It’s been 18 years since Medicine – America’s retort to My Bloody Valentine, both melodiously and ear-bleedingly – fractured to pursue solo projects. Their opening duet of LPs, especially 1992’s Shot Forth Self Living, were fuzz-swathed sonic rushes that disguised a fragile heart and pop sensibility that wilfully side-stepped the earnest grunge output of their peers in favour of something a little more free-form and capricious. It’s an off-kilter approach that saw them immortalised in Gothic celluloid with an appearance in Brandon Lee’s ill-fated death vehicle, The Crow (1994).
Last year, Captured Tracks secured the rights to re-release Medicine’s opening brace of albums, completed by “The Buried Life” (1993). Consequently, their formative members, drummer Jim Goodall, lead vocalist Beth Thompson and guitarist/keyboardist/visionary Brad Laner met up at the latter’s home studio to work through some old vinyl issues and limited box-sets. Here they were compelled to make music together again. Detached from the pressures of the early 90s alt-scene, and enjoying each other’s company once more, the triptych languidly spent the rest of 2012 recording.
The resultant album, To The Happy Few is a miasmic melee of shoe-gaze skewed power-pop and beauteous balladeering that both asserts their former glories and imbues them with a maturity and mastery of craft that only 20 years run through the mill of the music the industry could offer.
We spoke to Brad Laner, Medicine’s unofficial leader, who’s spent the past years working on a array of projects, including an incarnation of Medicine a little over ten years ago that featured Shannon Lee, younger sister of Brandon on vocals, as well as recording with Brian Eno, M83 and Caribou in between …
Is there a different dynamic between band members now because of the experience and perspective you gained from various other musical projects?
Absolutely, we’re all much calmer now and far more appreciative of each other’s contributions to the group.
What vocal textures does Beth give as opposed to Shannon Lee? Is this more of a democracy than 2002’s The Mechanical Forces of Love, which seemed to have Shannon Lee as a “guest” rather than a actual band member?
Beth’s voice is one of the key elements in the sound of this band, as are her lyrics. You know in a split second who it is when you hear her voice. Shannon was a technically astonishing, classically trained singer who was gracious enough to let me use her voice as an instrument for an LP. They’re both great, but completely different from each other.
In the UK, bands such as TOY and the Horrors are reproducing shoe-gaze sounds pioneered by yourself, MBV and Ride amongst others. Do you feel you fit nicely into this landscape now as they’ve made it credible again?
I honestly have no earthly idea. It would be absurd for us to attempt to fit in anywhere though. We made this record for ourselves mainly and with no regard for any type of success other than of the personal variety.
Was there a shoegaze scene in the US in the early 90s? How did you fit in with the grunge and alt-rock explosion?
There was not much of a scene at all. Only a handful of unrelated bands in far-flung regions. We benefited from the alt-rock explosion in that it was easy to get a major record deal by playing noisy guitar pop in 1991 but it was really just a ruse so we could make big budget weirdo art records. It was a good ride while it lasted.
You were signed to Creation in the UK in the early 90s. What was it like working alongside Alan McGee at that time, who was otherwise trying to push something eccentrically British – in spite of the “American sound”?
It was great getting to raid the promo closet at the Creation office for vinyl. That was probably the best part of working with him – getting the first Moonshake 12 inch for free.
How has the landscape of LA fed into your music?
In every way. In ways I’ll never fully understand. It’s where I grew up and where so much of my favourite music comes from. To my mind we’re a Southern California psychedelic rock band, first and foremost.
Brad, on your web page it says you were nearly killed at a school disco for playing Eno’s Baby’s On Fire. But surely that one of his more commercial 70s hits? Did you have a lot of problems like this during high school? Were you always a sonic terroriser?
I suppose I was. I was constantly figuring out ways of playing Throbbing Gristle or The Germs over the school PA system or starting horrible performance art garbage can drum circles at lunch times.
The new album has beautiful melodies and some pretty huge choruses hidden under huge slabs of noise. Is it always your intention to test the listener, to offer them glimpses of beauty if they listen hard enough?
I’m only trying to make interesting pop music with melody and texture at about equal footing. I’m not trying to test anybody who might not understand. To me it’s all beautiful, the melodies as well as the atonal noise.
Some of the songs are pretty erratic and scattershot. For example, Butterfly’s Out Tonight
has seven or eight different refrains. Was this a conscious decision to splice in as much content as possible?
I love to create what I call “”episodic“” songs with many parts that come and go, never to repeat. Nowadays it takes more of a conscious effort to make a traditionally structured song without all of those bits.
Are there any particular lyrical themes at play?
It’s embarrassing to admit, but we’ve always excelled at the break-up song. Standard relationship types of themes, but vague enough for people to relate to (I think)
Who are the “Happy Few” to which the album is addressed?
Our listeners, of course. We know we’re not making fast food for the masses here. Throughout your career you’ve tried your hand at many different genres, glitch, shoegaze, noise-pop etc.
Which sonic landscape do you feel you have the most command of. What other styles would you still like to explore?
I just want to make records as good as what Milton Nascimento or Marcos Valle were doing in the early 70s … I don’t want to innovate so much as I want to make something magical, somehow. If I feel it doesn’t have magic in it, it doesn’t leave my house.
Finally, why have you chosen an expressionist still-life of fruit for the cover? What does it signify in connection to the music?
It’s a beautiful painting by my mother, Judy Koenig, who also did the painting of fruit on the cover of our 1993 LP The Buried Life. It’s like she’s part of the reunion as well. Also, I love fruit. I’m all for it.
by Benjamin Lovegrove
To the Happy Few is out through Captured Tracks on August 6.