Emeralds’ Mark McGuire on Releasing His Archives Through Bandcamp

Mark McGuire
Mark McGuire.

About a month ago, former Emeralds guitarist Mark McGuire broke his relative silence by opening the floodgates to “many new albums that I have been slow-cooking over the past couple years.” While none of them count as the proper follow-up to McGuire’s last solo effort (2015’s Beyond Belief), they provide a few clues as to where the shredder/synthesist is headed on his looming Vision Upon Purpose LP. That goes for everything from the debut album of a new electroacoustic duo with McGuire’s daughter Terra to the first part of a four-volume “Sky Radio East” series.

“It comes back to the idea of being yourself,” explains McGuire. “Each piece of music is a unique creation, just like each human being. There is no one that is better or worse than another, so each should aim only to be true to itself and understand that all music, and all people have their place in the grand spectrum. There is no one color of the rainbow that claims to be the king; they all must be there for it to even work at all.”

In the following exclusive interview, we discuss the surreal peaks and valleys that have shaped McGuire’s solo career since Emeralds’ split in 2013 and his recent move back to the trio’s birthplace, including work on the Afghan Whigs’ comeback album, an ill-fated film score, and a performance/speaking engagement at the Star Knowledge Conference last month.  

Let’s start with an obvious question: Why did you leave LA and what are you doing back home in Cleveland? Does this mean you’re gonna celebrate Emeralds’ 10th anniversary by reforming and putting out a new record?

[Laughs] That would be cool! I can’t believe that was already 10 years ago… We’ve joked around about starting a “secret band” and just jamming and not telling anyone. That probably won’t manifest anytime soon, but hey, who knows? I know that whenever I say something, the opposite usually happens almost immediately after I say it. So maybe tomorrow there will be a new record somehow. You never can tell.

Was one of the reasons you left LA disillusionment with the entertainment industry after the Bryan Cranston/Anna Kendrick movie you did music for (Get a Job) was delayed, and they didn’t end up using your work?

Nah, it wasn’t anything like that. To be honest, I just came home to sublet for a few months and save some money, and got sniped out of my house while I was gone. LA is just an insanely competitive city for housing. I was bummed at the time, but everything happens for a reason.

As far as working on Get a Job, that was such an incredible and surreal experience for me; even though it didn’t technically work out, it was still a positive experience. Kerry Brown is an incredible music director/producer and an amazing dude. He taught me so much during that time, but it took a while for me to start utilizing those skills more effectively in my music. I would really love to be scoring films on a regular basis, but I wouldn’t say I’m disillusioned with that world. I’m actually very optimistic that there’s much more of that to come. I just don’t expect it’ll happen overnight.

How did you meet Greg Dulli and what did you learn from working on the Afghan Whigs record Do to the Beast?

Greg was the one who hooked me up with Stacey Sher, the producer I worked on [Get a Job] with. He passed some of my jams along, which led to them contacting me directly about working on the score. Shortly after that, Greg and I became friends and he started asking me to come jam and we started working together more often. He’s another person who taught me so much when I was in LA. He’s a very multi-faceted guy, and that’s definitely evident in his music.

Working with [The Afghan Whigs] was great; it was the first time I had played with a full band and a drummer in years, so the energy felt really good. With playing in a group like that, I try to blend into the balance of everything, rather than be in front doing everything I can think of. But Greg and the guys encouraged me to be myself, not just fade into the background. The music was really fun and taught me how a true artist is really only defined by themselves. Greg is genuinely inspired by so many different kinds of music and art, and they all filter through him into what he does. If you’re truly playing from your heart, your influences are present but not copied, and what you bring to them by being yourself makes something new and unique. That type of mentality isn’t necessarily new, but experiencing it through Greg and the Whigs really showed me what that looks like in action. It takes a lot of conviction to be yourself, and in music there is every temptation in the world to “be like this guy,” or “sound like that popular genre,” or whatever it is, but those guys always just do their own thing, which I really aspire to do as well.

When we first scheduled this interview, you mentioned speaking at 11:11 because it’s a special time of the day. Can you explain that further and how numerology and other forms of spirituality and mysticism have informed your life and creative endeavors over the past couple years?

Well, numerology and my own personal spirituality have played a part in my music for a long time. It’s funny; I’m doing this interview on 07/13 and I have a song about over-thinking these things on Surrogate Channels called “Controlled By Numbers In The Houses of 13 and 7.” Even as a kid I was intuitively drawn to numbers, counting everything. My grandmother, my mom’s mom, always told us she was a witch; she and her sisters were into astrology, tarot [cards], working with medicines, and other magical traditions, so those seeds were planted at a very young age, even if it was subtle.

