Mark McGuire

Mark McGuire
Keeping 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 [2008] 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 [2009] 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 [2010] 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.

Do you see this collection as some kind of closing chapter or maybe beginning chapter to anything?
It's not like I'm ever going to do a cassette or CD-R again, but just with the way I've been recording now, the output has slowed down. I'm not going to be putting out ten cassettes and CD-Rs in a year anymore. I'm probably not going to be going at that speed anymore. So I think it was cool to wrap that up ― that period before I released a major record when I was putting out all this stuff in smaller runs.

Why were you going at such a breakneck speed?
It was just naturally happening. And there weren't tons of people hitting me up to buy stuff, so I'd just put out 50 copies of things or something. You give away ten or 15 to friends and family, and you sell 25 or 30 copies over a while and you're out of them. And you're like, "Well, I'm not going to make more copies of this. I'll just make a new one." And it just kept rolling like that. Now, I'm still recording all the time, but now I'm spending more time fine-tuning stuff. I really want the records to be more concise and to zone in on one idea and let it elaborate in different ways throughout the album. Before maybe it was just getting stoned and jamming for a couple hours, and thinking, "Man, this tape's going to rule."

What were you going for with that title, A Person's Guide?
That was Peter Rehberg's idea again. It was kind of a joke. I'm relatively younger, and only 24. So for him, he thought it would be funny to put this thing out as a young person's guide when I could use a young person's guide myself. But if you were a person who wanted to get into my solo stuff and saw I had some 38 solo releases, a lot of people would just be like, "Fuck that. I don't care that much. That's overwhelming and ridiculous." And this is a good way for people to bypass that and hear the tracks I thought stood out and that they would be into.

Have you started thinking about the follow-up to
Living with Yourself yet?
I've been working on a new solo record since last summer. It should be out soon but I've been having some issues. I record on a PC, which is the worst thing anyone can do. And I've just had so many computer problems over the last few months that I've had to stop the recording process for my new one. I was going to have it out by the summer because the vibes of the album are super summertime, but it probably won't be out until September or maybe even October or later. I've been spending a lot of time on it, and even though I'm not recording every day, I'm working on the album in my head.

Could you tell me anything more about any themes or ideas you have for the record?
Well, as of right now, the record is going to be called Get Lost. I feel that that's a title can be interpreted in a lot of different ways, and I like to do that with the titles and imagery in my music. I think when the album comes out, it will kind of unfold like a story. Kind of like how Living with Yourself did. But I can't really say exactly what that's going to mean yet. And I hate time frames... I feel when you rush something it never turns out naturally.

What about Emeralds? Have you started planning the follow-up to Does It Look Like I'm Here?
I live in Oregon now and those guys are still in Ohio. I know John [Elliott] and Steve [Hauschildt] have been working on stuff, and I've been working on stuff. And we're getting ready to get together to start throwing out new ideas for the new Emeralds pretty soon, but it's not something we've set in stone. We don't want to rush our record out at all. With the last one, we spent more time on that than we spent on any of our other stuff. And to us, it was the most rewarding because we worked so hard on it. We don't want to just rush something out to one-up that record or get something out where people are, "Well, this isn't as good as the last one." We want people to still digest Does It Look Like I'm Here? for a while, and we really think about what we want to say next. I think it's going to be really, really sick when it happens, but I can't really guarantee when that's going to be.

Which directions would you like to go in for the next Emeralds' or have you even thought that far ahead?
We've been incorporating a lot of new elements in our sound. People who were at our show last week probably noticed there were some percussive sounds coming out of John's sequencer. But I don't think we're specifically trying to go in any certain direction, because that's what our music has always kind been about. With the new stuff, it will just happen the way it does. The three of us just get together and that ends up making the Emeralds sound. We just end up jamming and things will happen, and we'll just steer the ship as it's moving. I can't really tell you where we're going to be at, and that's the really exciting thing about working with those guys because who knows what it's going to be like.

Do you think that each member in Emeralds having these solo careers and projects has been beneficial to the band?
Definitely. All three of us want to be playing all the time, but our schedules don't allow us to do Emeralds every day. And it gives us certain outlets for ideas that maybe wouldn't make as much sense in the band. We all have things individually that don't sound like Emeralds, and it's cool to have those other outlets and then come back and have Emeralds still be focused and be where we want it to be.

Do you have other releases you are working on right now?
Yeah, there are a few things in the works, but it's been really hectic so it's hard to get everything out. The drummer who plays on the last track on Living with Yourself ["Brothers (for Matt)"], Nate Scheible, we did an album. We recorded it in 2009. It's basically been done for two years. It's going to be out on that label Music Fellowship from Connecticut in a few months. It's drum and guitar. But it's not like the last song on Living with Yourself; it's more polyrhythmic and atmospheric.
Then there is the band I have with Julian Gulyas, who runs the Cylindrical Habitats Module label, called Amazing Births, which has another album that's being pressed right now. That will be out really soon on his label. The first cassette we did was all tape manipulations, and the second was all guitar and synths. So the third mixes those two styles.
And I've been working with Spencer Clark from Monopoly Child, Skaters and all that. We recorded an album last summer that's a surf album. It's like a tribute to old new wave/soft rock/surf bands from Australia and New Zealand. It's honouring that style in a new light. Hopefully that will be out this summer. It's called Mark McGuire's Inner Tube, which is kinda the name of the project and album. I'm really stoked for that one because it's way out-of-left-field style and really different than a lot of stuff I've been doing, and I think people are going to respond. But I don't know if it will be a good response or bad response. We're even going to try to do a tour in Australia next year to support it.

What about this release you have coming out with Trouble Books?
We have a lot of mutual friends but I had never really heard their band until last summer. We hung out at a couple shows, so had the idea of bouncing a few tracks around and remixing each other's stuff. So we started doing it and it came out really cool. It just came together during the last couple months and we're going to self-release that pretty soon. It's a pretty limited run of 250 copies. That's another thing where it's going to be a different style than I've done before, which I think people might be into.
I have elements of doing vocals, but it's never stuff where I'm singing words. They have kind of the opposite style with their vocals, where there is no reverb or delay and it's really straight singing. So I feel it's a cool contrast with my style and theirs coming together. A couple of the songs are remixes of my older stuff and others are me adding stuff to their older songs. But there are a few tracks where we got together and made some new stuff. It surprised me, but I like the way it came together. It is a bit more song-based but the music were working with is a style where it's more free and based on textures than pop structures.

Do you think you'll ever resurrect Skyramps, your project with Oneohtrix Point Never's Dan Lopatin?
That's the other thing, where every time me and Dan see each other it's like, "Dude, Skyramps 2012. We gotta do the next one." But that's another case where our schedules practically never line up because he's in New York City and has eight billion things going on. And I got my stuff going on. If we did make a new one, we wouldn't want it to be sending tracks back and forth like we did on the CD-R [2009]. We would want it to have a more "we were actually working together" kind of vibe. But never say never. We've been talking about doing another one almost non-stop since the other one came out. It's going to come together sooner or later.