Local Current Blog

Mark McGee is a key player in the ever-evolving experimental music scene

Mark McGee has been tapped to create a live score at this year's Music & Movies (Photo by Nate Ryan/MPR)

Mark McGee’s name might not be instantly recognizable to some Twin Cities music fans, but the many different projects he’s involved in certainly are. McGee, who typically performs as Makr, is the creative force behind both To Kill A Petty Bourgeoisie and Father You See Queen, as well as being a dynamic contributor to the untamed, inventive sounds of Marijuana Deathsquads, Votel, Deep Sea Guts, and Basuketto, amongst others. He’s also currently quite excited about Ronia, his new collaboration with Dark Dark Dark’s Nona Marie Invie.

In fact, McGee is so prolific that when he joked about forming a brand new band with Polica’s drummer Drew Christopherson after he dropped by our interview to set up some equipment, I half-believed him. And while McGee was clearly just being witty, plenty of serious future music projects and potential new releases came up throughout our discussion, making me wonder when the guy ever finds any time to sleep.

McGee is originally from Virginia, and he first came through Minneapolis in 2004 when he was touring with his Richmond-based band To Kill A Petty Bourgeoisie. He fell hard for the creative energy of the city, and moved here just a year later. Even though that band eventually dissolved (at least temporarily; they are in the early stages of recording together again), McGee wasted little time transitioning to new musical projects. 

As his two French Bulldogs played fitfully in the living room of the Northeast Minneapolis home he shares with his girlfriend, McGee seemed perfectly at ease talking about a scene he is now fully a part of. The living room has a few easels filled with in-progress paintings and other artistic ephemera strewn about tastefully, proving that music isn’t the only art form that McGee is drawn to. Offering fans something more than just music is a clear motivating factor for McGee, who issued Father You See Queen’s enthralling debut EP, 47, in custom-made music boxes (painstakingly hand-painted by his girlfriend) and has equally inventive plans for their forthcoming full-length, which he plans to complete in the near future at the Sound Gallery studio in Minneapolis.

Father You See Queen has formed a creative partnership with the talented filmmaker/director Maria Juranic (P.O.S./Doomtree/Eyedea & Abilities) to create a 3D video for one of their new songs. And to go along with the video, FUCQ are planning on releasing an 3-song EP packaged with a thaumatrope, which will again add a distinct visual element to accompany their ethereal, haunting sounds.

“Music in general should be a full package of ideas—not just sounds, but images, almost like a world,” McGee says passionately. “And creating a unique world to me is very important no matter what project I’m involved in. I want to make a tangible product, and a piece of art within that, and that is why I get visual artists involved, to give people something cool to have, but also a piece of music.”

Ronia came about this past summer. Longtime friends McGee and Nona Marie Invie formed a loose musical partnership over drinks one night, which led to the slow-burning, diaphanous material they released on cassette at the end of September.

“Ronia was kind of our escape, like a musical summertime fling,” McGee says. “I’ve always wanted to work with her, and we’ve just never had the time or other things have always come up. But she was here the whole summer, and we just played around and then finally songs emerged out of that. We wanted the songs to be dark, moody, and repetitive. But some of the songs didn’t end up that way, some of them ended up as summertime driving music. It turned into something else completely, but definitely has a good vibe. And something that we didn’t really plan on.”

And the partnership is only just starting to flourish. McGee is continuing to send Invie beats while she is on the road touring with Dark Dark Dark, and Nona even bought herself a mini-Korg to write her parts on between shows. If all goes well, more Ronia songs will materialize when Invie returns to Minneapolis around Christmas, with an eventual album as their definite creative goal. And McGee even slyly hints at a potential live performance from the duo sometime in the future: “We might premiere it, but we might be mysterious about it too.” Hopefully they won’t be too secretive about their plans, because that live collaboration would definitely be something to see.

McGee’s involvement in the riotous, experimental noise of Marijuana Deathsquads began shortly after he met ringleader Ryan Olson at the Nomad upon returning from his last European tour with To Kill A Petty Bourgeoisie.

“I learned how to improv through Deathsquads. It’s a great release, and probably the funnest times I’ve ever had doing music. It looks very loose and free-for-all, but actually it’s not. [Olson] directs really well, so it’s a lot of his mind and his direction,” McGee explains.

He began participating in the crew’s now legendary run of shows at Nick and Eddie, and contributed to their wild debut album, Crazy Master, as well. And the crew hasn’t slowed down a bit after releasing the inventive, stylistic hodgepodge mixtape Tamper, Disable, Destroy; recording for a proper full-length is currently ongoing, as well as some upcoming high profile local gigs opening up for Kool Keith, Boys Noize, and Dosh.

“When I first did Deathsquads it was like ‘Do whatever you want,’” he continues. “But lately we’ve been going to Ryan’s place and actually writing beats that go with his parts. In a way it’s a rehearsal, but not a full-fledged rehearsal with the full band. We’re working on another record, but I don’t know exactly when it’s coming out or what we’re going to do with it. But we are working on material for a new album.”

As to why edgy, electronic music is currently thriving in the Twin Cities scene, McGee is quick to point out the longtime torchbearers who have helped lay the groundwork for the modern movement. “Just over the past six years or so, you’ve had Jason Power (Slapping Purses) doing stuff, Skoal Kodiac, Ryan Olcott (Mystery Palace)—these musicians who are circuit bending and making amazing electronic music, but also integrating it with live sounds. And now, you have bands like Wiping Out Thousands who are making it really sexy. It’s much more visceral than just laptop music.”

And Twin Cities music fans are definitely tuning in and supporting a scene that is finally starting to get its due. “People are actually widening their scope of what’s interesting to them. People want to hear things that are different,” McGee concludes. Mark is certainly mixing things up with all of his varied musical projects, which would be enough to keep any musician busy. But when I asked if there are any bands or releases that didn’t get brought up during our discussion, McGee revealed that he is planning to record with Deep Sea Guts (Andrew Broder and Ryan Olcott) on an album that will be produced by Ryan Olson, as well as a collection of solo stuff under his Makr moniker, which Mark promises will be “a really bleak, desolate album” filled with “ambient sounds and minimal beats.”

McGee has clearly thrived since moving to Minneapolis, and he continually draws inspiration from the local music scene. But he also feels pressure because of the amount of talent here as well. “There’s an actual pressure making music here, because everyone is so f*cking good. But it’s a good stress, because you have to sharpen your creative swords a little bit. You’ve got to come to the plate with something that’s creative and really good, something that’s pretty sweet to listen to.”

And based on the innovative music that McGee has generated so far, as well as his intriguing future plans and inventive upcoming releases, his prodigious musical talents are indeed razor-sharp, and the Twin Cities are sounding that much sweeter by the day.

For more on Mark McGee, sample some of his recent projects:

R O N I A (featuring Nona Marie Invie of Dark Dark Dark)

 
Father You See Queen (featuring Mona)

Votel (featuring Maggie Morrison, Ben Clark, Adam Marx, and Drew Christopherson)

 

Marijuana Deathsquads (featuring Ryan Olson, Stef Alexander, Isaac Gale, and many others, including Channy and Astronautalis on this track)