“The sound of certain words inspire me a lot. It’s not necessarily something that is speaking from the deep depths of my soul, but it comes from somewhere. For example, I really wanted to use the word ‘stomach’ because I thought it’s such a nice word. Everyone says ‘gut’ or ‘inside’, so that was a starting point for a song,” says Andre Leo of dream noise music duo, Medicine Boy.

We’re sitting on a blanket of leaves in Cecilia Forest talking about the process of making alternative music. In this pastoral place, it’s impossible not to use trees as a metaphor to describe the band’s grounded and alluring stage presence without sounding twee but watch Andre and Lucy Kruger live, and you’ll witness a musical act that diverges from the bombastic loudness often associated with local sounds. Their stage presence is without spectacle and draws the audience in, allowing sonic soundscapes to enter the imagination and ears to focus on melodies undulating between the calm and chaotic.

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“We don’t always know how to give ourselves over to the music. I think it requires something of you. It asks you to be present, it’s like a relationship…a lot of people here equate stage presence with very overt, high energy stuff. If you’re running around kicking your legs, then you’re an amazing performer,” remarks Lucy. “I think there needs to be a shift in mentality because music is art. Not all of it is just about entertaining the ‘party people’. Some people are there to listen. We try to incorporate those things into what we do,” adds Andre.

Back in 2011 Andre was watching San Franciscan band Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and was blown away by the music. He was surprised afterwards when friends thought that they’d lacked stage presence. Surely the music and not stage presence takes precedence, he thought? This idea probably differs amongst different artist, but for Medicine Boy, they’re first and foremost about the music. 

Before the band’s formation, both Andre and Lucy found themselves surrounded by friends who, as time went by, began treating music as less of a profession and more of a hobby. In most scenarios, Lucy explains, if you tell someone in South Africa you’re in a band, you’re likely to be asked what your ‘real job’ is. For the duo, making music isn’t a recreational indulgence. They knew they needed to give themselves permission to take their craft seriously and immerse themselves from 9-5 in the act of music making.

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At the time they’d been playing together in psych band The Very Wicked, but were keen to have more mobility and the ability to tour. They realised that logistically a duo would give them this, and the opportunity to perform more frequently. Andre tells us that the process of forming Medicine Boy and recording their debut album, More Knives happened quickly after this. 

“The sound evolved quite naturally. Our first EP is a very strong representation of the initial stage of this band. We didn’t wait a very a long time, we went to studio and laid down the tracks. I’m glad we did, it’s nice to have a record because sounds evolve so quickly.

In demeanour, both Lucy and Andre are soft-spoken, harbouring a quiet intensity yet seem level-headed and calm. Even though Andre has been in bands since he was 14 years old and Lucy already had a solo album Cut Those Strings under her belt, they both admit that their first performance as Medicine Boy was terrifying. “It was the first time we played with a drum machine. Psych Night had brought down the Golden Animals from Brooklyn. We didn’t have time to sound check properly. It was all very stressful and proper terrifying, but it was good,” Lucy recalls. 

Stylistically, they cite the “total calm serenity and then exploding chaos and hellfire” of Nick Cave’s music and his ability to balance tenderness and destruction as a direct influence on their sound. But having said that, they’re not precious about discarding preconceived ideas of what they should sound like and try to let the music evolve naturally.

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For Lucy, writing lyrics within a particular rhythm structure directs and frees her from thinking too cognitively, while Andre starts with a guitar riff or tuning he’s been experimenting with. Sitting in the lounge and coming up with new melodies and lyrics sounds like a muso’s dream, but they assure us jokingly that on some days, they spend more time buried in emails than rehearsing.

Andre’s quick to outline the challenges of starting a new band. “Often one gets thrown off course quite quickly when it comes to being in bands. People get caught up in PR and admin, waste time procrastinating and not making music. We do everything ourselves, we do all the bookings, and the people that we work with – our designers, photographers and filmmakers – are all very close friends. I believe that’s how the best stuff gets done. You form a tight knit community and support and help each other.”

Right now they’re finalising their next album Kinda Like Electricity and organising their second European Tour which will take them to Italy, Germany, France, the Netherlands and the UK. Part of the appeal of playing to foreign audiences is immersing themselves in environments with people who have a different approach to live music. On their first tour, they noticed that because European audiences are spoilt for choice, they’re more selective in what they choose to listen to, and it feels like there’s a larger culture dedicated to the appreciation of live music that’s different to the big festival-going crowds here. 

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“People were surprised when we said we’re only releasing our second album in August,” says Andre. It takes time to let a song be what it needs to. Kinda Like Electricity has allowed them to put most of their influences on the table and presents a mix of blues, country, gospel and rock ‘n roll.

Being a two-person band is extremely hard work and keeps them on their toes off stage and on. Coming from a vocalist and guitar playing background, Lucy is surprised she’s playing keys, drums and providing vocals, and for Andre, despite playing over a decade in the industry, it’s the first time he’s the only guitarist. Even though there was no set plan for the duo, looking back and having played together for some time in other bands, they don’t find it entirely unexpected to be challenging themselves and playing together. 

On Saturday 13 August they’re launching their second album at Magnet Theatre in Observatory. It’s not your usual music haunt but then again, they’re not your conventional band. Performing in a traditional theatre and not a designated live music venue is an embodiment of their approach to music. Slightly off-beat and arousing curiosity, they stick to their own impulses and aren’t afraid to take risks and produce music that’s slower, darker and asks more of its audience. 

“The main thing we try to do with Medicine Boy is really just make it be what it wants to be and not fall into the trap of trying to do what we think might read… we have to be honest, otherwise it doesn’t read. It’s always a combination of sonic manipulation and honesty,” says Lucy as we leave the forest, giving us a sense that like the trees, they’re quietly doing their own thing but are raising the bar when it comes to growing South African music industry and our expectations of it. 

Listen to Medicine Boy on the duo’s Bandcamp page, and follow them on Facebook and Insta for gig info. 

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Lucy and Andre wear selected items from MRP. Photography by Jessie Enslin.

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