By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
Photo by Syd Kato
Among the more interesting phenomena you’ll find as you slop about in the cultural muck of Los Angeles is that of the isolationist creative type who, deriving his or her work from usually very idiosyncratic sources, has been spending days and years willfully crafting utterly individual things that gleam like jewels when the fortunate digger unearths them. Brad Laner is one such artist, and though he’d love to have as much fame and fortune as any of us would, he’s happy doing what he does, and that he does it his own way is of course something we ought to be grateful for.
Since he was a wee shaver, Laner the music obsessive has been involved in many of the best and most unusual things going rock/pop/avant-garde-wise on the L.A. scene. His list of multi-instrumental and composing credits, though somewhat obscure to most, is super-impressive: thumping/electronic freakery with Savage Republic, Steaming Coils, Debt of Nature in the ’80s, the noisy-pop Medicine and his laptop/electronics project Electric Company in the ’90s and ongoing, and numerous radical mixes on the Tigerbeat6 label even as we speak. Laner’s recently revived Medicine for a new album on Astralwerks called The Mechanical Forces of Love, only it has very little to do with the old Medicine’s alt-guitar-band attacks. And that too is just fine with Laner.
The Mechanical Forces of Love, a melodiously challenging sound & vocals duo project with Bruce Lee’s daughter Shannon, is like a hybrid of Laner’s seemingly mutually exclusive interests in the sweetest of pop sounds with the vast possibilities of purely electronic abstractions. You’ll hear perhaps for the first time how lyrical and heartrending tunes can be conveyed with electronic elements to enhance and deepen the manifold emotions that a pop song can contain. You’ll hear, too, how the old worlds of rock and dance and “disco” became friends after years of bitter internecine struggle. You’ll hear things that’ll melt your mind, things you’ve never felt before — though you old-schoolers might cry foul at how it tampers with your right to no-nonsense, straight-ahead rock.
Let’s catch up with Laner on what it’s all about and where the hell we’re heading . . .
L.A. WEEKLY: This new record seems to sum up what you’ve been interested in for a long time; I like how it flows in such a natural way — well, a naturally disruptive way.
BRAD LANER: Yeah, hopefully it’s representative of a lot of the work without too much thinking about how to make it work together.
How did you happen to be working with Bruce Lee’s daughter?
I had met her through a mutual friend she had a demo deal with, and he thought we’d be an interesting match. She and I kind of hit it off. I said I could use her abilities on a few things, for a different kind of sound; it was nice for her to work with somebody who was untrained and unashamed of that.
How did you arrange the material? Did you have music pre-prepared, or did you truly collaborate on these pieces?
At any given time I’ve got five or six tracks going, and she came over and I played her a few of them, and we’d talk about and try different things. She’d give me a bunch of songs and just leave it to me to do a Holger Czukay [chop it/rearrange and enhance it].
You’re doing a lot of processing and messing with Shannon’s voice. Didn’t she mind that?
Shannon doesn’t consider herself to be a songwriter, or even a performer. She’s got her fingers in a lot of different pies, and was willing to contribute this particular sound of hers for this project without worrying about it being hers necessarily. That took a lot of pressure off of her, the fact that it wasn’t about her songwriting, it’s only about this singing.
The way you incorporate your influences in these songs is fascinating. For example, in “I Smile to My Eyes,” you quote vocal and rhythmic parts from Can’s Monster Movie album, and it’s so accurate that I couldn’t tell if you built it on a sample or not. You’re paying tribute to that vocal line, and then building on that, right?
It’s not a sample; I played it. It’s something that I consciously understand, you know? If I’m liable to do something Beatlesque or like something from an old Can record, it’s like muscle memory.
Krautrock in general had a huge impact on your way of thinking. Is it still an influence?
Yeah, but as much as any other classic references that would pop up. If it’s either Kraftwerk or Can, the four-on-the-floor drumbeat is a propulsive quality — that’s a basic energy booster. And Neu and Faust, Guru Guru, Amon Düül, even if I’m not listening to them regularly, my interest is there. I definitely think like a drummer.