Mark McGuire is a solo ambient/noise artist from Cleveland, OH and more widely known as one thirds of Emeralds. I was able to catch a slice of Mark’s very precious time to ask him a few questions about his past, present and future.
There was this old acoustic in my grandparents’ basement that I used to play with when I was like six years old, it was all rusted and it just hurt to touch. When I was nine I bought my first guitar with some money I had saved up, got a used Strat and an amp for $125. It was intense playing a guitar at first, was like from a different world or something. Not in the way that I felt weird playing it, but it just felt like it came from somewhere very far from where I was.
Before I got a guitar my mom showed me a few really simple things on piano. Originally I was supposed to start off taking piano lessons, but ended up just starting on guitar. I took guitar lessons for about six years, until I was like 15. At this point I feel like I’ve pretty much forgotten a lot of what I learned in those lessons, but there are things that still stick with me. Every few weeks he would let me bring in a CD and he’d teach me a song or two off of it. The songs didn’t really do much in the long-run, but just watching him sit there and figure out what he was hearing just by listening and trying different things really opened a huge door for me. It was kind of like learning how to read, you start off by “sounding out” words until you’re not even thinking about it anymore. I felt like I could play anything if I listened to it close enough. I think that helps a lot when improvising with people. Being able to “sound out” what someone else is doing and figure out what you can do to compliment it. Other things from old lessons resonate with me still; scales, chords, different progressions and just general ways of approaching playing. Everything just kind of spills out beneath the surface at the same time anyway, it just kind of becomes second nature.
Sound has always been very vivid for me. It’s hard to say the earliest, but I remember zoning out to the sound of the vacuum cleaner when I was really young, my mom said I would always sleep while she would vacuum the house. When I was a little older, like seven or eight, my brother and I always had to have a vaporizer (no not that kind) in our room at night to sleep. It was basically just because of the killer drone that it would hum, it put us out super quick. My parents always had music playing in the house when I was a baby though, so it’s hard to say what the first things I listened to were. They were always playing records, lots of blues and classic rock, but some reggae and other stuff too, nothing obscure really. I definitely owe my parents big-time for getting me psyched and having music around when I was real young.
Ohio is a strange place. In a way it’s great, there are handfuls of kids in a couple cities that are really interested in what’s going on and are really devoted to trying to get something going. There are a lot of uniquely talented artists here and it seems like things could be doing much better than they are. The problem with Ohio is that outside of the handful of kids that are really down, no one else seems to care. 90% of people in Ohio wouldn’t know a good jam if it landed on their face and played a set in their living room. People’s interests or priorities or something just lie elsewhere, and nothing lasts long enough to really grow into anything. It hurts the music because I think a lot of Ohio bands get discouraged and don’t go for it as hard because they think no one is listening, and then we get a weak reputation so certain bands just don’t come through. Like no one here cares and no one outside cares either. There is some really strong potential in Ohio, I think things will come together someday.
Inspiration is everywhere. I think in order to be truly inspired by anything you have to be open to it coming from anywhere at any time. Just experiencing life day to day can be intensely moving in so many different ways. I find a lot of inspiration in people, our common experiences and the things that separate us. Being able to travel and tour has opened my eyes and mind up to new things I never knew existed. I feel really lucky to know the people who I’ve met through playing music, because they’ve all taught me something. Not in a direct way or anything, but just being around people and listening to them really helps expand your outlook on life, music, the world, pretty much anything. Obviously I get a lot of inspiration from music. Records, movies, books, over-exposure to TV as a kid, everything I’ve seen or heard has had its impact, at least at some subconscious level.
I had been playing in Fancelions with John and Steve for almost a year before Emeralds. We were experimenting with different instrumentation and doing more scatterbrained recordings, really flipped-out zones. The three of us wanted to take the sound in a different direction, more focused on live improvisations and keeping things much simpler. We started playing as a three-piece in June of ’06, doing mostly vocals.
I’m not really trying to “achieve” anything in particular, I’ve just always felt connected to music and felt compelled to play. It’s the only thing that has always made sense to me and felt right. Music is one of the only things in the world that is truly real, and I just want to be able to devote myself to it as much as I can.