The 11:11 frequency is much more specific; I wasn’t really aware of until just last year. It relates to the 11 Universal and 11 Spiritual Laws of Creator, which were given to humanity from our Star Relatives in 1947. Chief Golden Light Eagle of the Lakota Sioux led a group of Channelers who brought in the information on these laws and compiled the Maka Wicahpi Wicohan (“The Universal Symbols and Laws of Creator”) book. He’s spent the last 20 years traveling and helping humanity remember these symbols and laws. I could go on and on about them, but they’re all ideas that are very powerful but natural things that most people can hear and say, “Yeah, I mean that makes sense.”

Chief Golden Light Eagle was also one of the first Elders, if not the first, to break the silence about the Native Americans long-held connection with beings from other planets and other worlds, and he was guided to start the Star Knowledge Conference in 1996 to begin to share this information with the world. There is a really good documentary that was made about the first Star Knowledge Conference that you should check out some time if you’re interested.

I would like to say that I’ve never been into the idea of a “guru” or anything like that, and I know that Chief doesn’t look at himself in that way either. His teachings are more about following your intuition and your own heart, rather than him or anyone else who claims to have all the answers to your problems, which has been really inspiring.

You participated in Iowa’s Star Knowledge Gathering recently. How did you get involved with that and what was the experience like?

It’s a pretty long story that is still coming together, but last summer I played a show at a crystal shop near the Serpent Mound in Southern Ohio. It was the after-party for a similar type of conference. There were speakers talking about crop circles and the astronomical and geometric alignments of the Native American Indian Mounds—all of these things that I’m deeply into and have been studying for a number of years now. A lot of the inspiration for my music comes from these things and I even have some songs directly named to honor them (“Sons of the Serpent”, “Earth Grid [Activation]”, “The Naacals”), so I was really excited to be at the event and hear all these people I wasn’t aware of yet! That day and night were amazing and I met two Elders who owned the Alternate Universe shop, Terri Rivera and Thomas Johnson. I really connected with them; they’ve become like family to me and have taught me so much.

I also started to learn the teachings of different tribes—the true depth of the history of this land. Shortly after that, I had the chance to meet Chief, and we really hit it off. After we had spent a little time together, he asked me to present at Star Knowledge. It totally blew me away but it also felt so right, as if I had almost seen it coming…. As some people may know, I’ve written stories and essays to accompany recent albums like Along the Way and Beyond Belief, and a lot of what I’ve been writing is right in line with the 11/11 teachings in many ways. But I was way too nervous to try and say anything about this to him; I didn’t want to get in his face like, “Hey check my shit out!

Integrating all these traditions and teachings into a new understanding we can all share to better humanity is truly where my heart is, so I was really honored when he asked me to come present at the Gathering. It was such an incredible time. I felt right at home and more like myself in front of an audience than I have in a while. I brought all my equipment to play a full live set, and was going to present readings from Along the Way, but stopped halfway through and then just began to talk. That ended up feeling so great. I had a chance to speak a couple other times and got a really encouraging reception from all these people who I truly respect, so that meant so much. I can’t even begin to express my gratitude and all the love I have for Chief and the Star Family.

And I’m not someone who just buys into fluffy New Age philosophy and all that. I’m not trying to diss anything; I’m just saying I’m not naive about this stuff. I’m always the one really skeptical of everything, and definitely wouldn’t be going along with anything I didn’t feel in my heart. I’m really excited for the Conference in Estes Park, CO, next month. It’s going to be a really powerful time!

Have you come to any conclusions about science and comparative religion as you’ve read more about those topics and revisited the ideas you first explored while studying psychiatry at Cleveland State?

I don’t know if I would call them conclusions, but I definitely have developed a lot more of an understanding than I did even just a few years ago. I channeled that into the story for Along the Way, then Beyond Belief, and one idea that was constant was that there are no such thing as endings, and that life is a constant process of becoming, and beginning the journey you are on. With concepts that are as deeply rooted as those held by the sciences and religions of the world, there’s no way to make any sweeping generalizations, but I think there is a similar truth there. Over time, things like science and spirituality (which are just two aspects of the same thing; the desire to understand the material world, or the desire to understand the spirit world) have constantly evolved along with our understanding of them, so I believe they are always up for re-evaluation and we will always find new ways of proving the things we want to believe, so that others can come along and disprove them and we can evolve. That is what I was writing about on Beyond Belief.

Do you regret leaving psychiatry for music at all? Is it something you might go back to eventually?

I only went to school for a couple semesters, but I don’t regret leaving at all. Being a musician has always been my dream, so when things with Emeralds started happening, I didn’t think twice about it. My thinking was that I could always go back to school, but I could never go back and just pay my Emeralds tuition and get to follow that dream again. It existed in the moment and just happened naturally, which is the sign of true magic, and something not to be passed up!

I still would love the opportunity to study certain subjects that are of interest to me, but, honestly, I do that all the time on my own, and have probably been able to learn more on my own than I would have spending thousands of dollars and many years on college. I mean, we live in a world where you can watch entire Stanford University psychology courses on YouTube, and can find a PDF of almost any book. Unfortunately we still live in the world where it’s the credentials that matter, not the knowledge itself… But things are changing.

