This is a transcription of Matthew D. Guarnere's final appearance on a radio program in Rochester, NY devoted to local music called "Homegrown." The show's creator and host of more than 20 years was the late Unkle Roger. During this interview, Matt and Unk primarily discussed the forthcoming M.D.G. '03 CD while touching on a great many other things. The text has been edited down from the original 2 hour WCMF broadcast which took place on November 10, 2003. Be sure not to miss the link to an mp3 sample of Roger's voice!


UNK: We have a gentleman here who has been in the Rochester music scene for as long as I can remember in one way or another, mostly behind the microphone or on the production board doing a lot of the quiet work, if you will. [He] has an illustrious career of just putting out some really phenomenal music and also doing some interesting and entertaining performances (that nobody knows about)! [laughs]

M.D.G.: It's the story of my live. Hi Roger.

UNK: It's good to have you back on the show.

M.D.G.: Yes, we've been doing these for a long time now, haven't we? I think this is my 13th or 14th appearance! Thanks for having me back yet again.

UNK: You have a new CD out [M.D.G. '03]. How was your experience this time making it?

M.D.G.: Well, I am no longer in hell. I was in hell for a time there while making some of these new tracks that we're gonna hear tonight.

UNK: Why exactly is that?

M.D.G.: There were a number of things going on. Primarily, I was fighting technology because some of these songs are quite...

UNK: Technical...

M.D.G.: Well, yeah. And in some cases there's random sounding aspects of them that actually had to be carefully planned.

UNK: OK. Now what is the hardest part of putting your music together...besides drinking coffee and singing at the same time? [laughs]

M.D.G.: [sipping java] No, we stay away from the coffee when we're singing...the hardest part is the rendering of the actual art.

UNK: Meaning...

M.D.G.: Well, usually I dream up the stuff in my head. Sometimes I can actually hear it sort of full production in my head.

UNK: So fruition is the hard part.

M.D.G.: Yeah, actually realizing it because it tends to happen in layers. Multilayers. In some cases...you know, for many years I've been keen on doing voices and a lot of vocal harmonies.

UNK: Yeah, like Queenesque.

M.D.G.: Yeah, I started doing that partly out of a tribute project that we had going on years ago called What's Real. And then I realized, you know what? That sounds pretty good. I do miss that element in a lot of music these days and I think there's a way to work it in. But I do it in a real way. Most people think that you just take a microphone like this and plug it into some software. People ask me all the time - people that know me and should know better - they say, "what harmonizer are you using?" They think you just go [sings la] and it comes out in 27 voices and there it is. But I don't really ever do it like that.

UNK: But it can happen like that.

M.D.G.: Yeah, but it still sounds artificial. [There's nothing like] if you have more than one voice gathered around a microphone in the studio. You're never gonna get that sound precisely with software and that kind of technology. It always tends to sound kind of plastic and anemic.

UNK: I think that's probably to the trained audiophile, right?

M.D.G.: Yeah, I mean if you nestle it in a mix nicely you might be able to get away with it. I mean, I've heard some demonstrations that were pretty frighteningly real in the right context. But it's a lot more fun, I mean, in this case I had a young lady come over and do some singing with me. You don't get that to look at with a software program. I thought it was quite nice to do it that way and then, not to mention, we put quite a bunch of voices down. Running through about 8 or 10 notes with a cute girl is not a bad thing to do.

UNK: Let us say someone who is not good with girls, you know, like, this guy here [referring to himself] who scares them away, basically...it would be easier for a beginner to use a harmonizer because it's quicker.

M.D.G.: But you still have to be able to sing.

UNK: I'm not saying as a savior. I'm just saying as far as time consumption and monetary values go, it would behoove one to save time by using a harmonizer.

M.D.G.: Not really because you still have to learn what harmonies are all about. You see, the easiest way to use a harmonizer is to just set it at a 3rd or a 5th or something. If you just sing a note it will replicate, follow and track what you're doing. However, when it comes to that one critical chord change, then you need it to not change to a 5th, but to change to something else. You have to tell the thing...you need to have an intelligent harmonizer that knows where to go, so you must know music before you can get one of those things to work properly. So it's a lot better to do it for real then to program a machine to do it because you're learning, you're expanding yourself as a musician and learning how harmonies stack together. I mean, you can do it on the piano or on a keyboard first. In some cases we'd do that. We had a big chord to do that had 9 or 10 different harmonies in it. The best way to do it is to plot it out on keyboard first.

