FEEDBACK IS THE BEST MEDICINE – INTERVIEW OF MEDICINE BY BONNIE JOHNSON
As Captured Tracks is reissuing your material, they’re doing the same with contemporaries like Should and Deardarkhead – but you’ve said that you don’t see Medicine as having come out of a scene.
No, it was hair metal and grunge when we came out here in Los Angeles. But I definitely saw an opportunity to do harsh weird psychedelic rock music because of these British bands that were thriving all of a sudden.
Captured Tracks is also home to some of your heirs-apparent. How do you feel about the new wave of “shoegaze”-style bands?
There are a lot of bands referencing the past, and that’s a little disturbing to me. I love Deerhunter and Serena-Maneesh, I think they’re great. They strike me as sort of what Medicine was trying to be, this ideal teen makeout music. I think of Roxy Music’s Avalon – was that a precursor to shoegaze because it’s a great makeout album? Maybe!
You’ve also said that you would rather have a root canal than reform Medicine. I realize that what we have here is a reissue and not a reunion, but where are your former bandmates? They have writing credits on these songs; were they involved in the reissue project?
Most bands would take the opportunity to reunite, given the high profile, lavish reissues that we’re doing. But we weren’t a happy band that loved to play together and hang out together. I’ve written back and forth with Beth a few times, they’ve all been welcome to contribute but they haven’t. Medicine’s always been my baby.
The other aspect of it is, in the ‘90s we were backed by tons of money. We need a van, the label will rent it. We need guitars, the label will set us up with an account at Guitar Center. We stayed in hotels on the road; we didn’t sleep on people’s floors. That support system doesn’t exist anymore, and it was that system that allowed us to operate. We really weren’t an indie band at all, in practice. The music is another story, of course.
Annette Zilinskas was with the band early on; I’m curious about how you two ended up working together and what the collaboration was like. Did you meet through the punk scene?
Annette and I worked together at Licorice Pizza Records. A lot of LA punk people worked in those stores; we worked at the one in the Sherman Oaks Galleria. I was already in awe of her—this is when she was in Blood on the Saddle. Annette and I wrote “Aruca” and “Miss Drugstore” together and a few other songs that are in demo form. Annette at the time was also in the Ringling Sisters, they were getting signed to A&M and she chose to go with them. But we’re pals forever. She’s a really soulful singer, she’s got that Patsy Cline-esque twang to her vocals. She played bass in the Bangles but I think she always preferred to sing.
Any stories about Alan McGee?
Aside from not being able to understand a single word he said? I believe that when we came to Creation he was in the middle of some crazed spiral. He ended up in the hospital. I think it was a dark time for him: he had just lost the Valentines, but it was pre-Oasis. I think we were way too arty for him. I also think he was super motivated by what the press thought, and when we first went over to England it was a disaster. We put out the Aruca EP and it was #2 on the indie charts over there, then we went over and played and it was our sixth or seventh show ever. Everybody on Creation Records was at this first show. I can still picture it: there’s the Slowdive people, there’s Teenage Fanclub, they’re all standing there with their arms crossed like “All right, Angelenos, show us what you can do!” We came back from England the first time with our tails between our legs. We always did way better in the States.
Tell me about working with Robin Guthrie and Van Dyke Parks.
We met Robin Guthrie at some show here. He wanted to produce a whole album by us. But he was out of his mind, he was frightening! He seemed like he was capable of physical violence; I think there were a lot of substances around.
Van Dyke worked on The Buried Life, he’s on the final song, “Live It Down.” I think my bandmates were a bit mystified, like “What’s all this fruity flowery stuff?” But I wasn’t going to second guess anything that Van Dyke Parks did. He could’ve done a kazoo solo! Growing up and seeing him in all these Beach Boys documentaries, his weird effeminate way of talking, giggling at him and thinking he’s kind of goofy but this amazing genius, and just to see him devise these amazing musical arrangements . . .
And on Shot Forth we had “Sneaky Pete” Kleinow playing on it; he was in the Flying Burrito Brothers with Gram Parsons. He’s the god of pedal steel guitar. He played on Mind Games with John Lennon. He’s since deceased. And he was one of the main animators on Gumby! He wrote the Gumby theme and performed it. Jimi Hendrix gave him props and said he was one of his favorite guitar players.
To me the scene in LA in the 60s and 70s was the thing. By the 90s there was barely a trace, but I was trying to reference that.
Anything else about the reissues?
We seem to be in this perfect in-between spot where it made these reissues possible. We were probably on a bigger label than a lot of those other bands, but because we were on a bigger label I think we were not taken seriously by them—whereas these other bands that were on smaller labels, they kind of hold them near and dear. So Captured Tracks came along, and it’s kind of a magical thing. That’s part of Medicine’s karma, we always did exactly what we wanted to do artistically, and always got away with it. That seems to be extending to these reissues as well.