Published Aug 06, 2013After the band that was never supposed to reunite and release a new album did just that, it appears that anything is possible for fans of shoegaze. (Next up: Slowdive? Perhaps!) My Bloody Valentine put us out of our suffering with M B V, their first new album in 22 years, and now Los Angeles's Medicine, often regarded as the American equal to MBV, is back after a comparably tough 18-year gap.
Formed in 1990, Medicine were the first American band to sign to Creation Records, the influential UK indie label home to shoegaze acts like MBV, Ride, Slowdive and Swervedriver. In the U.S., Medicine signed to Rick Rubin's American (née Def American), where they released three full-lengths and an EP. Though they weren't as successful as the aforementioned bands, Medicine were blessed with a cameo in the 1994 cult film, The Crow, where they performed their single "Time Baby 3," also featured on the hit soundtrack. Unfortunately, things went sour and the band only existed for five years before acrimoniously breaking up. (Laner temporarily revived Medicine in 2003 with Shannon Lee, daughter of Bruce and sister of The Crow star Brendan, releasing one album, The Mechanical Forces of Love, which did not sit well with his ex-bandmates.)
Flash-forward nine years: When Mike Sniper, head of Captured Tracks, inquired about reissuing the band's first two album, original members Brad Laner (vocals/guitar/production), Beth Thompson (vocals) and John Goodall (drums), made peace. It didn't take long for the three to realize that people still cared, and almost immediately began writing a new record. To the Happy Few isn't just a comeback record, it's as good as the first three the band released. In fact, the band sound like no time even passed. Laner's patented guitar wizardry is at its most powerful, loud and melodic, strident and gorgeous, while Thompson's vocals are still spellbinding and Goodall's rhythms still potent.
Exclaim! reached Brad Laner over email to discuss the band's unexpected return, being called shoegaze, those nagging My Bloody Valentine comparisons, working with both Alan McGee and Rick Rubin, and all of the plans he has for the future.
How did the reunion of the original line-up happen?
Spontaneously and impulsively due to us all being stoked on the reissues.
How difficult was it to get everyone on board? Was there any hesitation from members?
Nope. A few serious, adult conversations about past bad feelings and issues were necessary to have, but all were willing and able.
What came first: the decision to perform live or make a new album?
We didn't decide to play live until the day we released the first new song back in April of this year and got such a warm response. We'd all be perfectly happy to just make records, but it seems like the thing to do at the moment is get out and play live a few times to give our new record a boost so we can make other ones.
How much discussion was there about what To the Happy Few would sound like? To me, it sounds like you really are following up Her Highness, but also continuing to progress where Medicine left off.
We really didn't discuss much other than to be confident that this combination of people is Medicine no matter how weird or outside the "rules" it seems to be. It really does all kinds of things musically that never happened on the old Medicine albums, so I'm thrilled that people still think it sounds like us.
I bought the reissue box set from Captured Tracks. It's incredible. Where did the idea come from to reissue the albums?
Thanks! Mike Sniper approached me with the idea and I told him I'd love to help make it happen if he could talk Rick Rubin (who owns the stuff) into letting us. Somehow, mysteriously, it came to be.
In 2011, you released a comp on Bandcamp called Remains 1992-1995. How much of that was included in the reissues?
Pretty much all of the things that pertained to the period of the first two LPs. I think putting that up on Bandcamp is what lead to Mike approaching me in the first place.
Captured Tracks is also releasing the Earth Dies Burning recordings. What can you tell us about your old teenage punk band? How do you feel about those recordings?
It was a band consisting of five 10-to 14-year-old kids playing Casio VL-tones, some toy drums and a bassoon and singing about food and current events. That says a lot right there, right? The recordings bring me very warm memories of playing music with my friends on Saturday afternoons in my dad's living room.
I remember your 2003 album, The Mechanical Forces of Love, with Shannon Lee [daughter of Bruce Lee]. What made you decide to use the name Medicine for that project? How did the other original members of Medicine react to you using the name without them? What did you take away from that particular album?
