Interview with Ryan McGuire (Ehnahre, The Epicureans, Calliope quartet etc.)

Ehnahre is one of my most fav bands! You know I’m a metalhead too if you read my 1st post here. I think I had discovered them in 2009! I wanted to do this interview since 2013 when we had the full album hours on Just In Case prog radio. It was my turn again then, I had picked Taming The Cannibals and it’s still one of the best conversations I had from all the guest times there. So, when I saw that they’ll release a new album this year, it was another opportunity to do it at last! This interview happened via e-mail. Many thanks to Ryan for accepting to do it right away! You can listen to / download their new and previous albums from here.


1. Which was the first sound you heard?

Well, I can’t honestly say what the first sound I heard was, but my first sound memory is of my own voice.  I was a very small child, probably around 1 or 2 years old, and I had been attacked by a colony of fire ants- and the first sounds I remember were of my own screaming, and the water running in my parents sink, washing the stinging ants off.

2. Do you still play saxophone or you abandoned it completely when you began playing bass at the age of 14 and which other instruments would you like to play?

I do not play saxophone anymore, I haven’t played in about 20 years.  I tried playing a few years ago, on a friend’s instrument, but I couldn’t even produce a sound out of the reed anymore!  I don’t really have the time to fully immerse myself in it, but I would love to become proficient at piano and organ.  I’d also love to learn to play the bassoon.

3. How did you discover Joshua Carro’s work? 

He actually found us.  We had advertised that we were looking for a drummer, and he got in contact with us to express his interest.  He sent several videos of his different projects, and we immediately thought he was the perfect fit, despite living 3000 miles away.  We knew we had to figure out a way to make it work.

4. Will the Ehnahre tradition of writing music about your favorite poems remain? Do you plan to release an instrumental album someday?

Yes, as long as there are vocals with lyrics, we will set the music to the poetry of someone more adept at crafting something out of the written word than I am.  Why would I make my art less than what it could be by insisting on writing my own lyrics?  This ideal of artistic purity doesn’t make sense to me.  I don’t write the drum parts on the record.  I don’t play the piano or guitar parts.  I don’t engineer or master the recording.  I don’t build my own instruments.  In any area, where there is someone who can take my vision, and use their craft and skill to improve it, I will plan to take advantage of that.  As for an instrumental album, I would imagine that we will definitely do that at some point, but there are no immediate plans for one.

5. Do you still jam with The Epicureans and the other ensembles you participate in? Do you have other projects?

I have a few other groups I play with, and I occasionally do some free improv gigs with a variety of different instrumentalists.  I have also recorded one solo bass record, and I plan on putting together some sort of solo project in the near future.

6. Are you going to use microtonality in the future and do you think it’s necessary for every musician anymore? Do you know Jute Gyte? 

We use microtonality here and there, but don’t rely on it heavily.  Most of it comes in the form of bent pitches and the like, nothing too formally planned out.  I think it is very useful and a wonderful tool, but I wouldn’t say it’s necessary- I don’t know if I would say any tool is absolutely necessary.  I am familiar with Jute Gyte, I enjoy their music very much.  It has a wonderful nauseating quality to it.

7. Do you think free improv is fundamental?

As with microtonality, I would say it is not fundamental to any one persons music.  But I do think it is fundamental as an element or aspect of our musical culture.  There is some sort of naked beauty to free improvisation, a voice that I think needs to be at least a part of the overall conversation.  Improvisation, particularly free improvisation, has such a wonderful, primal essence to it, an absolutely beautiful musical expression that communicates something about a person that no other artistic tool can.

8. Do you think Roethke, Bonnefoy and the other poets would be satisfied with your musical interpretations of their poems? 

Ha! I would like to think so, but this music would be completely alien to them.  Maybe with a little explanation they could be convinced, but I’m sure all the screeching and high volume cacophony would not sit well with them.  Of all the poets whose works I have set, I would be willing to bet that Samuel Beckett would be the most open to it.

9. What would you do if capitalism and money stopped existing? 

I have no idea.  I guess it would depend on what its replacement was.  Pure communism?  Anarchy?  A bartering system?  Tribalism?  I have a feeling that with a world population the size it is now, any of those alternatives might create a bit of instability and conflict. Not to say that I think Free Market Capitalism is the necessarily best choice, but managing and feeding the amount of people on the planet now, while minimizing the amount of violence, is a near, if not completely impossible task.   If the current order was changed or eliminated, I would probably end up as some crazy mountain man living off the grid out in Alaska.  I sort of want to do that now anyways.

10. What’s your opinion about John Cage? 

I think I like Cage’s philosophy more than his music.  I think his approach to music and listening was incredibly influential on all musicians that came after him, even if they don’t realize it.  His ideas really have shaped the musical landscape and cultural aesthetic the world over, and I would say you could make an argument that he is the United States most important and influential musical figure.  But, sadly, I don’t actually enjoy listening to most of his music.

11. Tell me some of your very fav musicians/composers/bands, poets, directors, painters etc. 

I don’t know where to even begin.  For composers, I’m really interested in Salvatore Sciarrino, Georg Friedrich Haas, James Dillon, Gyorgy Ligeti, Luciano Berio, Olivier Messiaen, Phil Niblock, Luigi Nono, Tony Conrad, and of course, J.S. Bach.  I also love Joelle Leandre, Mats Gustafsson, Bill Orcutt, Peter Kowald, Greg Kelley.  Some of the bands that are most important to me are Deathspell Omega, Harvey Milk, Corrupted, Morbid Angel, Incantation, Normal Love, Mamaleek, Eyehategod, Death Grips, Portal, Dirty Projectors.  I could probably go on and on.  I should also mention that I have been deeply influenced by the writings of Bruno Schulz, Weldon Kees, W.B. Yeats, Albert Camus, Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Samuel Beckett.

12. Your plan after the Ehnahre tour?

If the tour goes well, we’ll probably plan another.  If not, we’ll just do some regional shows and keep recording.  We have a couple of EPs and Singles that we’ll be releasing late 2017 or early 2018, and I’m sure we’ll start conceiving a new full length early next year.

13. What’s your main goal in your art/life? What message do you want to send through your art? 

My goal is to create a body of work that I can be proud of, to learn things about myself through the art, and to have all this culminate in a recording that I am happy with every aspect of.  Of course, that will never happen, as I feel like most artistic types are never satisfied with their work.  It’s probably what drives us to keep producing.  As for a message, I don’t know if I have one, at least nothing that is trying to convey any sort of ideology.  The only message is to consider the music, look inward, and listen more deeply.

14. What advice do you want to give to young/new musicians? 

I think the most important piece of advice I could offer, would be to make music under the pretext that no one is ever going to hear it.  Then you will always enjoy what you’re doing, you’ll challenge yourself and take risks, and your art will be the truest expression of your experience.  And if no one likes it, you’ll still be pleased with what you created, because it’s exactly as you wanted it.  Second, I would say PRACTICE YOUR FUCKING INSTRUMENT.  I know so many musicians that don’t pick up their instrument between band practices.  This is like trying to be a race car driver who is only behind the wheel for 3 hours a week.  That’s not to say everyone has to be a technical wizard, but you should be able to speak the musical language fluently, it needs to be second nature.  If the language is not second nature, if it’s not ingrained in your being, you will not be able to express yourself in the most capable and effortless fashion.  And while you struggle to find the right thing to play, you’re muddying your voice.

15. End this interview however you want. 

Thanks so much for the opportunity, I really appreciate it!  Now go home and practice.