Rockheads Records webzine
Interview with Matthew D. Guarnere by Carsten Nielsen 8/02

1. When did your music career start and who has inspired you through music?

I've always messed around with record players and tape recorders. I first had a little portable cassette machine at about the age of 6 and later graduated to various types of reel-to-reel machines. I got my first starter drumset at the age of 8. My brother had a cheap guitar and we used to jam in the basement often with the tape rolling. At 15, I felt like I peaked out on the drums and retired from playing them (albeit temporarily) in an effort to try and write songs. By the time I turned 17, I had found a way to purchase some decent recording equipment and I set up a small studio in my bedroom. I started writing with whatever instruments I could get a hold of. It was a time when synthesizers ruled the world [the 80's] so I worked with them primarily. Multitrack recording and songwriting were just such fascinating things to me and I seemed to have a knack for both. By the time my high school graduation came around, I had already released my first cassette EP. Thanks to a bit of airplay on a local radio station, I began to gain a reputation in the Rochester, New York area as a good Recording Engineer/Producer. I opened my bedroom studio to the public (much to my mother's dismay) and really started to cut my teeth as an Engineer. After several different locations and technology updates, I realized that I'd created a lasting career for myself. I decided to pass on higher education options and I've been making a living with the studio ever since. As far as significant musical influences go, I would say Paul McCartney, The Beatles, Kiss, King Crimson, Sweet, Queen, Rush, Todd Rundgren/Utopia, Electric Light Orchestra, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Genesis and Eddie Jobson to name but a few...

2. Who is the person behind M.D.G. and for those who don't know what M.D.G. stands for, could you explain that?

I'll answer the last part first 'cause that's easy! M.D.G. stands for Matthew D. Guarnere. Who is that guy? Hmmmm. Well, the truth is that lately I've been getting pretty confused about who I am, like, on a daily basis. I guess I always thought there was supposed to be a big difference between who you are as a person and what you do professionally. I'm not sure there is with me. I guess I'm right where I'm supposed to be in life, but I frequently find myself in situations where I'll be wondering, "How did I get here?" I guess in a phrase, I am an incurable music junky and I keep my life as simple as possible in order to facilitate that.

3. You have included an interview on your EP. In it, you state that you'd rather use M.D.G. as your artist name over your original name. Why is that?

Well, I have a rather difficult last name to both say and spell; GUARNERE [Gwar • nair • e]. In fact, I couldn't really write it out myself until about the 2nd grade! In my mid-teens, I began to put together a series of cassette tapes containing mostly original music & comedy sketches. I wanted to find a more universal name for me as an artist other than the long form Matthew D. Guarnere. I used to be pretty good with a calligraphy pen. When I was designing a cover for something called "Mass Produced Cassette Vol. I" [released in 1986], I ended up doing all the lettering by hand with this fancy screwdriver tipped black pen (this was long before computers could easily reproduce any typeface under the sun). When it came to doing the edge, I realized my full name wasn't going to fit so I had to go with the three initials, "M.D.G." I thought it looked and sounded pretty good and before long, some people who acquired the tapes started to use M.D.G. as a nickname for me. It's stuck ever since then and I still like it. The only problem is whether my stuff should be filed under M or under G. It's usually M.

4. The songs on your EP were chosen from the period of a decade. What made you choose these songs instead of new ones?

Well, Carsten, you wouldn't know those songs were old ones unless I told you, now would you? (HA!). I think the rule is, if something has never been officially released, it's new. I carefully chose those 4 songs because I wanted to show a wide range of singing and musical styles. Usually, when evaluating an unsigned artist, record company people only want to hear 3 or 4 songs in the same basic style. I just said "screw that" and made the kind of EP I'd want to listen to. I included a ton of bonus material on the CD as well.

