An interview with Matthew D. Guarnere
Matthew D. Guarnere is a Rochester,
NY based musician who released an excellent self titled disc in 2001.
Somewhat of a breakthrough, as MDG has been around for a few years [as
you'll read] but this album - self written, produced, and largely
performed is a great intro to an up and coming rocker who appeals to the
old class of prog-rock and classic rock types, while being familiar with
modern technology and ideas to give 'MDG' a fresh sound.
Check out the links at the end of the interview for more info and the
music. Also check out my review his disc elsewhere at Universal Wheels.
1] Can you give me the basics about
yourself > age, hometown, how or why you got in to music professionally?
MDG: I was born February 27, 1970 and I am now 32. I was raised in
Rochester, New York. I got into music because I unconditionally love it
and it has always made up a large part of my identity. I originally got
into the business as a teenager because I found that I actually had the
aptitude to teach myself how to reproduce sounds I heard on other people's
records and also the ones in my head. Somehow I've managed to make a
living at it ever since.
2] What's your recording history prior to
MDG: My first official collection of songs was a cassette entitled 'M.D.G.
EP' on a label I named after my cat, MANFRED Records. That was a pretty
experimental progressive/techno-rock sort of thing I recorded on an 8
track reel-to-reel. It
actually came out before I graduated high school in June of 1988. A few
years later, I started a business called WHAT'S REAL UNLIMITED. It was
designed to be a sound recording service and an independent record label.
WRU's first release was a self-titled cassette by WHAT'S REAL which was a
progressive rock duo I fronted. The 1993 cassette EP featured the original
version of the Freddie Mercury/Queen tribute entitled "You Never Have To
Grow Old, My Dear." The WHAT'S REAL project dissolved later that year when
keyboardist, Robert Scribble had to suddenly relocate to England. RADIO U
was the name of another short lived band project I had (although it was
basically a solo endeavor). RADIO U released a cassette in 1994 entitled
"I Think It's This City" also on WHAT'S REAL UNLIMITED Records. Following
that, I began negotiating with an outside record company which eventually
led me to collaborate with guitar virtuosos like Derek Frigo of E'nuff
Z'nuff, Paul Chapman of UFO and George Bellas. None of that music has ever
really gotten past the demo recording stage, but the Frigo band did make
it to the concert stage in Chicago. I will be releasing a CD containing
faithfully remixed versions of all the early M.D.G. music from the 1987-88
period. Listening to it now, I think it's pretty unique. I played
absolutely every instrument on there. I had very little idea of what I was
doing, but I had such
an appetite to try to create music that was off the beaten path. The old
analog tapes still sound amazingly good despite the fact that I had to
bake them before I could make a digital transfer! I'll probably remaster
the WHAT'S REAL catalog
and put that out on CD as well. It's really impressive stuff for a couple
of 'barely legals' and I still like a lot of it.
3] You handle most of the music yourself on
'M.D.G.' What is your foremost instrument [guitar, drums, voice...]?
MDG: There are only two instruments I seem to have a natural ability to
improvise on and that would be drums and voice. With everything else, I
have a pretty heavy handicap. If I'm just writing though, it doesn't
really matter what instrument is sitting around. Next to the top two,
probably my favorite thing even though it's a slopfest every time I try to
4] Can you give me a short list of fave
guitarists, singers, and songwriters? [3-5 each]. Biggest influence?
MDG: OK, I'll try to keep it short, but it's not gonna be easy.
Alex Lifeson (RUSH)
Andy Scott (SWEET)
Brian May (QUEEN)
Robert Fripp (KING CRIMSON)
Freddie Mercury (QUEEN)
Brian Connolly (SWEET)
Robin Zander (CHEAP TRICK)
SONGWRITERS (this is only a tiny handful of 'em)
Eddie Jobson (U.K.)
I have no single biggest influence, but Todd Rundgren is pretty high up
5] Can you give me a Top 10 album list [of
all time] ?
I always find it very hard to numerically rate things, especially when
it's music and I'm given a small number such as 10. I literally have
hundreds of favorite albums that I've enjoyed immensely and studied
thoroughly, but I've gone through my record collection and pulled out what
were probably the most influential 'turning point' albums for me from the
age of about 5 to 15. I'll put them in order of encounter...
