The Western Den is a Boston-based duo comprised of Deni Hlavinka and Chris West. Their spot-on harmonies and interesting song arrangements channel musical influences from the past and future and are intriguing and mesmerizing. The three EPs that the duo have recorded have received rave reviews and are a compelling harbinger for what’s to come from The Western Den.
To learn more about The Western Den, visit their website.
Here’s a video of The Western Den performing ‘Stay the Sun.”
Your biography says that the two of you want to create music “with a purpose.” Can you explain what you mean by that?
Chris: Digging deep to begin with! This answer could go on for days. As the idea of writing, recording, and playing music has become more and more accessible to the general public (which, by the way, I don’t view as a negative), a lot of beautifully crafted music so easily sinks beneath the overwhelming abundance of the formulaic, barely thought out songs. To contribute to preserving music as art, it is really important to us to write with intent.
I understand that Melissa Ferrick was one of your instructors at Berklee. Did you meet there or elsewhere?
Deni: My second year of Berklee, I took a Lyric Writing class with Melissa and we really mentally aligned with what we find important in lyricism and songwriting. Later that semester, she asked us if we wanted to open for her for “The Truth Is” tour and the rest is history. Melissa is a constant source of inspiration for both of us by her songwriting, her powerful performances, and her dedication to herself and her music. She is also one of the most driven, motivated and kindest people we’ve ever met. We feel very lucky to know her.
Becoming a professional musician means many things to many people. What kinds of things are necessary to learn in music school and what kinds of things can you only learn outside classroom walls?
Deni: Berklee was so crucial in solidifying our awareness of music theory and broadening our abilities to orchestrate parts for other instruments. We also now have lifelong peers and mentors who inspire and motivate us daily by their creativity and innovation. But no matter how many classes you take, you can only learn how to play shows, perform with others, book a tour, etc. by doing it yourself. Being a good musician is first and foremost being a good person, no matter how quickly you can play a scale in five octaves.
Chris: I’d credit a lot of our growth as artists to the classes/professors/mentors we had at Berklee, but I absolutely believe that there are crucial aspects of being a musician that you can only learn by doing it as you go. Knowing to navigate to Plymouth, MA and not Plymouth, NH (True near-tour-disaster story…). Developing relationships with venue owners, bookers, audiences, fellow artists alike, and learning to give your best to these people.
I hear lots of different influences in your music. What kind of music did you listen to while growing up?
Deni: I grew up surrounded by the music of Carole King, James Taylor and Joni Mitchell – the latter of which motivated me to learn to play piano and opened my mind to songs with alternative structures.
Chris: I, on the other hand, had much different tastes growing up. I began with a lot of “angst-filled teen” emotional/pop/punk – really soft at first, then huge, epic nine-minute songs. From there, I discovered side solo-projects from the bands I listened to, which led to my discovery of the folk-songwriter world.
Are you disciplined songwriters?
Deni: I guess it depends on your definition of disciplined. We certainly don’t write a song a day, or a song a week, but if the seed of a song is planted, we obsess over it until it is done. One of my greatest mentors and friends, Paula Cole, once told me that every songwriter needs to allow themselves to have fallow seasons – a farming term referring to the time that the ground is left unsown to keep it healthy for future crops to grow. But when the fallow season is over, we’ll write three different song ideas in one day, or pages and pages of lyrics, or have to jump out of the shower with shampoo in my hair still to record a voice memo so I don’t forget a melody. We only want to write when we have something to say.
Chris: I wouldn’t consider us disciplined songwriters. I really admire these artists who write a song a week, and each one is just as good, if not better. We often write at odd times, and sporadically – over an extended period of time, until it sort of falls out.
What’s the most interesting story you can tell us about the evolution of one of your songs?
Deni: We crowd-funded our tour last May for our newest release, “All The Birds”. One of the rewards that donors could select was for us to write them a song based on details provided. The woman who chose this reward asked for a song for her husband as an anniversary gift. We gave her a huge list of deeply personal questions and she graciously responded with everything we could have hoped for.
Chris: They have a beautiful story, so it was a huge honor for us. We actually ended up running into them, totally unplanned, and there was a strangely close connection we felt with them through writing out their life story.
Do you have any desert island disks that you can’t live without?
Deni: Hadestown by Anais Mitchell. Court and Spark by Joni Mitchell. The Longest River by Olivia Chaney. Carrie & Lowell by Sufjan Stevens.
Chris: Repave by Volcano Choir. Dark Arc by Saintseneca. Carrie & Lowell by Sufjan Stevens.
What are your hopes and dreams for the near and distant future?
Chris: To grow more and more as artists, writers, and performers.
Deni: To consistently improve ourselves and always try new things.