MJ Guider Searches for an Answer

When I learned MJ Guider was starting a new imprint, modemain, to serve as a central axis for her to grow ideas, experiment, and collaborate while creating editions that move beyond just physical music releases, I was excited. Guider’s 2020 album, Sour Cherry Ball, was a favorite of mine so something that offers deeper insights into her process and, of course, more of her work is great news. This month, she launched modemain with a new solo effort, the beguiling Matanzas

Built around translating and processing a trip to Cuba that Guider took with her mother (where his from) in 2017, both tracks on Matanzas feel like distant aural remnants extracted from suppressed memories. The title track’s urgent, bombastic rhythm swims in a layer of reverb, the kick drum mimicking a heartbeat that centers the expression. Guider’s voice shifts between ghostly echoes and heavily-processed skittering, the dichotomy mirroring the desire to immerse yourself in an experience while still feeling as though you’re kept at arm’s length. It’s such an affecting, eerie piece.

With the flipside, “Viñales,” Guider opens the window to the uplifting sounds of bird song and rain. There’s a hopefulness here that’s absent from “Matanzas,” a realization that even if our experience isn’t what we hoped, it’s still an experience that matters and the value it holds i sjusdt as important. Heavy bass is offset by light, skyward synths as the rhythms feel prgressive, forward leaning. “Viñales” is kissed by the summer sun as it acknowledges failures of the past while balancing the promise of an unknown future.

All photos by MJ Guider taken on her trip to Cuba in 2017

First, why did you decide to start this new label/project, modemain now? Was there any specific impetus or anything like that?

Starting a label for odd projects had been on my mind for a long while. There was some music I’d been sitting on and had originally planned to release last year after Sour Cherry Bell came out, but you know nothing went as-planned last year. The more time I had to think about what I wanted to do with that, the more it made sense to start the label now, with Matanzas. Those two songs were fairly personal and I could bring them into the world with a personal touch. The name “modemain” was something that I’d mostly been using for design work before that. I always wanted there to be more going on under that banner, so now there is / there will be.

You’ve mentioned how you are planning to ‘release’ projects in mediums beyond sound, which I think is great. Can you tell me more about this holistic vision of modemain? I’m super into the idea of projects that go beyond just being labels (I think a lot about Blank Forms in NYC and the range of projects they do) – and I think about it a lot – so I love hearing about others who are thinking in these realms.

The short answer is that it excited me the most to do something more broadly-focused. Longer answer is that I’ve always been fixated on wanting to do / try / learn / engage with a variety of creative projects and practices on my own. Having the label be multi-disciplinary felt like a way to both tend to that impulse and leave the door open to make it more collaborative, like a collective, and get other people involved. It also supports the idea of having a release live a longer and more organic life by iterating on it in varied ways over time, which I’m really interested in. Maybe the whole idea is to create a little world with some well-orchestrated chaos.

The new release, Matanzas, is great and the backstory to it adds so much depth and context to the pieces. You talk about using the process of culling through the recordings and photos from your trip to Cuba to find understanding and help you process the experience. Without revealing too much, what did you end up discovering about yourself and this journey during the process?

One of the bigger revelations was that “being Cuban” wasn’t a specific experience different from what I’d been having. I thought I would be able to better connect if I went there, then I thought I would be able to better connect if I could fill in the gaps and answer my vague questions about what it all means by sorting through all this data like it was a code to crack, but it took doing what I’ve always done to get to where I landed – taking whatever I have and finding meaning in it. It isn’t obvious or clear, but that’s ok.

What were some of your most memorable experiences or lasting memories from the trip to Cuba?

Seeing the Bacunayagua Bridge into Matanzas and Valle de Viñales really struck me hard. They both exist in this expansive terrain that is totally otherworldly to me, coming from a very flat, very swampy place. I also managed to find the ICIAC (Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry) and got to see all these incredible film posters I’d only ever previously seen in books and online. That was honestly a dream. The biggest thing that made the whole adventure significant was that I was travelling with my mother who hadn’t been back to Cuba in 50 years. Getting to make that trip with her (on Mother’s Day, even!) and for the first time myself meant a lot to both of us.

Next time you are able to travel there, what do you hope to do differently?

Ideally I’d like to just take it slow and explore more freely. Not be a tourist. Maybe spend some significant time there and really soak it in. Don’t know when I would be able to go back, but hopefully not too long from now.

What else are you working on these days?
I just did a guest mix for a friend’s new radio program on Dublab called Connective Tissue, getting my own radio show Night Gallery together for the week, am working on art for a couple of other friends’ projects, trying to start thinking about working on music again (ha), and maybe working on a couple things for what’s up next on modemain…