1. KISS - Alive!
2. PAUL McCARTNEY & WINGS - Band On The Run
3. KING CRIMSON - In The Court Of The Crimson King
4. SWEET - Desolation Boulevard (US version)
5. QUEEN - Queen II
6. TODD RUNDGREN - A Wizard A True Star
7. RUSH - Moving Pictures
8. U.K. - U.K.
9. KATE BUSH - Hounds Of Love
10. SYNERGY - Cords
6] M.D.G. is labeled as 'rock/pop/fusion'.
It is somewhat progressive at times, but can also really rock. What sort
of acts [bands] do you see yourself classified in with? [Kansas, Styx...?]
MDG: "Rock/pop/fusion with an experimental edge" was put in my bio because
it best summed up the music on the 'M.D.G.' CD. The disc is not a full
It was primarily meant to be a kind of singer/songwriter/producer calling
card for me as well as an audio demo for WHAT'S REAL UNLIMITED. I chose
the songs very carefully from about 9 years worth of material and that's
probably why there's such a wide range of styles on 'M.D.G.' I've never
minded being classified as a progressive rock artist even though most of
what I do is in between. It is always a great compliment because it means
there's a certain
perceived skill level in my music and I've worked hard to demonstrate
that. I don't think I really overplay or oversing though. You're not too
likely to find M.D.G. doing concept albums or writing lengthy compositions
with lots of movements, but I certainly put my time in listening to that
kind of stuff and it taught me a lot. As for the second part to your
question, I don't want to sound stand offish, but I'd rather not classify
my music. I always prefer when people tell me who or what they think I
sound like. It's really interesting and sometimes just plain bizarre. I'm
definitely a rock chameleon and there aren't too many places that I won't
go in the melodic arena. So far, the furthest I've
been able to stretch my music is bebop jazz thanks to my good friend Paul
Smoker, who happens to be an incredible and legendary trumpet player.
He blows some really 'out' stuff on the "M.D.G. Record Remix" and we also
did a very cool duet in concert last year. Just trumpet and voice, that's
7] 'White Trash Wonder' is a great rock
song, memorable riff and all. what can you tell me about this tune as far
as it's inspiration, how it developed, lyrically...?
MDG: In the United States if you turn on cable or satellite television any
time of day or night and channel surf for even a few seconds, you will
encounter some example of the baseless phenomenon known as the 'trashy
talk show'. It is an unavoidable sort of TV car crash that you cannot help watching. The shows'
producers and hosts now have it boiled down to a scientific formula and
it's always the 'lowest common denominator'. Great idea for a song, huh? I
think I got provoked after watching a staged riot on one of those stupid
programs and I came up with the line, "You got a lynch mob livin' in the
temples of your mind..." Then I built the main riff around that lyric on
guitar. There's one bit in the tail of the riff that I might have borrowed
from E.L.O.'s "Ma Ma Belle" or maybe it was just a coincidence...I can't
remember. Anyway, I had a ball coming up with the fictitious show topics
and storylines for the verses. By the way, the "white" in "White Trash
Wonder" is not meant to attack a specific race although that's what a lot
of people think. In the chorus it says "White trash is turning black"
meaning that the problem is severe because it addresses all races and
colors equally. That song was totally different for me at the time I wrote
it  and I was really juiced about the whole thing. "White Trash" is
100% guitar and prior to that period, I had to have some sort of keyboards
in almost everything I did because I had very little confidence in my
guitar playing. I would say there's maybe a tiny bit of grunge influence
in the way that the drums bash. And vocally, I'm really just trying to do
my best Burton Cummings. He was such an intense and communicative singer
back in his Guess Who days. I'm yet to be compared to him though.
8] "You Never Have To Grow Old, My Dear"
was written as a song for Freddie Mercury. It's a cool ballad. Nice
eerie keyboards. What inspired this one? [as a ballad and as a tune for
Mercury] Any fave Queen songs?
MDG: "Grow Old" was written as a direct reaction to Mercury's death. The
news came off the wire on November 25th, 1991 and a buddy at a local
radio station called me that day to break the news. I was really
devastated. I drove to an old friend's house, keyboardist, Robert
Scribble, to tell him what had happened. He was also a tremendous fan.
