The Influencers’ reflect on how hiatus and new perspectives have evolved their songwriting

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Despite all the chaos happening globally in 2020, music remains as our constant and faithful companion. And the same is true for the NY-based alt-pop duo, The Influencers.

About a month ago, I delved into a research project concerning the roots of the band and shared my findings on my YouTube channel. But my curiousity grew even more intense as I came out with more questions than I had at the beginning of my research. And on April 17, 2020, I had the privilege of sitting down to chat with Steven Suarez and Evan Yan over Zoom and get answers to these questions that I’ve been sitting on for a while.

So, would you like to start off by introducing yourselves?

[Evan Yan]: Sure, I am Evan Yan, and I am the singer and co-songwriter for The Influencers.

[Steven Suarez]: And my name is Steven Suarez. I am the other member of The Influencers; I play the drums. I also do backup vocals, producing, and a bunch of other things.

How long have you guys been playing together? How did you start the band?

EY: Well, it’s funny — Steven is the brother of one of my childhood friends going back ’til second grade or something. He’s the younger brother of Paul Suarez. So I went to school with Paul, and we were friends… I played music — I played piano and was in band, but I didn’t play guitar or anything. Paul got me into guitar and largely, rock music and everything classical; classic rock and things like that. And when I would go over and play music in his basement, Steven was there, [laughs] and Steven would run downstairs and play drums. And that’s how I met Steven…

SS: Yeah, so continuing what Even was saying: Evan had first picked up the guitar during that time period, and probably a few years later really practiced by himself and got some skills and finally reached out to me. I’d been playing drums at that point towards the beginning of high school performing. So he reached with an idea to basically put some songs together, and at this point we hadn’t even established a band name. I remember we were still working on that, but he definitely wanted to work on serious projects. He sent me three demos…. The first demo was “Bleeding Colors,” and another one was “Up to Our Knees” and then “Champ,” so those were some of the first three songs that we ever worked on. We did it through a separate engineer in the beginning, but those were some of the songs that we got together, jammed, and then eventually recorded. And it just continued from there. We really took it seriously, came up with the name, The Influencers, and it’s been Evan and I since day one.

So, The Influencers. Where did that name come from?

EY: That is a tough question that I still can’t quite remember the exact story. Oh man, I think at the time — this was before “influencers” were like a thing on Instagram and all the social media and everything, and it was just emerging as kind of a name. And I vaguely remember that we wanted to make music — I mean, not like too different than any other kind of music — but we wanted to make music that was influenced and inspired by very different artists and genres and kinda funneling them into something else to create something new. And you know, that’s not different than anything else or any other musician, but we wanted to make that a part of who we were and really put that upfront.

SS: Yeah, I think it’s very ironic that the term, “the influencers” has become so prevalent now. When we first started, it was a very peculiar name and people were very critical about it. I know Evan knows that there were plenty of people along the way that suggested we change our band name. And we stuck it out, and we were really content with it. One documentary in particular that was going around during that time period that talked about the “influencers” and people who do that kind of thing — and we really settled on that once we saw that documentary. And also having a band name with the word “the,” and you know, “The (something)” like The Beatles or [The] Rolling Stones. We wanted to fall in that category; just the way our taste and our interest in music was, and hopefully, our legacy.

Yeah, up with the greats. I see The Beatles up on your wall, Evan, behind you.

EY&SS: [laughs]

The last thing we saw from you guys (if I’m correct) was “Slingshot.” How did it feel writing that song, working on the music video — what exactly was going through your mind working on that process?

EY: For this song we kind of changed up everything that we did. Previously to that, we were working in the city at a studio and also at my old studio, and in between “Lightning” and “Slingshot,” I moved into a new space, and Chris Rizzo (our producer); he was very busy at the time. So he was plugging into the song, but a little bit limited, so it was a whole different kind of feeling and different experience. So largely, he helped shape the song in the beginning, and we kind of figured out everything else and came up with the song a little differently this time.