While you’ve released several records through Dead Oceans in recent years, a wealth of solo material has also popped up on Bandcamp. Is that partially because you’ve needed to raise the funds to be able to tour on your own and keep making music without having to get a side gig?

[Laughs] No, it’s definitely not about the money. I mean I really appreciate the fans who like to support and download the jams, but I’ve been supporting myself with my art since 2009, and It’s been tougher and tougher to make a living the past few years, especially with becoming a father…. But I know it’s tough like that for everyone in the world right now, so I’m just trying to adjust to things as they change, and not get too caught up in it and allow it to stifle my art or my life.

To me, it’s just about getting the music out there in a casual way, the way releasing CD-Rs and cassettes used to be. Some of these may eventually see a physical release, but it’s more important to me to release the music for anyone that might want to hear it. My records on Dead Oceans are major efforts and definitely the music I’m most proud of, but I don’t want everything I release to have that intensity. There are a million different ways that music can function, that I don’t want to get too stuck in the idea that all my music has to sound the same, or the idea that it all has to sound different, either.

How has fatherhood impacted your perspective on life and art? Did you say you have several daughters?

Well, technically I just have one pup—my little gal Terra—but I love her older sister Olivia, who is 6 now, as if she was my own, although I have always honored her relationship with her birth father. I love those girls more than anything I could have ever dreamed of, and not a moment goes by that I am not thinking of them. It’s another one of those things that’s impossible to sum up in a few sentences, but it literally gave my life new meaning. I was suddenly a teacher, a role model, an influence on this tiny little growing person, and I realized how children watch and learn every little thing you do and how they are always learning from you, and it made me want to be a better person than I had ever been. All I want is to give them, well, everything. I mean there’s no reason to downplay it; I want them to have every bit of love and understanding and opportunity you can think of. And Terra ain’t just any ol’ kiddo; that’s my daughter and, let me tell you, that girl is so special. She’s gonna do a lot to help fix the mess we’ve made on Mother Earth, and I just want to give her the most beautiful life I can. So of course there’s that temptation to “quit messin’ around with music” and get a steady job, but it also makes me believe in what I’m doing more than ever and really want to not give up, and to do the best I can for my pups.
Can you walk us through some of your recent Bandcamp releases, starting with the Cat Nap reissues?

Cat Nap was one of my first solo monikers when I started making solo guitar music. Some of them were so limited and I had barely even played any of it to friends, so not many copies got around. It’s fun to revisit them, so sometimes I’ll throw one up there. I do delete some of them after a while though.

Moon Day Night, Wind One / Nervous Systems

Moon Day Night was the first name for my solo synth project a few years ago. When I started playing synth, it was mostly for tracking on recordings, so this project is when I started working on live jamming my Jupiter 50.

The Magi of Eire, Quantum Quattro

I changed [my] name to The Magi of Eire and am going to be using that for more releases after I found out that my family name McGuire comes from the Gaelic Mag Uidhir, or “The Magi of Eire”, which were the Magician Priests of Ancient Ireland. Quantum Quattro is a set of two long synth improvisations.

Sparkling Water, Day of First Orange—Afternoon Ragas

That’s my band with Terra. When she was only a few months, I had this little pouch I would wear and she would sit in it and all she wanted to do was hang over my synth and jam. So all those recordings have her guiding the music, programming the sequences, and what not. Day of First Orange was named after the day she tasted an orange for the first time and then we jammed.

The Fertile World

Synth compositions rather than live jams; writing songs for all the creepy crawlies and the plant world. Kinda like my attempt at Plantasia, or something.

The Road Chief, “Rewind”

A song I wrote a few years ago that I just wanted to get out there.

Sky Radio East, Cool Cloudscapes of the Four Directions Vol. 1: Side Ways

This is going to be a set of four albums, each representing music inspired by the skies of the four cardinal directions. Guitar, synth, MPC…. Got Volume 2 pretty much recorded, too. Stoked to see the rest come together!

What else can we expect from you this summer and fall? Do you have any collaborative projects or solo records on the way?
My next full-length LP, Vision Upon Purpose, is finished, and I’m debating whether to do a physical release or just put it out digitally. Amethyst Sunset is doing a double LP of my 2012 cassette Nightshade, with an extra record of unreleased songs from that time. I’ve also been working on some acoustic songs and have been talking with Steve Lowenthal about doing another VDSQ album. Lots of other releases will be coming here and there as well. I recorded some nice stuff over this past winter with John Daniel (Forest Management) that will find a home eventually, and have plans to work with the incredible Terri “Sings With Ravens”, Douglas Blue Feather, and maybe we can get Chief to jam, too. I also have so many other plans to branch out into other areas and am excited to see where things are heading.

Andrew Parks

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