stillhungry, a folk-rock band from Asbury Park, NJ, has just released their second, full-length EP, eponymously titled stillhungry. The group, which comprises Jenna, Matteo, and Erik, announced the lead single, "Best Costume Wins," via a point-and-click online game, where the goal of the player is to collect hidden fireworks, all while encountering new lyrics and layers of the track.
Ahead of today's release, I got to ask the band a few questions about their new record, the music community in Asbury Park, what their songwriting process looks like, and more.
First, can you tell me how stillhungry was formed?
Jenna: Each of us were in different projects in the NJ DIY scene– I remember us frequenting each other’s shows in New Brunswick when I was in college (at Rutgers). Erik was in dollys at the time, and Matteo in Toy Cars– I played in my solo project prim. We became friends and, here we are, years later! stillhungry started out as a songwriting project. Little did we know it would quickly become super meaningful and important to each of us. Collaborating with Erik and Matteo was sort of a turning point for me, and really pushed me creatively, in ways I never pushed myself before. Dramatically, now I don’t know how I ever lived without creating with these two!
How did each of you start playing music individually?
Jenna: When I was very young, my Mom played piano, and my sister and I began lessons pretty early on. And I was always singing to cassettes on my Fischer Price recorder (it had a fun microphone, kind of like a karaoke machine– this is it, lol!) Then came clarinet, guitar, all sorts of stuff. Music was a huge, huge part of my life as early as I can remember. Earliest life memories come hand-in-hand with a soundtrack.
Erik: My mom was an organist so we always had a piano and an organ and music in the house. By the time I was about 11 or 12, pretty much all I wanted to do was play drums in a punk band so I found a couple other kids and we just started writing songs! In high school I got really into recording my own music and recording my friends bands. I’ve pretty much not stopped being in bands or recording music since!
Matteo: I grew up in an extremely musical family, my relatives being involved with both the creative side of music as well as the music industry. From the time I could walk and speak, I was trying to play guitar and bang on drums. From that point, as I got older, music became a huge form of self expression and a very important part of why I am who I am today.
Photos by David Ross Lawn (@davidrosslawn)
You are based in Asbury Park. Is everybody originally from New Jersey?
Jenna: We are! I’m from Hazlet; Matteo from Mount Arlington, and Erik is from Monroe. We all live within fifteen minutes of each other now!
I’ve haven’t been to New Jersey myself, but I know there’s a really active music scene there.
Jenna: Well, we’d love to have you!! And there is. It’s a really *unique* place (in general, but also musically!) Truly, no other place like it.
Erik: I think we are really lucky to have such an active music community in NJ. The more I’ve toured, the more I’ve realized how privileged I was to grow up seeing every band I listened to whenever they’d come through town. Also how incredible it is to be just an hour from NYC and Philly!
Can you describe some of it to me? What are some of your favorite venues, for example, or any other places of community?
Jenna: Being part of this community is energizing; where we live, we can walk to three different shows in one night. The Jersey DIY scene is very supportive, and some of our favorite places to play are the living rooms and basements of our friends.
Erik: There seems to be a lot of focus on Asbury Park at the moment, which is the hub we all live closest to. There are a lot of venues in AP and over the last decades the town has changed and morphed in a variety of different ways for better and for worse. My favorite NJ venue would without a doubt be the original Asbury Lanes before their closure in 2015. To me, it was a place where I could hang out with peers, see the bands I love, and feel like I was accepted and valid. Personally, I grew up playing more in the New Brunswick DIY scene around Rutgers which has also historically been one of the most active places for community that I know of in NJ. It’s mostly DIY shows with a few small venues coming in and out of the picture.
Matteo: I really do love The Saint. It’s one of my favorite venues to play in NJ for the sole fact that it feels like a home to me. It’s really cozy, has a carpet on the stage and I truly enjoy being and playing there.
I’m always intrigued by different songwriting processes. Can you take me through what writing a song typically looks like for stillhungry? Or is there a lot of variety in how your songs come together?
Jenna: Oh, all SORTS of ways. And I really love that about us. We don’t really have a formula just yet. Matteo will say, “Hey, I have an entire song written with NO vocals,” and Erik will have the lyrics, and the vocal melody that’s been kicking around in my head for three months fits perfectly. We’ve sat and edited, tweaked each other’s work. It’s all very collaborative.
Erik: I agree we are definitely still just trying things and learning how to be creative together. It’s almost always collaborative though, which I really like. It also really doesn’t hurt that I get to be in a band with two of my favorite songwriters!
I really loved the online game created for releasing “Best Costume Wins.” Whose idea was that?
Jenna: Thank you, so much! The pandemic has been…draining and redundant. In lots of different ways. We wanted to create something really unique for our single release. MANY brainstorming sessions built this game. Erik’s childhood best friend who developed the game, David Lester, is a true genius– he (along with the help of Asset Modeler Spencer Banks) created this digital world based on our single and the themes we touch upon throughout the album.
What will be the name of your upcoming record, and are there any themes or ideas that you felt you explored?
Jenna: Our second LP is also named stillhungry. Definitely into the idea of our full-lengths being different “volumes” of sorts. It highlights where we are at different points in life. I’m not sure one title/name could encompass all the themes we span. Death, human error/imperfection, and the pain that we all experience, in very different and very similar ways.
After listening, I noticed multiple lyrics involving light. The phrase “a flash of light in my life,” for example, in “Best Costume Wins.” Then the title “Paper Lanterns.” “Prized,” too, begins with a line about letting the light pour in. Also, the online game featured fireworks. Is there a connection there?
Jenna: I think that we each look for the “light” in all situations. Keeps us hanging on and looking forward. It’s been a really dark year, for everyone. Maybe it was a subconscious thing…
Erik: Honestly, I hadn’t noticed that! But what Jenna said makes sense especially considering the last year or so.
I’m curious, too, about “Paper Lanterns” specifically. I read the lyrics and I was wondering what the significance was of naming it “Paper Lanterns”?
Erik: Paper Lanterns is a song idea that I had been stuck on for a while. It’s loosely about my struggles with balance, and how to be there for the people that are dearest to me. When I finally started to finish it lyrically after a long spell of being away for work and touring, I was sitting at my desk where I had a package of paper lanterns that I had bought months ago with the intent of hanging some light fixtures above my desk. It seemed like the perfect personal metaphor for how a non-stop lifestyle at the time had been leaving so many things neglected. The idea that time spent is not something you can replace or make up for.
Lastly, a fun question. What have you each been listening to lately?
Erik: This week I’ve been going down a kick of listening to old Phantom Planet records from years ago. They can seriously write some songs. Beyond that, the last few weeks I’ve also (looking at my recently played) been listening to Rayland Baxter, Sharon Jones, the new Andy Shauf tunes, Dora Jar, Sly Stone, St Vincent, and Jackson Browne. (Sorry I’m all over the place! Haha)
Matteo: My musical taste has been eclectic to the point of chaos recently. I’ve been listening to a ton of Johnny Cash, Jay Som, Dogwood Tales, and 90’s Hip Hip like Slick Rick and Gang Starr. And a bunch of Beethoven and Vivaldi.
Listen the new album from stillhungry below.