UNK: I see.

M.D.G.: I mean, there's more to the music than just the harmonies, but that's one of the things that's getting increasingly annoying, that people thing that everything is just a permutation of a mouse click these days.

UNK: I don't think everybody thinks that way.

M.D.G.: Well, you'd be surprised how many people do.

UNK: So Matt is our guest in the studio. We've got some music from him that's coming up in just a little bit. We're talking about how Matt makes his music. So how long have you actually been involved with music? Was it out of the womb? [sings ahhhhh in high falsetto]

M.D.G.: [laughs] Well, a long time. I had a father that was somewhat obsessed with building his own stereo equipment. He was a jazz singer in the late 50's/early 60's. He was very good actually. He had a very original crooning style. In fact, he has a lot of studio recordings from those days and he doesn't sound like anybody. I've been working on remastering those little by little. I should bring something in...

UNK: Oh, you should. I'd love to hear it!

M.D.G.: He's great. He used to do "Lulu." That was one of my favorites. [imitates dad singing]

UNK: Are you the only one in your family who is musically inclined?

M.D.G.: Funny you should ask. I have one brother and he's a rocker too. In fact, tonight I thought to bring something that my brother sings on...

UNK: You have a brother?

M.D.G.: Yeah, my brother Vincent Guarnere. He left the city, so you wouldn't have heard about him lately. He was in a group called Ancient Medicine...

UNK: Oh, I know those guys! I got their tee shirt!

M.D.G.: He's in Las Vegas now.

UNK: Is he still playing?

M.D.G.: Yeah, there's all kinds of opportunities down there locally. Mostly cover bands, but there's always work. He's much better off now.

UNK: What's he play?

M.D.G.: He mainly has been a vocalist all these years, but he plays some guitar and keyboards. Just enough to be able to write and in some cases he'll take a guitar on stage as a rhythm instrument, which is all I do. We did a couple of things together, but mainly when we were kids is when we were jamming together. But my father was our inspiration. He even had acetate records of his own stuff. We were fascinated with records, so we'd be playing records with our dad on them.

UNK: That was really cool.

M.D.G.: So it was just kind of a matter of time before...well, we had some cousins a few years older than us that corrupted us with the Led Zeppelin, Procol Harum, Styx and all that. There was no turning back from there. So then we started just collecting our own little records...anything from James Brown to "Mississippi Queen" [Mountain] to Bobby Sherman. We didn't care. We just loved songs. We didn't care what style they were or what category they came from. I'm datin' myself here, but I go back to 45's even. Age 5 or 6 is when I started to know that this was something [I wanted to do]. I didn't know if I could play.

UNK: What's the first song that you can remember singing?

M.D.G.: I think, y'know, seriously (or just pretending to be serious) it was some Kiss song or something. I don't know. There were probably some nursery rhyme things my mother used to sing me...something about a monkey. I couldn't tell you exactly, but I know we were fanatical about Kiss. What I forgot to say - we were just talking about my brother - I was never really allowed to do any of that stuff. Vince is 3 1/2 years older, so at a critical time when you're 5 and your brother's 8 1/2...I mean, he was the boss. When we used to have our little imaginary bands and stuff he was lead everything. Lead guitar, lead vocals, etc. So anytime I would attempt to sing anything I would get the look.

UNK: Upstaged.

M.D.G.: The look. Which means you stink. Stop. I am the singer. And so I never ever got serious about singing until I had to. Till I had a studio and there was no vocals on anything. [laughs] And then for the longest time, as you recall, I did a Geddy Lee [Rush] impersonation just for fun...

UNK: Uh huh!

M.D.G.: And so to deprogram and not sound like Geddy Lee took a long time.

UNK: Howabout if we play a track from your brand new compact disc?

M.D.G.: Which you are also on.

UNK: Howabout that. But not singing.

