By Brock ThiessenKeeping up with Mark McGuire in recent years has been one exhausting undertaking, though an entirely worthwhile and rewarding one. Since co-founding the Cleveland, OH-based Emeralds trio in 2006, the 24-year-old guitarist has unleashed what seems like a non-stop stream of kosmische-minded explorations. While many of these have of course come at the hands of Emeralds ― who snagged more than a few high-profile best-of-year honours for 2010's mind-expanding Does It Look Like I'm Here? ― McGuire's solo output has been nearly as prolific, with the guitar player amassing well over 30 cassettes, CD-Rs and LPs between 2007 and 2011, not to mention a good half dozen side-projects. Yet besides McGuire's stellar 2010 debut solo outing for Editions Mego, Living with Yourself, almost all the experimentalist's releases have come in frustratingly limited runs, leading only the most hardcore of followers to ever hope for some complete McGuire collection. In attempts to help fans old and new get a handle on that extra-busy past, he has again teamed up with Editions Mego to assemble A Young Person's Guide to Mark McGuire, a compilation that looks back on the guitarist's solo career with two CDs, 20 tracks and nearly two-and-a-half hours of looped, layered and intricately played guitar-scapes. To get some insight on the comp, Exclaim! recently caught up with McGuire at his new home base of Portland, OR, where he shed some light on his young person's guide, dizzying release schedule, and his future plans for both Emeralds and his solo career.
So what made you decide to put this comp together now? It was [Editions Mego head] Peter Rehberg's idea to do the comp. I've reissued a couple of my cassettes already on LP. I did the Tidings / Amethyst Waves [2007/2008] and Off in the Distance  as LPs [in 2010]. So I picked all the songs [from past cassettes] that were checkpoints or stepping stones from the past few years and put them altogether. For the comp, so much of the stuff I have released is so limited and no one really has it, so I wanted it to start being out there in a more accessible format. I think the double CD is going to be really cool because it packs a lot of punch for two discs and it's not some big, ridiculous LP box set that people have to spend a bunch of money on.
Could you tell about the song selection process? I originally picked all my favourites and sent them to Peter. And then he told me which ones he really liked, and we just went back and forth. He really liked the Pocket Full of Rain release  that I did and he wanted it to be a lot of those tracks. He was even thinking of just reissuing that double cassette. So there are some songs off that. But I really wanted to include some of my early stuff, when I first started playing under my own name. So I used some of my first recordings, which are from the Patterns of Development CD-R from 2007, and that's when I really started to go off with my solo stuff. Basically, though, this whole thing is to just get the music out there to the people, not just the real heads who were there when it happened and the merch fiends that buy all the stuff right away. Because there are so many people who don't operate that way but still enjoy the music. And I want everyone to be able to hear it.
With the sequencing, why did you lay the album out the way you did? At first, it was going to be chronological so it made more sense, because some of the really early tracks are really basic, where it's me stepping out for the first time to do the guitar ideas I was thinking about. But then there's some of the later stuff ― the stuff building up to Living with Yourself  and for my major albums. So when you listen to one of the later tracks and then one of the older tracks after, it kinda seems going backwards or something.
Was it strange listening back on all these old recordings? And did that process lead to any personal revelations about your work/music/life? I like to listen back to older stuff all the time to see what I used to be doing. When you record a lot, certain riffs and moments of songs slip out of your head... I'm not trying to move super fast with what I'm doing. I'm not trying to put out a solo guitar record and then do some record that totally doesn't sound like that next ― to be jumping around to different styles. I'm really trying to hone in certain things I want to do and certain ideas, and bring them to the next level. So it was cool to go back and listen ― I knew what I wanted to do back then but I wasn't able to really execute it. And now, with the stuff I'm putting out, it's cool to see what those same ideas are turning into.
So do you think your style and approach have changed a lot over the years with your solo recordings? I think so. I used to do a lot more drone-y, textual stuff, and the riffs would come in a little off or off-kilter. Now I'm really working on making the riffs sound really precise and to do their job correctly. Before it was a lot more casual and flexible. And now I want everything to be fine-tuned to a certain point, and I want to hit that mark every time.