Deni Hlavinka and Chris West began writing songs together in the summer of 2011, months before they were in the same geographical location. Thanks to a Facebook group comprised of incoming Berklee freshman, the two found each other and began collaborating despite the many miles between Hlavinka’s home in Virginia and West’s all the way over in Bermuda. That overseas musical spark became a full-on flame, the prospect of a band beginning to bloom, once the wide-eyed college newbies settled into their dorms and continued collaborating.
“As writers, we sort of gravitate towards the same styles, and I think that’s one reason why we compliment each other,” says Hlavinka, over a glass of apple cider in her cozy Back Bay apartment. And if you’ve seen them perform live—often accompanied by friends Alec Alabado on trumpet, Tim Reynolds on violin, and John Hubbell on electric—you’ll recognize Hlavinka’s modesty. “Compliment each other” doesn’t begin to describe the pair’s unspoken understanding onstage. West’s harmonies seem to belong alongside Hlavinka’s vocal and piano prowess, and his tasteful acoustic fingerpicking rounds out their ambient folk sound, which pulls from the soundscapes of Bon Iver frontman Justin Vernon and the bare-boned lyrics of songwriters such as Anais Mitchell. And unlike the slew of foot-stomping Mumford & Sons folk wannabes that have surfaced recently, The Western Den both takes influence to heart and still comes out with something unique.
But it wasn’t until Melissa Ferrick, Bostonian singer-songwriter and one of Deni’s professors at Berklee, asked them to accompany her on the East Coast leg of her tour that they scrambled to come up with solid merch. And that meant, more importantly than t-shirts or nicknacks, an album. Painstakingly arranging and recording into the wee hours of the morn, and with the dedication of producer Jon Hubbell (Bigfoot Wallace), they pulled together an EP in a month.
“To people who are not familiar with the recording process, a month for a four-song EP doesn’t really sound like a struggle, but it takes a while to create something you’re proud of, not just something that will suffice,” says West. Thus, their very first official release came in May of 2013 with Battle Hymns. “We finished the EP the same day we had to send it off to Disk Makers to make the CDs.”
As for what’s currently in the works for Western Den’s next release, West is enigmatic about the details. He just laughs and says, “The goal is to write songs that you won’t hate in a few months.”
THE WESTERN DEN + LEWIS WATSON. THE RED ROOM, 939 BOYLSTON ST., BOSTON. SAT 11.15. 1PM/ALL AGES/$12. CAFE939.COM