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Look back at some of the best Alternative Press covers in honor of issue 400

In celebration of our 400th issue, we went back in time.

December 22, 2021
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Four hundred issues after the very first book to carry our name ran off the printers back in 1985, we look back on 36 years of our favorite-ever AP covers, the stories they told and the secrets behind their creation. You can pick up an issue here, starring twenty one pilots.

Read more: In issue 400, twenty one pilots reveal the importance of their community

 

Rancid #79, 1995

UNDER THE COVER: Perhaps the most iconic Alternative Press cover image ever accompanied a story that went in search of punk rock’s soul at a time when the scene was going platinum off the back of Green Day’s Dookie and the Offspring’s Smash. “Kids are such sheep, and they think there’s a punk-rock rulebook” was the damning assessment of Rancid’s Lars Frederiksen. “Punk rock was about doing anything you wanted, anytime you wanted. If you looked like a freak, you were in it. Now it’s all cliquey, and every move you make is being watched by these little 15-year-old kids that get checks from mom and dad to go to school, making little fanzines on their laptops. They have no idea where I came from. It’s easy to worry about other people’s problems when you’ve got everything.”

 

Nine Inch Nails #31, 1990

UNDER THE COVER: Before there was Trent Reznor, Academy Award-winning composer, there was Trent Reznor, the kid who “[gets] harassed because [I] don’t look totally normal,” the then-24-year-old frontman told Alternative Press on his band’s first-ever national magazine cover. “Somebody up the street says they’re going to get us because we’re hippies,” he continued. “We get insulted pretty regularly.” On show, however, was the frontman’s singular vision for his fledgling outfit. “It’s not a band,” Reznor stated. “It’s not, ‘Here’s an idea for a song — let’s all work on it.’

I would hope someday that it would be more of a collaboration, but it isn’t right now. It’s basically if you don’t like what you’re playing, come up with something better. If I like it, you can play it. If I don’t play what I did.”

 

Panic! At The Disco #330, 2016

UNDER THE COVER: As far as logistics go, few locations require as much planning in which to shoot than underwater. “We shot this cover at Brendon Urie’s then-new house, which he had just moved to that summer,” photographer Jonathan Weiner recalls. “I pitched a handful of ideas, including shooting underwater, which is something Brendon had apparently been wanting to do for a while.

“I did a test shoot the weekend before in another pool to sort out any problems and how to light something underwater. As you go deeper into water, the color and lighting get more blue and muddy, and I wanted it to be punchy in order to be cover-worthy,” he continues. “We were able to figure out how to light with strobes from above the surface shooting into the water, rather than find underwater lighting that was not really designed for photography at the time.”

That’s not where the challenges ended, though. “I discovered that it’s very difficult to not float to the top, even with a heavy camera, so I had to wear a scuba diving weight belt to hold me down while shooting,” Weiner says. “Brendon kept his eyes open the entire time to get the shot, too, so by the time we moved on to shoot other images, his eyes were completely bloodshot. We had to constantly give him eye drops to even out for the rest of the day.”

Rage Against The Machine #96, 1996

UNDER THE COVER: “If they only had a clue about some of the things that we were thinking of doing,” laughed Tom Morello to Alternative Press as we joined them at what transpired to be an infamous last performance for the band on Saturday Night Live. Having attempted to drape two inverted American flags across their amplifiers just moments before a rendition of “Bulls On Parade,” RATM were duly invited to leave the building upon the song’s conclusion. They’ve never been allowed back since.

Garbage #156, 2001

UNDER THE COVER: “l’m of the school that believes it’s still necessary to draw people’s attention to the creative output of women in society in general,” Shirley Manson said upon her arrival onto the Alternative Press cover, with words that would ring true if they were spoken last week, let alone in 2001.

“I think women are still operating at a mild disadvantage. I would prefer it wasn’t an issue. But the fact that it is an issue, an opportunity like this is a wonderful thing. Equality would be nice. But sometimes it’s great to hit people over the head with a hammer.” The forthrightness, boldness and confidence on which Manson has based an entire career weren’t, perhaps, on show when asked how she felt about her AP cover debut, however. “I have no idea [why I’m on the cover]. I’m very uncomfortable with it, to be honest. l’m sure it’ll offend millions of girls the world over — though somebody’s got to be in the front.”

 

Bad Brains #20, 1989

UNDER THE COVER: Charting the comings and goings in the Bad Brains camp as the 1980s gave way for the ’90s would necessitate a full cover story in its own right. But timing is everything in this game, and so AP lucked out when, during the making of 1989 album Quickness, the Brains’ iconic pairing of frontman H.R. and drummer Earl Hudson rejoined the ranks of the band they had helped found over a decade prior. H.R. would rewrite and rerecord the lyrical compositions on Quickness. “I went into a fast isolation, a metaphysical transformation, and hid myself in a little motel room way up in the woods in upstate New York, listened to the music and didn’t go to sleep for three or four days and totally engulfed myself to come up with the lyrics,” he explained to AP of his process.

 

L7 #107, 1997

UNDER THE COVER: “No dogs were harmed in the shooting of these photos,” declared L7 vocalist and guitarist Donita Sparks a few years ago while recalling the band’s one and only Alternative Press cover appearance 20 years prior. The idea (Sparks’ own) was born of simplicity: “Dogs like sniffing women’s crotches.” The execution: less so. In order to get their canine friends to play ball — these were no animal actors, after all, but rather pets borrowed from friends and partners — the L.A. quartet taped wraps of peanut butter to their legs.” Which, come to think of it, probably isn’t even in the top 10 strangest things that have taken place to capture an AP cover. 

 

Nirvana #44, 1992

UNDER THE COVER: “If only there were a way for Nirvana to be a celebrated rock group and veritable unknowns at the same time,” asked Alternative Press on the Seattle legends’ first-ever national U.S. magazine cover story, mere months after the release of Nevermind. Few could have guessed how hauntingly prescient those words would later become.

“I’m becoming frustrated with having to deal with the kind of people who come up to me after the show and say, ‘You guys fucking rock, dude,’” Kurt Cobain admitted in our interview. “I don’t need that at all. I’ve been sort of hiding out in the back room a lot in fear of having to hear people like that. I’m just having a hard time dealing with that right now because I feel guilty for wanting to hide out in the dressing room. I feel like a rock star. And I can almost understand why rock stars act the way they do.”

 

Smashing Pumpkins #61, 1993

UNDER THE COVER: For their cover debut, Alternative Press joined Billy Corgan and company in their hometown of Chicago, as the then-quartet stood on the verge of releasing their acclaimed Siamese Dream album. Over cooked breakfast and record-flipping at Corgan’s house a stone’s throw from Wrigley Field, the band discussed influence, inspiration and the process of creation — the latter of which clouded the interview with a sense of tension that would play out with the band’s original lineup until its eventual dissolution at the turn of the new millennium. “I won’t work as a band anymore,” Corgan was quoted as saying. “Nowhere near the way it was before. That’s over for this band. It’s just constant disappointment, to beg and plead and cry for someone to help you.”

 

Beastie Boys #72, 1994

UNDER THE COVER: If every day truly is a school day, then the lesson Alternative Press learned when hooking up with Beastie Boys for this 1994 cover story was a simple one: Don’t try to conduct interviews in the middle of a busy deli (Adam “MCA” Yauch’s order: rice and beans). Cue in-depth conversations about whether the UPS delivery uniform is better than the FedEx uniform — and where the UPS fits into the power rankings, too. Helpfully, the trio also found time to take AP inside the inner workings of their chart-topping Ill Communication album, too.

 

WILLOW #395, 2021

UNDER THE COVER: “I was honored when I was asked to do this shoot because I grew up reading AP,” photographer Atiba Jefferson reveals. “I was so stoked — already being a fan of WILLOW, it was a perfect fit. I really love when the talent has an idea because [it means] they are already excited for the shoot, but the fact [that] WILLOW trusted me to make my own changes was awesome. When she got to set, she was so on point. It made my job so much easier!”

 

Slipknot #142, 2000

UNDER THE COVER: The Slipknot that Alternative Press found on arriving in the band’s hometown of Des Moines, Iowa, were certainly a world away from the all-conquering metal behemoth they would go on to become. Among the venues The Nine treated us to on our guided tour of their world? Their basement practice space, insulated with an old pet shop 

carpet that still reeked of puppies’ urine. Photographer Chapman Baehler’s portrait of a masked Corey Taylor captured what would soon become one of the most iconic looks in music history. “To us, this is like a uniform,” the frontman described of their image. “When we go onstage, we’re individuals — but we’re also like one complete monster that just wants to destroy everything.”

NOFX #189, 2004

UNDER THE COVER: “We figured we could use it for our political message” was NOFX’s Fat Mike’s explanation for breaking his band’s seven-year-long media silence with this exclusive Alternative Press cover story, just months prior to the 2004 U.S. presidential election. “Our political agenda is, by the way, to get [George W.] Bush out of office.” If those words weren’t blunt enough, the “Fight Bush Not War” message that adorned the frontman’s arms on this famous cover photo certainly got his point across loud and clear.