SS: Songwriting for us — every song is different, but there are some common themes that you could find throughout each song, especially the newer ones. “Slingshot” was different in that it was in a new space, so you’re gonna get a different vibe for the music. But I know Evan and I originally, day one with that song sat down with our guitars, ironed out the chord progression, settled on a key, settled on some parts — how we wanted to transition the song. But even then, it wasn’t set in stone, and it really never is until you really get to recording: having stuff, taking stuff away, seeing what works, what doesn’t. And that song — if you heard some of the early demos, it sounds a lot different than what the final product was, and in a good way for us ‘cause we’re pretty happy with how it came out. And that was really just a lot of layering, so we started with a demo, added some percussion sounds, and then some synthesizers, and then eventually throughout a process of two months…two to three months we shaped it to become the song that it is now.

EY: Yeah, that was a very painful song to record, ’cause we recorded…“Dancing on Graves” by ourselves, and then “Whitewater” we recorded by ourselves like we had done in the past. But then when Steven’s friend was introduced to us (Chris Rizzo), we recorded with him at his studio out in the city in Manhattan. And we recorded three songs with him, I think, right?

SS: Yeah.

E: “Desert,” “Fallin’,” “Lightning.” And then all of a sudden when he got a little too busy, we had to record everything ourselves. So we kinda had to supervise it for a living… But I’m self-taught, so. [laughs]

SS: But, I mean, the great thing about Rizzo, though, is he’s always willing to help us out, and there’s specific parts in that song that Evan and I can give him all the credit for — like actual tracks and things you can hear that he added which I think really helped make the song pop. But the song structure and the idea, and the lyrics, and the chords are really just Evan and I. We are pretty responsible for how that song came out.

So two months? That’s quite a long time. Does it normally take you that long to get a song out or is it like longer? Shorter?

EY: I think that’s about right in our current — right? In our current run of things.

SS: Yeah, it depends. Ideally, you don’t want it to drag on too long. But in between our third album, Valhalla, and “Whitewater”’s release — but kind of during our hiatus (when we were getting the ball rolling again) — Evan had started writing “Whitewater,” which that process was probably the longest of any song.

EY: [laughs]

SS: Where it started out as an idea, a demo…“Okay, let’s start recording it,” and then we had a recording, but we ended up scraping it and recording it — or kind of like reshaping it to become the song it is now, thanks to Conner (who’s our record label executive), and he really inspired us to make it sound the way it does. So to answer your question: yeah, on average it’s usually at least a month, maybe two to three. But some songs just…you gotta work with them and let them work themselves out, no matter how long it takes.

EY: And a lot happens. So you know, we’ll start with a demo and then — like right now we’re at that point at that phase with a new song — and we’ll sit on it for maybe two to three weeks while we iron out the structure and listen to it again to see if it’s a good enough song. And then as we move into the other phases, the weeks just fly by. That’s usually what happens. [laughs]

About your guys’ hiatus, do you feel that your songwriting style or just the feeling of playing in a band has changed from the time that you started to the time after your hiatus?

EY: I definitely do. I think… We both kind of did our own things: Steven was in a few bands, or played with a few bands also while engineering and recording and producing. And I turned… I mean, I largely stopped music to the point where my studio was really, literally collecting dust. But I was recording a few people like Matt Grabowski, and helping produce them. And in doing that, I think it really helped me to take a new point of view from music which I’d never experienced before. So it really shaped my songwriting being kind of that person outside of the box looking in as opposed to being the person sitting in there trying to figure things out…

SS: My end of the difference between pre-hiatus and post-hiatus — those first three albums I really can’t take any credit for engineering besides maybe ideas and you know, “Let’s try this, let’s try that.” But when it comes to sitting on a computer and actually working on the tracks, I was not responsible for that for those three albums. So hiatus comes, and I had studied audio engineering (or, began to study), and I also began an internship at Cove City Sounds Studios in Glen Cove (our hometown). And I learned a lot about really just recording, and what it takes to work on a song, and how to operate the digital audio works station. And so now, post-hiatus, Evan and I both co-engineer although I feel very comfortable in that position, and I have a very critical ear when it comes to that. And I like the think that you can hear the difference between the music that we originally had versus now where we’re a little bit more… We’ll kind of scrutinize it, really try to make it sound radio-friendly instead of just, you know, saying, “Okay, it’s good, it’s done.”

