RR LogoMary McGuire is Love Struck

Mary McGuire 2015 Photo OneWe caught up with American singer, songwriter and musician Mary McGuire recently, after she had performed the night before at the largest art competition in the world, Art Prize in Grand Rapids, Michigan, an event that attracts people from all over the world. McGuire took time out from her busy schedule to talk to Riveting Riffs Magazine about her new album Love Struck.

As for how long this album has been in the works, Mary McGuire says, “Oh gosh, a year and one-half. It was complicated to record an album in Detroit when I lived on Mackinac Island. I would find time that I could get off and I would come down state and coral all of the musicians, so I would get a session in at Pearl Sound. I was determined to make Love Struck at Pearl Sound, because Chuck Alkazian is a great producer. He has great ears and he knows how to make everything sound incredible. I trust him completely as a musician, because he is a great drummer and piano player. We were doing a little Blood Sisters (A band collaboration) pre-production test, because we were going to make an album and as it turned out we didn’t have the time or the finances to do it, so Barbara (Payton) said why don’t you just make your album? I said that’s a great idea.  That is how that got started. I started to get everybody that I could, to play on the album. I went in and I recorded fourteen acoustic songs, just my guitar and me and songs that we could choose from to make the album. We settled on seven.

A lot of it was just like, okay we’re done. What will we do next? It was great. Everybody except me lives in the Detroit area and I lived on Mackinac. I would come down and I would do what I could do. Sometimes I would be in the studio with the guys and other times they would just go work with Chuck and they would send me things. It was always like a gift and a surprise. I wasn’t micro managing anyone’s playing. Everybody did what everybody wanted to do and I think that it came out really well.”

As for working with Chuck Alkazian in the studio Mary McGuire says, “We trust each other and we really like each other and that is probably important.  We laughed a lot (she laughs now) and there was a lot of humor and a lot of fun. It was just like going over to your friend’s place and playing music with them. Then hey what if we arrange it here or hey what if we do that with this measure and we just try it? That sounds great. Keep going.  We have known each other for a long time and Pearl Sound is the best studio in Detroit.  It is wonderful. The microphones are great, the console is great and the room for the drums is the best. You walk in there and you know the world just went away. It is this unassuming, huge building and it all looks like cinder block on the outside. When you get inside of it, it is just warm and wooden and I think part of it is Chuck is there. The vibe that he puts out is what you absorb. It is a really serious level of trust.”

The song “TV On,” starts off with alternating jagged guitar riffs and heavy drumbeats, eventually giving way to Mary McGuire’s vocals, while the song boasts a stellar electric guitar solo by Erik Gustafson who also serves up a scintillating accompaniment in this song about a person who is in a relationship that is emotionally abusive and very dark.

When asked about the song, at first Mary McGuire laughs and then she says, “Well that is a pretty heavy song. Years ago I dated a guy who was a drummer and we played together in a band when I played trombone, but not in a Rock and Roll band. We had a brief relationship and things went on. He just lived in a dark hole and then I saw him about twenty years later and it seemed like he had really perfected his lifestyle in that dark hole. I had the TV on and the stereo cranked really loud and it was so hard to connect with him, because he was so in his own space.  Everything that was slightly intense about him before was just times ten now. It was really difficult to be around him and that is what the song is about. 

The drums are really heavy in (the song) because it is a drummer. Shadowhawk (the drummer for this song, not to be confused with the drummer that the song is about) did a great job of throwing the drums down. He totally understood what I was trying to get with the song. It is the heaviest song on the album musically. The guitars are heavy. Everything is heavy. My voice isn’t heavy, so it has this light and dark to it.  I based the song off of the seven deadly sins and how somebody could take those things and use them to create their life around greed, vanity, pride and all of that stuff. That is kind of where I went with the song. I remember leaving his apartment and just thinking about the seven deadly sins for some reason and I went and wrote the song.

I try not to write about really negative things, because that means I have to keep singing about them and thinking about them and sometimes you just want to let certain things go. It was a real lesson for me tiptoeing back into this person’s life and to realize that he might have been successful on a level where he could pay his bills and have a nice apartment and live in a good neighborhood, but he was alone and the reason he was alone is because he didn’t do the work necessary to become a better person. He used his anger as a way to validate holding onto that anger. Everything else about that person’s life started getting amplified in all these horrible ways. It was a real eye-opener for me, because I didn’t expect that from this particular person. I expected that this person was going to grow and he didn’t. He went in a totally different direction and to me a really bad one.

I wasn’t going to do “TV On,” but the guys liked it and Chuck liked it. It was let’s do it. We had never played the song live and I just introduced it in the studio, as here is a song that I wrote. What do you guys think about it? At first, it was just my acoustic guitar part and my vocal with Erik’s screaming guitar. It sounds really funny. I am singing and all of a sudden this guitar comes in a rippin’ and a roarin’. When Gary Rasmussen heard this he said, what is this? I said just put your bass line down and it will be fine (she laughs).”

What makes you better than me? That is the question that Mary McGuire asks in her song “Better Than Me,” and it is not offered up plaintively, but more as a challenge and as a measurement of one’s own dignity.

