Ryan McGuire: Metal Reasoning

Gordon Marshall By

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Bassist Ryan McGuire, a master of classical composition, uses this skill as a strategist in the metal underground. His band Ehnahre is quite unlike any other in that field, baffling committed rock fans with its advanced theory and unstructured time signatures.

In another way, he throws off jazz and improvisation aficionados with his part in the trio The Epicureans. From subtle and silent, to outright savage, this band shake the concept of sound to its foundations, forcing a new look at how it is made, and how it fades away and disintegrates.

Aggressive and intellectual, McGuire hits hard. But emotion and the most serious intent are at the heart of what he does, which can be scary at first, but soon opens up doors to the imagination, where all theory falls away, or renews itself to offer another adventure.

All About Jazz: Now what I first want to say to you, Ryan, is that often when I first hear a Boston musician—anyone from Dave Gross to Joshua Jefferson to Forbes Graham—I don't know what to make of them. They sound strange, they're too quiet, or, in my ears, awkward. But when I first heard you—I think you were playing with Josh Jefferson at The Lily Pad (Cambridge, Mass.)—it immediately struck out at me that you knew what you were doing. You were very potent but you never got in anyone's way. Which is a great feature for a bassist—to be out there and heard, but dance with players where you never got in their way.

Ryan McGuire: Well, thank you very much.

AAJ: Let's start with a brief bio. Where did you grow up?

RM: I grew up in Cape Cod.

AAJ: What town?

RM: Yarmouth. It's mid-Cape.

AAJ: The elbow?

RM: If you look at the Cape as an arm, Falmouth is the armpit, Chatham is the elbow and Yarmouth is somewhere in between...I grew up there, went to high school there, started playing bass when I was probably 14—well I had actually started out by playing saxophone, when I was about eight or nine years old, in public school. I took lessons privately. We didn't have much of a music program in public school. So everything I did was private.

I went out to go to school for music at UMass Lowell for a year, and then I quit that for a while to tour—

AAJ: Was this with Kayo Dot?

RM: No, this was with another rock band I had back at the time. And we were playing around the East Coast and I was busy with that, traveling. And then I went to Berklee, in maybe 2002, 2003, and went through the steps there. I was in Kayo Dot while I was at Berklee. Kayo Dot broke up and I finished school, and I started my band Ehnahre.

It just occurred to me—is that an acronym?

RM: Me and some of my high school friends had a band called Negative Reasoning, so people would call us "NR." And we just decided to change it and spell it out phonetically. And nothing ever really materialized with that but we decided to pick up the name again when we went to start up a new band, after Kayo Dot.

AAJ: H's—you see them in Bhob Rainey's name, or, Sun Ra was Sonny Bhlount when he first came out. What is it with H's?

RM: I don't know. They're popular!

AAJ: Now here's my first question: I imagine you like John Coltrane.

RM: I like Coltrane.

AAJ: Coltrane said he did everything in extremes. Ehnahre does extreme metal; it's a very driving, high-volume band. On the other hand The Epicureans is an extreme on the other end almost— although it does have its savagery. It's very disturbing in one way, but also very quiet. I see you working in extremes. What drives you to those extremes?

RM: I can't really answer that. It's just some innate desire to take it right out to the very edge as far as it can possibly go. Other than that I don't really know. It's just kind of an indescribable force that I just want to push and push and push, further, and out to the edges.

AAJ: Well, you're a peaceful guy, but you look very powerful...And your extremes— they're very calibrated. I see those two sides of you, the peaceful and the powerful, at work, one bringing you back and one pushing you out again.

RM: It is sort of a calculated insanity, going out to these edges. It feels extreme and intense but at the same time it's also very planned. It's thought out.

AAJ: Ehnahre is in many ways a metal band, but it also applies serialism. Do you have a classical background?

RM: I've always been interested in contemporary classical music. At Berklee I studied classical composition. That's where I got my education and writing styles—serialism, atonality, things like that.

AAJ: Did you learn other forms of classical?

RM: The whole spectrum. We had to learn writing styles from early renaissance to baroque, to classical and romantic.

AAJ: I can hear all that—when I first heard Ehnahre, I think it's that loud screaming you do that put me off at first but I listened to it again and I really loved it. Especially at the end when Noell Dorsey and Greg Kelley come in and do that chorale thing...

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