Send Medicine Release Quarantine-Delayed Album in Joyous Return to Live Performance
The band spoke to Knock to discuss their path to 2021 and a forthcoming album recorded under lockdown.
By Telepathy & Reputation was just released on July 16, but its journey started long before the pandemic. The third LP from LA-based psychedelic outfit Send Medicine is another twist on the band’s sound that transports you back to 2019, when it was recorded. The band, like so many others, were forced to shelve it from release when the pandemic struck, and have finally settled on the increasingly clear consensus among the industry that now is the time when music is starting to come back.
The album is undeniably Send Medicine, featuring the pastiched songwriting, irresistible riffs, and psyched-out breakdowns they have carved out in their past work. But like each of their releases, they have taken on some new experiments with their sound and broadened their palate. The band was previously best known for their classic groove “July Eyes” and their haunting but laid-back “She Believes in the Devil.” Send Medicine adds a rockin’ theremin on the thundering opening track “Trouble,” takes a low-key detour through “To Photograph Mary,” and matches vocals with Lauren Ruth Ward for the brainwave-attuned “High in the Rain.” I’ve been throwing on the songs on over and over again throughout the week.
I sat down with Send Medicine for Knock LA before their set at the Zebulon this past Wednesday to ask them more about the new album, their show, and their plans for the future. Send Medicine is Julian Hacquebard (lead vocals/guitar), Ryan Patrick Glennan (keyboard, percussion), Marc Agostini (guitar), David Ozinga (drums), and Trevor Tallakson (bass).
Note: This interview was edited for length and clarity.
Knock: How did you become Send Medicine?
Julian: I came here with one EP, and started playing solo shows. Ryan at the time was promoting shows and the first Send Medicine show that was full band was because he heard the EP and was like, “Can you get a band together?” So he kind of put a fire in me to start curating what would become the first lineup in 2013.
Ryan: So, I was setting up events in warehouses and basically taking over unique venues and curating music and art nights and would gather all my friends, creatives, and basically we’d all just get together and throw a big-ass party, including Shane, who is doing our visuals tonight. So, I was putting these events together, met up with Jules, heard the EP that he came out with from Toronto, I was like, “Holy shit, this is fucking great.” I was like, “I love it, I’ve got a show coming up in two weeks, you’ve gotta play. And I can’t just have you and a guitar. I’ve gotta have that sound.”
K: So you pulled the first members of the band together?
R: I didn’t at all, no.
J: He just willed the thing that became me having to track down some people. We’ve cycled through some members but the current lineup has been together since 2017.
K: David, How did you get involved with the band?
David: I met Jules on Craigslist around September of 2017.
K: I love that, you don’t get a good old-fashioned Craigslist story anymore. Do people still use Craigslist?
R: A certain type of person. (Laughter)
K: (To Marc) How did you meet Julian?
Marc: I’ve known Jules since 2013, shortly after I moved here. We met at an open mic at this place called Cafeina Galleria. I was always in the orbit and I heard [Julian’s EP Warm Memories from the Rooftop] and I was like, “I really want to play in this band.” And then five years pass, and my band, where I played with Trevor, has just broken up. He calls me up after their guitar player leaves and says, “Guys, want to play in Send Medicine and go on tour with us?” and I’m like, “No. Fuck no.” (Laughs) Because I’m done for the moment, I need a break. He said, “Really?” and I said, “Give me 48 hours.”
K: And that was all it took, 48 hours?
M: Yeah, and then I remembered I like playing music.
K: You got a 48 hour break.
J: Two months later, we went on a national tour.
K: You talk about in the band’s bio about having a close-knit family dynamic…
J: We do now, more than ever.
K: Who’s the dad of the family?
(Everyone): Dave, probably Dave.
R: He’s the only actual father. Dave is absolutely the Dad for sure. He’s the most organized. David drives, we go anywhere, David’s driving, he knows where we’re going, he knows the best food along the way, we all just sit back and wait… in David we trust.
K: Speaking of which, I read that this album was being recorded during a period of a lot of change for several band members, including Dave having a kid. What was that like, recording a new album and also having a new life to take care of?
D: Yeah, It was weird at first because you’re used to having a certain kind of life… but it hasn’t really changed that much as far as music stuff goes.
K: So you’re not laying down a track and then there’s a baby crying and you have to go back and scrap it?
D: No, I was forced to really compartmentalize my life, but I’ve still got a lot of music time. I’ve got a really great wife who supports the music project. And, my kid is still really little, she’s two.