It was part belligerence and part desire to shut down a British band that was releasing records under the name Medicine. We succeeded at that, by the way. I'm sure the other original members were not terribly amused, but what's done is done. I'm rather fond of the record myself.
What was the reason for Medicine splitting up in 1995, after the release of Her Highness?
I was just sick of the whole trip after three solid years of working at it non-stop and didn't see how it could go any further at the time.
Will Her Highness get a remaster/reissue on C/T any time soon?
Maybe as part of another box set after we make some more new records. Jim's idea is to do a "reduced" edition, just the four best songs from it. Once we can figure out which four those are, maybe it'll happen.
Which of the old Medicine albums do you find yourself most partial to in 2013?
I love 'em all like they're my children.
How do you feel about being part of C/T's Shoegaze Archives? A lot of artists don't particularly like the tag "shoegaze."
Count me among those artists. However, I love C/T, so I'm willing to tolerate the silly tag because I know they find the term complimentary or at least handy in a marketing sense. Note: that only applies to the reissues. We're on the main C/T roster now.
I remember the band appearing in The Crow. What did your involvement with that film and its soundtrack do for the band back at the time? Was it a positive experience?
It was and is huge for us. The soundtrack sold millions. I can tell virtually anybody I meet that they can see and hear my band in the first 15 minutes of an extremely popular and successful film. However, it was not worth losing Brandon Lee for. [Lee died in a gunshot accident on the set of The Crow.]
The press release describes Medicine's albums as "controversial." I don't recall what that was about. What is it referring to?
Just that we're "extremely Marmite" as one British writer recently put it. You either love us or hate us. Over the years we've had some hateful bile directed at us by critics and some absurdly flowery prose as well.
Medicine were often regarded as America's answer to My Bloody Valentine. It feels so perfect that both bands have returned with albums this year. Did you ever feel like you aligned with any particular bands back in the day? Like MBV? Or any of the other Creation bands?
That's our curse, of course, being endlessly compared to MBV, who made terrific records 25 years ago. I don't think that the leftovers they released this year are comparable at all to what we've done though, which is an entirely new piece of work. Like us or not, this record is not barrel scrapings but fully realized, truly new music. Of our Creation contemporaries we were more personally aligned with Swervedriver, with whom we toured, and Moonshake, with whom we were friendly and big fans of.
You originally released your music on influential labels like Creation and American, which were both run by very experienced and controlling bosses. How do you remember working with Alan McGee and Rick Rubin?
We worked with both of those dudes very, very little. I had one meeting with Alan McGee and then he was off finding Oasis, one assumes. Rubin was always cordial with us but to his credit, left us alone to do our thing. For which I was always hugely grateful.
You've always had a distinct guitar tone, which makes your music instantly recognizable. How did you develop it and achieve that perfect balance of noise and melody?
Aww, thanks! Just dumb luck and trial and error over time. I've always tried to do a lot with a little. I'm not a gear nerd at all.
After Medicine you moved on to an electronic project with Electric Company. How did you get involved in making that kind of glitchy IDM and working with Kid606?
I just went to where I thought the most interesting sounds were happening at the time and gravitated towards brilliant artists from whom I felt I could learn new things. And I did.
You then began solo work under your own name. What was the inspiration for those albums you released on Hometapes?
My solo LPs are where I can follow absolutely any idea without it having to logically fit into any genre classification. And then have it packaged beautifully.
Aside from Medicine, what else are you currently working on or planning to work on in the future?
My third solo LP, Nearest Suns, will be out in the fall on Hometapes. Some of my and Jim's experimental live electronic music by our band from the mid-'80s, Debt of Nature, is coming out soon on Harbinger Sound in the UK. We're concentrating on doing some shows for the next little while and then I hope to start recording again, both solo and with Medicine.
How permanent or temporary would you say this return is for Medicine? Do you envision more new music?
Absolutely, I do. There is already another bunch of songs started. We only stopped to put this LP together the moment we had these ten songs finished. We felt that they made a strong album and it was time to let the cat out of the bag. But we could quite easily have kept on writing and recording. We'll keep on doing it as long as it's inspiring and fun to do so.