With a band like Emeralds, the sound that we get is bigger than the three of us. Our styles all contribute to it, but it becomes something else. Doing solo music is different because it’s not the representation of a group vision, it’s more like a raw form or self-expression. One becoming all, instead of all becoming one. You’re totally speaking for yourself. I think people realize that, and understand that the processes and mentality behind it are pretty different. Not exactly sure what anyone’s expecting, I’ve never been good at figuring that out. Most people that have heard my music heard Emeralds first, so they are usually pretty open-minded.
In the months after we made Solar Bridge, we had a lot of practice sessions that we were recording directly to cassette, getting into weird new zones. When Carlos asked us to do a CD, we decided to release our favorite pieces from those sessions. I think those songs have a kind of uneasy feeling to them. Even when things are looking up, there’s a sense that something is going horribly wrong. We just wanted it to reflect what we were going through at that time and the intermediate period between Solar Bridge and our next full length record.
This year is shaping up to be pretty intense. Right now Emeralds is getting ready to open for Throbbing Gristle in Chicago and New York. After that we’re playing No Fun Fest in May and a summer solstice party at the Cleveland Museum of Art in June. We’re working on getting our second full-length LP out by some time this summer hopefully, releasing the vinyl ourselves. Also planning a US tour for late summer. I really want to get back to Europe and over to the west coast, we’ll see how things go. As for solo releases, my cassette on Chondritic Sound is getting reissued on LP by Cylindrical Habitat Modules, a sick Cleveland label that is taking it to the next level. I have an LP coming out on Steve Lowenthal’s new label of solo acoustic guitar records, Vin Du Select Qualitite. I’m currently working on my first full-length record, which will be out by the end of the year on Plastic Records. I’ve also been working on some other releases, a double tape/cdr that should be out soon called “a pocket full of rain”, and something for Ferraro’s New Age Tapes. Weird Forest is reissuing two of my tapes as a double LP, not sure if that will happen this year or early 2010.
No plans of any solo gigs as of right now, but I’m definitely looking to get out and play.
I want things to take their natural progression, I’ve been trying to take my time letting my style and set-up build and not rush through anything too quickly. I want to fine-tune the ideas that I’ve been working on and take them to another level. I feel like with Emeralds and our different solo work and side projects, we’re at the beginning of a long road, and I have no idea where it’s going to take us. Really excited to see where it’s going though, I want to take it as far as possible.
Definitely. Will be doing lots more with Skyramps and Sun Watcher, trying to start working on LPs for both bands. In May I’ll be doing a live duo in NYC with Taylor Richardson from Infinity Window, we’ll be working on some recordings as well. Going to be recording an LP with Nate Scheible for Music Fellowship later this year, his drumming is absolutely insane and a lot of fun to try and keep up with. Also have been planning some overseas collabs with Matthew Bower and Christelle Gualdi. Sent Bower some tracks last summer and he played them during a set in Belgium, still haven’t heard how that turned out. Hopefully we’ll jam in the same room someday. There’s bound to be others too, I’ve talked to Robert Turman about doing some guitar work together, some of his old tapes that Dilloway has have some really sick guitar parts, dude is amazing. I’m really interested in playing with a lot of different artists. Everyone has something different to offer, and brings out something different in what I’m doing. It’s refreshing and helps change the scenery.
’08 was mostly about old records and live performances for me. I got into lots of music from all over the world, mostly India, Cambodia, and Australia. Saw some really intense live sets too, way too many to remember them all. Max Eisenberg at Voice of the Valley was probably my favorite set I saw all year, he is on to some next-next level shit. Since Dilloway was living in Ohio I got to see him play some WILD sets and really made me see a wider spectrum of his zones, super inspiring. Vodka Soap, Nautical Almanac, New Monuments, Robert Turman, and Sightings were all incredible in ’08. Some of my favorite releases of last year were Burning Star Core’s “Challenger” and James Ferraro’s “Clear”, oh yeah and the Graveyards LP on Qbico was one of the heavier moments of the year for me.
-- Peter Taylor (4 June, 2009)