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I didn’t know if I had any gas left in the tank: Rick Maguire on new Pile album All Fiction

Rick Maguire, the singer and creative driving force behind experimental US rock outfit Pile, speaks to Headliner about the making of the band’s new album All Fiction, why it was the most challenging record he has worked on to date, and how it left him wondering where to head next creatively…

“There was a sense of finality that extended beyond the record itself,” says Pile’s Rick Maguire, describing how he felt when work on All Fiction, the band’s latest opus (out February 17) was finally complete. Some 15 years and eight albums into their career, Maguire felt that he had finally made the record he’d been itching to make since the release of their 2012 album Dripping. With each and every album since, the cult Boston band have cultivated a sound that not only evades categorisation, but sees Maguire continue to tread an emotional tightrope stretched between pillars of fragile, introspective melancholy and scorched earth riffs and pulverising beats. Yet All Fiction somehow sees those extremities pulled tighter than anything that has come before.

Take lead single Poisons as a case in point. Over the course of four minutes, we hear Maguire deconstruct, reconstruct, and then take a wrecking ball to Pile’s creative building blocks. A couple of times over. The loud-quiet dynamic sees Maguire speak, sing, and bellow his way around a drum beat that veers between pulsating rhythm and the sound of a planet sliding off its axis. A piercing, staccato guitar section somehow knits the chaos together to create something blisteringly thrilling and utterly compelling. Elsewhere, the record incorporates synths and samples to generate sonic textures not previously present in the band’s work. It is unarguably the most ambitious addition to the Pile catalogue.

“This morning I’m looking at our setup for the tour,” says Maguire, joining us over Zoom, filling us in on what he’s been up to since finishing the album. He’s in a bright, talkative mood, almost slightly at odds with what one might expect given the intensity he has always channelled into his music. “Historically we’ve been two guitars, bass, and drums for live performances, and it is changing. The record is very different from that - there are a lot of synthesizers, auxiliary percussion, so there is a lot of experimentation going on with loading samples and doing as much as we can without bringing a laptop onstage and figuring out how all that works. We are working in a way that I’m just not used to.”

The technical challenges and unfamiliarity of the process are, however, something he is very much enjoying.

“It’s exciting,” he says, “and It’s a little bit scary. I did a solo tour early in 2022 and in that I had my synthesizer and a MIDI controller that I controlled with my feet, so I was able to play guitar and activate bass notes through that. So I’m applying some of the things I learned from that into this, but there are a lot of things that are still very different. It’s a bit of an overwhelming process, but it’s been an interesting process. It’s a challenge and we’ll see how it goes. It is nice to try different things out and not just be doing what we’ve always done. I assume there will be more challenges along the way but I’m looking forward to it.”

There was a sense of finality that extended beyond the record itself. Rick Maguire, Pile

There are moments on All Fiction that can be traced back to sessions from many records ago, Maguire explains. But it wasn’t until 2020 during lockdown that he had the opportunity to fully explore their potential.

“Some of these songs are pretty old,” he says. “So even while working on the last full length album Green and Gray I was working on some of these, but they didn’t seem to fit. I wanted to make a record like this since after Dripping in 2012. We did that rock record and I wanted to switch to something else, but recourses, time and other restrictions led to exploring songwriting more through those means, and by that I mean that arrangement of two guitars, bass drums, vocal. We were trying to tour so to all of a sudden start incorporating other instruments would have been beyond our resources.

“Since then, I had been wanting to make a record that was different texturally and sonically, and these songs have taken a number of different shapes. After Green and Gray in 2019 it was going to be split into an album that was heavier material and quieter material. Then in 2020 we didn’t know if live music was every going to be a thing again, but I still wanted to create, and it seemed like a good opportunity to make that record I always wanted to make.”

Having waited over 10 years to fully sink his teeth into such a project, how long did it take to complete the record? And how did he temper the urge to continue tampering with songs that had been lingering around since 2015?

“I think as far as the tracking process goes, I was pretty certain when it was over,” he recalls. “We were in the studio for three and a half weeks, then took a week off, and then came back for five days. Once we got to the mixing process it became a bit more confusing with knowing where everything was meant to sit. I devoted a lot of time to that, and once it was done there seemed to be a finality that extended beyond the record itself. With previous records we would finish and then I’d have an idea for the next one, which would contextualise the previous one. I’d always be thinking about the next record, but with this one I’m like, I don’t know if I have any gas left in the tank. I have since started working on other things, but it was nice to know that I had given all of my energy to this one thing. I have listened to the record since, which is not something I can ordinarily do once it’s done, and I still enjoy it, so that’s cool.”

With a line now drawn under what could arguably be described Maguire’s biggest artistic undertaking to date, does he feel as though he has turned a corner of sorts?

“It marks a significant change for me personally,” he says thoughtfully. “I accept I have no control over how anyone else perceives it, and I fully accept some people might hear it and think, ‘they’ve lost it’. But I was able to explore a lot of the things I’m curious about, and to know that’s something I can do and come out of the other end of it will encourage me to push things further. It feels like an achievement, and I’m happy with that.”

You can listen to an extended version of this interview below.