EY: Yeah, we rushed the previous stuff out quickly. Not really rushing, but it was just — we were moving at a lot of speeds and you know I tend to be a control freak with things. So those first three, I really was trying to figure out, do everything by myself while Steven was learning. And then this time around, I mean I feel like I took a backseat to most things. And you know, I did write the song at the beginning, kind of part of it, but I really am more interested in letting what other people that we work with (we work with a bunch of different people) kind of have their feedback and their ideas to change and make that song grow as opposed to just having one vision in the beginning.

Yeah, I totally see the difference between the music. So, I do have a burning question from my research of you guys. You mentioned that Danny Casale did make a video that made you guys pretty much skyrocket. And in that video, “High Five Journey,” there was a third member of The Influencers. Was that an official member that played with you guys or was he a guest or something?

EY: He was a guest. And we’ve had a bunch of guests throughout the years, including Danny. So yes, he was a guest. He played on one of our songs on our first album, “#75248” and he did a bunch of guitar solos and things. I think he did a few more tracks, but yeah. [laughs]

SS: To really answer that question, the “third member” is probably like three or four different people… Like I said, it’s been Evan and I…since the beginning. Although just to name a few, like Evan mentioned my older brother, Paul: he was playing gigs with us at one point, so he was our bassist while Evan was on guitar. And so he wasn’t as dedicated, so he never really stuck around. Mark is the guy who’s in the High-Five video; he did the guitar solos on “#75248.” Danny did some guitar work on Valhalla…

EY: He also wrote some songs, too, yeah. [laughs]

SS: A good friend of mine, Nick, who did bass on the second album… It’s just, it’s really hard if you’re in a band to find someone who shares the same vision and really wants to, you know, “follow the leader” and work as a team and really get on board with it. It’s just something that Evan and I really at this point are pretty committed to. We just haven’t… And so we’re not seriously looking, but we haven’t really came across the right person who really fits our vision. Although, we’re more than happy to collaborate with anybody and just see what they have to offer.

EY: And I think that Conner from our record label — when we signed with him he helped us kind of establish the fact that…embrace that we are a duo. And I suppose to a band… Something that we struggled with previously, trying to find a member to fit — to play live and kind of then embraced the fact that…stop thinking about playing live and make the music, embrace who you are and things like that. And now between like Rizzo…helping me, and even my cousins are helping me and things like that. So we kind of all create The Influencers at the end of the day.

I like how you said, “Stop thinking about playing live,” ’cause if you think about, like The Beatles: they were big before when they were playing the live shows, but it wasn’t until Sgt. Peppers’ when they said, “Okay, we’re not gonna play live anymore” that they really just skyrocketed their career and all their sales went up.

EY: Exactly. ’Cause you can limit yourself so much worrying about how to play something live, but I think in today’s climate and everything how music is made, most people don’t even think about that, really. So we are totally on board with creating all kinds of stuff. “Desert” had…what, like 120 tracks on it?

SS: [laughs]

EY: [laughs] And we’ll never be able to play that live!

SS: I don’t think that’s a problem. I’m more than happy with how “Desert” came out, and I think you find a lot of groups or bands now (and this is really acceptable) to have your recording and to play live, but your recording and your live performance really don’t have to sound exactly alike ’cause the fans are happy enough to see the artist doing what they do best. And you know, hearing — let’s say — Evan’s voice or my drums…in my opinion, that’ll be enough for them as long as we’re really trying to entertain them and you know, something artistic and something that they’d like to hear.