M.D.G.: His golden voice. Golden speaking voice.

UNK: We'll call it a voice-over.

M.D.G.: A sampler kind of thing. [Click here to listen to Unkle Roger.]

UNK: But this is a brand new song, right? Like, this year even?

M.D.G.: Yeah, it was written about 5 months ago...the first song, you're gonna play?

UNK: Yeah.

M.D.G.: Because this one...I was saying I was fighting technology the whole time and this was one of them that nearly killed me. The name of the song is "Dynamic Range." I had the idea for this thing. I had the chorus and it was in my brain about 5 or 6 years ago, but I didn't know how the song would flesh out. It took a long long long time before I knew what the song would be about. Then I had to figure out how I could do it. It's quite a mesh of styles here. I did it with slightly old fashioned, 10 year old digital technology as opposed to just mouse clicking everything away. So maybe that was a bad move. But, in any case, here it is and I'm proud of it. I didn't know it could be done like this.

UNK: OK. This is called "Dynamic Range" from M.D.G. and it continues this edition of Homegrown here on 96.5 WCMF...

M.D.G.: Turn it up everybody!

[UNK plays song]

M.D.G.: I told you I was in hell for 6 weeks making that record. All kinds of things came and went through my head and heart that I didn't see coming.

UNK: But those were technical nightmares.

M.D.G.: A lot of it was, but, no, there were other things too. All kinds of other things. I'm all messed up!

UNK: You're just whacked! You've always been whacked! I mean, I'm surprised you're still here! [laughs] I'm surprised that that head of yours hasn't exploded from all those damn ideas that you got in there...or at least short circuited...

M.D.G.: It would probably be different if I had more of an outlet [for my music], but right now it seems I can only ever do a few songs at a time.

UNK: I'm, in fact, surprised that I don't see you on East Avenue mumbling to yourself and digging through garbage cans! [laughs]

M.D.G.: That's funny you say that because that's what started to happen! I would routinely catch me talking to myself. Particularly throughout this last marathon of recording. I mean, I realized I was starting to go crazy. I was talking to myself every day!

UNK: So it did come close, huh?

M.D.G.: Yeah.

UNK: Our guest is Matt D. Guarnere, or M.D.G. He has written some new music here. At least a couple of new tracks that we have on his new CD. Now, this CD is not gonna be available to the public?

M.D.G.: Well, right now it is strictly a promotional disc. I put one out a couple of years ago that basically had 4 songs, a couple of remixes and some other bonus stuff. This is another 4 songs. The reason...I mean, there's reasons why I don't make a full length album and that's because I just don't really have all the resources and facilities to do the kind of record I wanna do. So we just do them in little groups. I guess now, if I wanted to, I could easily compile and make a record that way.

UNK: There you go.

M.D.G.: But I needed new stuff desperately just to get it out of my own head.

UNK: OK, now Matt, I'm sorry. You're making excuses...

M.D.G.: No. Well mayb...

UNK: No no no no no no! No, back up. Excuses!

M.D.G.: OK.

UNK: Excuses. I mean, you've had...how long have I known you?

M.D.G.: Uh, 16 years...

UNK: Thousands of years, alright. Since before the invention and the advent of dirt! [laughs]

M.D.G.: Yeah, there are tapes of us talking 15 years ago.

UNK: You cannot sit there and tell me...I can understand because...alright, "I'm producing somebody right now so I have to put my stuff on the back burner."

M.D.G.: Yeah, that was the last couple years...

UNK: That I can understand, OK, because Matt's had music in the can for thousands of years.

M.D.G.: Oh yeah. There's lots of stuff still on the shelf.

UNK: So there's absolutely no reason, other than excuses that you've imposed upon yourself why there is not a full length CD. SMACK SMACK SMACK!

M.D.G.: [laughs] No, no! I could do a compilation easily, but what I wanna do is actually a concentrated thing that all gets done within the same amount of time so it sounds fresh and doesn't just seem like a compilation. I'm just trying to affiliate myself with somebody who will have a vision beyond the vision that I have as far as how to market and sell the music. 'Course it's getting harder and harder every day. I'm trying to find out what you can still do in this business, so I did the best I could do with this disc. Basically, I'm out there working this thing really hard and seeing what resources I do have.

