MAHOPAC, N.Y. - Drummer Matt Ruggiero grew up surrounded by music.

“I have been exposed to it since my infancy,” he said. “My dad has an amazing record collection—lots of vinyl. I remember when I was around 5, he taught me how to use his turntable. I put on {The Rolling Stone’s] ‘Sticky Fingers’ and cranked it up. I was jumping up and down on this antique couch they had. I blew out his tweeters and broke the couch. He was not happy.”

But for Ruggiero, a 2012 Mahopac High School graduate, a broken couch and a couple of busted speakers might have been a small price to pay for him to live out his dream of becoming a bonafied rock ‘n’ roll musician.

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Three years ago, Ruggiero dropped out of college to join fellow MHS alumni Cory Brent (vocals) and Mark Neidhardt (guitar) in the band Reckless Serenade. They’ve recorded a full-length CD called “Chasing Light,” as well as two EPs; their most recent is titled “Strange Soul.” Last summer, they released a single and video for their song, “Pretty Monster.” 

But for the band, which also includes Rob Crews on guitar and Will Prinzi on bass, the ultimate validation came this year when they were asked to be part of the Warped Tour—the largest travelling music festival in the United States and longest running festival in North America. Established in 1995, the tour boasts some of the most revered alt rock acts in the business.

“I went to Warped Tour a few times between eighth and 10th grade and still carry around the tickets from those shows in my wallet to this day,” Ruggiero said. “This is the dream.”

Ruggiero’s parents have been supportive of their son’s rock ‘n’ roll ambitions from the beginning.

“My husband is very, very into music and in our house we’ve listened to everything from blues to jazz to rock and alternative and acid and metal,” said his mother, Elizabeth. “Matt was exposed to everything. The first song he ever learned on the drums was a Green Day song. But he loves Chicago, and Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin.”

Elizabeth Ruggiero said she saw Matt’s musical prowess and tastes evolve as he put together various garage bands.

“When he first got a little bit more into the drums, I thought, ‘hey, he’s going to get into a band,’ and my neighbor asked, ‘just where are they going to practice?’” she recalled with a laugh. “He had a band called Left Unturned and they played that horrible screamo music. It was horrible—it’s not really singing; more like growling.”
But the screamo phase passed and Reckless Serenade (a name taken from the title of an Artic Monkeys’ song) came along with a more straight-forward alt rock approach with accessible melodies and blistering guitar riffs, Elizabeth thought Matt’s dreams of being a rock star might actually come true.

“I thought that maybe it’s really happening,” she said. “I have mixed feelings. He might actually be able to support himself and make a living doing this. But I also know the entertainment industry can be dangerous and some of the influences can be dark.”

But for Ruggiero and his band mates (Matt, Mark and Cory met while performing in Mahopac High’s annual rock show, Illusion), the Warped Tour provides little time for the decadent lifestyle some equate with rock ‘n’ roll.

“The days are really grueling,” Ruggiero said. “We go from 7 a.m. to two in the morning and then drive all night to get to the next place. We are outside all day and the heat is really intense.”

Still, Ruggiero says it’s all kind of worth it.

“It’s such an unreal opportunity. We see so many different people,” he said. “There are seven stages and 80 bands. It gets pretty insane.”

He said one of the highlights for him and his band mates was meeting the guys from Four Years Strong, one of the Warped Tour’s headliners.

As their rite of passage into Warped Tour, Reckless Serenade has been chosen to be the “barbecue band.” As a new band on the tour, they get to grill and barbecue at each stop for all of the tour buses so they can get to know the other performers. 

“It’s an unbelievable amount of work, grilling like 200 pounds of meat in the heat, but it’s worth it. This is the greatest thing we’ve ever done; it’s what we’ve always dreamed about,” Ruggiero said.

Ruggiero said the band is always writing new music and is preparing to get back into the studio soon. He said every band member contributes to the writing process.

“The coolest part is that each of us listens to different things,” he said. “We each have our own style and taste of playing that shows in our music. There’s a song for everyone.”

He said that the name Reckless Serenade represents the style of music they were going for. With songs from all different genres including pop, punk, dance, funk, indie and rock, the two contrasting words are symbolic of the spectrum of music they create.

“It stands for our sound. It’s eclectic. ‘Reckless’ and ‘serenade’ are two very different words that fit so well together,” Ruggiero said. “When it comes to writing, everyone comes in with their own ideas; every song is a different process and we work on everything as a group. We will keep trying to write new stuff and keep it fresh.”

All of Reckless Serenade’s music can be found on iTunes and Spodify.
For aspiring musicians still in high school, Ruggiero offers this advice:

“Practice, practice, practice. You’ll never have this flexible high school schedule again. Now is the time to put in all the time you can into your music,” he said. “It really can happen so never give up and never stop.”