Analogue Music | Side Saddle

Side Saddle

By Matt Conner

It was a choice between quantity and quality.

Ian McGuinness faced a significant marketplace-centered decision when thinking through the proper way to deliver his latest songs. As the creative force behind Side Saddle, he had another batch of songs ready but he also lacked the funds required to properly record and release them all—at least in a way he felt comfortable with. He faced a choice: quantity or quality.

He went with the latter.

Several months after McGuinness and company found their way to Tarquin Studios to work with renowned producer Peter Katis (The National, Japandroids), he decided to zero in on four songs—the beautiful yet brief set now known as Forever and a Little While. For McGuinness, it was about doing right by a few songs rather than providing a lesser treatment on more songs.

Judging by the results, Side Saddle's instincts were right. The band's new EP is both arresting and affecting. If less is more, it also leaves you wanting more, which is why we wanted to sit down with McGuinness to hear more about the music and wrestling with how to put it out in the first place.

Analogue: Before we get into the music, I wanted to ask about the format of the EP to start here. When the songs are there, how much do you wrestle with the marketplace and the best format to put the music out there?

Ian McGuinness: That’s a good question. There are a few different things floating through my mind on this. Obviously, I’m cognizant of the marketplace and how best to put this out into the world based on algorithms and feeding the machine. I knew I couldn’t afford a full-length, so that took the pressure off. But I also wanted to work with a producer and that meant I had to invest some money. I’d rather invest the money and work on a smaller batch of songs than do what we’ve just been doing and do it all ourselves and do a full length.

"I’ve invested so much in this already, I might as well make the vinyl and have something physical that’s going to be on earth for a long time..."

That was the route I took with four songs and I could focus on the best that I’d written in the last few years. Once I got the four songs, I thought I could just release singles until the whole thing was out. I wrestled with whether or not to do vinyl. The cost and low demand… [Laughs] But I’m a big vinyl guy, so I was like, ‘I’ve invested so much in this already, I might as well make the vinyl and have something physical that’s going to be on earth for a long time hopefully.’

So there are a lot of different things floating in my mind as I was going through the process of deciding what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it.

Analogue: Now that there’s a final package, does it feel like you made the choices you wanted? Did it come together in the way you’d hoped?

Ian: I’m not good at visualizing things. I don’t know what I expected. I don’t want to say that I was just going wherever the wind blew me, because it’s not that I didn’t have an idea of where I wanted to take it. However, it all turned out better than I thought it was going to, not that I had a clear idea of what it would be.

When we went to record with Peter [Katis, producer], I had no idea what that was going to be like. He’s worked with the National and he was just finishing a mix of Hozier’s new single, so I didn’t know how involved he would be. He’s doing big-time shit and here we come in. But he was very involved and helped with everything.

Working with Peter far exceeded expectations because he was super-involved and he was mixing as he was going. It was a brand new process for us but it was the best. Out of all of the elements that go into being a musician and the songwriting process, the recording is the part I’m most in love with. Doing that with Peter was magical. It was really, really awesome.

Then working with Justin [Frey] on my package design for the EP layout and merch items was a cool new relationship that came out of nowhere. It wasn’t something I’d thought too much about, so the EP artwork and how it all looks, it all exceeded my expectations without knowing what to expect, you know?

Forever and a Little While cover art
Forever and a Little While cover art

Analogue: How did you hook up with Peter in the first place?

Ian: I reached out to Tarquin Studios and said, ‘Hey, I’m interested in recording an EP and would love to have Peter produce and mix. Here’s my budget. Let me know if this is something that’s possible.’ Then his engineer hit me back and said, ‘Hey Ian, how have you been?’ I didn’t realize I’d reached out to him for a test mix for my first ever music that we recorded with Side Saddle. I was reaching out for Peter to do a mix but Greg said he could do it since Peter was busy.

So Greg and I had had some dialogue almost a decade ago and we chatted about that. Then he said, ‘Let me send the tunes over the Peter and see if we can fit you in.’ Then I had a phone call with Peter and he said, ‘Hey, the songs that you write are really easy to make them sound good and they’re good songs, so I can take on the project.’ He broke down the budget and what he thought we could get done in a specific amount of time. I think I reached out in October 2022 and then we did a week in March and half of a week in April.

Analogue: Were the four songs you chose an obvious four or were you surprised at all?

Ian: I was surprised by “Wine and Spirits” because we approached this as a full band. When I got Miles [Nasta] and Ryan [Sniffen] together to run through the songs, we were playing through a bunch of them and then “All My Days” clicked really quickly. “Bottom of the Ninth” too. The original demo of Wine and Spirits had a driving rhythm to it but Miles was like, ‘I think this should just be you and an acoustic guitar and then add other atmospheric, pretty things.’

That song was a surprise, but we also thought it’d be a good one because we wouldn’t have to rush through with Peter. We wanted to make sure we could take our time so having one tune that was more stripped down made sense with the other ones.

Analogue: That song’s a tribute of sorts, right?

Ian: Yeah, my wife had a best friend from the age of 2 until she passed away. She passed away 10 years ago and they were connected in a very significant way and felt like they were soulmates. She was a hugely important person in my wife’s life.

My wife was living in Austin and I was in New York and after McKenna had passed away, she wanted a change of scenery. She just needed to be somewhere else, so she moved in with her sister in Brooklyn. Then she ended up getting a job with my best friend and that’s how we met.

I’d never met Makenna, but she’s been such a big part of my life because we talk about her often. I’ve been to her family’s weddings and funerals. It’s an extended family for my wife and now me. So I feel like I know her even though I never met her. I started writing the song and it was clearly about their relationship but it’s also about wanting to stay alive to save my wife from that sort of pain again.

There are a few ways you can interpret the lyrics while also staying universal, but yeah it’s a tribute in that way.

Analogue: By the way, was your wife surprised at all? Or had she been privy to the song in process?

Ian: Yeah she wasn’t surprised by the end product because she’d heard it, but I think she was really happy with how it all came together. It’s emotional. We both get emotional listening to it now because Peter did such a good job with it all—like with the piano hit going into the last chorus. The volume of that is up compared to when it comes in earlier in the song and that adds to the emotion, so a lot of the mixing plays into how that song makes you feel. So yeah, she loves the song and she thinks it’s one of the best songs I’ve written. Maybe she’s a little bit biased because of what the song’s about, but her whole family… they all love it.

VISIT: Side Saddle