Patrick McGuire Starts Over with Straight White Teeth

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Early this year, roughly a month after the members of Denver band Flashbulb Fires announced their breakup, former vocalist Patrick McGuire found himself back on stage, this time alone with an acoustic guitar and a new project: Straight White Teeth. He knew, despite being in an emotional place, that he couldn’t take a break from music. So he built a short set list based on solo songs he had written in his bedroom over the years and took to the stage at the hi-dive.“Never at any point did the thought come, like, ‘Yeah, I’m set,’ or, ‘I’m done,’” says McGuire of his decision to jump back into writing or performing so shortly after ending things with his close friends and bandmates.

Flashbulb Fires formed in 2009, and in six years, the group released two albums and went from playing empty bars to selling out Red Rocks. But in the last months of the band’s existence, the freedom that McGuire once felt in playing music was disappearing. Just as the band was starting to feel the rewards of years of hard work and was “right on the cusp of some big stuff,” it abruptly ended. He walked away.

“One of the reasons that we split was we weren’t able to make music together anymore,” McGuire says with a sigh. He hesitates before talking about his former band, still unable to fully articulate what happened. “Every part was scrutinized, and everything was debated over and thought over, and I couldn’t work with that process anymore.”

Now, McGuire has returned alone to his bedroom to write and, as he puts it, “make a shitload of music.” He admits that the music he’s making now isn’t as cohesive as he would like, and he hems and haws about going solo or forming another band or just taking off on the road with his girlfriend and drummer, Ella Trujillo. So far, he’s played two shows as Straight White Teeth, once with his acoustic guitar and once with just his laptop. He admits that neither setup is ideal, but he’s hesitant to jump into another collaboration with other musicians.

“I want a full band again, but basically [having] me boss everyone around and call all the shots,” he says.
Oddly, McGuire’s day-to-day life is unchanged from when he was a member of Flashbulb Fires. He wakes up every day and writes lyrics and plays around with music, just as he always has. But instead of letting the half-finished demos collect metaphorical dust on his hard drive, he’s focused on finishing and releasing everything he writes. He’s certain that what he’s working on now is getting him closer to that pure freedom he once felt.

“It’s been shitty, but at the same time, you just need that new energy to keep you going,” says McGuire. “I feel half heartbroken and really lost — just like I’m starting over — and half really rejuvenated, and I’m ready to get serious with this stuff.”

The past clearly haunts McGuire, and he admits as much, but he is also ready for the future and excited to do things differently this time around.

“I don’t think anyone can escape where they’re from and who they used to be,” he says. “But with the themes I’m talking about in the new stuff, I just feel so free to write about whatever I want.”

His new music is stripped down and much more melancholy than what Flashbulb Fires was writing. It’s lo-fi and raw. While dark and driven more by feeling than musicianship, the sounds are no less intriguing than what Flashbulb Fires produced.

Currently, Trujillo, who hadn’t touched a drum kit in a decade, is playing drums on McGuire’s recordings.
“I’m much less interested in someone who’s been playing for fifteen years and much more interested in the energy of things,” says McGuire.

That ethos is reflected in Straight White Teeth’s first single, “A Shadow Doused in Flames.” The lyrics are based on a dream and were written in a week. The basic drum part was written in about ten minutes, and the electric-guitar part was written and recorded just as quickly, despite McGuire’s lack of guitar skill.

In his head, McGuire writes string parts, horn parts and full sounds. Sometimes they get translated into computer-generated synth parts, and sometimes they just stay in his head. He knows what he is working on is far from perfect, but he’s just too eager to sit on his music.

“I’d rather make some mistakes right now in the context of making a shitload of music,” McGuire says.
Trujillo, who is also a visual artist, is helping release that creative energy with more than just her unique drumming. Drawn in by the image-heavy lyrics McGuire tends to write, she’s working with him to turn the sounds into visuals. She designed the cover for “A Shadow Doused in Flames” based on a dream of her own, and, for the EP, which will be released this summer, she’s designing a zine full of illustrations based on McGuire’s sounds.
“I’m a painter, but I’ve been doing video art a lot recently,” says Trujillo. “Instead of releasing a CD, we’re going to release a little zine with a few different original illustrations that go with the music.”

McGuire says he wanted something “physical and unique” to release, but was unenthused about spending money and energy burning hundreds of CDs. The zine also allows him to explore his art in a new way while collaborating with Trujillo.

“It’s a closeness I’ve never had with another girl,” McGuire says.

McGuire plans to keep releasing singles, and a lot of his old bedroom work from the Flashbulb Fires years is already online. After the EP comes out, he says, he’ll either hit the road with Trujillo and possibly others or stick around and save money while writing on the side. He’s already confirmed on this summer’s Underground Music Showcase lineup and is in the middle of planning more shows and a music video directed by Trujillo. He also has a manager in New York City who is helping him make plans. No matter what, he knows he’s ready for a new adventure.

“It might be a rocky road as far as performing and shows and getting stuff ready,” he says. “But it’s new and exciting, and it hasn’t felt like that for a long, long time.”

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