Now is the time for The Western Den
Chris West and Deni Hlavinka were having a drink in a Boston bar when another couple caught their attention.
From their nervous awkwardness, the musicians deduced they were on their first date.
Now engaged, it took them back to the breathlessness of their early days. Before they knew it they’d written a single, Spark, Set Fire.
“Some of our first dates were in the same dimly lit bar,” said Mr West who, with Ms Hlavinka, forms indie band The Western Den.
“Spark, Set Fire is the internal narrative of a first date as it is happening. It’s about the anxiety-ridden, sometimes insecure moments when you’re the first one to arrive.
“It’s about the overeager and enthusiastic first conversations attempting to build something that feels comfortable.”
The song premiered on Billboard last month.
“Billboard is a notoriously large and reputable publication in the music industry,” the Bermudian said. “We were pretty speechless when we heard they wanted to premiere our single.
“Our first single, I Still Remain, was released on June 1, and that is nearing a million streams at the moment. Spark, Set Fire has been out for about a week-and-a-half and has around 30,000 streams.”
The pair wrote their first song together even before they’d met.
“Deni posted a song on a forum at Berklee College of Music,” said the 25-year-old, who graduated from the Boston school in 2015. “We were newly accepted, eager students.
“We were talking and I downloaded her song and wrote a second verse and chorus, and sent it back. That was the beginning of our musical connection.”
A face-to-face meeting didn’t happen for a couple months.
“I asked her out for coffee,” Mr West said. “She didn’t know it was our actual first date. She thought it was a friend hang.”
Sparks flew and they found they shared a similar taste in music.
They started The Western Den, a play on their names, in 2013.
Their music has been categorised as folk, but that wasn’t their intention.
“We didn’t have folk roots in our writing,” he said. “But we are really inspired by ambient and orchestral music.”
Spark, Set Fire will be one of the songs in the band’s debut album, A Light Left On, when it’s released early next year.
“We have been wanting to do a full-length album since we started the band,” said Mr West. “We made our first EP back then. We had our heart set on making a full-length album, but it didn’t pan out.
“We were in that limbo period where you’re not sure if what you want to do is the right path. It’s about coming home and finding what feels authentic. That light left on can be anywhere.”
They spent 12 hours a day for 18 days in the studio recording.
“That was pretty amazing,” he said. “It is really special to lock yourselves for an entire day with friends making music. A Light Left On has been done for almost a year.
“We have been sitting on it waiting for the right moment to release it. We have definitely put a lot of energy to it, and we wanted to give it a proper release.”
As it is easy to put music on the internet and have it get lost, the pair teamed up with a couple of friends with industry experience to help them out.
“We are really looking forward to having this record released to the world,” Mr West said. “We hope as many people as possible can relate to it.”
The couple recently moved to Ms Hlavinka’s home town of Winchester, Virginia and are preparing to hit the road.
“It’s true that the music scene is hotter in Boston but at this stage, we are not really playing any one city more than once every two months,” Mr West said. “We have a pretty hefty tour schedule coming up.
“Our pattern is two to three weeks on the road, going everywhere on the East Coast and in the Midwest.
“Then we take two or three months off as a break, then pick up again.”
Mr West remembered one gig in the band’s early days when only three people turned up. Two years later they opened for Tall Heights, an electrofolk duo based in Boston, and played for 500 fans.
“That was probably the biggest crowd we’ve played for,” he said. “You really just have to suffer through the bad shows, revel in the good shows and keep doing it.
“Suddenly people start coming to your shows in towns you’ve never been to. It’s cool and strange to have people in Akron, Ohio say, ‘I found you on Spotify and love the music’ — those are the moments that get you through.”
The couple plan to marry in Virginia on April 13. Mr West said 1980s music would probably play a part.
“It’s infectious and you can’t not dance when it comes on,” he said. “Play any Tears for Fears song, and I lose control.”
• Spark, Set Fire is available on all the major music streaming platforms. Visit www.thewesternden.com