5. Where do you stand today musically compared to the songs on your EP?

I seem to have much better guitar playing abilities than I used to so I'm going more for that. I've been into heavy rock my whole life, but until pretty recently I wasn't sure if I'd be able to participate in it. Thank goodness I can finally let the keyboards gather a little dust! I have loads of new ideas and a much wider range than ever thanks to my 6 string.

6. You have your EP out on WHAT'S REAL UNLIMITED. Is that your own label and what's the history behind that?

Yes, WHAT'S REAL UNLIMITED is my own independent label. I started the business back in 1991 mainly so that I'd have a vehicle for the music I was making, but eventually, that idea branched off into recording and producing lots of other people in WRU's studio. WHAT'S REAL UNLIMITED also serves as a publishing company for my songs and it is registered with ASCAP. I am not a control freak, but having my own label does allow me to have artistic control of my music and that is priceless. It just eliminates those usual record biz conflicts. These days, I think independent is the only way to go!

7. A song like "A Little Chemistry" is a pure A.O.R. song and a really catchy one that all bands of this genre would have killed to write. Could you give us an inside look at what the song is about as well as the other tracks on the EP?

Normally, I don't suggest another artist's influence because I find it very interesting when people tell me who they think I sound like. However, judging from some of the chord progressions I used and with lyrics like, "I found you, my UTOPIA," it's pretty obvious that I was thinking of Todd Rundgren's music. "A Little Chemistry" was one of my very first tunes and I wrote it on synthesizer when I was 17. It started out with a different title and some weak lyrics, but when I redeveloped the song later on, I found that I didn't need to change a single chord (although the structure is a little different now). The new version of "A Little Chemistry" revolves heavily around piano, vocals and percussion in an unusual way. I know it's pretty short, but two-and-a-half minutes is all the song really needed to be. There is an extended dance remix included on the M.D.G. CD called "Chemistry Experiment" which has different parts of the song jumping through hoops. That was a lot of fun to do! A lot of reviewers have likened "A Little Chemistry" to Jeff Lynne & ELO and I wouldn't disagree with that. To me, "Chemistry" is just an odd little romantic power ballad with lots of soaring chords and I don't ever seem to get tired of it. To describe the other songs on M.D.G. briefly, "White Trash Wonder" is a hard rock rant about trashy TV talk shows, "You Never Have To Grow Old, My Dear" is a fitting tribute to the late Freddie Mercury & Queen, " Where's Everybody Gone?" is one of my very few acoustic guitar ballads containing some of my better vocal harmonies and "M.D.G. Record Remix" is a medley of several songs which have been completely redesigned and set to a hip hop beat. That one's really something of a masterpiece thanks to all the diverse musicians that were involved.

8. You do mix a lot of different influences into your music and maybe in some ways it can confuse people a little bit. Is that something you want to continue with...mixing styles?

Yes, but I think rock music will always be at the core of whatever I do. I don't really have a natural ability to play or write anything else. One thing is for sure...I WILL NEVER BE CAUGHT DEAD HAVING ANYTHING TO DO WITH DISCO MUSIC! It still sucks even 25 + years later!

9. Your M.D.G. EP is out now. What about the future? Are there any plans for you to record a full length album and would it be a band effort?

I am definitely planning to put a full length CD together very soon. I work sort of like Frank Zappa these days in the sense that I never really know what I'm going to be working on until I get to the studio. Sometimes, I'll find myself here at 3 in the morning setting up a track from 8 or 10 years ago that's still a perfectly good song, but it might be in need of a radical update. Other times, I'm excited to want to start fresh with something brand new. Unfortunately, I have not had the luxury of just working on M.D.G. music. There are always other projects depending on me and I don't want to let anybody down. I do have a rock band in the works that's made up of really accomplished local musicians. So far, two of them have played on some of my new material and I can't wait to get out there and perform with these guys!

10. What were you doing before you became involved in music?


11. You cover most of the instruments on your recordings and do a great job as a singer. Do you find it easier to work on your own than with other musicians?

