LISTS A Tour of Brad Laner’s Personal Archive By Jude Noel · March 21, 2024

“Everything good in my life has been associated with home recording,” says Brad Laner.

Though the prolific Los Angeles-based musician’s discography has spanned numerous genres since the early ‘80s, including proggy psychedelia, IDM, and industrial, it all stems from the same place: tinkering at home with whatever new equipment he’s able to get his hands on. Even at his most commercially successful, leading noise rock outfit Medicine through three major label outings from 1992 to 1995, Laner’s output has always prized sounds that push the limits of the technology that produced them, exemplified by a treble-y, searing guitar tone that continues to inspire shoegaze revivalists.

With his days signed to Rick Rubin’s Def American imprint far behind him, Laner is happier with his music than he’s ever been, recording new material at home with a few good microphones and myriad digital plugins. Since reforming the band in 2013, he’s self-produced six new Medicine records including On the Bed, a collection of Beatles covers plus one lengthy spoken word piece.

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“Beatles cover albums are one of my favorite genres of music,” says Laner. “Mother Nature’s Son by Ramsey Lewis is among my favorite albums of all time, and it’s all White Album covers. Now that we have a new singer [Julia Monreal], there’s a renewed energy to make records. So we went and revisited those.”

On the Bed’s sound may come as something of surprise to those only familiar with Medicine’s early work. Laner and co. still drench their performances with reverb and fuzz, but the trio adapts to the play style of their source material, embracing heavier percussion and bluesy soloing that tears through the mix. Especially on side A, they sound as though they emerged from Phil Spector’s studio with finished mixes and immediately blasted them with distortion. It’s the closest Laner’s gotten to recording straightforward garage rock, but the record’s intensity is ramped up by its production, giving a grittier edge to the Fab Four’s songwriting.

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Side B takes things into more avant-garde territory with covers of post-breakup solo songs by Paul McCartney and George Harrison, along with the aforementioned spoken word track.

“Speaking is a form of singing. It’s a very Robert Ashley idea,” says Laner. “The piece all relates back to the Beatles, but in a very loose way. It’s like an art film or a difficult podcast. Julia has the perfect voice for it. I just sound scary.”

In addition to the new Medicine material, Laner’s Bandcamp page is a treasure trove of archival material that covers more than 40 years of his musical career, from noise tapes pressed in his teen years to recordings of shows during the early ‘90s. Prior to the release of On the Bed, I spoke with Laner on the phone to revisit some key releases that he’s made available online.

The Early Years

Growing up in Los Angeles during the ‘70s, Laner was surrounded by exciting, avant-garde music.

“I had a pretty open-minded dad who would bring home copies of Slash magazine” he says. “I would also read books about the Beatles, and I just came to love them. I had a neighbor who worked at Capitol Records and gave me a pile of records, including some of the solo records by John and Yoko, which were mostly just feedback and screaming. The realization that you could be one of the most famous musicians in the world and make stuff like that ruined my life in a good way.”

He began recording his own music as soon as he was able to get his hands on cheap tape decks, and was a full-fledged musician by 7th grade, when he backed Captain & Tennille on live TV.

“There was a show called Kids are People, Too,” he says. “They put out a call to local Los Angeles junior highs for kid bands, and we passed the audition. It’s kind of hilarious looking back, because I was already listening to bands like Devo and Throbbing Gristle.”

Second Section (1983)

Laner’s interest in proto-industrial music was evident in the first tapes that he released under numerous aliases through his own cassette label, Party Sound Tapes, during the early ‘80s. SEP/8363, his outlet for ominous sound collage, was named after the serial number of a tape recorder borrowed from Sepulveda Junior High.

“It was like my main axe,” Laner says. “I could use it as an instrument, hitting pause, play, and record while lined into an amp, and I’d make all sorts of horrible feedback.”

