Rock Cellar Magazine’s “Uncle Greg” first met Matt McKenna playing guitar with a band involving Rusty Anderson (Paul McCartney’s touring guitar player) in 2003 at the Fender Museum in Fullerton, California, but his career goes back much further than that.
Some biographical information from his official site: Matt is a Los Angeles, California-based composer and multi-instrumentalist. Born in the UK and raised in Houston, Texas, Matt had a child’s sized acoustic guitar thrust into his hand at five years old and immediately took to it, studying and performing through his early childhood and into high school.
At the age of 16 he stepped into a competition with his school’s stage band, turned his Peavey amp up to 12 and delivered a god-awful, ear-splitting guitar solo in the middle of Theme from Rocky. Matt has gone on to write music for commercials, documentary, cartoons, video games and feature films and play with many notable players and composers.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Tell us something about yourself/your career that’s really, really good?
Matt McKenna : I used to work on cartoons… the cartoon The Powerpuff Girls. About 12 years ago I liquidated all these cool vintage amps I had. My band at that time had just broken up and I had no place to store them. I had literally stuffed my rehearsal space with old HiWatt Orange Park, and some boutique stuff. I kept one, an early 70s Park which is an offshoot of Marshall. With my windfall I bought an early Pro-Tools rig, some microphones and a Neve mic-pre, put it in the second bedroom of my old 1920s-era apartment in Hollywood.
I locked myself in there and started working on music, writing some songs and producing them but in large part working on instrumental tracks that I thought might have a place in film or TV. While this isn’t uncommon today, it was pretty unusual then, mostly the technology was still too expensive for most people to afford.
Eventually, I had enough tracks I liked to put together a sampler, I burned CDs and designed a label and some packaging which was pretty extravagant, a day-glo orange envelope filled with my cd sampler, a ray gun/dart gun, and a fist full of plastic army man sized astronauts, which I sent out to a bunch of film editors, music supervisors, and publishers I had researched or networked.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Tell us about your work in film, how did that come about?
Matt McKenna : I ended up securing a co-publishing deal and quickly got some placements in films. I ran into a friend of mine I’d gigged with at the Silverlake club Spaceland and he was in a similar tack. He invited me to attend an event where Seinfeld composer Jonathan Wolfe was speaking. It was a cool event, many questions about the synth bass riff were asked, and among the achieved-but-mostly-80-somthing audience was James Venable, a young UCLB trained Orchestral composer.
We hit it off and several weeks later he called me up and asked if I could help him out as his workload just blew up. Over the next few years he became a great friend and mentor, and taught me an incredible amount about writing music for picture and orchestral arranging. Perhaps most importantly, I learned about how to reposition my perspective from an artist writing for himself to a composer writing for a client.
During that time we worked on a number of his projects , films, cartoons, including The Powerpuff Girls, and I did everything from guy Friday menial jobs to mixing, editing, writing , guitar sessions, and a remix record. From there I’ve gone on to work on indie film and commercials, while still keeping a foot in performing. One of the films I scored, Wild in the Streets, was chosen as one of the top films to watch at 2012 Sundance Film Festival by LA Times film Critic Kenneth Turan.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Can you describe your very first concert experience?
Matt McKenna : Haha, (laughing) John Denver at Red Rocks Ampitheatre in Colorado circa 1979, I think I redeemed myself by camping out for Deep Purple tickets a little while later.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Chances are, you’ve heard a fan yell something to you while on stage at a concert. Any particularly memorable stories of that, and what did the fan say?
Matt McKenna: I lived and went to school in Boston and played at “the Rathskellar” a bit. It’s a famous club where the police and I think U2 played their first US shows. There was a regular there who would stand in front of the stage and yell NOTHING. It wouldn’t have been so exceptional if he didn’t always wear a Dracula get up…..c’mon Count, are we ANY good??
Rock Cellar Magazine : What’s your favorite charity?
Matt McKenna : Anything having to do with animal welfare. This is a big challenge for our society. Our animal shelters are overcrowded and pets sent there usually are put down very quickly. Support a rescue group in your area and if you have room in your home, go to the shelter and give a critter a chance.
Rock Cellar Magazine : Describe the best day of your life.
Matt McKenna: I go to Colorado a few times each ski season, usually borrow some gear from my friends at “Rocky Mountain Underground” a Summit County based indie Ski maker. This year was insane. It hosed snow, I had so many amazing powder days and some beautiful days where the world looked like a Bob Ross painting…….beautiful and surreal…
Rock Cellar Magazine: What’s your favorite snack food or item?
Matt McKenna: WTF? Chocolate is food!!
Rock Cellar Magazine: What are your favorite non-musical hobbies?
Matt McKenna : Well Some of my friends call me “MR D.I.Y.” I like to make stuff, carpentry, landscaping, Acoustical treatment for music studios….wait off topic…. I like to play tennis, snowboard, Ski, do yoga, and go on road trips.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Who are your mentors?
Matt McKenna: James Venable & David Torn.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Describe one of your favorite recording sessions.
Matt McKenna: Recorded one of my songs for another artist at Capital Studio B. Greg and Matt Bissonette as the rhythm section. Wow, great talent and what history!
Rock Cellar Magazine: How do you develop your techniques?
Matt McKenna: A lot of persistence and curiosity. I’m pretty shameless about asking someone to share info they have that I want. Luckily I’ve met a lot of generous and forthcoming people, and Google. I have stayed motivated and curious.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Thank you Matt, lastly, what advice do you have for those just starting out in the entertainment industry?
Matt McKenna: Practice, work hard, be original, open-minded and try to meet and play with as many people as you can. Ultimately your collaborators and network will create opportunity, and almost every successful person I know in many industries has a key person who initially championed them. But be prepared, as the man on the $20 note said, “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity”!
For more about Matt and how to contact him …visit his official site.