Emeralds are the synth and guitar trio from Cleveland, Ohio, comprising Mark McGuire, John Elliott and Steve Hauschildt.
They formed in 2006, releasing a daunting number of short-run CD-Rs and cassettes, before settling down into a more conventional pattern of releases under the Emeralds name, with individual members being involved in a variety of disparate parallel solo projects. The more recent Emeralds releases, from the 27 minutes of kosmische drone bliss that is Solar Bridge (on the Hanson label), to the longer and more fractured sonic experimentation of What Happened (on Carlos Giffoni’s No Fun), have led to the band being spoken of as figureheads of the somewhat nebulous “hypnagogic pop” scene, though the connection is, to be quite honest, rather tenuous. New album Does It Look Like I’m Here for the Editions Mego label sees the trio pushing the Emeralds sound into previously unexplored directions, using a raft of new equipment and taking a more structured approach to individual tracks, resulting in what is quite possibly their best full-length statement yet. FACT’s Scott McMillan spoke to all three band members on the eve of its release.
“Every one of our records is special to us and we want people who get them to feel like they have something real.”
For the beginner, the Emeralds discography can seem a little opaque and overwhelming owing to its size, but your release schedule has slowed down in recent years. Is there a reason for this?
Mark: “In the past couple of years since we’ve started recording full-length albums we tend to spend a lot more time just working on those, trying to make them really special. It takes a lot longer and during the process, the idea of a tape or other release doesn’t really fit in. Also, a couple years ago we were doing way more live improvisations at practice, giving us a lot of material to work with. Now we’re working more on putting pieces together and practising them over and over. We still do improv jams here and there, but we’ve mostly been focussed on taking our live set to the next level.”
Steve: “I’ve had to spend some time pouring through manuals and learning a lot of new equipment since the majority of my gear was stolen in New York City last year. That had much more of an effect on my solo release schedule than on Emeralds projects however.”
The core Emeralds “canon” [Allegory of Allergies, Solar Bridge, Emeralds, What Happened], is spread across a number of different labels, on limited runs, with reissues coming in and out of print – I’ve found myself recommending these records to people over the last couple of years, but then they can’t get hold of them. Has this been as frustrating for you as it has been for me?
Mark: “Yeah! I would love to give everyone I knew a copy of every record we make, but since they’re usually pretty limited it’s hard to do that. Every one of our records is special to us and we want people who get them to feel like they have something real, I just hope that eventually everyone who wants a copy of our record is able to get one.”
John: “It’s important to make focussed efforts to keep official full-length releases in print always, and we are working to do this. With vinyl there are always delays and it’s extremely frustrating. It seems like nobody can cut a record in the United States. RTI does pretty good work, but for the price you might as well be getting a European cut.”
Both Emeralds and Oneohtrix Point Never now have albums coming out on the Austrian experimental electronic label Editions Mego, which is perhaps an unexpected place to see these records. How did this come about? Are you familiar with much of the label’s output?
John: “It’s flattering! I was a fan of the label before we met Mr. Rehberg [Peter Rehberg, who runs Editions Mego] in New York at the No Fun festival, which is how we sort of got around to doing a record for him. I am very much interested in all of [Mego's] releases past and present. I think it makes sense for all associated parties because these albums [by Emeralds and OPN] do, in fact, sound like future Mego albums. I think what’s unexpected is the timing as the label is working on a scientific scale with electronic music and phonography with artists like Florian Hecker, Russell Haswell, Bruce Gilbert, et cetera.”
Mark: “Mego is sick. Of course [Fennesz's] Endless Summer was a huge influence on all of us, but there’s a few other really key records on Mego that opened our heads up big time. Our friend Eric had the Jim O’Rourke record [I'm Happy, And I'm Singing, And A 1,2,3,4] back before we were really jamming, and of course the Kevin Drumm CD [Sheer Hellish Miasma]. Since we’ve been on the label Peter has given us a lot of the other stuff to check out, and it’s all amazing. I’m really proud to be a part of it!”
Steve: “I think Peter was interested in adding a new dimension or sonic palette to his label in a way that made sense. We had all heard some of the more ‘major’ Mego releases and quite enjoyed them. Actually years ago I had bought the IBM LP [a collaboration between Pan Sonic and Bruce Gilbert] on a whim and accidentally left it in the back seat of my car during a hot day in July. Needless to say it melted a little bit, but it still plays.”
Emeralds are often bracketed with Oneohtrix Point Never, Skaters, Ducktails and Dolphins Into The Future in what has been called the “hypnagogic pop” scene. Do you feel a kinship with these artists, or is this just lazy pigeonholing?
John: “I think the ‘hypnagogic pop’ tag is extremely vague and inconclusive and therefore faulty. I do not see a musical connection between the sound of, say, Dolphins Into The Future and Emeralds, and I think the same could be said for everybody being tagged with this new genre. That’s not to say I don’t feel a kinship with some of these artists on a personal level, because I do, very much so. I want to take Dan Lopatin [Oneohtrix Point Never] and Matt Mondanile [Ducktails] to Cedar Point [an amusement park in Ohio] as soon as I can!
Steve: “Mark and myself lived with James Ferraro for two months or so in Antwerp in the Fall of 2009, and the three of us met him and Spencer Clark [Ferraro's band-mate in Skaters] in New York years back. Lieven Martens [Dolphins Into The Future] put out a tape for me and he also lives in Antwerp, so yeah, we have spent some time getting to know all of these people on a personal basis. I don’t feel there is a strong enough correlation between the music we make to pigeonhole anything into a new genre. It’s much too early for anything like that, but people crave order and need to organize things for some reason; quite a strange phenomenon.
“Historically the most significant artists defied categorization because they invented their own universe in which to be observed and appreciated. This is evident across all forms of art. It is frustrating to be lumped into something preemptively against your own will, but there is only so much the artist can do on his side of the fence. I hope our fans understand that we aim to try something new with each release to counter such moves by a larger press. We aren’t too caught up in meeting expectations of any kind really, what’s necessary is having a creative engine going all the time.”
“It seems that very few people appreciate the beauty of the cross-referencing built into music and elsewhere. Once you can tap into it genres literally disappear and it no longer become necessary to define anything.”
One thing that some of these artists we’re talking about might share is an affinity for music which which may have been overlooked, unfashionable or written off in the past – from kosmische to new age to 80s MOR. Why is this music being rediscovered now?
John: “I have no idea why. I think every kind of music has bits that are unfashionable or overlooked. Especially in the new hyper-blog reality where it doesn’t even matter if the quality of the work is truly outstanding, and it’s just valuable based on how obscure or unknown it is, or what the listing of equipment is.”
Mark: “Some of my favorite records are probably what a lot of people would call middle of the road, but to me that doesn’t take away from the music at all. There are a lot of gems on those records, and finding them is like finding hidden treasure! A lot of artists that were overlooked and not highly regarded in their time have really heartfelt songs, because they have nothing to prove and don’t have a huge persona to live up to. And besides, I like to root for the underdog, I’m from Cleveland!”
Steve: “I have no idea what kind of trends are going on with what people are listening to and could care less. I am concerned with my own taste and what sounds good and not what any institution has to say, unless it’s guiding me to new information. It seems that very few people appreciate the beauty of the cross-referencing built into music and elsewhere. Once you can tap into it genres literally disappear and it no longer become necessary to define anything.”