The Hard Maybes
Label: Mint 400 Records
Reviewed by Sam Lowry

Lead vocalist Harley Cunha of The Hard Maybes discusses the essentials of songwriting, the impact of working with indie labels, inspirations from fellow musicians, and the learning experiences from creating their debut EP “Thank you, I Think?”

The Hard Maybes, a rising band from New Jersey, bring a unique blend of girl-group gravitas and gritty indie style, creating a sound that’s as refreshing and unexpected as Pop Rocks in a glass of Coca-Cola. Fronted by the distinct voice of lead vocalist Harley Cunha, often described as an unconventional Disney Princess, the band is rounded out by the talents of Brian Erickson on bass, Kyle Hahn and Andrew Ludewig on guitars, and Matt Magnifico on drums. Despite their recent debut in 2022, The Hard Maybes have carved out a significant place in the local scene with their innovative style and compelling performances.

Q: In your opinion, what are the essential qualities that make a “good songwriter”?

I think being a good songwriter comes from a few varying factors; word choice, melody, and hooks, are the ones I think of first. For the music I like to listen to, I think the qualities that have the biggest influence are a basic understanding of cadence and melodies that create interesting patterns, and an understanding of the listener with whatever message is coming across. We’re at a point where there are so few sentiments that haven’t already been put into music in one way or another. Songwriting is not about always reinventing the wheel, but about making the best wheels I can, they get to the intended destination, they’re ones I would want on my own car, and maybe someone sees them and is like “Hey, I like your wheels!”

Q: What is the basis for writing attention-grabbing music in this day and age?

As a songwriter in a 6-second attention span world, three minutes and thirty seconds can feel like a long time.  When I started sharing my music, a close friend (and fellow songwriter) advised me “Don’t be afraid to kill your darlings.” A harsh saying initially, but he explained that sometimes you have to cut lines, syllables, bridges, or pieces of yourself that you put into a body of work because they don’t serve the work you’re trying to put forth. I feel like this mentality forces me to be a better, more creative, and a more thoughtful songwriter. There’s always a more effective way something can work, you just have to find the way that best serves what you’re creating. 

Q: What has it been like working with an indie record label as opposed to working on your own?

The Hard Maybes work with two indie labels, Mint400 Records and Telegraph Hill Records. They’re both owned by local New Jersey musicians, Neil Sabatino (Mint400),  Matt Fernicola, and Joe Pomarico (THR). They have allowed us to expand on our opportunities and our reach in ways that I am thankful for with every email, cold-call, and DM I don’t have to send out myself. Having the guidance of not one, but two labels, who have the experience to help get us to our goals as a band, is truly invaluable to me. Not to mention the network of other bands and professionals, not just in our local scene, but other artists we may not have known or worked with otherwise. I consider The Hard Maybes very lucky to be a part of the Mint400 and Telegraph Hill community. 

Q: Can you pinpoint some specific songwriters that changed the way you write music?

A large part of how The Hard Maybes first started was when I consulted our bass player, Brian Erickson (The Extensions), to collaborate on “Ding Dong Ditch”. I had written the first verse and chorus in my take on his style, and the song lent itself to introducing another point of view. Our latest single, “Hail Mary”, was also adapted from some conversations with another songwriter, Jeff Linden (Local Honeymoon). “Hail Mary” is loosely based on the show ‘Fleabag’, and conflicting feelings around finding your own take on faith as an adult, and pulls some tricks from Jeff’s previous work. Adapting other artists’ songs, concepts, structure, and lyric styles was a writing exercise I adopted pretty early on when I started songwriting. I personally don’t play any instruments, so it was a tool that I used to help me from falling into a rut, and one that we still use as we write new songs. 

Q: Do you find it hard to be inspired by artists that are younger than you, or are you motivated by their energy? Can you name any new artists you find inspiring?

I come from a dance background more than a music one, and we had a saying in the ballet studio that was “Whatever you’re doing, there’s a seven year old in a Russian boarding school who’s doing it better,” and it was 100% true, but I always found it more motivating, than discouraging. Leanna Firestone is a direct influence for a currently unreleased song. I love her song “Diet Coke” and she is killing it. As someone who only started playing music at the old age of 25, I think it’s incredible seeing how dedicated and driven people younger than me are, and it puts some healthy pressure on me to keep up. There’s so much to be learned from watching what other artists are doing, how it works for them, and how you can make it work for you, your style, and your audience. 

Q: For your new album, what inspired the lyrical content, album title, and overall vibe?

The Hard Maybes released our debut EP “Thank you, I Think?” on May 24, 2024. A big factor in the album is that Quarter-Life Crisis™ mentality. All of the songs were written when I was between 23 and 27. I like blending The Hard Maybe’s music and lyrical styles in a way that demonstrates how fleeting some of the elements of being a twentysomething year old are, regardless of how they feel in the moment. “Thank you, I Think?” showcases that mentality of being so firmly unsure in everything, living like there’s no regret, facing what your regrets ultimately are, and accepting the broken road we build that leads us into who we become. 

Q: Do you find that you ruminate over writing songs and hold on to them for a long time before including them on a record? Or do you prefer to write them, release them, and be done with them? Do you ever re-visit old material to do a re-write or once it’s done it’s done?

Some songs I like to hold off and keep working on, and others because I like to have a more focused vibe for a body of work like an EP. I started writing songs a few years before we started the band and had a vehicle to perform them with, so “Independence Day” is almost five years old from the first draft. I tend to create what I call “Frankenstein-ed” songs, where I’ll write two or three songs about similar subjects and I realize individually they aren’t strong, so I pull pieces from each to make one that I think is better, “Something (Kiss Me Quiet)” is an example of that. Alternatively, “Kiss Me Like a Stranger” was one that went from writing to recording fairly quickly and without too many changes. I think it just depends on what kind of song it is and what story you’re trying to tell at that moment. 

Q: Were there any lessons you learned in the writing and recording process for your current release that you will take with you into your next project?

Absolutely. “Thank You, I Think?” has been two straight years of learning. As a band we’ve learned more about each other personally, how to work with each other as bandmates, and then how to work with each other more effectively as the process progressed. Personally, I feel like I’ve learned more about live shows, collaborative work, and the recording side of music than I could’ve ever thought possible and I still have a long way to go! My biggest takeaway from it all is what an incredible community we have in music, and how insanely lucky I am to be a small part in it, and a very big credit and thanks to Andrew, Brian, Kyle, Matt, Mint400, Telegraph Hill Records, and all of the absolute maniac Maybe Babies™ that listen to our music. 


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