New York musician, songwriter and producer Rob “Robbie G” Guariglia is no stranger to the music business. He discovered a love for music in the 5th grade and played his first show at around 16 years of age. For the past 14 years he has been a co-writer and producer for many artists including The Veronicas, Oh Honey, Native Sun and Shonlock, whose hit “Beyond This World” hit #1 on the Billboard Christian/Hot AC Chart. Also a multi-instrumentalist, he has shared the stage with artists such as Buddy Guy, BB King, Van Halen and Joss Stone and has toured the world with The Veronicas, Ryan Shaw, Oh Honey and Phoebe Ryan. He recently embarked on a solo career and has been creating music for himself with his latest musical project Modern Whale. He recently released the latest Modern Whale single “Dead Wrong” from his upcoming EP, a song he co-wrote with his friend and writing partner Scott Harris (The Chainsmokers/Shawn Mendes). Staff writer Emily May recently spoke by phone with Robbie G about how he came to form Modern Whale, his work as a producer, how he’s grown as an artist over the years and what’s next for him. You can follow Modern Whale and stay up-to-date with all upcoming music and tour dates, as well as stream and purchase his music via the following links. Check out his videos for “Dead Wrong” and “The Dirt” below!
You listened to your parent’s records as a child and became interested in music around the 5th grade. You started performing a few years later at CBGBs and The Continental in NYC. What was experience like for you, performing at venues like that at such a young age?
Yes. My mom and dad’s record collection opened my eyes to music, particularly rock and roll. I had caught the bug pretty early…I guess around the 5th grade. I had a cousin that played guitar who lived upstate (NY), and while I didn’t see him very often, I was enamored by the fact that he could play intricate patterns by Jimmy Page. The guitar became something I ran home to play immediately after school. I would just sit in my room by myself and play the acoustic guitar and find chords. I wasn’t really trying to learn songs necessarily, but more interested in just making sound and melody. The transition into bands was fast, I think I was 16 when I played my first show. I distinctly remember enjoying entertaining, performing and creating energy. That’s something that was really exciting and is still very exciting for me.
You have said that when you started playing music as a kid, you were really just a guitar player and weren’t really thinking about singing or songwriting at that point. When did your interest in singing and songwriting come about?
Because I’ve stuck with music, new doors continue to open. When I was 19 or 20 years old playing at CBGBs, I was really only interested in the electric guitar. I wasn’t even the guy that ran the old 4 track, which, when I think about it, it’s kind-of a flat boom box. It’s not a complicated piece of machinery. So the fact that I became a Pro Tools savvy human being is almost surprising because I never saw it coming. My skill sets kept on expanding because I kept with music and found ways to continue down the road of my passion even if it wasn’t easy. As I got older, I just always figured out ways to make music my job. With singing, I guess it could be argued that I was in the high school glee club, but I was really only in the glee club because that was the only way that I could play guitar in high school. I sang, but my parents used to make fun and ask if I was even opening up my mouth when I was doing my performances with the glee club.
You’ve been a record producer and musician for your entire adult life?
I think it was the year 2004 when I had left my last “normal” job and was hired as a staff producer. I was thrown into this staff producer job by a gentleman who was signed to Hollywood Records as an artist, he saw that I had Pro Tools prowess, people skills and general musicality and gave me a chance. He put me in a position where, for about a year, I was at this recording studio almost 7 days a week and would go in around 2:00 or 3:00 in the afternoon and be there until 4 in the morning. It was a real never-ending cycle of making records. After about a year I went freelance and about a year after that I joined The Veronicas (Warner Brothers) as a guitar player and started touring a lot. Throughout that whole time I was still the guy on the back of a bus or on an airplane with some kind of Apple laptop in which I was making records. It’s just been a continual process of making and creating music and being a part of music.
You lost your father in 2015 and it led you to start creating music for yourself. You originally wrote Modern Whale songs for yourself and didn’t intend on showing them to people. What made you decide to share them?