Described on its cover art as “60 minutes of screaming rubber piglets,” SEP/8363’s 1983 tape Section Section epitomizes the crusty quality of Laner’s early experiments with tape. The familiar sounds of guitar and piano are distorted beyond recognition under layers of background hiss or by the will of the fast-forward button.

Laner uses the creepy, warped resolution of his recordings to full effect, composing soundscapes that inspire anxiety and unease. The occasional appearances of drum programming on “Foot Consumption” and “Fat Than Baby” point toward the more synth-centric, somewhat danceable production he’d explore much later.

Brad Laner
Blind Force (1985)

By the time that Blind Force, his 1985 album released under his own name, came out, Laner had moved out of his parents’s place and into a house he shared with “a bunch of computer nerd types.”

“I was just trying to make friends with as many different people who had gear as I possibly could. I didn’t have money to go out and buy it myself, so I had to beg, borrow, and steal equipment,” he says. “The house had a four-track cassette machine and a bunch of synths and drum machines and stuff.”

While the tape still retains much of his earlier music’s abstraction, Blind Force demonstrated a new level of sophistication in his approach to composition. The recordings are much cleaner, allowing the creaky, scraped textures of “Clear” and “A Bit of Live Meat in a Clean Bed” to cut through the mix. There are even flirtations with conventional song structure on “Black Hawaii Theme #2” and “For Master,” which weave samples, synth melodies, and atonal guitar pluckings around motorik beats.

Steaming Coils

While Laner was working on his solo industrial output, he and his friend David Chrisman were also recording early demos as the founding members of Steaming Coils, their joint attempt at re-creating the prog rock records they were obsessed with. “We weren’t exactly good enough musicians to do that, but we were trying,” Laner says. “It started as a bunch of feeble-sounding home recordings with our stereo tape deck approach. As we progressed, Steaming Coils became more of a song unit, with David and I trying to become a psychedelic pop band.”

Steaming Coils
Never Creak (1987)

Their first proper release was 1987’s Never Creak, a quirky LP bursting with off-kilter humor and raw creativity. Taking cues from the Los Angeles Free Music Society, Beefheart, and Henry Cow, the project enlisted a small army of collaborators to perform vaguely jazzy, deconstructed prog that embraced all technology and ideas within reach. Despite its barebones fidelity, Never Creak is a surprisingly futuristic recording, slicing up vocals in post-production, supplementing its clangorous guitar parts with synthesized squelch, and even borrowing techniques from hip-hop. “From His Thrown” falls into the latter category, looping sampled saxophone riffs over a dubby drum machine beat while the band’s members improvise spoken word poetry in an echo chamber. “I embraced hip-hop the instant I heard it,” Laner says. “I was already primed for it with all the industrial music and experimental music that I was immersed in as a listener and a player.”

There are flashes of brilliance within the collection of extemporaneous jams, like “Blathering Hemispheres,” a Zappa-esque jazz-rock tune interrupted by stock music meant to score a chase scene. Closing track “Porpoise Song” channels The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper-era chamber pop into a noisy study in post-industrial aesthetics, full of metallic groans and explosive percussion.

Breaded Era Allsorts+ (1989)

“By the time we got to Breaded [in 1989],” says Laner, “we were going for Slapp Happy or Faust, or something in that vein.” Steaming Coils’s final LP was the band’s most accessible creation, still wielding dissonance and unusual time signatures, but sticking to a more familiar guitar rock palette. Laner’s Bandcamp page is home to an untitled demo tape of home-recorded outtakes and demos leading up to Breaded’s release that are more in the spirit of Steaming Coils’s early work, featuring goofy minute-long songs recorded on answering machines, minimalist versions of album cuts, and guitar drones like “Protodream” that foreshadow the blistering tone he’d soon explore as a member of Medicine.


“If I was going to be a lifer in music,” says Laner, “I thought, ‘Why not get a major record label deal?’”