UNK: Right now aren't the parameters of the music business wide open?

M.D.G.: In some ways, yes and some ways, no. It depends. What I don't know about is what's going on in the European markets and the Japanese markets.

UNK: OK, the thing is, it's creating a market. That's what it's all about. Instead of falling into the groove like a lot of the record companies do...and I do realize that it's hard for an independent to break into the scene especially by themselves...

M.D.G.: That's where I'm at.

UNK: Because there are the execs going "nope, we need another Sum 41, another 311..."

M.D.G.: Something that sounds exactly like something else. It's proven itself already.

UNK: Yes, exactly.

M.D.G.: Of course, I don't fit into that category.

UNK: "They don't sound like Pearl Jam, can we use 'em?"

M.D.G.: And with something like "Dynamic Range"...yeah, what is that?

UNK: What the hell is that? [laughs]

M.D.G.: But at least by producing music like that I'm getting that reaction. "What the hell is that? Play that again!" That was just what I was going for.

UNK: Play that again! That's good. I like that.

M.D.G.: If anything, I was shooting for that kind of approach. But to answer your earlier question, I will probably make this CD available. I have a band now and we are gonna start gigging again very shortly. So I'll probably have it so that if you purchase the other CD at the gig [M.D.G.] we'll give you this one [M.D.G. '03] as a bonus. So you basically have 8 or 10 of my songs right there almost like an album and I just feel better about that. I mean, since the beginning of time I've been making EPs. Why stop now?

UNK: OK, so Matt, where does most of your inspiration come from with your songs?

M.D.G.: Life stuff. This last group of new songs, as I said, for one of them, I had an idea for years. I just had to flesh it out. You know, there's a little bit about my life, sort of. And then there's some stuff that comes out of maybe a relationship type of thing. And then there's another song that's actually a dig at the major major, big executive record companies...

UNK: That's what somebody should do more often.

M.D.G.: I had to do it. I read this really, what I think is a very important article, even though it's written very bitterly by a [record producer/engineer] guy called Steve Albini. It's really kind of his take on the music business. It's just scathing and it really had a lot of information there for me so that evolved into a song called "Unobtainium."

UNK: Oh, this is the song we're gonna play next.

M.D.G.: Yeah, that'd be a good segue. I also wanted to mention too that there's a gentleman that joined me on background vocals by the name of Michael Staertow.

UNK: I love that guy!

M.D.G.: Yeah, so not only do we look alike, but we also sound incredibly alike when we get together behind a couple of microphones. I really enjoyed that. He's a good friend of mine. Nobody can tell us apart.

UNK: And he's excellent. Not just a great vocalist, but also an incredible guitarist...

M.D.G.: A very very good guitar player. Wicked with a Les Paul!

UNK: Well, here's M.D.G. with Mike Staertow. "Unobtainium" is what the song is called, which is hard to say, but easy to listen to as we continue this edition of Homegrown on 96 WCMF...

[UNK plays song]

UNK: We just heard from M.D.G.

M.D.G.: ...and Michael Staertow singing "Unobtainium." [Matt and UNK sing the chorus together] The band does play that one out, by the way.

UNK: You don't play any other ones out?

M.D.G.: We do "Underachiever" from the new CD. We do "White Trash Wonder" from the other CD, which I know you've played here. There's two UN's in a row on the disc.

UNK: You don't do "Dynamic Range" yet?

M.D.G.: Geez, no. We've been talking...we'd have to get out there with a backing track and I hate that. It's just got so much going on. And we don't have an electric violin player in the band. Everybody thinks that's a guitar, but in fact, no.

UNK: That's right, I was just gonna mention that!

M.D.G.: That was a guy actually from Siberia [Artjom Yaukushenko] that I pulled in. He was in town performing and I managed to pull him into the studio just for that one night after the gig. We were up all night. It was hysterical. He's like, [in Russian accent] "We go to Wegmans. It's open 24 hours? You have Red Bull?" So we got a 12 pack of Red Bull, some ham and some...

UNK: Does it get you high, this Red Bull?

