than I realized. And I can relate to both of those things. It's very personal and it's difficult to talk about sometimes, but at the same time when I was diagnosed it put things in perspective and I realized, even still going through it now, that the biggest thing that people can do to help is just by talking or listening to others. And reaching out, you know? There's all these different levels of feelings that come up, fear and all this. And for me, like I've mentioned with my work, no matter how chaotic life is I can always rely on my work and go back to that. But at the same time, I've been open to this whole new community and realizing how many people are affected by cancer of all different kinds.

Yeah, just talking about it. So, we've been doing these theme shows, these events, these days called Music Heals. Really looking at the role that music plays in our lives. And one of the days has been Music Heals: Cancer. And sharing listener stories about the role that music played, either in their treatment process, or any aspect of their life in grieving. Others who passed away from cancer. But the point you make of realizing that you have a lot in common with a lot of people. Cancer, in particular, touches pretty much everybody. We all know somebody. We've either had it or know somebody who has had it. And just sharing those stories, because it's not just cancer, which in and of itself such a mysterious, scary concept. But the things that come out of it. You know, depression.

Absolutely.

And then in the year ahead, we're going to do a Music Heals: Addiction day.

That's awesome.

Because I think that's another topic that to a lot of people don't share or don't talk about.

No, there's a lot of shame and there are all these feelings that come up. I mean, the Seattle music community -- just the community in general -- rallied to help me. I can't even begin to thank everybody that supported me through this process. And there are all these different levels of emotions that come up, and a lot of people don't realize it. So there's just getting the help by just people asking me how you're doing, or even just getting in touch with other people that are going through the same thing makes a huge difference. You know it's way better to do that than to sit at home and isolate and just kind of give up on the whole thing.

Did it take others reaching out to you? Would you have been more inclined to just be hunkered down at home?

It's hard to say because there are all these different levels. It's really about just staying in the moment. But once I tapped into other people that are either going through the same thing, it really made a difference because I realized that I wasn't alone. A lot of times I tell people if they want to help -- I mean, look, it scares a lot of people. A lot of people have run away and I understand that.

You're facing your mortality, your own fears.

Exactly.

You don't know how to deal with it.

Exactly.

But the point is: everybody doesn't know how to deal with it!

Right. Exactly. There's no right answer to how to go through this, except a lot of people also rallied and have helped me, beyond -- you know, I could imagine now as it relates to the music community, the art community, all of that. There's just so much that can be done, and there's people that are doing shows, and benefits, and raising money, because a lot of these places, that's what they need for more research. And it goes with addiction too. I mean the same thing, you know. So it's basically just getting in touch with the community, and not be scared to tell people what's going on, and just asking, "how are you doing?"

In your case, what communities or what organizations would you --

Well, since I have Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, there's a spot called LLS in Seattle, that's down on Leary Way. And they're absolutely amazing. They have different events they do to raise more money. And it's just lls.org. So I totally encourage people to go donate to them. You know what they've done, which is amazing, I reached out to them and they put me in touch with somebody that's gone through the same exact thing that I have. So that was huge, you know.

Almost like a mentor program?

Yeah, or just talking to somebody that's gone through it, telling me it's going to be OK. Because there's a lot of people who don't, unless you're going through it, really have no idea. The effects that it can have. And a lot of it, I tell you, most of it is emotional.

I know you've recently been gone through another round of radiation treatment.

Yeah, I'm starting up pretty soon. I've got some more challenges ahead. But in the meantime I just kind of, you know, focus on what's in front of me.

So with all that you've put together this show, and it's just kind of blown me away. You exude an enviable amount of vigor and energy.

Coffee. It's just coffee.

Seriously, you really do.

I appreciate that.

Outside of coffee, what is it that drives you?

Honestly, it's why I have my rituals that I do, and I have kind of a routine that I try and stick with consistently. That's really important. But again, it's just not isolating. Keeping myself in touch with friends and family, you know, all those cliches of life that you hear. Not taking life for granted, and all those things come into play. But what you guys have allowed me to be able to do is, again, I get motivation from that too.

So tell me about the process of fighting Lymphoma, and how that has impacted how you look at your artwork.

Well, that's a deep question, Kevin.

I mean, has it?

Oh yeah! Absolutely! Man, like I said, just going through these photos, and there are some really dear friends that I've lost to this disease. And I'm really grateful that I have documentation of not only their musical career but just them as people. There's -- I don't know. It's interesting, there's an appreciation for and a gratitude I think for everything that I'm able to do and the opportunities that I have. I try not to think too far ahead if I can help it. You know and try and stay in the moment as much as possible, which is always a challenge. But as far as being in recovery, and having to kind of go through that struggle, it just puts everything in perspective, without sounding too heavy-handed. Life in general, I mean, just being alive. It's huge. Waking up and just going, "OK. I can put my pants on and I'm good." You know? But I'm a pretty gregarious person, so just the aspect of having friends in my life is, you know, I drive them crazy, bug the hell out of them.

And they love you.

Well, yeah, they just avoid me if they don't. But all that stuff is really important to me, and man. I'm having this new-found relationship with Seattle in general because it's really easy to get sick of it, but just because we've been talking about this.

Yeah, what do you attribute that to?

I don't know. Just being born and raised here, but all these memories that I have of it, and running around as a kid you know. I'm kind of looking at all these old places, and these old haunts, and thinking about that stuff, and looking at it with a positive, rather than a negative. And also the music community, just coming down here and being a part of all this stuff. I could go on about it and get all mushy.

OK, we'll save that for a later day. Lance Mercer, Aim + Intent hanging in the Gathering Space now. Man, thank you for doing all this incredible work. Thank you for -

No, thank you.

One: the beautiful work, but also for the important work documenting an era that we all get to experience. I sure hope there's a book coming out -

I'm a small part of this whole big picture, you know that. But I appreciate it.

It's incredible. Thank you for the work that you do. Thank you for all that you put into putting this show together.

I appreciate it. I mean, look, it's a group effort. It wasn't just me. I think everyone will be happy now that's over because I've been driving everybody crazy.

It's been a great experience, and we invite you to come on down and experience it in the Gathering Space. We're going to play one last track. Mad Season, "River of Deceit." Anything you want to say about this?

Man. It's so heavy, right?

It really is!

But so good! Now, this was a really great time and, for me, just getting to spend more time with Lane, and Mike was in a different place in his life, and we were kind of hanging out a lot. But it's hard not to think about what happened with Lane after this and kind of this prediction. I don't know, just, yet again, just pouring out his heart really. You can't deny that when you hear it. So I try not to listen to this too much because it can weigh heavy. But it's so beautiful, and again, like my photos, awesome that music is there and documented for these places and times.

And for you, this is deeply personal. You were there, you were part of it. You knew everybody, you knew these folks. And you also were shooting it. So I totally get how emotional that could be and how, you know, not wanting to hear.

Well, I mean, I love listening to it, don't get me wrong.

OK, we're going to go out with this. This is Mad Season. "River of Deceit." And thank you so much.

Thanks, Kevin.

 

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