Thursday, 23 May 2019 14:50

False Starts & Mended Hearts: Following a triumphant return, The Lippies talk about the past and future

Written by  Eric Mitts
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The Lippies The Lippies Photo by Katy Batdorff

The strange, short life of The Lippies feels a lot like a classic coming-of-age movie.

The Grand Rapids feminist punk rock band’s rise, fall and recent return — all in just a half decade’s time — whirled by like a montage set to a killer soundtrack.

Formed in the fall of 2014, The Lippies’ word-of-mouth ascent quickly became the stuff of legend. In less than a year, the band had released a self-titled EP, working with GR punk icon Rick Johnson of Mustard Plug fame at his Cold War Studios. The group quickly earned a reputation for lead singer Tonia Broucek’s bold lyrics and the band’s high-energy live shows. 

“It was pretty crazy,” Lippies bassist Lawrence Kole told Revue. “It’s not often that a new band gets that successful that quickly. I look back at it very fondly. Thanks to the crazy amount of support around us at the time, we were able to experience a lot of things most bands never get to.”

Armed with a ukulele and Broucek’s penchant for taking down the patriarchy and disposable consumerist culture — alongside the band’s high-octane punk riffs — The Lippies hit the scene swinging. The band played everything from basements to dive bars to roller skating parties. Soon it attracted the attention of Chicago record label Red Scare Industries (originally home to bands like The Menzingers, Teenage Bottlerocket and The Sidekicks), and released its full-length debut in 2016. 

“In the early days, I learned a lot,” said Lippies guitarist Taylor Shupe. “We were playing with punk legends and I had no idea who they were. We got signed to a label I had never heard of. It was all exciting and new. To see the punk scene still alive outside of GR was shocking.”

As the band’s calendar began to pile up with more and more tour dates, the pressure started mounting. Reality of life as a rising rock star set in, forcing the band to confront whether what they were doing felt right or not. 

And it just didn’t. 

So in late 2016, Broucek turned to social media, sharing how the band had started as an outlet for her feelings, and how it had grown into something far bigger and wilder than any of them had imagined.

Bruised and battered from giving their all every night — going so far as to institute a “no jumping off the stage” rule after Broucek injured her knee during a show — The Lippies took time to rest, recover and reassess what they all wanted as individuals.

At that point, none of them thought they’d play together as The Lippies ever again. 

So like any good coming-of-age flick, the band’s second act ended on a down note. But it wasn’t over yet.

Although separated, all of the band’s members stayed active in the local music scene. Broucek performed solo and had a short-lived project with local artist Rayne Klar. Kole and Shupe played together in anywhere between three and 12 different bands, while drummer David Sparks joined up with Kalamazoo outfit Jake Simmons and the Little Ghosts.

Fast-forward to 2018, the band began realizing it was time to try again.

“There was a Lippies-shaped hole in our hearts and we all knew it,” Sparks said.

Around that time, Broucek kept running into reminders of how great it was to be in The Lippies when one day she accidentally opened an email from Red Scare Industries founder/owner Toby Jeg.  He was organizing the annual War on Christmas event hosted by punk stalwarts The Lawrence Arms at Chicago’s Bottom Lounge and wanted to know if The Lippies would play. 

“After some thought, I trusted my gut and went for it,” Broucek said. “I reached out to each of the guys, we made our amends, caught up and jumped back into practicing. It was actually pretty painless!”

Realizing how much they missed being a band, and not satisfied to leave the show as a one-off reunion, The Lippies slated a hometown show at The Pyramid Scheme this past January. The event sold out the popular indie club, bringing together longtime fans eager to see the band again after more than two years and new fans happy to sing along for the first time. 

“The first time we gathered for practice was magical,” Kole said. “We had to knock the dust off the old songs, so that was pretty funny to kind of stumble through things like it was the first time we had ever played these songs, but once we locked in, we all felt that energy again. It was like the last few years never happened.”

“We slipped right back into it. Kinda like Fuller House,” Sparks quipped.

The band has already started lining up high-profile festival appearances, including Midwest Punkfest in Bloomington, Ill. June 13-16, and The Fest in Gainesville, Fla., this November.

Learning from the last two and a half years, the band feels stronger and healthier, physically and emotionally, with closer friendships and a greater understanding for one another pushing for a brighter future. They’ve even started work on a new album, returning to Cold War Studios for a demo session earlier this year, with plans to write more songs and record a full-length later in the year.

“We’re trying to stay fun and practical,” Broucek said. “I learned from the first time around not to agree to tours when you’re drunk and trying to run away from life. I also learned to take better care of myself so the guys wouldn’t have to worry about me, oh I don’t know, having a meltdown and delivering them all break-up letters. Now, I take my meds and we talk about our problems.”

Listen to The Lippies at thelippies.bandcamp.com.

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