Talking to Conner Guarino and Matt Filipek

| 15 Dec 2023 | 04:31

Stefani M.C. Janelli, The MIC, interviews childhood friends Conner Guarino and Matt Filipek, both of West Milford, after the release of Tomorrowish’s debut album, “Almost Home.” Guarino is a multi-instrumentalist in the band, while Filipek was the engineer on the album.

Q: Can you start by telling us how you met?

Both: Preschool!

Q: You grew up together in West Milford, playing in West Milford High School’s Highlander Band. How do you think this foundation shaped your musical journey?

Filipek: I think just the level of care and attention to detail that they brought to it.

Guarino: I feel like they took it so seriously from the time we were like 10 years old. They were like, no, this matters and we all listened.

Filipek: In middle school, they asked, “All right, who’s gonna play bagpipes in high school?”

Guarino: Yeah, they were years in advance planning. For me, I remember I didn’t put band on my schedule for high school, and (West Milford High School band director Matthew) Gramata came over to Macopin (Middle School) and sat us down and was like, “Hey, do band. You don’t know how good of a thing this is, it’s important.” I mean, I wouldn’t still be playing music if that didn’t happen, so.

There isn’t an instructor that I don’t love and appreciate on a deep level; they were all incredible.

Q: What is your favorite band memory?

Filipek: It has to be the two trips. If I had to choose one, I always tell people that I had more fun in Florida (at Walt Disney World) but Scotland was just special.

Guarino: I mean for me, it’s probably also Disney; it was cool. I remember when we would go to Dorney Park and play a competition at like 9 a.m. ... then we’d get on the bus home and they’d be like, “Oh yeah, we won.” I forgot we’re like really, really good.

Q: Conner, when were you inspired to start writing your own music?

Filipek: I feel like I can answer this! Even in probably elementary school. I’m just thinking back to when we’d hang out and whenever you got your drum set when we were little. And then maybe when I started getting into piano too, and I think it just naturally happened. I would say you were doing your own stuff early.

Guarino: Yeah, I think that the real answer is whenever people around me were writing stuff. I don’t often write a song from start to finish on my own; it’s rare. I mean, I did a little bit, but I think it’s always born out of collaborating. I was kind of writing my own stuff, but I hadn’t really committed, and it wasn’t until I moved in with Max and we started jamming together in the apartment that it just started happening. I just like working with people better. I just can’t do it all myself, but I know that and I’m OK with that. I think it’s more fun to collaborate anyway and get other opinions and have other influences, so it doesn’t just sound like my stuff.

I also think you (Matt) getting into engineering, and then getting me into engineering was a big part of that too because it was like well, we needed stuff to record.

Q: Conner, you are currently in a band called Tomorrowish, who just released their debut album, “Almost Home.” The record is a masterful display of musicianship, including infectious riffs, catchy melodies and powerful lyrics. How did this album come about? What did the writing process look like?

Guarino: I moved in with our keys player, Max (Cembalest), and we just started coming up with ideas jamming in our apartment. After we realized we had really good chemistry, we set aside two weeks where we spent every night just forming those ideas into actual songs. Once we had a bunch of songs done, we brought them to Pearse (Devlin) and he did all the drum parts, and we wrote a few more as a whole group.

Q: How did you get Matt involved with the record?

Filipek: Do they want the real answer?

Guarino: I made you? C’mon, what’s the real answer? I called you and I was like, “We can pay you, but like, we don’t want to.” Ha ha.

Filipek: You called and were like, “Hey, we can’t pay you. We want to, but we need to record a full-length album.” But I was so down.

Guarino: I mean, it helps that we’ve been friends for our entire lives.

Q: Matt, when were you first introduced to music engineering and production? How did you know that was something you wanted to pursue?

Filipek: When I started recording and mixing for other people. There was a moment when the personal enjoyment and creative “hobby” aspect of audio engineering joined with the demand of musicians in need of it. (That’s) really when I knew. I started recording myself, then recording friends, then musicians in West Milford, and slowly, their friends and musicians they know from other towns. I enjoyed it more and more, connecting with musicians and being able to provide them with something that they couldn’t do themselves. Once I started seeing the pattern, it became clear.

Q: Matt, what was it like being the engineer on this record? Did you find it helpful that you understood Conner already musically?

Filipek: Absolutely. Yeah, I felt like there were no barriers in terms of discussing things with you, (Conner), because I’ve known you forever. So it was very open and honest and I felt we could try things and not be reserved in any way, you know?

Guarino: Yeah, failure was so safe because I knew you would just be like, “No, no, let’s move on.” I knew you would just tell me what I was doing was bad, and I wouldn’t care because I don’t care about what you have to say anymore, ha ha. No, but it was nice to try new vocal takes and new melodies, then you would just turn around and give me a thumbs down. I was like OK, it doesn’t work, that’s fine, let’s figure it out. And then with the mix too. On the flip side, it helped that I understood you as an engineer already. Because you know I have an education in engineering, and I kind of didn’t use it in a real way on this because I knew you had it covered and you knew what we wanted. And then you did. There were virtually no notes on the whole album.

Q: The attention to detail is noticeable throughout “Almost Home.” Where did you record this record and what was the recording process like?

Filipek: Let’s go shout out Shane Stanton and Glower Studios. The recording process was great. I felt like, considering it was Pearse and Max’s first time in the studio, and honestly ours as well in a more professional sense.

Guarino: Yeah, not literally in your parent’s basement. But to be fair all of the vocals were recorded in your parents’ basement in West Milford.

Filipek: That’s true. But I think just doing this session was a special moment for me. I feel that’s where the experience I had at that time from college and even at Sterling (Sound in Edgewater) really helped out during that process. It was just a lot of fun because we got to try out a lot of different things and I think it goes back to the last question, we could just try something and it was OK if it didn’t work.

Guarino: You brought up it being Pearse and Max’s first time recording in the studio. There was a fun energy that was so shiny and new for them, but it felt almost like closure on a chapter for me. You and I have been teaching ourselves in your basement how to do this for a long time, you way more than me. But then we both went to school for it, you’ve worked in studios professionally and I never stopped writing. Being able to do this with you in a real, professional way was great. It felt really cool to be like, “Oh, we have no lifelines. But it’s fine because we totally know what we’re doing.”

Q: What was your favorite part about collaborating on this record?

Guarino: Everything. It was just so stress-free. I mean you (Matt) were the engineer though, which is the highest-stress job, but for us, it was so chill.

Filipek: Yeah, just going through the whole process together.

Guarino: It was just very full circle. Like “OK, I’m doing my first album, who should engineer? Matt the person I’ve known longer than anyone.” That’s pretty lucky. If I have to pick something just me and you though, I’d have to say doing “Little Bit.” We started and finished that one in the woods behind our parents’ houses, then mixed it in your parents’ basement and we pretty much finished it right away.

Q: Anything else exciting either of you have coming up?

Guarino: Yeah Matt, are you ready to record another Tomorrowish album for free?

Filipek: Yeah definitely!

Guarino: But we actually just started paring down our loose ideas and jams and forming them into actual songs and started playing them live. So hopefully back to the studio soon. Other than that, we’re just playing shows. We want to come do some out here closer to home soon.

Filipek: I’m still assisting Randy Merrill at Sterling Sound, so anything that we put out over there.