HERE’S TO YOU (from l-r): Mike Fenimore (bass/vocals), Stephan Stanzione (drums/vocals), Charlie Giovanniello (lead vocals/guitar), Greg Almeida (guitar/vocals)
INTERVIEW by ZAK SLOMAN
Ten years ago this year, three high school friends from New York got together to form an indie/rock/pop band.
Calling themselves Here’s To You, and eventually adding another member to the outfit’s ranks, they put together a debut album, based on their teenage experiences, entitled ‘Love Me Or Leave Me’, which came out in 2015, and since then, the four-piece have played hundreds of live sets across the US, including a performance at the South By Southwest festival in Texas.
Having been busy these past couple of months crafting their second offering, ‘Wonder/Wander’, to be unveiled this February, and promises to showcase a more mature sound, the collective were more than happy to tell me all about it, among other things.
How did the band get together?
GREG ALMEIDA (guitar/vocals): Stephan and Charlie have been friends for a while, and Stephan and I are cousins, so naturally, while having the interest in music in common, we pooled together and formed a band. I met Mike in college!
CHARLIE GIOVANNIELLO (lead vocals/guitar): I’ve known Stephan since middle school, and we both were interested in starting a band together. We were both in separate bands up until the ninth grade, when we jammed and demoed our first song.
We got some positive feedback from friends and family, and decided to stick together, picking up Greg and other friends along the way, and me, Greg, and Stephan have remained together since, but have gone through a couple of bassists, until Michael decided he liked us enough to stick around!
How did the name Here’s To You come about?
STEPHAN STANZIONE (drums/vocals): I honestly wish we had a better story for this one (laughs), but it seriously just came to my head way-back-when, and it was only after we had been a band for a while when the phrase started popping up in the most random of places!
CHARLIE: Stephan came up with two names, the first one was One Moon At A Time, or something like that, and the other was Here’s To You. We all decided we liked the latter more, and after all this time, I’m glad we went with it!
STEPHAN: Oh wow, One Moon At A Time…perfect for my SOLO PROJECT!
What would you say were the band’s main musical influences?
GREG: We’re inspired by, like, everything, from indie, jazz, metal, to electronic. We just like to make good songs, but we find that playing instruments is something we’ll always love to do while playing songs live.
CHARLIE: When we started, we were heavily influenced by the pop-punk music of the mid 2000’s, bands like Fall Out Boy, Boys Like Girls, A Rocket To The Moon, Forever The Sickest Kids, but nowadays, I find myself more influenced by Walk The Moon, Thirty Seconds To Mars, The Neighborhood, and The Midnight.
MIKE FENIMORE (bass/vocals): It’s so hard to say, because our personal interests and influences have such a wide range. We all agree on great songwriting, no matter what the genre is, and the best part is that after you pool our diverse range of influential genres together, you get a cool song like ‘Burning Alive’!
STEPHAN: I think the fact that I have all of A Tribe Called Quest’s discography, to Drake Bell’s ‘It’s Only Time‘ (one of my favourite albums), all of the way to a bunch of The Legend of Zelda soundtracks on my phone, speaks volumes.
What inspires the band lyrically?
GREG: Definitely a lot of aspects of real life, and I pulled a lot from that whilst writing this album, so did Charlie and the other guys.
CHARLIE: A lot of lyrics are inspired by our individual personal experiences, whether it be love, breakups, lust, abstract ideas that emotionally move us. We’ll get together and discuss those personal experiences, and try to manifest the experience as a group in the forms of lyrics and melodies.
STEPHAN: As with almost all music in life: a love interest, but we definitely tried thinking outside of the box when it came to songwriting this time around.
MIKE: Real-life experiences and relationships with the people around us are almost always what our lyrics revolve around. I think of some of our songs as storytelling, but those stories are usually about something that one or more of us has been through.
What would you say was your approach to songwriting?
STEPHAN: I think the fact that all four of us are so involved with the writing process makes a huge difference in our songwriting. A lot of bands will just have one person writing lyrics, one person writing most of the instrumental, and maybe a member or two that doesn’t contribute all that much – that can totally work, but I think you can tell that our process really makes a difference in the final product.
CHARLIE: The approach changes slightly for each song, but generally, someone will have an idea, and it will get put into Ableton as an eight-bar loop, and then we all meet up and flesh it out into a demo from there.
GREG: For this album, it was completely different than our last. We really tried to approach the soundscape first, and create a few bars of an instrumental that fit to a concept we had talked about first.
For some songs, we even wrote to the vibe of the full album cover, as we saw that photograph and were just amazed, and so we wanted to kind of create a soundtrack to it.
MIKE: It usually starts with one of us bringing a demo or a voice memo to a writing session, and as a band, we’ll all change, add to it, and collectively make it our own.
Next month, the band will be bringing out the first part of their second album, ‘Wonder/Wander’, with parts two and three to come later this year. What is the main reason behind you doing that, rather than releasing it all at once?
GREG: It’s definitely been a while, so we were trying to just have the best release possible, which spreads the attention span out, which is what we like.
