Mark McGuire is a far-out dude. When we spoke on the phone this week, the former Emeralds guitarist—and prolific solo artist—described in vivid detail the psychedelic universe from which his music is born. "The story itself starts with the first mythological race of humans who made the 3-D consciousness that we interact with everyday," McGuire said of the ideas behind his new LP, Beyond Belief, which drops November 13th via Dead Oceans. "It's both a past-life experience and a current experience that will continue to happen forever."
Beyond Belief is a direct sequel to his previous solo album, Along The Way, which was loosely composed to accompany another one of his fantastical stories about birth, death, and the infiniteness of the universe. It is blissful, loop-based music that gives off the cosmic twinkle of krautrock and vintage synthesizer music, but with a modern approach to songwriting. McGuire wrote and recorded all of the instruments and electronics himself over the course of two years, while also navigating some the greatest challenges of his adult life—including the surprise arrival of his first daughter, Terra, who was born back in February. I called him up to ask him about how being a father has impacted his music, his artistic process, and the hallucinatory stories swirling behind his work. You can stream Beyond Belief below.
THUMP: What have you been up to in the last year or so while you're making this album?
Mark McGuire: My daughter Terra was born in February. That's definitely the heaviest thing I could ever imagine, and it makes you re-evaluate and take a fresh look at things. It's been a crazy year, but there's also been a lot of beautiful stuff. It's literally just a curveball factory, and I embrace that because it makes you constantly adapt to new situations and surroundings. Things have to happen in a way to help you move forward, and it's usually not something that you can understand in advance. If you were to understand everything as it happens, there'd never be any growth or progression.
Your last album was written like a film score to fit a story you had in your head. Does this new album have the same angle?
Yeah, it's the sequel. My fiancée's a writer and she wrote a very beautiful piece for my Noctilucence, my EP from last year. It wasn't included with the record but it had that quality. For this album, we did the same thing and wrote stories for all the songs. Along the Way was my ranting about an individual's journey through life and the world. This one is more of an overarching story loosely flowing through each song, and I'm really excited that it came together along with the music because I wanted the music to reflect many different aspects of experience. I wanted to keep the album balanced and not put out too many songs with the same kind of vibe. The music ties in with the lyrics, the lyrics tie in with the story, and the story ties in with the imagery around the album.
Your mind is the strongest and most powerful thing in the universe. Your belief can manifest what's beyond your wildest dreams, but you can also get stuck on something and not move forward.
What did you want to do differently with this album, compared to the last one?
I always want to do new things with my music. When I made Along the Way, that was the first time I was using other instruments besides the guitar, trying to compose a record and a piece of music in a way I haven't done before. That was like opening up the floodgate to be able to work in so many different ways—using synthesizers, programming, composing drum parts. When I listen to Along the Way now, it definitely sounds like first swing at that new way of putting stuff together. With this record, I really wanted to truly express myself and not worry about how other people will receive the new music.
It also reflects all the stuff that's been happening in my life as well. I mean, I've never thought I'd be a father, and the 21st century is a pretty heavy thing to bring a kid into. You can't bring a child into this planet unless you're prepared to see it through and look out for them. I'm amazed by the synchronicity of everything that's happening. I like the nomadic life, and I think so do a lot of people who make art and music, so it's hard to admit to someone, "You mean this much to me." And now I've got this little girl drawing a picture of you me and my fiancée, and you see what you can actually mean to a person.
That's what the lyrics in "Belief" are talking about: "When you walked away, I had never felt so alone with the fact that I was home, and I knew that I finally found home." Everyone's searching for where they're supposed to be, and the first time we're all together, it felt so right. Then—boom!—all of a sudden I moved to Texas to be with them, and we found out we're having a baby, and we ended up moving back o Cleveland. It's not about getting what you've always wanted. We've been struggling a lot with responsibilities and a family to take care of. I've been taking care of myself, but that's easy to do when you're living on a diet of coffee and weed. You've got other people's lives and futures in your hands, so it's a constant struggle.
What is the story behind the new album?
Along the Way is about the birth of the individual into the world, growing around another human being, and getting to know the world around them—the constant re-evaluation of principles and your own actions. Beyond Belief basically is both a past-life experience and a current experience that will continue to happen throughout the future. The story itself starts with the first mythological race of humans who made the 3-D consciousness that we interact with everyday. The story's based on the idea that consciousness can manifest in ways you can't imagine. Your mind is the strongest and most powerful thing in the universe. Your belief can manifest what's beyond your wildest dreams, but you can also get stuck on something and not move forward. We're welcoming all this new technology and a wonderful new consciousness, but we also need to take the responsibility that comes with these things.
When you do solo performances, how do you translate the music to a live show?
Some of those songs have a ridiculous amount of overdubs and tracking, so there's just no way to do that live. That's not even necessarily what I want to do. When I perform live, I just use a guitar and a sampler sequencer to program drum and bass parts to have another incantation of the same thing. A lot of times, with Along the Way, I'd write the song for the record, and it becomes totally different when I play live. With this record, I've been juggling a bunch of different ideas about how I'm going to bring the songs to life and what elements should be brought out. I have a huge synth that I can't bring out on stage. It's a totally different experience, and I've been mucking around with playing the songs for a while and have been getting good responses from people. Once the record's out, I feel like it will take on another life in my head and we're start to be able to bring the record live on stage.
What's next now that you're about to drop this album?
I'm playing a show in Chicago next week, which will be fun. The next couple of months are really undecided. I'm ready to hit the road and work on a ton of different things. I'm trying to figure out which way to head, and it's really exciting.