K: That’s really sweet.
M: Yeah, you guys are a hot shit power couple.
D: (Laughs) We try, it’s hard. I didn’t think I was going to be able to keep doing everything but it’s still working.
M: I’m glad to hear that. It’s really impressive to still be able to focus on something like this through such a major life change. And returning to the album being recorded through a lot of changes, listening to the lyrics of a lot of the songs, they seem very specific in a way that makes me feel that they’re drawn from personal experience. Is that generally the case when you approach songwriting?
J: They’re not overtly specific, when I sit down with a guitar, or what has now become guitar + piano, it’s typically music first and then the music will inform the stream-of- consciousness spread of ideas. It’s not like I need to channel this specific relationship into this aspect of life, I think it’s usually a wide net of experiences and they’ll just start coming in colors and images, things people have said, things I’ve heard in a movie, and those will continually domino effect and form other words and experiences. A lot of it is impressionistic, it’s not that I have to work on this moment, this day. A lot is jumbled together into a stew of human experience. There’s definitely some lyrics that if put under a microscope have some connection to something, but others that become more and more abstract as you recycle them. I kind of like the idea of blending them together and the juxtaposition of multiple experiences creating the song, and then other peoples’ experiences musically come in and at the end you have this alchemical blizzard of all of our lives, channeling something that we can all hang our hat on part of the song.
M: I think that experientially, in your life, you cast a wide net, and so because you have all these extra experiences. I don’t think the human experience is unique enough that I could have a completely different experience. Whereas you have these sets of experiences, I’ve had something analogous to it. If you’re going to take from all of that, there’s going to be a possibility for me to project, which I frequently do, onto the lyrics. One of the things I love about his lyrics is that it allows me to breathe my own meaning into it.
J: If I came in and was like, this is what the song is, this is what’s going on, that almost sets up a high expectation for everyone to channel the same trip. It becomes almost contrived. It hasn’t worked for me that way, it’s always been a more abstract assimilation of ideas.
K: Your first album was self-released, and then the second was released on Honey House Records, and the third you created your own label. What is the decision-making process when you’re deciding how to release your music?
J: Very Possible Records. “Very Possible” is a tattoo I got in India, right here (shows his left arm). I was in India during the winter right before COVID. A lot of 2019 was spent shopping the record around and as COVID hit, it was a lot of, “We can’t even afford to open up emails right now, let alone take on new business.” Everything was imploding and morphing. So we decided, let’s just put it out, we can start our own thing. It’s just in its beginning stages, it’s not our main focus. It would be cool for it to begin to evolve and we can take on other artists and see where it goes but I was drawn to this [tattoo]…this was important to me and I was like let’s just get it out.
K: Was the entire album basically finished before the lockdown?
J: It was mastered and completely finished by the end of 2019.
K: So many people, I can only imagine, have the exact same story. The pandemic was such an inflection point for so many musical acts; you can’t tour, it’s hard to release music, it’s hard to promote music, but you all used some of that lockdown time to produce what will at some point be your fourth album, right? Can you talk a little bit about what a listener might expect from the forthcoming album?
J: Every previous record has been recorded live to track, where we do it as a band live and then overdub. Because of the circumstances of COVID, the fourth record started experimentally, where I came back from India and I was messing around on the piano for the first time and started trying to write songs on keys, which was refreshing. At first I was just showing them to Trevor and Marc, we weren’t really hanging out as a group, we weren’t jamming yet. I would just go to Marc’s house to show him a riff, and Trevor lived in the same building, and it was just planting seeds, planting ideas. At our rehearsal space, there was nobody else there, so it was quiet. And Marc had some recording equipment, so we just started tracking. And then a song or two in we were like, “Oh, maybe we can pull this off” and it will be a different kind of record, it won’t be a live, fleshed-out record that we write together in the same way. But David would come in, lay a track down, Trevor would come in and lay a bass track down, and then I would come in, listen, and lay down some vocals, and then Marc would lay in some guitar, and then we just built it up like that. There were pros and cons but I think the best part was the new songs that we’re writing now, that will become the fifth record post this, are sort of a blend of the previous experience and the fourth experience, with taking the time to track and build up while also taking what we do live and throwing all that together. And the genre for the fourth record, it’s definitely a left turn for sure. It’s not a guitar-heavy psychedelic record, but it is still us, it sounds like us, it’s still a lot of Send Medicine on the record.
D: It’s a lot different, it’s a lot more down-tempo.