CHARLIE: We have a few loose ends on the other parts of the album, but we’re so eager to share what we’ve been working on, especially since we’ve been telling our fans that it has been in the works for so long.
We saw a few of our favourite artists doing this sort of release with their albums, so we thought it was the logical thing to do, plus it gives everyone a little more time to vibe with each set of songs.
STEPHAN: Realistically, John Mayer started the trend, and everyone wants to be like Mayer, so why not?
MIKE: The way that people listen to music has definitely been changing, especially over the last five to ten years, and like Greg said, we want to have the best release possible; we want as many people as possible to get to hear the songs in ‘Wonder/Wander’, so it’s been very important to us that we release this album in a strategic manner.
How has the recording process been for the album?
CHARLIE: It’s been a ton of fun. Spending 10-plus hour days every day for two weeks at VuDu Studios, and just seeing our vision come to life piece-by-piece was incredible, and as we continue to record the remaining bits of the album, we’re all still just as involved as on the first day we entered the studio.
GREG: Kind of a long one! (laughs)
MIKE: Similar to the way it’s being released, we recorded the album in phases, and this gave us the opportunity to get hyper-focused on a smaller batch of songs rather than just check boxes for a full album’s worth of songs. This helped us to be a little more personal and intentional with each song as the recording process went along.
STEPHAN: We’re still finishing and adjusting things as we speak! It’s been an awesome ride!
And how will it differ to your 2015 debut album, ‘Love Me Or Leave Me’?
GREG: In pretty much every way it will differ. Sonically, visually, everything. We’re going for a much more mature vibe now. You can still tell it’s us, but with years of age.
CHARLIE: There was a lot more care and time put into ‘Wonder/Wander’. We’ve all developed our musicianship far ahead of what it was, and we’ve experienced a lot more of the real world, which has given us a much more mature sound.
STEPHAN: The songs on ‘Love Me Or Leave Me’ were written when we were 16, and in high school, whereas the songs on ‘Wonder/Wander’ were written when we were finishing college. I can’t wait for everyone to hear the difference!
The band have performed hundreds of live shows across the US. How is it overall, for you all, playing on stage?
GREG: I love it! Wouldn’t trade it for the world.
CHARLIE: Playing on stage is incredibly liberating. I love the reciprocal nature of casting our energy into the crowd, and feeling theirs come back to us, which makes it super enjoyable for everyone, especially since I’ve been working particularly hard on my voice these past couple of years, so it makes it more enjoyable when my voice isn’t completely shot at the end of the set, as it used to be.
STEPHAN: Our live shows are something we’ve spent countless hours on for years. I honestly feel like you can never know if you really like us or not until you’ve seen us live. That’s when you can make your decision.
MIKE: There’s absolutely no better feeling like playing music and sharing your thoughts and emotions for a room full of people who are there specifically with the intention of listening to what you have to say, and want to share in an experience with you.
And you have also played at the South By Southwest festival, as well as supporting New Jersey EDM/pop trio Cash Cash on multiple occasions. How were they as experiences?
CHARLIE: Driving to Texas for South By Southwest is something I’ll never forget, just from the excitement of being on the open road with your closest friends, and when we got there, the energy of the whole festival was so alive, as there was so much music, talent, and incredible people that we met.
It’s been years since we’ve played with Cash Cash, and it’s really awesome to see how far they’ve come, even back then, they were writing incredibly catchy and well-produced songs, so we were honoured to share the stage with them even then.
GREG: Pretty sick, to say the least. Cash Cash were a completely different band back then, and I’m glad they were able to change and adapt to the industry, and make that hit song the other year. I’m happy for them!
MIKE: Travelling to Texas for SXSW was by far one of the coolest travelling experiences I’ve ever had. The environment was nothing but fun, and we had an extremely awesome time venturing around Austin as a band.
STEPHAN: I was sick with the flu when we played SXSW, but I still played my heart out. Rock n’ roll, am I right? I’ll never forget that one! (laughs)
And finally, album aside, what are the band’s plans for the year ahead?
GREG: Besides the album, we definitely want to get back to playing some shows, we’ve just gotta wait for the right opportunity, and for enough music to be out.
CHARLIE: After the initial release, we’re just hoping we can get as many people to hear it as possible. From there, we’d love to play some east coast shows and use demographics to see where people are listening the most, so we can play where the people would come to see us!
MIKE: Playing shows, without a doubt.
STEPHAN: Alongside playing shows, I think it’ll finally be the perfect time for Here’s To You to finally star in our own sitcom. Look out 2020!!
THE FIRST PART OF HERE’S TO YOU’S SECOND ALBUM. ‘WONDER/WANDER’, WILL BE RELEASED ON FEBRUARY 15, AND ONE OF THE TRACKS FROM THAT, ‘BURNING ALIVE’, WILL COME OUT ON JANUARY 18.
FURTHER INFO ON THE BAND CAN BE FOUND THROUGH THE FOLLOWING SITES: