In Conversation—with Given Names

Given Names is an intellectually engaging electronic rock duo of two artistic designers, one from Brooklyn and the other from Chicago.  EP 2 is their four-song sophomore release (listen to the single “East to West” here).  Recently duo-members David Raymond and Jeremy Perez-Cruz took the time to answer our questions about their history, the new EP, art, and creativity.

Tell me a little about the role music played in your early life.

Piano.  All piano lessons—the Suzuki Method.  Hip-hop tapes, soundtracks to various movies that I loved.  I know I liked music, but I hated lessons.  Lift the wrists, walk before you run.

How did you meet? What made you decide to make music together? And how did you settle on your band name?

2002 or ‘03, Melbourne, Florida, a small VFW [Veterans of Foreign Wars] hall, at night, downpour, (now-) dead bands played together and Jeremy and I spent the next decade talking about playing music together.  A few years ago, we did, in Brooklyn, NY, during the winter.  “Given Names” is the second name we settled on.  We write fictional (mostly) narratives, so it seemed fitting that while pretending to be someone else, Given Names became a playful anchor.

How do those clever lyrics get written?

Vulnerability, a lot of real-time editing each other, and a lot of whiskey.  Jeremy and I are both designers, and designers need to speak emotively to describe obscure ideas before they turn to reality.  It helps that we both see and navigate the world in similar ways.

What thoughts and experiences are behind “East to West?”

We were playing with the idea of whether the experience of dying would be less lonely and disorienting if there were a veteran guide to take you through it.  From there, we studied up on the (infinity) rituals of death and burial over time.  A customary practice during the Egyptian Pre-Dynastic Period was to place the dead in a crouched or fetal position in rectangular boxes, facing the east (rising sun) or the west.  The song is about someone who has already died teaching a dying person how to pass.

Has anything funny or bizarre ever happened to you while recording, performing, or touring?

Lots.  Truly, more than I can pick one from.  We’ve shared miserable tour experiences that turned into fond memories.  Recently we rented a car in Chicago and drove it to the center of a remote corn field in rural Kentucky to see Jeremy photograph an eclipse.  We explored the Freedom Tunnel [NYC], got filthy, and then got into an exceptionally white car.

Are there any books, films, or albums that have deeply influenced your development as artists?

Also, lots.  Jeremy more so, I think; the list of books he’s read is vast.  We do pull lines from books (often), remove them from context, and imagine new stories around them.  Lots of classic American literature, from Salinger, Hemingway, Faulkner, and Whitman to more modern writers like Ellis, Roth, and Gladwell.  Film nods to David Fincher, Jeff Cronenweth, Emmanuel Lubezki, Darius Khondji, and Roger Deakins.

What conditions do you need in your life in order to continue being creative?

I don’t know how it is for everyone.  I realized not long ago that creatives need some type of support system to continue creating.  That’s not to say that struggle isn’t part of the equation, but if you’re constantly arranging your life just to get back to creating, then there’s a lot of wasted energy.  Personally, I just need to know that I’m not holding anyone up or letting anyone down.  It’s a bit like being invisible, but it’s how I need to feel to feel free to make [my own art].

Do you embrace a religion, ideology, or spiritual practice that informs your work?

We’re all ritualistic.  Say you’re not, and you are.  Little rituals, traditions.  If you work for anyone else, the same applies.  Planning of any sort is ritualistic.  Spirituality, that’s a bit more abstract, and I haven’t much to comment on it.  Religion, however . . . I believe we share the exact same sentiments on religion.  There are a lot of conflicting egos at play, and from that jagged chaos comes an endless well of inspiration for writing songs or painting paintings or fighting with relatives or starting and stopping wars.

Do you have a desire to use your art to alleviate suffering?

It’d be awfully arrogant to think that designing a song (or any art) could alleviate someone else’s experience that I know fuck-all about.  Art can be healing.  It can be awakening, controversial, beautiful, ugly, inspiring, unsettling.  If people relate to something we make and it helps them or rewards them in any way, that’s amazing.  However, we’re not writing with that intention.

If you had an artist’s mission statement, what would it be?

Be mindful of the past and ultra-aware of the present.  Fuck the future; it doesn’t exist.  The only thing we’re certain of is uncertainty.  Also: The work we do is evidence of the relationships we have.

What will you be doing after the EP is released?

Art, photography, video, whatever gets Jeremy and I together more often, not that we need Given Names to be the reason.

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