M: A lot more space. A lot more intentional application of the tonal value of light and dark. One thing I remember from the process of making that record, it was the light levels. The room was dark. When we first heard these songs, we were witness to these incredible sunsets that were happening outside my window, but there was a stillness to the environment, and I think this record comes out of stillness more so than a dynamic process. So we’re really choosing where to apply anything other than the stillness. Now I just feel like I’m talking in complete fucking abstract. (Laughter)
R: We also felt there was an urgency, like we had to do something with our time and we didn’t know where the world was going, nobody did, and we were like we have to archive this, we have to channel this music and archive it somehow and I think the sense of precariousness the world was experiencing, I definitely think we channeled that. The record has an oddness, like an unsettledness to it that I think is authentic because whenever anyone showed up to lay down something, they were living in 2020, living in the times that we were.
J: Yeah, we all couldn’t be together in a room at the same time.
D: I’d come in and there’d just be a piano track and play drums to it. And no one to work off of, I just had to imagine a soundscape in my head, like, where could this maybe go? It’s really challenging to do that, especially with no bass player, because we weren’t together at all. For months. And then to hear what it sounds like at the end! For me, only hearing a piano track and then hearing the full fleshed-out song at the complete other end of what I was hearing in my mind and what I was playing…
J: We’re trying one of them tonight.
K: That’s exciting. I get the impression of almost a serial album, almost like a game of Telephone… not Telephone but what’s the game where one person writes something down and passes it to the next person?
Several people: Exquisite Corpse.
J: But there’s a healthiness to that in general, because it was a lot of handing off, like Dave was just saying, I don’t know the context for where this is going but this is what I feel or hear and then he literally hands it off to Trevor, and then Ryan comes in and has a vibe. Often Marc would want to wait.
M: Oh, I was so selfish with it. I was like, I’m not playing until everyone else is on.
R: I got to do a couple like that at the end, like I was the last thing. And that was cool. But also I couldn’t interject my own vibe, I had to work with what was there. It was a fun album to make, if not strange.
J: We did the best we could with the circumstances.
R: And it’s great. We’re really proud of it.
K: I want to go back to the live performance, you were talking about how your previous albums were recorded live and I understand that you all like to bring an extra element to your live performances. What kind of experience do you like to create with your live shows? What’s your approach to performing live?
R: Trying to have a good time, for us it’s the pinnacle of like… we write all this music and we get to share it. That’s the beauty of being in a band, getting to pull people into what we’ve done. This friendship and this brotherhood that we’ve created is something that I’m really proud of. I feel I have a really strong connection to these four humans and trying to present that to an audience in the best way possible. And show the fucking looniness of it at times, and keeping it genuine, and having a good time so it bleeds out into the people watching it.
J: And also not going into it as a binary thing where it’s like “we’re the band, they’re the crowd”; it’s more fluid. Like when I leave the house to see some music, I want to be turned on and have an experience, I want to get swept up in it. So we try to not have this wall, we try to mix into the energy of the room. Because there’s a record and there’s a show, and they’re different things. People should go home feeling something.
The show itself had the atmosphere of a joyous celebration. A celebration of the band’s return to live performance, a celebration of the album’s long-delayed release, and a celebration of the moment. At one point, Ryan requested a drink, and received no less than three from the enraptured audience, sporting one of Zebulon’s famous Pancho and Leftys in his hand throughout the remainder of the set.
As promised, however, 2020 inevitably stepped in from their new unreleased track. “Just checking in…have your dreams been very bad?” Julian sings somberly, a line that resonated deeply with me in the wake of the yearlong quarantine. By contrast, however, the Zebulon was packed for a Tuesday night, having reopened to the public only a month ago.
The band cruised through their new singles from the album, wheeling across “Alligator Lady,” “Scorpio Long Ago,” and an electrifying rendition of “Trouble.” Ryan increased the energy of the show fivefold when he shook off his slip-ons and began to dance barefoot on the stage. The stage itself was beset with a colorful floral arrangement arranged for by the band, which added to the overall effect and general feeling of warmth. The aforementioned visuals transformed live footage of the band into a digital kaleidoscope as they performed. At one point, a mosh pit of women formed.
“Come three steps closer!” urged Ryan to the crowd. “It’s so exciting to see all of you again.”
By Telepathy & Reputation is available on Spotify and from Very Possible Records. Send Medicine’s next live performance in Los Angeles is on November 5 at Non Plus Ultra.