Rick Maguire sits up straight. “It’s funny, I have bad posture,” he tells MTV News. “The idea of correcting it, and the idea of posturing in general, it’s [about] how you appear.”
Maguire, 31, is thinking more than ever lately about how he presents himself to the world. His band Pile turns 10 years old this year; their latest album, A Hairshirt of Purpose, is their sixth. Vivid and refined, it stretches into new territory, yet bursts with the same delirious energy that’s inspired a decade’s worth of devoted followers.
Born and bred in the Boston basement-rock scene, Pile began as Maguire’s solo project, eventually spawning several cult releases, fueling concept records by other Boston-area bands, and developing a reputation for seriously sweaty live shows. A Hairshirt of Purpose covers the complexities of adulthood, from political sentiment on “Worms” to cleaning house (literally and figuratively) on “Fingers.” “Hissing for Peace,” with its agitated drums, pleading guitar, and Maguire’s guttural yelling, creates a precise sort of chaos, while the delicate “Leaning on a Wheel” portrays the heartbreak of a stagnant relationship.
Long and knotted, A Hairshirt Of Purpose runs the gamut of the human experience, and leaves a lot to untangle. In person, Maguire is polite and reflective, hesitantly relaxed in his status as a cult hero. Ten years in, he’s still adjusting.
Below, Maguire opens up about being a role model, longevity in music, and hiding away from the world (with ice cream and Seinfeld).
MTV News: Last night I reread an Impose Magazine piece subtitled “Why is everyone so obsessed with Pile?” I’m wondering, because you are that hero for so many people in your scene, who was your Rick Maguire? Who were the people you wanted to be?
Rick Maguire: A lot of those people that I really looked up to I don’t anymore, because I’ve sort of seen their trajectory.
I was 9 years old when I heard Green Day and Weezer, and I was like, “This is what I want to do.” And from that point on I’ve sort of… I definitely don’t want to do what Green Day and Weezer have done. I guess now, and for the past 10 years, it’s been [Fugazi’s] Ian MacKaye. It just seems like honest work, the way he’s conducted himself. He didn’t seem like he tried to separate himself from the audience. So that’s kind of an admirable thing.
But I don’t know. I’m still trying to navigate… It’s all new territory for me, doing interviews and stuff like that, and trying to figure out how to conduct myself in a way that I would maybe look for in another musician.
Ian MacKaye has almost never come across as a dick, which is rare. I think when you reach a certain level of fame, people are going to try and push you to find the cracks in your image.
Maguire: Oh, yeah. I wonder if there’s going to be a point for me when I just lose it.
Maybe this interview!
Maguire: [laughs] I mean, everyone’s got a certain boiling point. Everyone is human. People are flawed. If you spread yourself too thin you’re just going to crack eventually. So I’m trying not to do that.
In that article, you mention that Pile has given you the opportunity to be a good person. I’m wondering why that’s so important to you. Have you grown comfortable in your position as a role model?
Maguire: I definitely overall feel more comfortable than I have in the past. But I don’t know… The idea of getting up on the stage and expressing yourself to people, and having an audience for that … and not just an audience, but people who are enthusiastic about it, is a very privileged thing. I’m very grateful to have them. The fact that there are people who pay attention to what I’m doing, I feel like that comes with the responsibility of, “Don’t be an asshole.”
Like I said, there’s new territory all the time, so I have to constantly make decisions based on, “Is this a good idea?” It’s tough sometimes. There are certain venues and things that are owned by bigger corporations that serve things that I don’t agree with… It’s a weird thing to navigate. Driving around the country, I’m playing my heart to people while I’m just burning gas in a huge vehicle. So I try to make up for that a little bit by doing something that helps people.
Pile is 10 years old this year, so a lot of people are talking about the band’s longevity. Living an artistic life, especially in a big city, feels unsustainable sometimes. Do you have any advice on how to make a band last and still remain fulfilled creatively?
Maguire: Taking it slow is good. I’ve enjoyed this trajectory, even though sometimes I get impatient. Like, I wish there was something I could do to make this thing move along a little quicker to maybe make a couple more bucks. I step back every once in a while and think, Wow, it’s crazy that I’m able to do this. It’s crazy that I’m able to sit in a room and work on this idea that I want to express to people, and then I can go into a room and say that to those people.
The music part is important, but more than that, the people that you’re playing with — if you’re playing with people — try to see it from their angle, and be kind and respectful. It’s pretty obvious stuff that you learn in kindergarten. Just like, try to be nice, try to be good to people, share … stuff like that. And then there’s the part of that that’s being responsible for your own stuff. Don’t think that anyone is going to take care of anything for you, because they won’t. Most people are in it for themselves, so if they are helping you, they have something for themselves on the back end. So if you can be self-sustaining and patient, then even if you can’t make a living off of playing music, you might be able to sort of leave on good terms with it, instead of being burnt out.
You spent some time making this record actually hiding away from the world, in a cabin in Georgia. The idea of the musician purposefully isolating himself has become such a myth. What did you do there?
Maguire: That’s the thing. Especially with press stuff, people are really hitting the ground running with that. “So like, you were secluded and now you live in Georgia and you wrote this whole record there?” And I’m like, “No, I was there for a month and it was nice, but I’d done six months of touring and I just wanted to chill out. And I wrote some stuff.” I had mono, too. I was tired and sick, but it was the best place to have mono. I didn’t feel the need to ask anybody for help, because no one was there. So I just watched Seinfeld all day. I’d never seen all of Seinfeld, and that was the best time to go through all the seasons.
MTV: All you did was watch Seinfeld?! You’re ruining the story!
Maguire: That’s what I did! I ate mint chocolate chip ice cream and watched Seinfeld and had mono. That’s what really happened. But if you wanted to say that I was really just going through some stuff, just processing my life up to this point… OK, there was a good deal of that, too. Also, like, that happened this morning.
A Hairshirt of Purpose is out now on Exploding in Sound Records.