After the dissolution of Steaming Coils in 1990, Laner formed what would become his most iconic (and commercially viable) project to date: Medicine. Using the sonic vocabulary of dense overdubbing, harsh distortion, and electroacoustic collage that he’d developed as a young adult, he began to put his own surreal spin on conventional song structures. “My friend Annette Zilinskas, who I worked in record stores with, happened to be in The Bangles and knew showbiz people,” Laner explains. “Before Beth Thompson was working with me on the early Medicine stuff, Annette and I wrote ‘Aruca’ together and she showed it to this manager guy who was like, ‘Oh, I can get you a deal in two seconds.’ And that he did.”

By 1992, Medicine—now comprised of Laner, drummer Jim Goodall, and vocalist Beth Thompson—had inked a deal with Rick Rubin’s American Recordings imprint, as well as a contract to work with Creation Records in the UK, making them the label’s first American signees. “I think we were lumped in with other shoegaze bands because we were on Creation,” Laner says. “Anyone can listen to our first single, ‘Aruca,’ and go, ‘Oh, they like My Bloody Valentine.’ But for the longest time, we were the only band that you could say that about. Because of that, we were put in a box that we didn’t belong in. When I met Kevin Shields in 1992, I just said ‘I bet you’re listening to the same shit I’m listening to.’ Here Come the Warm Jets by Eno, for example. And I was right.”

Always Starting to Stop: On Tour 1992–1994

Medicine’s first two LPs, Shot Forth Self Living and The Buried Life, are among the most unique and influential American releases of the early ‘90s, blending treble-y, fuzz-blasted guitar riffs with baggy beats and glimmers of vintage psychedelia. Always Starting to Stop: On Tour 1992–1994 bridges the gap between these records, capturing the band at their noisiest and most unbridled. The lo-fi mix of these live recordings centers the low-end of songs that are usually covered in barbed, high-register noise, allowing listeners to better appreciate Goodall’s drumming. A stripped-down rendition of “Live It Down,” which features a string section arranged by Van Dyke Parks on the album version, is the tape’s best selection, leaning harder into loud-soft dynamics and putting a greater emphasis on the song’s killer solo.

Her Highness (premiere m​é​lange) (1995)

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Since its release in 1995, Laner had long considered Medicine’s Her Highness one of the lower points in his discography. After three grueling years of touring and recording, the album ultimately broke up the band and Laner was never satisfied with its final mix.

“I always hated it,” he says. “Around the time I was starting my label, the Laner Archival Service, I was listening to the original CD version and I couldn’t even get through the first song. Then I realized I actually had the original mix. I put that on for the first time in 30 years, and it was great! This remix ended up being my first self-released vinyl record.”

Co-produced with Eddy Offord, who logged production credits for Yes and Emerson, Lake and Palmer, the premiere m​é​lange of Her Highness re-introduces ambient interludes, grittier textures, and bonus tracks that were omitted in the label’s official issue. Most importantly, the vocals are now buried deeper into Medicine’s bursts of noise.

The Mechanical Forces of Love + 2.0 Extraneous (2003)

Moving on from Medicine, Laner jumped headlong into the burgeoning IDM scene, shifting his focus to glitchy sound design and frenetic drum & bass production with his new project, Electric Company (more on them later). After releasing a pair of albums through the Tigerbeat6 imprint in the early ‘00s, the label’s owner Kid606 suggested Laner make a primarily electronic record under the Medicine name. “Tigerbeat6 had a punk rock attitude which suited me fine: just do whatever you want,” Laner says. “I thought, why not?”

2003’s The Mechanical Forces was a radical departure from anything Laner—or just about anyone else in indie rock—was doing at the time. In collaboration with Bruce Lee’s daughter, Shannon Lee, he devised a sound that revisited ideas from each era of his career. The record fused the mercurial energy of Steaming Coils, Electric Company’s staticky timbres, and the gleaming sunshine pop that lurked beneath the outer crust of Medicine to develop a uniquely retrofuturist flavor. Despite its immediate strangeness, it’s some of Laner’s most purely pop songwriting, peppered with club beats, gorgeous vocal runs and strummy sing-alongs.