M.D.G.: I dunno. I didn't have any myself. And we just woodshedded all night all through to the daylight and had a great time...

UNK: Apparently it does! Keeps you up for days.

M.D.G.: Actually, I do lattes every night. That's what keeps me going...

UNK: Red Bull lattes. Mmmmmmm! Well, we are generally violin fanatics on WCMF's Homegrown...

M.D.G.: It has such dynamic range.

UNK: And it sounds good too!

M.D.G.: Especially with distortion on it.

UNK: And especially if you use it like a guitar.

M.D.G.: But people don't seem to...especially the young people don't have any recollection of Jean-Luc Ponty, Eddie Jobson, Papa John Creach or the guy from Mahavishnu [Jerry Goodman]. It was such a wonderful sound. They just used to plug straight into a guitar amp back then and sometimes even crank up the distortion. So anyway, we are definitely pro violin.

UNK: And it always adds a little dimension.

M.D.G.: Kate Bush wrote a song about it, remember? [sings Kate's "Violin" in high voice with UNK joining in]

UNK: See, now we can do whatever we want 'cause nobody's listening anymore!

M.D.G.: Yeah, it's like 2 in the morning almost.

UNK: This, by the way, is Homegrown and if you are listening, give us a call. If not, [makes raspberry sound] you're not gonna call anyway! But we've got Matt Guarnere here in our studios. He has just recently written some brand new stuff and put out a new compact disc which is kind of an EP. Unfortunately, it won't be available to the...

M.D.G. It's gonna be at the gigs and I think we'll have it available at the website which is www.whatsrealunlimited.com. I think we'll have it so that if you purchase the other disc from 2001, we'll put this one in with it. So you basically get an album there. And it'll be at the gigs. We are playing songs off it. I mean, you shouldn't play songs off something that you can't buy.

UNK: Yeah, right. That makes sense.

M.D.G.: Stuff that's unobtainium.

UNK: Well, we've got at least one more song that we wanna play. This is, uh...I mean, I've heard at least 10 of your songs in the past year and there are 3 songs that are definitely my top 3 songs. This is definitely one of 'em. OK, the new song, which I really like a lot.

M.D.G.: Which one? "Dynamic Range?"

UNK: Oh, God! That is absolutely wonderful. "Unobtainium," that's great!

M.D.G.: Thank you.

UNK: Cool. I love the concept. Anytime there's any kind of a megaphone thing [cups hand to mouth] I love it. But this is like...I was not expecting anything like this from you for one. And then you came and you kicked this dark little butt all around the room...and took names! I enjoyed it.

M.D.G.: That's what I intended to do. You know what I'm going to do? I'm going to just sort of take us behind the scenes here. This is another UN song. I think you're talking about "Underachiever?"

UNK: Yes.

M.D.G.: This song wouldn't exist without my great reverence for a band called The Sweet.

UNK: Ah, love them.

M.D.G.: It's kind of a little tipping the hat to them. But still, it has a lot of my craziness in it. I really do think like this.

UNK: OK, fine. "Underachiever" as we continue this edition of Homegrown on 96.5 WCMF.

[UNK plays song]

UNK: Man! That is just...

M.D.G.: Are you OK?

UNK: [laughs] I just hurt myself mentally every single time on that one. It just does some very strange things to me.

M.D.G.: Gotcha! What the hell was that?

UNK: That's it! What the hell was that!

M.D.G.: Play that again!

UNK: I almost am forced to go..."I gotta play that song again!" Because it just goes by...

M.D.G.: It worked. Let the brain washing begin!

UNK: It's just...BAM! SMACK SMACK SMACK SMACK SMACK! It just does that to ya.

M.D.G.: Yeah.

UNK: Well, that wraps up this edition of Homegrown, but I gotta thank you. It's been far too much fun as it usually is.

M.D.G.: Well, thanks for having me. This was kind of unexpected. I just called him up at 11 and said [in whiny voice] "I'm bored and I can't sleep. Do you have a guest?"

UNK: [laughs] Can you come out and play? Can I come over and play? Which was really cool. So that'll do it for me and on behalf of WCMF, Matt Guarnere and myself... [both in unison] play on...

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