Los Angeles love potion

It took a heavy dose of love, sex, death and legal wrangling for Medicine to make an album full of euphoric Californian sci-fi pop - as sung by Bruce Lee's daughter
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The Independent Culture

If Medicine's new album, The Mechanical Forces of Love, sounds like one of the busiest pop pile-ups around, it's not too surprising. There's a lot of love, death and strange coincidence in its genesis, and its two key movers, Brad Laner and Shannon Lee, have had chaotic careers, to say the least. A self-confessed pop trainspotter, California's Laner launched the "mark one" version of Medicine in 1991, as a spiky-sweet guitar-noise band that prompted numerous comparisons with My Bloody Valentine. Frustrated with the bass, drums and guitar format, he split Medicine in 1995 and has since collaborated with various artists, ranging from Fleetwood Mac's Lindsey Buckingham to glitch-electronica avatar kid606. He's also recorded and released his own laptop electronica under the name The Electric Company, and earned a living by remixing and mastering. Plenty to be getting on with.

That's before you add the husky main voice on the album, which belongs to the classically trained Lee -who also just happens to be a sometime martial-arts actor, following in the footsteps of her father, Bruce (yes, that Bruce), and older brother, the late Brandon Lee. In addition, she co-runs the Bruce Lee Foundation alongside her mother - she regards it as keeping alive the memory of the father who died when she was five - and, it seems, numbers a Malcolm McLaren girl-group project, Junk, among her credits.

"Well, almost," Lee laughs, "but not exactly. I was supposed to be a member of this group he was putting together that was supposed to be like an Asian Spice Girls. The girls they had were models, whose voices weren't real strong. So they were looking for someone and they had read that I was a trained singer, so they approached me. They all came to LA for a while and we hung out, and I just decided that it was, erm, not for me! But I got a demo deal with Island Records as a result - well, Palm Pictures - which was how I met Brad, through a producer friend, and the Medicine record came about. So it all worked out."

Oddly enough, though, Laner and Lee's connections go back a little further. In 1993, Medicine mark one brushed the limelight via an appearance in the film The Crow, the Goth-karate actioner during which Brandon Lee, the film's young star, died in a shooting accident. "That connection seems more significant now, as a footnote, than it did when we were making the album," Brad nods, "although when I met Shannon I was nervous about it. The Crow was a successful film and I benefited from that, but it didn't turn out so great for Brandon. She was cool about it, though, and I think Brandon believed in the project, so..."

"He did," Lee nods. "I was torn about whether or not to see it, but he was so proud of it. I had to go see it, but just the once."

Just prior to making the album, too, Laner had his own losses to contend with, as his father was dying of a terminal illness. "That was in 2000," he nods. "A long, drawn-out, horrible thing. But, I believe in emotional alchemy, y'know. I mean, what can you do? If you get handed some horrible shit, you've got to try and make some art out of it. So love and death are the influences, lyrically, on the album. It's a combination of a longing for lost loved ones with sort of celebratory sexual tunes."

Lee picks up the thread. "What's interesting is that Brad's experience of loss is much more recent than mine. It's not so raw for me, but it is familiar. We have different phases of that on the album."

"I felt Shannon channelled a lot of that," Laner nods. "As a ritual, we'd go out and have a meal and just talk about drug experiences or family or whatever, and it would all end up being in the songs. It wasn't conscious, though. And the sex themes weren't conversational, they were just whatever Shan had on her mind."

"Well, I was pregnant at the time!" Lee laughs, glancing at her husband and baby, who hover over the interview. "Right," Laner grins. "We wrote a lot of the sexual songs around the time Shan's daughter was conceived..."

It's true, too, that Lee and Laner have managed to make a bright-and-bustling record out of similar experiences of loss, where even a lyric such as "you know you die alone" is harmonised on in giddily euphoric style. The album plays like a science-fiction sunburst, folding glitch electronica into Beach Boys harmonies, high-Cal summer pop and straightahead rock to winningly messy effect. Spot the influences: there's Seventies house, rave-era Primal Scream, girl-group pop, MBV-ish guitar bothering, Flaming Lips-ish pop psychedelia and more experimental noises.

Laner wasn't overly concerned about it being an unruly soup, though. "It probably is an unruly soup!" he laughs. "I like that. It's just the sum of our influences and experiences. It's Shannon's studies with my trainspotting, her school training and my self-training. Any one of those hundreds of influences are likely to show up at any given time." ("I think it's nice," Lee adds, sweetly, "because there's a little something for everyone on there.")

As for how Laner managed to talk a record label into releasing such a singular album, coincidence played its hand again. "We ended up on the Wall of Sound label because there was a group using the name Medicine, which I legally own," Laner says, evidently annoyed. "I'd been in contact with them for over a year, talking with their manager, and they knew that I wanted them to change their name and that they should. Mark Jones [label boss] wrote back saying 'They've left to sign to Regal,' so they screwed him as well. He asked if he could help us out and I said, sure, you can listen to our music..."

Given the two members' scattershot histories, though, the chances of there being another Lee-and-Laner Medicine album are surely slight. Laner's description of his own career as "schizophrenic - working with a group of people then feeling like I want to bust out of that and move on to the next one" doesn't give the impression that he's much of a sticker. In her own words, too, Lee has her "hands in a lot of pies", with a "theoretical solo career" and the Bruce Lee Foundation on the go, as well as a script for a comic book-ish action film that she wrote, sold and hopes to star in.

Still, Laner is guardedly optimistic. "We're both wise enough not to have any expectations," he says. "But there's a massive range of stuff we can draw from. The next album could be 12 sets of completely different influences, nothing like this one. We have such a huge palette. When we did the first tune, I said this is good, but it's just the tip of the iceberg of what we can do. That's what it's all about - possibilities."

'The Mechanical Forces of Love' is out on 30 June on Wall of Sound