That night, we decided, in an effort to cope with
the loss and keep Freddie's spirit alive we would write a tribute song
together. Over the next couple days, I began writing down some rather
emotional lyrics and humming a melody to myself while Scribble
experimented with some very moving
chords on his keyboard. The style of the song had to be very grandiose
as is the tradition of Queen's music. I think we might have referred to
a couple of their more dramatic songs like "The Show Must Go On" and
"Who Wants To Live Forever" for ideas. On the third day after Freddie's death, Scribble and I got
together at my studio and we mapped the song out. It was a little spooky
because it practically wrote itself (I still have a cassette of that
session). We started by dialing up a wonderful church organ type sound
from one of my old keyboards. Then I added a lot of reverberation with a
couple of string patches tucked underneath and it sounded just like we
were in a rock 'n' roll church. It was very fitting. I remember we
recorded the intro together live in the studio because it didn't seem
right to use any kind of metronome. I had to sort of fling my arms
around to cue Robert while I was singing. Recording vocals for the
tribute was a real test of my confidence. At the time, I was only 21 and
I was not a very experienced vocalist. I just wasn't sure if I'd be able
to sing it with the kind of expression and intensity necessary to do
Before "Grow Old," I was not a serious vocalist at all, it was just one
of the many sideline things I did. So what can I say? I think in a way,
the spirit of Freddie Mercury helped me to find my best instrument and
for that I am very
thankful. In 1992, one hundred limited edition cassette singles of "You
Never Have To Grow Old, My Dear (Song For Mercury)" were printed up
using the band name WHAT'S REAL. I sent copies to Queen's office in
London and I got back an unbelievable letter of praise almost overnight! That was really
encouraging and it got the ball rolling for the WHAT'S REAL duo. In
2000, I transferred the analog tracks to digital tape and thoroughly reworked
the song. "Grow Old" was re-released on my 'M.D.G.' CD in time for the 10-year anniversary of
Freddie's death. Not that I wanted to celebrate such a thing, but I
don't want anyone to forget how great he was.....Favorite Queen songs?
There's just so many. I'll have to say "Keep Yourself Alive, Ogre
Battle, The Fairy Feller's Master Stroke, Killer Queen, Stone Cold
Crazy, Death On Two Legs, Bohemian Rhapsody, You Take My Breath Away,
Somebody To Love (especially live), It's Late, Mustapha, Let Me
Entertain You, Leaving Home Ain't Easy, Play The Game, Dragon Attack,
One Vision & The Show Must Go On" for a start...
9] What's with the remixes? Why are these
here....as opposed to a few other originals? [I'm not asking this to be
difficult, I'm just curious, as there are 4 original songs before them].
Is it a safe assumption that you have more songs 'in the can'?
MDG: Definitely! First, I should mention that probably by the time this
interview is posted, there will be a new CD out. It's called 'M.D.G.
mp3.ep' and it's available exclusively at www.mp3.com
online. It contains 6 new tracks. Four are demos, but they are very high end ones
and they all come straight from the "A list" of M.D.G. songs. The 'mp3.ep'
also includes a brand new live track along with another remix of "A Little
[there are two] called "In Flight Mix". I enjoy remixes very much when
they are done well. The art form was invented in the mid 70's with disco
singles and it was developed in the 80's with the pop driven 12" vinyl
format. As a young engineer in training, I used to love the way popular
songs would get dissected into bits. Then the bits would be sampled,
re-edited and reintegrated into a groove that was often totally different
from the original song. Sometimes there would also be an a capella version
or something equally as revealing on a 12". Remixes get you closer to the
master tape in a way and I love the fact that there are really no rules
when making them. I think "Chemistry Experiment" [remix of "A Little
Chemistry"] is interesting in that it is made up entirely of sources that
are inherent to the master tape. Nothing was unnaturally fabricated
so you can really see how much stuff is actually going on in the song at
any given point. Plus, it's exactly twice as long as the original which
only clocks in at about two and-a-half minutes. That's too short for some
people, so they can opt to listen to a longer version of "Chemistry" if
they like. I guess that song could be considered my single so I wanted to
do a lot of things with it. The "M.D.G. Record Remix" is something that
I'm very proud of and I cannot tell you how excited I was to actually be
able to come up with the resources to produce something so elaborate. That
kind of thing is usually very expensive. Until recently, financing a remix was almost always a 'big record company'
decision. I just love the fact that a little indy like WRU was able to
realize what I think is a cutting edge masterpiece thanks, in part, to the
of musician/producer, Keith Henderson and also technical whiz, Jamie
Marvel. I can't briefly describe the track to anyone reading this. Trust
me, the "Record Remix" is worth the price of the CD! Finally, I am working
on several albums worth of solo material, one of which is a live album.
Little by little, the music is nearing completion and it will all see the
light of day (although I
hardly ever do).
10] What other artists / musos have you
been compared to [voice and musical style]?