“Shannon is genuinely a friend of mine, and our friendship is totally unrelated to our big showbiz thing, which is that we worked on [the 1994 film] The Crow with her poor brother,” says Laner. “We met totally randomly. She’s a classically trained vocalist. She has a degree in vocal performance from Tulane, but people don’t know that about her because she didn’t pursue it. I think that confused people at first. Like, ‘This person sings too well!’”

The 2.0 Extraneous compilation, released in 2017, presents B-sides and remixes from The Mechanical Forces’s era, demonstrating an even weirder approach to songcraft than that which appeared on the original LP. On “Talk To a Rock,” acoustic guitar arpeggios are digitally mangled until the resemble dial-up tones, backing lush vocal harmonies and minimalist drum programming, while 13-minute closer “Close-Up Of Family’s Dream” acts as an epic medley of fragmented riffs and guitar tones.

To the Happy Few (2013)

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After the release of The Mechanical Forces of Love, Medicine would disappear for a decade, only to re-emerge in 2013 when Captured Tracks owner Mike Sniper reached out to see if they’d be interested in re-issuing their first two LPs. “I didn’t know who he was, but it looked like he had a cool label set up,” says Laner “He was brave enough to plow through and reissue those early releases quasi-legally. Working with Captured Tracks was great and really inspired us to get back into making new records.”

To the Happy Few was recorded by Medicine’s classic lineup of Laner, Thompson, and Goodall, and the band’s sound followed suit. Though recorded at home in lieu of the studio, the album picked up where The Buried Life left off. Buzzsaw guitars and dreamy vocal harmonies perform a delicate balancing act, slightly sanding down the treble-heavy edge of the mix to facilitate trance induction. “I’m much better at making records now than I was in the ’90s,” Laner says of Medicine’s DIY recording setup, which has been in use since their re-formation. “The most popular Medicine stuff is me trying to record a band and a 24-track studio, on the clock under pressure with asshole A&R people giving letter grades to my songs, spending absurd amounts of money. I think it cost $75,000 to make The Buried Life, which is obscene to me. Plenty of people think I haven’t bettered the first Medicine record, but I think that’s because it’s easier to categorize.”

Post-Medicine Solo Projects

Electric Company
A Pert Cyclic Omen (1995)

After finishing Her Highness, Laner purchased an Emax II sampler keyboard and immediately began work on a new solo project, Electric Company. “I sat with the keyboard for a week and made an album on it just about instantly,” says Laner “It actually came out on Warner Brothers through Def American. I fully abused being on a major label at every opportunity. The Electric Company discography is all me learning, public learning.”

Brad Laner

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In recent years, Laner has developed an interest in modular synthesis, amassing a vast catalog of lengthy electronic improvisations. “I started to be jealous that I wasn’t a part of this new form of sound-making,” he says. “Around 2016, I turned 50—the same week Trump was elected, actually—and I kind of lost my shit. I got paralyzed by anxiety and hopelessness. Finding modular synthesis was a way of discovering joy again.” In 2019, Captured Tracks issued a five-cassette series of Laner’s synth performances titled Ligaments, edited together from dozens of hours of exploration. Fashioned out of drones, chirps, and bleeps, the live albums find Laner tapping back into the expressive freedom of his work in the early ‘80s.

Modge (2023)

Since 2020, he’s been uploading tons of his solo synth sessions directly to Bandcamp. 2023 was a particularly prolific year, marking the beginning of Laner’s Modge series. “Again, it’s public learning,” he says. “I have a need to improvise, which is the opposite of building things up, painstakingly. That’s why I love things like Bandcamp: I need a place to just upload a bunch of random stuff I’m working on, as I’m working on it.”

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