 

Outkast #153, 2001

UNDER THE COVER: Finding time in the diaries of artists at the height of their fame is never an easy feat; you’ve got to take your moment when you can get it. And so it was that Outkast’s AP cover story interview was conducted at the duo’s Atlanta HQ during the half-time interval of the Baltimore Ravens’ Super Bowl XXXV demolition of the New York Giants. “I think that any time you’re out of your mind, you’re closer to God,” André 3000 mused in an interview that took in everything from funk’s decreasing prevalence in hip-hop to the highs and lows of drug-taking.

Paramore #282, 2012

UNDER THE COVER: “This was my first cover ever,” photographer Lindsey Byrnes remembers. “I got the call from AP and was told that Hayley [Williams] had asked for me specifically. So, I got on a plane for NYC, where the band had a day off on their tour. Hayley styled herself top to bottom for that shoot. It was wild [that] she did all hair and makeup changes herself. I didn’t realize until my next cover shoot that she was helping me understand what needed to be done. She’s so punk and, at the same time, so professional. Hayley wanted me to thrive, and since then, our relationship has grown into a collaborative creative mishmash of life and art and all the things.” 

And as for the “Trouble Maker” shirt Williams elected to wear for the cover? “I just texted and asked about that,” Byrnes says, “and here’s what she had to say: ‘Everyone [the public and press] thought I was the root cause of all of Paramore’s issues. I thought I’d just sarcastically play into that.’ I think you call that trolling, but I just call it funny.”

 

Poppy #387, 2020

UNDER THE COVER: “I think this version of Poppy, I just call her 3.0, is the best and the truest Poppy that anyone has seen,” Poppy announced as part of her Alternative Press cover story — shared with fiance Ghostemane — last October. Her revealing interview brought fans closer than ever to the true person behind the persona. “Parts of who I was playing on screen and at shows was starting to seep over into who I actually was as a person,” she explained of her growth. “I was like, ‘Holy shit, this is not what I want to be a part of anymore.’ It scared me. I refound myself after that and realized that I needed to start making places for me, as a person, and be able to sleep with my decisions.”

 

twenty one pilots #316, 2014

UNDER THE COVER: “I’ve had the pleasure of shooting probably 10 to 20 covers for Alternative Press over the years, and this was probably the most collaborative shoot I’ve done with a band,” photographer Douglas Sonders recalls. “If you ever have the pleasure of working with this band, you’ll quickly learn that they are very creative and collaborative. The band really wanted to do this one particular crazy portrait where Josh hung upside down while Tyler stood next to him. They even brought and engineered this crazy apparatus where Josh could safely hook his feet in and hang there. If you look at that photo, you’ll see Josh’s face starts to turn bright red from the blood rushing to his head!

“[For this cover], I think it helped that the band had been integrating the balaclava into their style and performances at the time,” he continues. “We played with a bunch of concepts where they were half on and half off. I shot a series of images of each of the guys as they slowly pulled the balaclavas off so we could play with the options in post-production. I’m super happy with how the cover came out. The black background and the pops of color from the balaclavas. I lit them with narrow gridded portrait lighting so the focus was on their eyes.”

 

blink-182 and Green Day #167, 2002

UNDER THE COVER: One of the most famous covers in Alternative Press history saw Green Day and blink-182 brought together to celebrate the pair’s Pop Disaster tour; an event that Green Day drummer Tré Cool admitted his band used in a bid to reestablish their fading reputation two years prior to American Idiot, giving them a new lease on life. Before all that, though, there was this recreation of the Damned’s debut album sleeve to complete — with the detail taken as far, photographer Sean Murphy revealed, as dressing the bands in clothes matching the original inspiration.

My Chemical Romance #221, 2006

UNDER THE COVER: The Black Parade remains to this day a standard-bearer for creativity and world-building in modern rock, but such yards aren’t easily gained — it requires an unshakable vision. Such was in evidence when My Chemical Romance teamed up with Alternative Press for this series of 2006 covers. Photographer Dave Hill was the man charged with helping bring the brothers Way’s ideas to life. “They were both like a team, but it was all Gerard’s vision,” Hill recalled years later. “It wasn’t like some guy from the label made all this up — it was all him. He had a very specific outline: the look, the costumes, the extras. He had a notebook of his sketches and stuff. I have never seen that [attention to detail] before or since then.”

Written by Sam Coare