MDG: Looking at some of my latest reviews, I see TODD RUNDGREN, FREDDIE
MERCURY / QUEEN, STEVE WALSH / KANSAS, ELO, THE BEATLES, STYX, GENESIS,
KING CRIMSON, artists like that. For some reason, I've been repeatedly
likened to EXTREME (which is a band I've hardly ever listened to).
Somebody in The Netherlands actually compared me to AVIARY the other day!
That's very odd, but cool.
11] What else aree you currently up to? Are
you doing a live gig at present or do you plan to?
MDG: I am very interested in performing and I do it when ever I can. Late
last year, I played a couple of solo shows with a few special guests to
celebrate the release of the 'M.D.G.' CD. I enjoyed it a lot and it was
very well documented. There's a full length live video clip from one of the shows on my website.
Lately, I've been trying to perfect a line up for my four-piece rock band.
A lot of rehearsals have taken place and we are nearly ready to bust open
the back door and load out our gear. I'll have to save the details for now
though. Anything could happen (or NOT happen) as the case may be. On the
studio front, I do a great deal of engineering and producing for other
artists on a regular
basis and I have to carefully plan my time out. My favorite thing to do is
live location recording. I am one of few 'binaural' recordists: which
means that I use a crazy looking head shaped thing with two microphones in
it. I built
my own binaural head over 10 years ago and the results of this recording
method have always been frighteningly real to me.
12] You've set up 'What's Real Unlimited'.
What is your view of the modern state of the recording industry and is
this why you set up your own company?
MDG: I established WHAT'S REAL UNLIMITED back in 1991 mainly as a vehicle
for the sounds I produce. WRU is also a publishing company for my songs
and with my own label, I can have artistic control of my music (which has
always meant more to me than a huge recording budget). I wanted a
conceptual business name and logo because I feel that it helps to define
the products I put out and it raises the profile of them too. 11 years
ago, there were only two consumer forms of music media: non recordable
compact discs and cassette tapes (vinyl had all but phased out in the US).
This was long before the internet existed in the home and people were
still fairly honorable about the idea that if you wanted music, it was a
stately thing worth paying for. I am fatally disappointed in the current
state of the music industry. It's been corrupted in just so many ways.
Music has become truly disposable (right down to that little trash can
icon on every computer's desktop). I think it's mainly because of years of
quick cutting MTV type programming and the internet. I mean, I personally
love some of the freedoms that the internet allows us, but now anyone can
download almost any music for free in the privacy of their own home. The
police don't come knocking, so it must be OK. Kids tend to be the worst
offenders. They just don't seem to have much appreciation for the CD/album
package. I've seen them shamelessly burn music onto CDRs all day long and
their entire collections are made up of felt tip pen covered discs. Half
the time they don't even know or care who the artist is that they're
listening to. It's all instant gratification. Doesn't it ever cross
people's minds that recorded music is supposed to be an artist's
livelihood? We can't all afford to just give it away. Having said that, I
don't believe that the majority of those who steal music do it
deliberately to hurt the industry or the artists. People's budgets are
getting tighter all the time and I can certainly understand how paying $16
for a single album is starting to become unthinkable. CDs have always been
overpriced and I personally have complained about it from day one. I'm old
enough to remember when a new LP was only $4.98 and for that you'd get an
artistic 12x12" cover to ponder along with a lyric sleeve you didn't need
a magnifying glass to read! We can blame it on those 'fat cats' who triple
charged us for way too long and have lived decadently off of their
artists' royalties, but in truth, it is human nature that's spreading the
"free music" virus and I can't really think of a cure. I'm not even sure
that people will want to buy online subscriptions in order to get music
directly from record companies. Once all sorts of people find out that any
music can be untraceably nabbed simply by sharing files, that's it. You
can't go back. I really hope I'm wrong about all this. And for me, one of
the saddest things about this disaster is that I think the quality of the
art form I love so much has suffered irreparably.
If hardly anybody's going to buy music, then why should it be good, right?
Popular rock music is now an unfunny joke. Playing skills are so
piss-poor. I have several friends who teach guitar to young people. They
tell me that many of their students who can barely play don't care. They
won't push themselves to improve that much because now they know they
don't have to. The bar has been lowered to the point where anyone can just
step right over it and become a professional musician from day one. Just
go out and buy your first guitar, join a band, pull on some baggy old
jeans and a baseball cap, shave your head, get a dozen tattoos and
piercings, sing or rap like a whining spoiled child and you can be on tour
by the end of the month. But don't get me started on that whole subject.
