The Pharmacy Talks New Album ‘Spells’ and Memorable Tour Moments

Photo credit: Mike De Leon
Photo credit: Mike De Leon

Over the twelve years Seattle’s the Pharmacy has been together, the band has moved from quirky power-punk, inspired by the likes of the Unicorns, to surf-y garage rock that harkens classics like the Zombies and the Shangri-La’s, but with a psychedelic twist. The Pharmacy, which consists of singer/guitarist Scottie Yoder, drummer Brendhan Bowers, and Stefan Rubicz on keyboards, has toured the US and Europe extensively, and on August 12 they’re back with their third LP, Spells, on Old Flame Records/Burger Records.

The ten tracks that comprise Spells reflect a band that is self-assured  confident and matured from their years of experience on the stage, on the road, and in the studio. Amidst the buzz spurred by the album’s first three singles, “Masten Lake Lagoon”, “Anna Bella”, and “Strange”, and in advance of their upcoming show at the Electric Owl this Monday, July 28, Vancouver Weekly spoke to Scottie Yoder about how their new album came together and the most memorable moments of their current tour.

Vancouver Weekly: Dig Your Grave and Stoned & Alone were produced by Brandon Eggleston, who has worked with the Mountain Goats, tUnE-yArDs, Modest Mouse, Swans, and Les Savy Fav. That’s a pretty diverse group of artists. What did you learn from working with him?

Scott Yoder: We learned a bit of humility. It was a healthy chemistry where we would want to push things to unconventional and sometimes overproduced places, and he would try to keep us grounded in what actually worked. He was super-flexible and open to our tendencies towards layering all sorts of parts into the music, but only if they really satisfied the songs. He can also tell you to redo the same small part over and over again without making it feel tedious.

VW: For Spells, you teamed up with producer Kyle Brunette. What did he bring to the table that differed from Eggleston? Was this the first time you and Brunette worked together?

SY: Yeah, it was. Kyle was so chill and easygoing, and it worked because we wanted to dial things back anyway. We wanted to reign ourselves in, get the sound right, and just got record. It was all done in a week or two with us just playing live in a room together. Stefan played bass and then overdubbed some piano, I did some acoustic guitar, and Brendhan put in some shakers, so it was all pretty straightforward. We also were able to record the Trouble Maker 7″ in that session and still have a few out takes leftover.

VW: “Masten Lake Lagoon”, the first single from Spells, is action-packed – the busiest song on the album – and it’s less than four minutes long. In addition to learning how to draw out your compositions for the greatest effect on Stoned and Alone, would you say you’ve also learned how to shrink your songs while still getting the most out of them too?

SY: Yeah, I’d say that song was the opposite almost. It was really just a minute-and-a-half long demo, but we were having a good time, so we stretched out the middle and filled it in with some improvisation. The demo was just some chords and a drum beat. All the real dynamics were written in the studio on the day we recorded it.

VW: One of Spells‘ biggest highlights for me is Lizard Queen”. You captured the sandy, slithering psychedelia that reflects the reptilian title so well. Did that song come together easily?

SY: Sure, yeah, that all came together the day of. I don’t even think Brendhan had really heard it before we started rolling tape. We just gave cues for the chord changes and built it off that. It was a pretty creative day in that basement.

VW: You’ve toured all over North America and Europe with acts varying from Japanther to Matt + Kim to Vivian Girls to Kimya Dawson. I imagine those were some pretty fun tours. What have been some of the most memorable experiences with your tourmates on this loop?

SY: There was a lot of boating. We went sailing on the middle of a huge lake between Germany and Switzerland. We took a motorboat out to some fisherman’s bar in Lugano near Italy. We played a huge festival in Innsbruck to a couple of city blocks worth of humans… Snuck into some horrifying catacombs deep beneath an abandoned factory in Czech Republic. Snuck into an abandoned hotel on the top of a beach cliff on the Mediterranean coast of Spain…

VW: You’ve recorded in a lot of interesting places, often for the same release: Jack Endino’s Soundhouse in Seattle; a Methodist church on Vashon Island; Louisiana where you steeped yourselves in some of the oldest music in America. How did you decide to write Spells in a cabin in Big Sur and record it in the basement of a used car museum in downtown Tacoma? How did those environments influence the album?

SY: We didn’t have much of a role in that decision. Usually the place decides for us whether we record there. We just follow through to see what comes out of the speakers.

The Pharmacy plays the Electric Owl on Monday, July 28, with Cool Ghouls (San Francisco) and Sh-Shakes (Vancouver). Tickets available at Ticketfly.

Leslie Ken Chu

Leslie Ken Chu