Brad Laner is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, engineer, and producer whose discography is as varied as it is in size. Long before he formed the influential band Medicine, he played drums, guitar, and electronics for Steaming Coils, toured and recorded as the drummer in Savage Republic, and even played and recorded with microtonal composer and instrument maker, Kraig Grady. His early‘80s teenage band, Earth Dies Burning, used cheap Casio VL-1 synths backed by rough drums and broken cymbals, to unique effect. This spirit of experimentation, fun, and individualism is what keeps Laner's work interesting, and his ideas fresh. Look for the current release of his new double LP, Micro-Awakenings — four sides of instrumental collages drawn from six years of recordings.
Tell me about the solo guitar gig you're doing with the Los Angeles Free Music Society.
When Medicine reformed a couple of years ago, I finally built a proper pedal board. Since we've sort of stopped actively doing Medicine again, the board itself has evolved into being a solo composition engine, where really pretty much anything can be plugged into it. Multiple things are looping, in various directions and speeds. Hopefully it goes beyond just the "boring-ass guy with a guitar looper" type of thing. It's sort of a texture machine. I got the invitation to do this show and thought, "Here's an excuse to put it to real use." For the first time, maybe the last, I'm going to try to do a live improvisation with it in front of innocent victims. Everyone and their mom has a guitar looper now, but hopefully it'll be more interesting and less transparent than that sounds.
When you are working with loops, do you have a specific process?
For the live purpose there will be loops generated, in the interest of building up layers and doing more than just one guy playing notes. But for studio composing, I use Logic. It lends itself to a modular approach to composition, which hopefully isn't terribly apparent when you listen to it. I think that's kind of a disease of current music, where you can hear where things are Logic or Pro Tools-ed to death. It induces in me a kind of existential dread. I happily use, and exploit, digital technology, but I'm not convinced it's the best thing for music. Being able to fuss over every little thing can be the death of interesting music. I try to fight against that, but I also do love complexity. I look for complexity in the things I listen to, and I've always aspired to it in my own work. I grew up obsessed with Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band's Trout Mask Replica. It's music as complex and organic as a tree, you know? I also grew up loving Yes and Henry Cow. That's the wonderful thing about digital technology. It allows me to build up that kind of complexity by my lonesome, but I'm still not convinced it's as good as anything that's just [thrown] onto a 4-track that you can't fuss with too much. I think about that type of thing all of the time.
On the other hand, being on a budget when you're paying for studio time forces you to make decisions quickly because your time is limited.
Right. With the old Medicine records, which I had a decent budget for, I was in a constant state of panic. It was my first time really working in a 24-track studio. It wasn't pleasant, but now, when I listen back to those records, I still agree with most of the production decisions I had to make on the fly. I had plotted out what was going to go on each track in advance, which of course you don't have to do anymore.
Tell me more about that.
[I used] standard 24-track[ing] sheets because you had a finite amount of space. I didn't yet have the technical smarts to cleverly expand upon that limitation. We talked at times about chaining two 24-track machines together, but we never actually did it. The place we worked at, Hammer Sound Recorders, in Chatsworth, California, was relatively affordable. It isn't operational anymore, unfortunately. It was in a little industrial park, next door to a bigger studio called Cornerstone Recording, where we also did a little bit of mixing. Hammer Sound was this great, grungy, get-in-there-and-work-your-ass-off kind of place, helmed by a wonderful and very open-minded engineer, Chris Apthorp. I spent a couple years in there doing the early Medicine records before the home recording technology really got good. Then I got into ADATs for a while. I had three ADATs chained together, as well as a Mackie 32 x 8 board. That was my jam for a while, before falling into the computer.
An engineer I work with uses two 16-track ADATs for his mobile rig.
Those were really great to chain together. Those really communicated nicely. You...