It's a good thing I love music so much 'cause this 21st century trip is
almost enough to make me wanna cash in my chops and walk away. I won't
though. I still have some faith. It's just hard not to be bitter about
what's going on.
13] You worked with Paul Chapman?? How did
that come about? [details!] Any other encounters with 'veteran' rockers?
MDG: That collaboration came about through Shrapnel Records, although it
was not very extensive. Mike Varney heard the WHAT'S REAL demo in mid '93
and got very excited about it. Unfortunately, my prog rock duo was done by
the time he called, so Mike came up with the idea that I might be very
effective as a singer in some kind of hard rock project. I certainly knew
of UFO's music and I had vaguely heard of WAYSTED, but I'm ashamed to say
that I had no idea who Paul Chapman was personally when his name was
brought up. Still, I said OK to working with him. A poor quality cassette
arrived in the mail with 3 or 4 of Chapman's instrumentals on it. To be
honest, they were extremely basic and I wasn't that impressed, but for
some reason I ended up really latching onto one of the tunes. I soon came
up with what is probably one of my better lyrics and melodies to date. I
dubbed a lead vocal on the demo, added some harmonies, and sent it back to
Shrapnel. Suddenly, calls started coming in from people just flipping out
over the song. According to Mike Varney, Chapman was completely stupefied
when he heard what I'd done. Varney would often hilariously imitate
Chapman's reaction, [with heavy English accent] "OH MY GOD, THIS KID IS
DYNAMITE!! I...I...I AM AGOG!!" Plans were made to move forward with the
project, but when I actually got in touch with Paul Chapman it was clear
that we were not on the same page musically. I tried to develop a couple
other song ideas he had, but I was far more prog rock minded then and I
just wasn't able to make it happen. So that was it. I haven't really had a
chance to write with any other 'veteran' rockers yet, but I have been in
the casual company of quite a few. That might lead to something.
14] Being from Rochester, are you familiar
with the likes of Phil Naro, Mike Staertow, or Don Mancuso [Black Sheep] ?
[See my site for more on these guys!]
MDG: I've known Don for about 10 years, though not too well. My brother,
Vince Guarnere used to sing in an original hard rock band with him back in
1991-92 and I used to go see them a lot [Vince is featured on Don's latest
CD - a version of Badfinger's "No Matter What"]. Phil, I do not know yet, but I certainly
know who he is and how talented he is. Mike Staertow and I are new
friends. He came down to the studio a few months ago and we really hit it
off. I like his new record.
15] Lastly...I take it you know your Heep
stuff!? Can you drop me a few fave tunes or albums and any thoughts on
them in general?
MDG: When I was a kid, I was way more knee deep in the Heep than I am now,
but I am definitely still a fan. I've got kind of a funny story about my
first encounter with Uriah Heep. Do you remember when Mercury Records used
to put little pictures of album covers on all their record sleeves to
promote some of their other releases? Well, before my brother and I had
ever actually heard any UH we spotted these little pictures. We read the
name 'Uriah Heep' and we thought it was hysterical! We just assumed it was
some silly opera singer or something. I mean, we had no idea that it was
the name of a great rock band and we used to make fun of it all the time.
One day, my brother and I went to a family friend's house for dinner. It
was some guy whose kids we hadn't met before. During the visit, a bunch of
us ended up in one of the boy's rooms sitting in front of a record player
listening to music. These kids were a little older and they had some
really cool stuff we hadn't been exposed to yet. So one of 'em pulls this
record out and says "Have you heard this?" It was 'Uriah Heep Live!' and
my brother and II just started cracking up. W thought we were about to
hear "The Barber Of Seville" or something equally as droll. The needle
dropped and we were instant fans! Right after that experience, I started
buying up all the UH records I could find. I think 'Look At Yourself' is
probably their quintessential album, but I also still have a very strong
attachment to 'Return To Fantasy' because it's got John Wetton on bass &
vocals and such a great variety of styles. 'RTF' was one of the first 20
or 30 records I owned, in fact. David Byron was a totally unique vocalist
and I think the rest of the band were perfectly matched to him as far as
originality goes. I know of no other hard rock band that has a drummer
playing a shuffle beat on practically every other song! The only later
Heep I'm familiar with is the 'Abominog' album with Peter Goalby on
vocals. I remember when "That's The Way That It Is" was in heavy rotation
on MTV and I was very happy about that!
Interview: © Kevin J Julie (Universal Wheels)