Robbie Guariglia spent years as a music industry professional producing, writing, and gigging with touring acts such as the Veronicas, Ryan Shaw, Oh Honey, and Phoebe Ryan. But it was a time of tumult that led him to take center stage with his indie-pop act Modern Whale. "I had lost my dad to cancer," Guarjila explains to New Times. "I also had just gotten a puppy I wanted to train. I was saying no to tours, and I wanted to stay close to home." Then, in his Brooklyn home base, he rediscovered some grooves he'd recorded years earlier. He began fiddling around with the sounds, and out of that came tunes such as "The Dirt" and "Brave Face" and the foundation for Modern Whale. "I was going back to the basics. Those songs were me making a statement of loss."
His dad's passing hit Guariglia hard. His parents' record collection, which he had raided as a kid, steered him toward a life of music. "I found the Beatles and Led Zeppelin and got lost in their sound. It got me playing guitar. I'd go in my room and find chords. I was never that interested in learning other people's material — I was busy discovering my own." Growing up a half-hour from Manhattan had a teenaged Guariglia playing legendary venues such as CBGB.
Eventually, his guitar playing earned him a freelance career of songwriting and producing. He had grown accustomed to being in the background, so leading his own band has been an adjustment. "I thought being the artist was behind me," Guariglia says. I was part of a team. I was always onstage because I was hired. Being a leader now, I see it from a different perspective."
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South Floridians will have their first opportunity to see Modern Whale when the group opens for LovelytheBand at Culture Room Thursday, May 30. It will also be the first show in which Modern Whale is a four-piece, with Laura Derover joining as a multi-instrumentalist. "A lot of the material had very clear female vocal parts," Guariglia says. "I always imagined a female voice. The more I get back into having fun with this, [I find] I enjoy building an ensemble."
Still learning as he goes, Guariglia says Modern Whale will continue to evolve. "As a back-up singer and as a kid, I had a high falsetto, which came from humming along to Robert Plant on Physical Graffiti. Before, I always pushed myself to sing higher. I found a more comfortable vocal range." He also thinks Modern Whale's newer songs, starting with "Dead Wrong," are less poppy. "People kept thinking my guitar playing was synths. It had me change the production."
However people interpret his music or his instrumentation, Guariglia says Modern Whale will always be a labor of love for him. "There's no greater joy than being onstage singing. It's the greatest gift."