After about 5 or 6 months of working on the first batch of material, I felt that I had something that was worth sharing with some of my peers. My friend set is generally people that I’ve met through music over the years, so sharing the material w/them wasn’t necessarily a business endeavor. I got to the point where I was getting lots of positive feedback. It was a cathartic experience to do something for myself without really having to compromise or worry about somebody else’s opinion. As a producer it my job to work alongside the artist and do my best to meet their expectations. With Modern Whale, I was just doing whatever I wanted and it was/is fun to just do something for me.
With Modern Whale, you are still developing the project and finding your voice in many ways over the past few years. You grew up listening to artists that had multiple sides to them, with regards to their sound. How do you feel your sound has progressed over the years? Is there a certain direction you want your sound to go in the future?
I think that, with the first batch of Modern Whale songs, it was lightening in a bottle. I didn’t set out to even record songs. In fact, when I first did the initial songs…it was like 45 minutes to an hour each over the course of 3 days…I thought that they were special but I was still thinking “Oh, I’m going to meeting with so and so from such and such label. Maybe these could be the tracks for that artist”. At the same time, there was something about it that was pulling at my heart and I wanted to keep them close to me and not let them go. It’s really a big surprise and just natural. I think the difference between now and then is that it’s no longer just about lightning in a bottle. With the experience I’ve gained over the last year and a half of playing shows and building Modern Whale and getting out of the studio, I’m better and I’ve changed, evolved and grown. I have found my voice in a more complete way. Right now I’m happy making music. I think we just live in a society where things are very genre based and I have to remind myself to just do what I’m doing and not worry about whether or not something fits in a box. I think the reason why Modern Whale has had any kind of reaction is because I just did something for the sake of doing it, without overthinking. I think that with the new songs I’m working on, it’s the same sort of thing. I’m obviously wanting to release music and develop my craft and play in front of people and entertain them, but at the same time I’m also just letting music happen. I’m not going into it with a plan of “Well it has to be like this because my last song was like that”. I don’t really wanna do that and feel like my music has to be in a box or a certain way. I think my voice ties it together. To me, styles and genres are just musical notes dressed up in different outfits, right? If you think about it, the same keys and scales that are in heavy metal are also in Drake or Rihanna songs or in country music. It’s literally the same notes, It’s like they have a different jacket on, which makes them look different, but it’s still the same note C, for example. It’s an interesting concept when you think of it like that because music is music.
You’ve done a lot of songwriting and production of tracks with your longtime friends and collaborator Scott Harris. How did the two of you meet and come to write together and what do you think makes you such compatible writing partners?
Scott and I met around 2004. In 2005 I was making his full-length record, which was called In Between A Memory and A Dream. I had produced 10 to 12 songs with Scott and we grew close through that process and just had a really nice, balanced relationship. Scott was a really fleshed out artist in his own right and we worked well with each other. After making that album together, Scott went on to do some touring and I was doing my production thing. When he got back his management was like “Why don’t you hit up Rob?” as this was a fruitful relationship for you. We started doing co-writing for other artists and then were signed to a publishing deal together, which ties into the whole narrative of never knowing what’s going to come up. I did Scott’s full length and then 2 years later it turned into this whole different thing. So we ended up getting signed together and worked pretty heavily between 2011 and 2013 and it’s been really easy to work together. Scott and I are friends and therefore our writing relationship feels effortless.
You and Scott co-wrote your track “Dead Wrong” together and you did two different versions of the song after writing it. What prompted that decision? Is that something you do with a lot of your songs, doing different versions to see which ones you like better?
We wrote that song on a keyboard, an old Casio, and it was cool from the start. I did a few versions of “Dead Wrong” but the original version was the most special to me and therefore what I released.
You have said that the five videos you have made so far were created by each director. Did you have a basic idea for each one starting out that they worked off of or were the ideas completely theirs for each video?
I think there’s only one that I can take any sort of credit for having an idea for, and even that changed so much as the gentleman who made it really took it to a whole new level. The videos were all made within my friend set, all people that I had played music for and that resonated with it. I wasn’t even trying to make videos initially. It was not even a part of my thinking.
You have plans to release an EP in 2019. What can people expect from that and what else do you have coming up in the new year?
Right now I’m totally in studio mode, just working on the EP. It will have 5 songs including “Dead Wrong”. The songs are very exciting to me and I can’t wait to share them!
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer some questions!
You’re welcome, thank you very much. Happy to be here with you!