I know at some point in our lives we think that we’ve heard it all. That we are musically omnicient and there is nothing that hasn’t passed our ears and our firm, pointed judgement. Hey, I’m guilty of it. You have those moments when “so and so” or “that guy at work” or “grandma” asks if you’ve heard this band or that band. With a shrug and an under-your-breath sigh you reply “Yeah, I’ve heard them. They’re okay.” Thinking to yourself, “Fools. Don’t bother me with your pedestrian knowledge of music. I read Alternative Press, Paste, Pitchfork. I read ‘Our Band Could Be Your Life’ four times!” Sorry Grandma. I didn’t mean that. Can I have some more pecan pie? Well that pecan pie was actually a slice of humble pie. The best is when you think you’ve heard it all and realized that your rural, Midwest upbringing didn’t provide that culturally rich, musically diverse childhood and adolescence you thought it did. Browsing through the interweb last December I came across Captured Tracks ‘Shoegaze Archives’. It’s a group of shoegaze bands from the beginning years of the genre that were as good as the bands you were aware of but never got the exposure and recogntion they deserved. One of those bands I found on that list was Medicine. There painted album covers intrigued me so I checked them out. Upon listening to their debut Shot Forth Self Living I was floored. Why hadn’t I heard of this band? Why weren’t they in my collection already? Their music was at times harsh and jagged, trippy and drugged-out, but always underneath the noise was this dedicated melody. Pop harmonies and boy/girl vocal interplay. It was such a unique sound that “shoegaze” couldn’t begin to cover what they were doing. That was merely the tip of the iceberg.
They put out three albums: Shot Forth Self Living, The Buried Life, and Her Highness with the original trio of Brad Laner, Beth Thompson, and Jim Goodall before breaking up. Laner put out an album with a decidedly different version of Medicine that consisted of himself and Shannon Lee(Bruce Lee’s daughter) called The Mechanical Forces of Love in 2003. Then nothing. But last year the original trio got back together when Captured Tracks owner Mike Sniper approached them about the reissues of their first two albums. After re-visiting those old songs Laner, Thompson, and Goodall decided they missed writing and playing together, so they began writing songs that became one of this years best albums, To The Happy Few. A mix of old and new, To The Happy Few is the culmination years of honing and sharpening their songwriting chops, and Laner has become a sonic wizard in the studio.
I got a chance to ask Brad Laner a few questions about To The Happy Few, Medicine, and Trent Reznor. He was more than happy to answer them.
JH: How did the Captured Tracks Reissue come about? I feel I have to ask as if it weren’t for CT reissuing Shot Forth Self Living and The Buried Life, I would still be clueless about you guys.
Brad Laner: Mike Sniper from Captured reached out to me via email in late 2011. I told him that if he could sort it out with Rick Rubin and his handlers then I was all for it, never believing it would happen. I was thrilled to be proven wrong!
JH: Prior to you, Beth Thompson, and Jim Goodall getting together regarding the reissues, had there been any discussion between you all about possibly making new music as Medicine? Or was the catalyst the reissues?
BL: The latter, for sure. We all pretty much didn’t speak for the entire 18 years between breaking up and reforming, sadly.
JH: Medicine were based in Los Angeles. Is California where you grew up? Where are you guys based out of now? Still LA?
BL: All three of us are Los Angeles natives and we all remain here to this day.
JH: Getting to know Medicine’s music has been an interesting journey for me. I’m amazed at the more I listen to those first two records -and especially To The Happy Few- how those first impressions were way off. At first it’s the noise that grabbed my ears. The buzzsaw guitars, the slightly “Madchester” beats, and the slinky bass lines. Beth Thompon’s vocals intermingling with your own. But further on, you start to hear all these amazing melodies underneath, and those Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine comparisons seem a little lazy.
My question to you is what were some landmark records that helped shape the sound you created in Medicine?
BL: Very lazy indeed, thanks for that. Primarily: the late period Beatles records, the early Pink Floyd records, Can, Faust, electric Miles Davis, Hip Hop from the golden period of the late 80’s into the early 90’s, classic industrial like Throbbing Gristle, Whitehouse and SPK. Plus so many more, I could go on and on…
JH: ‘To The Happy Few’ is an amazing record, especially knowing that it’s the first album the three of you have made together in close to 20 years. Was it as easy as that albums makes it seem to write with Beth and Jim again after all this time? Or was it more like starting from scratch, and getting to know these two as fellow musicians like it was when you first started Medicine?
BL: Thank you ! Mind you I had already been working with Jim for 10 years before Medicine started and at least 5 with Beth, so it’s fair to say that we are all permanently in each other’s heads despite the long period of time apart. It was very exciting to work together again and I think that comes through in the resulting music very strongly.
JH: Where did you record ‘To The Happy Few’? Do you have a home studio? Was it direct to tape or digital? What are your feelings on recording analog vs digital?
BL: It was recorded on an old Mac Pro in my home studio. I adore the flexible editing possibilities afforded by working digitally, but would happily work again on tape if the opportunity arose. As the saying goes, “A bad plumber blames his tools”.
JH: You have quickly become one of my favorite studio wizards. The sounds that are created on Medicine albums are all over the place -from pretty to grating- all mixed just right. In lesser hands an album like ‘Shot Forth Self Living’ could’ve been a real mess, but the engineer work and mixing were done perfectly. It’s hallucinogenic, but cohesive. I think ‘To The Happy Few’ shows you’ve mastered Medicine’s studio technique. It’s a aural triumph. How much were you involved in the engineering and mixing process back then, compared to now?
BL: Wow, thanks again ! In the old days I had to verbally communicate most of my ideas to our engineer, Chris Apthorp, whose studio we recorded those albums in. He did a fantastic job and is a dear friend to this day, but of course I’m much happier being the one with his hands on the controls now.
JH: The more I listen to Medicine, the less I see “shoegaze” as a proper genre to place the band in. Shoegaze, to me, always had a decidedly lazy sound. Kinda dreamy. While something like “Aruca” off of SFSL had a MBV quality to it, more often than not Medicine’s sound was much harsher and yet more pop as well. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Trent Reznor took note hearing some of your guitar sounds on those first two albums. You’ve continued that sonic upswing on ‘To The Happy Few’ as well.
Where do you think Medicine fits in the musical landscape?
BL: I happen to know directly that Trent Reznor took note. Very gracious fellow, that Reznor ! I honestly have no idea where Medicine fits in, but I’m grateful that people seem to think that we do now. It’s something that no artist really has any control over.
JH: After ‘Her Highness’ the band split, with you putting an album out in 2003 as Medicine with a decidedly different sound, and without Thompson or Goodall. You’ve worked with M83 and Brian Eno in the past as well. Have you done production work for other bands? To my ears, you have such a unique sound to your productions that producing other bands would be a natural fit for you.
BL: I have done a bit here and there, but I always seem to do my best work when working on my own music. I’m always on the lookout for the perfect artist to produce so I can truly settle into a proper adult musical life behind the scenes, but that may or may not ever be in the cards.
JH: Medicine is having their record release show at Music Hall of Williamsburg. You also recently posted that the band is playing the Culture Collide Festival in Los Angeles. Is Medicine keeping the live dates to a minimum?
BL: Yes please. Less is more. quality over quantity, etc. Touring leads to the death of creativity as far as I’m concerned.
JH: The big question: Will there be more new Medicine? Are there songs that weren’t used for ‘To The Happy Few’ that may see the light of day on a follow-up to one of 2013s best records?
BL: I hope so. There’s no lack of ideas or inspiration. Can’t wait to get back to it ! I’d love to have a new EP come out next year some time.