Catch up with Given Names' David Raymond and listen to the duo's single "East To West" off their forthcoming eponymous EP.
What brought you together to start Given Names?
David: I was in a band in 2003/2004 and we were touring all over the country on like a 6 month tour and one of our shows was in Melbourne, Florida in Brevard County and one of the bands that was playing was called Sleeping Girl Drowning. It was their first show ever and all of the band members showed up in black suits with black ties and white shirts and they played this very progressive rock, really inspired, indie, high energy show and it was really cool. And the singer of the band was Jeremy and we had a pretty immediate energy so we stayed in touch. We were pretty close for the next decade and became really close friends and traveled to see each other but never really got the chance to play music together, until one day we did. I was just in Brooklyn working - he still lives in Brooklyn - and we were just doing what we normally do, hanging out and chatting about life and we started talking about music and writing these stories and he and I both had, between us, just an infinity of unfinished material of art and music and so we just started picking from the pile of music we had and it began from there.
Which artists have you been influenced by?
I think it's not as direct as it is just the culmination of many things. He and I have a very similar appreciation for music but I'd say our tastes are different from time to time. It's ironic, because I have a rock band and I barely listen to rock and roll [laughs]. Last night, he sent me this video from Lorn with one of his songs called "Acid Rain" and I was like, 'man, this just seems right up Given Names' lane,' and we kick that kind of stuff around. Really, the stuff we take inspiration from is like FKA twigs and M.I.A. and just going off of that. And a lot of the contemporary classics like Michael Jackson and Queen and George Michael and Prince, because that was the schooling that we had and that had a big thumbprint on our musical endeavors.
Are there any artists you're most looking forward to hearing more from in 2018?
It's tough to say. I think I'm just going to use a different mindset in general, because the way that music is served up is different than it used to be, the album experience is a different thing. A lot of the stuff that I get excited about are usually a collaboration of sorts. Like the newest St. Vincent record and having worked with Jack Antonoff, I wonder if that's why I love it so much, because I love his individual work so much and had she gone to work with another producer, would I have fallen in love with Masseduction the same way? So, I think both Jeremy and I are just sponges for things. We monitor what each other are listening to really, really closely and if something pops off it's like a flurry of texts like, 'listen to this!' and then a few texts later like, 'no, seriously, stop what you're doing and listen to this,' [laughs] and we'll listen to it for a little while.
What words would you use to describe your sound?
Foggy, dark, ethereal, moody, and scattered. It's cool with Given Names, because we've cut things down and, in essence, what we do is what we don't do. We've given ourselves guardrails and we write lyrics that are around storylines; there has to be a story to it so it's not another love song and it's not another song about death, there has to be a protagonist. Same thing with our music, we often start with these lush arrangements and instrumentation and the idea is to get it down to being as synthy as possible so each thing is doing exactly what it needs to do. And the EP that we wrote and produced with Villain Lighting, we had a pretty limited set of instruments, like one or two synthesizers, one drum machine, and I think I sang on two different microphones and that's it for the entire thing.
What were your inspirations behind your single "East To West"?
It was fun. There's obviously death, the afterlife, coping with death and love and loss: there's just an infinity of inspiration to be found on those topics, right? So the idea of this character going through a process that none of us really have any true dictation for - none of us living have experienced death - what if there was a guide that was there to take you through it and calm you down and make it a little less scary, someone who's done it before. And then we started looking at rituals and one of the rituals in Predynastic Egypt was, the way that they celebrated their dead was often more about the way they celebrated the living and there was one particular burying ritual where they would lay their dead from East to West, from sunrise to sunset, and that's where we derived the song.
Is this sound on "East to West" indicative of what we can expect to hear on your EP?
Yes! Similar expectations. The idea was to change the mood from song to song and we tried to curate the best that we can and I think, in retrospect, we sound a lot more direct in our application than we truly are, but it really just comes down to that curation. "East to West" was one of our favorites from this EP but, in honesty, it was hard to pick. 3 of the 4 songs were like, 'oh, that's the one, oh no that's the one' [laughs]. So similar soundscapes, a little bit different mood, and storytelling in a similar vein; and you can expect some more visual art to accompany the EP.
How would you sum up the EP in one sentence?
Elemental. We wrote it during the Winter time and it was dead cold outside so we were locked up indoors, drinking whiskey, looking out the windows, and we just got enamored with this endless dark and freezing rain.
Is there a track off the EP you're most excited to share with listeners?
There's a song called "Funeral Fires" that I'm really stoked on. It's unique in that, when I listen to it, it's something I would have never made on my own. I think that's the best part about collaboration, is when you feel like you can stand back and enjoy something and it's from a spectator's point of view because it wasn't only yours. So, yeah, there's a song called "Funeral Fires" that I'm really excited to show people.
What do you hope listeners take away from your music?
I don't have any particular hopes. I'm very thankful that people will even spend the time because there's a lot of beautiful, enriching things you can spend your time consuming. Just with our process, we spend a lot of time making sure it truly represents us and there's clearly a design aesthetic to a lot of what we do, we're both designers by trade. We've been musicians a long time and I think that our friendship is a testament to this band and, at this point in life, it's just important that we spend time together. If i could tell people to look for anything in our music, I would tell them to look for the relationship Jeremy and I share. We're good friends, we keep each other in line, and our music with Given Names is a very vulnerable experiment and very vulnerable exercise.
Is there anything you want to add?
I really just want to say thank you. If you stumbled across this stuff by word of mouth, playlist, or someone's blog and even gave it a few moments, it means the world, really.