On the Harmony of Givers & Takers
Sitting down with the members of LA bliss-rock band Givers & Takers, I recognize that this will be my first impression of them as a group, offstage. When I visit their studio space, a large atmospheric room buzzing with good creative energy tucked away in the Malibu hills, they immediately put me at ease.
Besides an easygoing cohesion as both co-creators and best buds, what characterizes Givers & Takers is their crusade for balance, which is being fought on several fronts.
Like many bands they have a habit of extreme behavior, living in alternating phases of extreme performance zeal or extreme creative cloister – a dichotomous habit formed in their early days playing for drunk college kids in Isla Vista in 2010. After years of obsessively honing the live performance side, the guys are ready to start pumping out some vinyl.
“I think the past six months or so has been almost like a compensating swing of the pendulum, where we’ve been trying to produce this content so that we can kind of re-find center,” guitarist Mark Pollack says. “We’re trying to figure out the balance of juggling those balls simultaneously, because we’ve kind of been all-or-nothing.”
In the twilight of those six months, though, it’s clear how much road they’ve paved. Fans can look forward to three new singles to join their most recent release ‘Start the Morning’, some live videos, and most likely a few opportunities to catch the live act before the year is out.
More significantly, at least for people like me who’ve gotten hooked on their music, this year has ushered in some stylistic shifts as well, and they seem to represent another front in the Great Quest for Balance. A big part of the maturing process before writing new material has been in recognizing the value of subtlety.
According to frontman Zack Greenwald, this is more than your run-of-the-mill change in taste. “I think it’s growth, and learning to say what we need to say with less – words or sound.” The new song, ‘Start the Morning’, perfectly exemplifies their new succinct, held-down energy. This is a band that doesn’t shy away from showcasing their influences; but the more they create the more they really own the sound, embracing the pared-down parts as much as the complex ones.
Quelling the impulse to dial every song up to eleven has allowed, in each, a little more room to breathe. The dynamic range was always impressive with Givers & Takers; what really shines these days is the acute individual clarity of each part coexisting with the rest. It’s a four-way equilibrium wherein every player is obviously taking as much joy in the others’ contributions as his own. You’ll find zero personal grandstanding here, and that’s pretty rare.
For me, the silent, singular language that grows between musicians who have played together forever is always the best part to watch. These guys take it even higher in the way they show excitement about what’s being created, as it’s being created. It’s clearest in the quiet moments: when something is being built, and you have the privilege of observing every layer at the moment it first inhales – the virtuosity of Mark’s and bassist Drew Bruchs’ playing, drummer Alan Krespan’s exquisite precision, Zack’s electrifying vocal delivery. And then you get it also when the intensity recedes and you get to share in the players’ breathlessness, watching it dissipate into whatever present moments become when they die.
No matter where they go on the dynamic scale, though – and these guys do love dialing it up to eleven – this is music that just tastes good. Having experienced this, I was unsurprised when the guys describe just how collaborative the writing process is. Instead of having one or two spearheads, the four get into a room and allow the sound to take shape organically. Or, in Zack’s words, “Really honor the song. What does the song mean? What is the song asking for? What does it want to be?”
They’ve even developed recording itself as a way to create fluidity between the performative and recorded modes. “Recording is a whole process where you get to actually sit back and listen to yourself, as opposed to being in the moment,” Alan explains. “So when you take a step back and are able to listen to yourself, I feel like there’s a lot of parts that you hear, different little instruments or diddles, that you didn’t notice before. So then it’s like, well, how do we implement this into the set?”
What I find in talking to the members of Givers & Takers is the same ease and camaraderie evident in the way they play together, write together, hang together. Drew bottom-lines it: “I think at the end of the day we all love playing music together. So I think we’re all always going to be doing this. No matter what.”
As for the name? As a title junkie, I have to ask. Mark explains it thus: “It’s not so much about there being givers and takers as two types of people in the world, but rather knowing how to both give and receive in order to be a balanced person. How to offer help to others, but also accept people’s help. And when you accept, you’re providing the opportunity for someone else to give.”
Originally published on Metronome LA in October, 2015