Is there a specific single, track, or album that you’re specifically proud of?

SS: I’m extremely proud of all of our latest releases — “Desert” in particular ’cause that’s the one with the most streams. And it’s just crazy how they all came together.

Going off the numbers, dude. [laughs]

EY: [laughs]

SS: [laughs] But if you really dissect them and figure how we came into making each one sound the way it does, it’s really cool ’cause you can’t imagine what the final product is gonna sound like in along the way until it’s actually done. And one thing that I do is every time we release a new song, it makes me appreciate the previous song more. So, coming off “Whitewater,” which I was extremely proud of, we came out with “Desert,” so it made me appreciate “Whitewater.” Flash forward to now “Slingshot,” I’ve been listening to “Lightning” nonstop, because that’s…I mean, you gotta separate yourself as an artist from what you’re making to really take in in as [an] artistic image instead of each part, and dissecting it, saying what you could do better or worse…things like that. So I would just say, to answer your question, all of our 2019 releases are my prized possessions. [laughs]

Well, if you can tell, I’m always listening to Lightning nonstop. [laughs]

EY: [laughs]

SS: Hearing you talk about it, too, made me even step back and say, “Wow, we really…” [laughs]

EY: That was an interesting one. I think that it’s… It’s interesting because I have my favorites for different reasons — like for example, “Fallin’” I think is one of my favorite kind of guitar-acoustic, vocal-melody riffs I’ve ever done. But it’s funny because when it was released, not that many people liked it as opposed to “Desert” or ‘Whitewater” or other songs. So, you know, everyone has kind of their own thing. But it’s very interesting to see when we get comments or things like that on our videos or music, see how people gravitate towards different things. When you think it’s something great — “This is the best one” — and then everyone likes something else. [laughs]

Is there anything that we can expect from you in the near future?

EY: Yeah, I think we’re working a new song now… We’re kind of having fun with the singles, to be honest. Because you know, in today’s music industry and everything, large albums (unless you’re like a really big name — heavy hitters that are dropping two albums a year or something) I think people like singles more because you can stay…I don’t want to say relevant, but in their ear more consistently as opposed to every two years or something with ten songs that drop. So I like singles. I mean, like maybe an EP or something like that, I kind of like the pace of just dropping things.

SS: I agree with that. The singles…I couldn’t imagine in the early days saying that we’d be releasing one single at a time, but you can hear the results that — when we put all of our energy and focus into one song instead of seven or eight songs (maybe more), that we’re not as scattered and we really stay true to what we’re working on. We also do have some videos on backlog. We have a back-to-work acoustic video that we’re kind of sitting on right now. I think we’re just waiting for some final touches on that. And you know, with everything that’s going on, we might have delayed the release for that reason. But we’re always happy to come up with new content, new videos. Our main focus right now is definitely on the next song, so we’re working on a demo right now; we’re in the early stages of our next song.

Alright. Thank you so much, guys, for sitting down with me, especially in how crazy the world is right now. [laughs]

EY: [laughs] Well thank you, Madeline! …I think what you’re doing is great, and diving into music like that. Especially in a time like now where people wanna…I mean, there’s only so much you can do in a day, and listening to music and understanding music and really thinking about — instead of just listening to it for the fun of it, but digging into it is something that is invaluable. …

And we can follow you on Instagram, Twitter, YouTube…?

EY: Yes, Instagram, YouTube is a good place to follow us, and I think that you’ll be seeing some new videos coming out soon.

SS: Yes…hearing someone talk about our music like that really pushes us to keep going. As much as we love doing it, the fan validation really sends us twice as far…

Follow The Influencers on social media:

Instagram (@ theinfluencersband)

Twitter (@ ZeInfluencers)

YouTube (The Influencers)

Spotify, Bandcamp, Amazon Music