There are times when recording on my own can be just so much fun and way more productive than I can even describe. Peaceful too. I never have to fight with anyone about turning up my instrument in the mix 'cause they're all me (HA!). I do find it very rewarding to work with other musicians too. For one thing, I don't play lead guitar at all. Some of my newer music can be very heavy at times and it requires some flying finger wickedness. I've really needed to call on some special people to add that kind of melodic skill to the overall sound. There are also a couple of outstanding bass players in town whom I wouldn't dream of recording without. I just don't think the way they do and I really believe that writing bass parts is a totally underrated art. As far as drums go, I always seem to end up playing them in the studio because I don't really get a chance to play otherwise. I'm not much of a keyboard player, but as long as I have a sequencer, I can manage. And I guess I end up covering all my vocal parts mainly because I can and because I tend to work very late into the night. A local DJ friend of mine once said it best on his radio show, "I love Matt because you know he's not going to break up!"

12. How is the music scene in your area? Does anyone embrace the type of music you play?

Rochester, New York is a pretty resourceful place if you're interested in creating original music. Trying to market it here on the other hand, is not something I'd advise. I do get some airplay on several stations in the area, but with the exception of one or two college stations I like, everybody else seems to have completely bought into the "if they don't already know the song, they'll change the station" corporate motif. The only major rock station in town that plays local music does so at midnight on Sunday. You can't get more "graveyard shift" than that! The rest of their airtime is spent force feeding classic rock stuff 'cause it's safe and its just too good for advertising. Night Clubs do all right here, but I've noticed in quite a few other towns as well, that cover bands (primarily retro disco) seem to take the cake. Original music definitely does exist in Rochester although it tends to be that young twenty-something-brain-dead-phony-suburban-punk kind of stuff. Of course, there is great talent here too and every artist has his or her pocket of supportive fans. I just wish those artists could get prime time radio airplay. Seems like you have to pass some kind of "National Dullness" test to get it 'cause that's all I'm really hearing on corporate radio now. I think that frontier's definitely been conquered.

13. Have you gotten any interest from European or Japanese labels to be signed or distributed?

Yes, there has been some interest in me over the years. Unfortunately, with the way the record industry's been for the last 10 years or so, I really haven't gotten any offers I could seriously consider. Most of the deals I've been presented with would not have given me any distinct advantages over putting my music out independently. When you're capable of making your own records exactly the way you want, the temptation to sign a contract is greatly decreased. Licensing and distribution are things What's Real Unlimited will always consider, but direct-to-consumer sales via the web is now becoming the norm for indy record companies like mine and I'm all for it!

14. What are people's reactions to your music when you are out playing live?

I haven't been out there performing on a regular basis, but when I do it people seem to get a buzz off the songs and especially my voice. I have had quite a lot of wonderful comments directed at me over the years. I remember I once got a $100 tip for singing a pretty inspired version of The Beatle's "Hey Jude" in a night club!

15. What does the future hold for you?

Write more songs. Make more CDs. Develop the website. Play live more often. Pay bills. Remember to sleep. Be human.

16. Is there anything in your life that you would like to change and would you do it if you had the chance?

I think it would be interesting to have been born about 10 or 15 years earlier, but no, I wouldn't change it if I could. I like being this age at this time.

17. Any last words to the people/fans out there?

Yes. Real music is more important than many people seem to realize these days. Music's ability to conjure emotion and transport the soul is unlike any other art form and I certainly wouldn't be who I am today without it. Unfortunately, over the last few decades a lot of players, lawyers and jokers have entered into the music business and corrupted it to the point where few people seem to want to support it financially. The traditional act of just purchasing a CD is becoming unthinkable to most consumers and more and more, people are feeling that they're entitled to free music. We mustn't forget that artists who create the music we listen to every day and feel so deeply about cannot afford to just exist on verbal appreciation. Please support music in the best way you can!

Thanks, Carsten!

Originally posted on

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