The Oklahoma sludge metal group Medicine Horse are in this week’s Meet The Band spotlight. They just released their self-titled debut album. Vocalist Nico Williams and guitarist Travis Rowe introduce us to their band.
Chad Bowar: Give us a brief history of Medicine Horse.
Travis Rowe: Medicine Horse formed around Nico Williams (vocals), Kyle Williams Sr. (guitar) and Garrett Heck (drums), and the first thing they wrote was “The Turning Tide,” which basically set the tone for the band. Once they decided to make this more than a one-off song and round the band out, myself and Chris West (bass) joined up and started riffing it out. The great thing is that we all connect on a shared love of heavy music and love many of the same bands, but we all also have our own additional tastes that everyone really wears on their sleeve.
So, it really is only natural that we start off with monster riffs and then we let the song and riff kind of guide us through. We have all been playing music a fair amount of time and I think that helps to bring a little sanity and maturity when we write. I really think the uniting force behind the band is the shared love of what we are doing, we really enjoy writing these songs and especially playing these songs live.
What inspired the band name?
Travis: Medicine Horse is my great-great-great-grandfather, Shoⁿge Moⁿkoⁿ (Ponca) or Ma’kaⁿ Suⁿje (Otoe).
Describe the songwriting process for your self-titled album.
Nico WIlliams: I am not one to just improv vocals in the moment, so the guys would jam and work out the instrumentals into a fully formed arrangement before I would take a recording of that and sit with it on my own to write. On some songs, the feeling of the music gives me a concept to work out lyrics. Like “Letiche,” for instance; just the intro to that song immediately gave me creepy bayou vibes. I felt like I was sitting by slow water, and something was watching me, and that is how the story unfolded.
Travis: We are a very riff-based band, so every song starts with a riff, and we work it out from there. Sometimes someone will bring a complete song in, but we still jam it out and
trust each other’s opinions of what works and what does not. Like Nico said, she does not just jump up and start hitting it off the cuff, instead she listens and hears what the song is telling her. When she gets that put to paper, it’s lights out.
What will be your strongest memory of the recording of the album?
Travis: How long everything took after the recording was all finished! (laughs) In all seriousness, the journey as a band, and the growth as people. Cheesy, heavy, but true.
What was the biggest challenge in recording it?
Travis: Probably knowing just exactly what we wanted to do on it, sound-wise. We recorded this early on to becoming a fully formed unit, so everything was still fresh and loose. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but once you have really internalized the music and it just starts to flow…you start to really understand better how the music should be delivered.
How would you characterize its style/sound?
Travis: These questions are always tough, but I would say it is a pretty true blue sludge metal record, done Oklahoma style. Oklahoma style, being a blend of all the types of music that we have been surrounded with, had pass through, or was created right here over the last 70 years. That is the country, blues, rock n roll, jazz, and swing that our area is known for… but played on 11 of course.
What lyrical topics do you cover?
Nico: If there is one overall theme, I would say it is the strength and resiliency of Indigenous culture. I have always loved storytelling of all kinds, so the songs have that arc to them. It often opens with an expression of some element of struggle or obstacle faced by our people, either historical or contemporary, and the story unfolds to celebrate the ways we persevere and triumph in the end. The song, “Letiche”, stands out as more straightforward storytelling, the music creates this lush sonic context around the Cajun folk tale, and I incorporated a mix of French and English to reflect those roots, and also as a nod to my dad.
How were the video shoots for “Dead Medicine” and “Turning Tide”?
Nico: “Turning Tide” was the first video we did, and it features Kyle’s daughter Khloe who looks like such a baby in the video! When I watch it now, she has grown up so much since we shot that! It was a great time aside from locking our keys in the car at the park where we were shooting the kids’ scenes. The “Dead Medicine” video was shot out on the banks of a dried-out pond at our bass player Chris’ farm. I learned how hard it is to headbang and try to look cool when you are standing on an incline. I thought I was going to roll my ass down into the buckets of fire we had all over the place.
Travis: Kyle was the ideas man on that video, and I thought it turned out really good. Austin Wallace shot it for us and was super easy to work with and just does a fantastic job on everything he touches. We had to cobble some things together to pull it off. The whole video was pretty DIY, which we do a lot because we must, but it also makes it that much sweeter when it works out.
How did you come to sign with Horton Records?
Travis: We had just been doing our thing, playing gigs and going to shows and people were into what we were doing. So, I think some word of mouth got around, and Brian is super-involved in the Oklahoma music scene and just music in general, so he pretty well knows who’s up to what. Horton Records had done a lot with Oklahoma artists in the country, blues, and rock areas, but wanted to add some heavy music to the mix. When Horton was working with Jeremy Charles on the Cherokee language compilation album, ANVDVNELISGI, which features our song “Kuwa Detlukv” we were able to cross paths and start discussing working together. It has been a real blessing for us to be able to work with Brian and Horton Records.
What are your goals and expectations for the album?
Nico: I expect to be on the cover of Rolling Stone by this time next year.
What has been your most memorable Medicine Horse live show?
Nico: We have played so many incredible shows already, but for me, the most special has been our trip back to my ancestral homelands in Cherokee, NC to play a show with all the artists from a Cherokee language compilation album that we contributed to. We only played 3 songs as part of a showcase of all the artists, but being able to bring our music there to where my family is from, and for our whole band to take that trip with me, it was special.
Travis: I agree, the show in Cherokee was special for the entire band. I also love it when the conditions are right and we have enough room for Khloe and Tylynn dancing at a show, it takes the whole thing to another level, and those shows are special. But if the sound is good and nobody is complaining about how loud my guitar is. I’m happy at any of them.
What are your upcoming show/tour plans?
Nico: We’re gearing up for our big album release show on Oct 28th at Whittier Bar in Tulsa!
Travis: We have a handful of Tulsa shows set up around the release of the album. After that we have some regional activity leading up to the fall and winter seasons.
How is the heavy music scene in Tulsa?
Travis: It is like the city itself; it may not seem like a lot at first glance but hang out a minute and you will see or hear that it’s all killer and no filler. There are some perfect
sized venues like the Whittier Bar bringing in killer touring acts to play right alongside the local scene. There are some great venues in Tulsa that are becoming more friendly to heavy music.
What are some of your non-musical interests and hobbies?
Nico: I run a nonprofit organization and Native community wellness center called Burning Cedar Sovereign Wellness, and my work there centers on reconnecting to traditional foods to improve physical and mental health in our community.
Travis: Most of my interests have some connection to music, so anything related to the creation of music. I am also into leatherwork, things with motors, and working with my hands.
What’s currently in your heavy musical rotation?
Nico: Kyle and I cannot stop listening to the debut EP from Slumbering Sun out of Texas.
Travis: Sisyphean, Liquid Shit, Faerie Ring, Fugitive, Dozer, Feral.
Anything else you’d like to mention or promote?
Nico: Outside of doing this for ourselves, we also do it for people out there looking for a sound that may not be offered at the moment. If you find new music from a new band, support that band however you can. That could be buying an album or some merch, that could be following a band page and sharing news we post, or just simply interact and let us know what you think. We appreciate it all to no end!
(interview published September 9, 2023)
Watch Medicine Horse – “Dead Medicine” Video