The ‘Heavy-Whimsical’ Vibes of Givers & Takers

Words by Nadia Dar

California psych-rockers Givers and Takers are back with a new single and sweet video to go along with it.  Their last EP, Let Me Have It, grabbed the attention of critics everywhere, and since then the band has shared the stage with Walk the Moon, !!! (Chk Chk Chk) and Alberta Cross.

With a new EP on the horizon and a  new single fresh out the studio, we decided to have a chat with singer Zack Greenwald to find out exactly what Givers & Takers is all about…

The Waster: I’d like to know a little bit about your songwriting process. You guys seem to put a strong emphasis on harmony and each piece coming together naturally. Why do you think that’s such a significant element when producing your music? How long did it take you to master it with the band’s current dynamic?

Zack Greenwald:  I think that harmony is highlighted in the songwriting because it is the most natural emphasis for us. We have never written from the transitional songwriting standpoint—where one man presents the chord-structured layout for an entire song to the other men, who then voice their instruments to fit the feel or idea of the original vision.
Rather, our songs tend to be a series of layer-comprised parts. We find new ways to collaboratively weave them together in the spirit of continuity. This is an ever-evolving dynamic between us. We have learned to keep it interesting by changing the way that each part is created. We have songs that were primarily written “plugged in” at our studio, some on acoustic instruments, and some pieced together electronically and translated from there.

There seems to be such a fun psychedelic vibe to Givers and Takers that makes the music so easy to listen to, yet you manage to incorporate such powerful messages in all of your songs. Is that an important goal for you? How do you achieve that without coming off as being too serious?

ZG: I suppose it starts with not taking ourselves too seriously. The life issues that these songs/stories come from are heavy by nature, and sometimes the best way to cope is to take the piss out of ‘em. That being said, don’t get us wrong. We have hours of material in the live setlist, and some of it is pretty intense. We’ve always identified as “heavy-whimsical.”

A lot of bands mostly advocate only the positives to being free, but your video for “Strangers” almost seems to display both the light and dark sides of choosing your own path. Why do you think it’s so crucial for people to recognize both sides?

ZG: For us, the stress was on awareness—that if we don’t mind our motives and stay alert, it’s alarming how fast the fun can become mundane—and how fast mundane can turn into “How the fuck did I get here?”

Speaking of videos, I noticed that all of your current ones have a very cinematic feel to them. How important is creating a good video when putting out a single? How would you compare that process to your songwriting?

ZG: Our dream is that one day Givers & Takers can be more of a community than a band. We find joy in sharing our vision with dear friends who take and edit pictures, create films, do design work, put on shows, run lights, sculpt sound, build instruments, etc. When we create a song, that song is bred by our hearts—the four of us, the musicians of Givers & Takers.

So, the oversight of a video is different for us than that of our audio production. Music is our language. We only speak a certain degree of “film,” so we let our directors take the reigns a bit to do some expression of their own, communicating with them along the way to make sure the message is unified and clear. A good video is as important to us as any item of content is. The idea is that we want everything attached to this name to be thoughtful, honest and from the heart.

Since starting in 2010, the band has been together for over six years now. What’s changed the most since you began? What do you want to improve on, still?

ZG: Individual growth has translated into growth as musicians—but mostly as committed bandmates, friends and business partners. We have learned to wear the different hats needed to keep the ship afloat. We have learned what it means to be in a band in 2016—how serious and insane you have to be to do what we do. We’ve learned about endurance and perspective. As far as the music, I would summarize the change over time with four key terms: patience, succinctness, dynamics, and listening. We still want to improve on those four things.

As your journey carries on and you continue to grow, you’ll be doing more shows and  playing alongside bigger and bigger bands. Although it’s always exciting to share the stage with big acts, how would you compare the experience to playing your own shows?

With an opening slot comes a few things. We almost find ourselves playing with a chip on our shoulder. Like there is this thing we are swinging for—the respect of the fans who didn’t necessarily come to see us. Admittedly, we find ourselves critical of opening bands for the shows we are most excited to be attending, because of how damn hungry we are for those slots. Opening comes with this humility in setting your gear up in front of someone else’s, in having to rush it off the stage, and accommodate the needs of an artist who may or may not be too beat from the road to even look you in the eye or catch your set.

None of this is said with bitterness, though. The humility feels good because it conjures more and more of this hunger that fuels us. We put on shows at our own venue in Agoura Hills and they’re fun because we can craft our sets however we’d like, get weird with fog and lights, and really curate the entire evening. We think that when we eventually get to do this on a larger scale, that we will have earned it. So for now, we are in “opening band” mentality.

Your 2014 EP, Let Me Have It, has more of a wild indie rock edge, whereas your most recent singles have a more melodic psych rock sound. Was the change of pace intentional or did it happen organically?

ZG: It happened organically, and it came with the idea of being succinct, asking, “How can we more efficiently/effectively say what we need to?” As a vocalist, I have honed the style of my craft and grown since Let Me Have It, so that is audible too. We look at it as more of a broadening of the spectrum, because a lot of our material still has that edge. We identify as a live band (or even a full-album band) because we have so much that we want to share in one sitting. So many places to go, things to feel and ideas to cover. With the release of each single has almost come this frantic subtext: “ … but there’s so much more!”

Your new EP is dropping pretty soon. Is there anything you think people should know or consider before their first listen?

ZG: “…and there’s so much more.”

What would you say has been your craziest or best show to date?

ZG: My gut reaction is the shows we put on at our space a few weeks ago. We did two nights back-to-back with one of our all-time favorite bands, Infantree. We had a different local band open each night. Each of us played a different set both nights. We had talented friends running sound and light/fog.

The Infantree guys have started hand-cutting records through their own label, Real Time Vinyl—so we cut a limited run of split 45s with the evening’s poster artwork (created by a member of one of the other bands) on the sleeve. We pretty much filled the room to capacity both nights. We have grown to love DIY event curation. There’s just something about creating a hum of energy and love where there was only empty space before. We have been doing it since day one in Isla Vista, making venues out of driveways, playing for people hanging off rooftops and poking out of trees. Opening for Walk the Moon was pretty rad, too.

What’s next for Givers and Takers? What tour news can you give us regarding your upcoming EP?

ZG: The EP is in the early stages of production. So you can very well expect it this year—and just as well expect a chance to see us live in the next year. | Santa Barbara