You know when you're 12 years old and you're wrestling in the living room with a sibling and things are getting out of hand and your ma yells: "DON'T HORSE AROUND IN THE LIVING ROOM! YOU'LL BREAK SOMETHING!" She might add, as an afterthought, that you might break yourselves, but she's obviously more interested in the well-being of the heirlooms than the well-being of the heirs.
Her priorities might confuse you at the time—because why the hell is the structural integrity of an old teapot more important than the skulls of her own children? But in later years, when someone clumsily breaks something you hold dear, the size and contours of your sadness, which are roughly the size and contours of the emotions you poured into that object, might teach you something about nostalgia and why your mother felt that way about a teapot.
Anyway. Last weekend, my brother and I were horsing around in the living room—even though we're way too old for that crap—and I shoved my wrist through a thin, sharp glass object that also broke one of my arteries. An ambulance and stitches were involved. It was embarrassing on a variety of levels.
But as a result, I'm listening to the Pharmacy on a pharmacy's worth of prescription drugs and thinking about playful familial violence and nostalgia. The Pharmacy's fuzzy, slightly psychedelic (but always melodic) garage-pop sounds fantastic on these drugs—like the kind of group you'd imagine playing a high-school prom in the mid-1950s, if that high school let everyone smoke pot between classes and had a Percocet vending machine in the lunchroom. (I'm currently listening to "Lazy Bones," an instrumental on the B-side of their EP Dig Your Grave, which is the slow-dance hit of my dreams.) It's funny how the West Coast has bred a network of musicians who all know each other, grew up on punk rock, but returned to these older sounds and chord structures—Jail Weddings, Holy Ghost Revival, PUD, the Murder City Devils, and other bands past and present—imported from their parents' record collections but passed through the kidneys of their own experience. At heart, they're all romantics.
The Pharmacy is a threesome: Scottie Yoder (guitar), Brendhan Bowers (drums), and Stefan Rubicz (keys). They all sing. I first met Rubicz when he was a sophomore in high school and I was just out of college, working in the ticket office at ACT Theater. He used to shuffle in before theater shows, looking just this side of scruffy and barely shoved into his button-up shirt: a "flower punk" before the Black Lips grabbed that term. Then he'd sit down at the piano and delicately play lovely classical and ragtime numbers, while the evening's audience members—mostly dazed-looking, upper-middle-class white women—wafted over to his tip jar to stuff in tips.
In a recent phone conversation, Rubicz said he'd landed that gig by just showing up (he frequented live theater in those days), seeing the dusty and unused piano in the lobby, and asking if he could play it for tips and free tickets to shows. "They were like, 'Yeah, sure,'" he said. "I basically wanted to practice playing in public to see what that would be like." That gig led to other teenage gigs as a piano player at the fancy-schmancy Waterfront Bar and Grill and improvising scores for silent movies—such as Nosferatu—at his hometown Vashon Island theater. "If you were actually a classical pianist listening to it, it would sound hokey," he said. "But I'd just play some Brahms to cover a scene or improvised themes for characters when they came on the screen."
Rubicz is one of those people who likes to play in public, and he says he plays better for a crowd than he does when he's alone. The world is full of the other kind of musician, who prefers playing in the living room. His brother is one of those. Even though Davin Rubicz works as a professional cello player for the St. Louis Symphony, Stefan says, Davin gets nervous playing for an audience.
Like me, Stefan Rubicz is somewhat injury-prone. He's broken his wrists three times—alarming for a piano player—in accidents that ranged from horsing around on an arbor to crowd-surfing. One time, his wrist was in a cast for many weeks and was holding up his piano work. At a Seattle house party a week before the cast was supposed to come off, Rubicz and Jean-Paul Garnier (formerly of the Starvations, Holy Ghost Revival, and now doing experimental improv projects in Los Angeles) cut off the cast with a serrated bread knife.
Whenever I've seen the Pharmacy play, it's been a good time—boys who know their instruments but know their passions as well. They tour relentlessly (sometimes eight months out of the year) and have a new record coming out in the US in November called Stoned and Alone. (Some of their members have worked lonely stints on California pot farms.) You can get it on cassette from Burger Records or on vinyl from Old Flame.