“This is an older song and I wrote it when I lived out east. It must have been 2000 or maybe the late ‘90s. I don’t remember the date that I wrote it. I was driving down the turnpike to Connecticut and I was listening to Terry Gross, as she was interviewing Grethe Cammermeyer who was the highest ranking woman in the military at the time (she was a Colonel) and don’t ask don’t tell had just come into play (Editor’s note: For a better understanding of don’t ask don’t tell readers can check this link at Wikipedia). There was this line when she said “I would rather lose my uniform than lose my integrity.”  I thought about how many times I had been in situations when I was willing to give up something that I really loved, because it challenged my integrity. I was really amazed by her.

I sent her the song a couple of weeks ago. She quit her position in the military, because of don’t ask, don’t tell. She is gay and she felt it wasn’t the military’s right to interfere in her personal life in that way.  It was a really bold move for her in the nineties to do that.  I admired her for standing up for herself and then I thought about all of the times that I have been a waitress or a bartender or I have been a musician in a club or I have worked in a job where somebody really challenged me and expected me to do something for them that was really against everything in me.  (There was a time when) I got out of my car at a gig and this man was standing at the doorway and he was an older man.  It was a bar called Ted’s. It was all college students. The oldest people there were probably the guy who owned the bar and me. I was in my thirties. This guy opens the door and he goes to shake my hand, so I set my PA system down. I said hi and he grabbed my hand very hard and he started squeezing it so incredibly that I had to pull my hand away, whoa. He said how do you expect anyone to ever love you in that line of work? I was like what? I thought he was kidding and this guy wasn’t kidding at all. That is where the line “assassin’s grip,” (in the song) came from, because he held my hand like he was trying to kill me. Something in him was just so dark that the hair on the back of my neck stood up. I went inside the bar and I asked the bartender who the guy was and he said he didn’t know. I said get him out of here. They told him to ditch it and to be gone. That is when I went out to my car and I scribbled down the rest of my lyrics. I wrote it that fast.  I shelved it for a while, because a lot of the bands that I was in didn’t want to play it. Mary McGuire 2015 Photo Two

For this project Barbara Payton said she really liked that song and that I should do it. We started playing it in Blood Sisters and when I got to the studio I played it for Chuck. He said he loved that song.  I have to thank Barbara for encouraging me to record it and Chuck for liking it.

It (the song) is about all of those times in your life when you are treated poorly and “What makes you better than me,” is like being a little kid. I lived with this little kid once and he said what makes you better than me? He said it to his friends or at the park or to any of us. When it was time to go to bed he would say, what makes you better than me that I have to go to bed? I tried to add that childlike moment to the song when you realize that something isn’t right, but you still have to deal with it,” she says.

The song “Welfare State,” is firmly ensconced in Americana and it has a very blue collar theme, evidenced by the lines “Working in a club in this blue-collar land,” and “…the taxi cab is my royal fleet.” If you like guitars you are going to love this song and Mary McGuire demonstrates her prowess on six string and twelve string acoustic guitars throughout Love Struck.

A fan of guitarists Arlen Roth and Joe Walsh, McGuire says she wanted to try and capture that feel at the beginning of “Welfare State.”  The song was inspired in part, by three gigs that Mary McGuire performed on the same evening.

She says, “The first gig was a high society one and everyone was in suits and the tables were really beautiful. It was a gorgeous place where I was performing. The next one was a sports bar where there were Ford auto workers and the last one was an after-hours bar that we played at 2 am in the morning and it was a real seedy situation, but it was fun to do it and to say that we did it. The song is about all of those three things.

The conversations were similar in all three of the places (where I had played).  Everybody was in fear that they were going to lose what they had. At the wealthy place people were talking about their stocks crashing and they were talking about losing their summer home. For those things the middle class or lower segments of society financially would say it was not a big deal, but to the wealthy person who had worked really hard to (attain) those things and then to see them going by the wayside it was very scary. In the after-hours bar they were talking about welfare.  I thought wow everybody had that on their minds, I don’t want to ever have to get welfare. Michigan has had several economic downturns over the last thirty years. It wasn’t necessarily about signing up for the welfare program, but it was more about their welfare was being challenged and threatened, whether they were wealthy, middle class or poor. That is what that song is about.

Then I was up on Mackinac and the Governor (of the state) has a summer residence there and he would come into the Pink Pony now and then. I was hey, I wrote a song for you. He was what? The state was in such a terrible mess back then. I wrote this song probably in the early nineties. I played it for Governor (John) Engler and he was wow. I said you know this is a welfare state.”

If you want to listen to a great collection of songs written by Mary McGuire and performed by McGuire and some superb musicians then visit her bandcamp page where you can also purchase the music. You can also follow Mary McGuire on her official Facebook page.     Return to our Front Page

This interview by Joe Montague  published October 17th, 2015 is protected by copyright and is the property of Riveting Riffs Magazine © All Rights Reserved.  Photos courtesy of Mary McGuire are protected by copyright ©, All Rights Reserved This interview may not be reproduced in print or on the internet or through any other means without the written permission of Riveting Riffs Magazine, All Rights Reserved