The Western Den Embrace Unconditional Love in “Hold You Upright”

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Boston indie folk duo The Western Den are back with a new track, “Hold You Upright,” inspired by vocalist/instrumentalist Deni Hlavinka’s quest to let herself love unconditionally.

“‘Hold You Upright’ was written during a time in which I felt frustrated and helpless about how to make myself and my loved ones happy,” says Hlavinka. “Something inside me kept telling me that I wasn’t doing enough–to keep trying to ‘fix’ things, to keep trying to protect people, to keep trying to pretend that the dark parts of life can disappear if you distract yourself from them. But of course, it doesn’t work like that.”

In “Hold You Upright”–premiering today on American Songwriter–Hlavinka’s vocals are hushed yet strong. Her voice eventually reaches a crescendo above melodic guitar, drums, and keys: “Now you’re running on empty / Are you living on fumes? / Has your lover gone drifting? / Are you mourning the news?” Chris West–the other half of The Western Den–contributes gorgeous back-up harmonies.

“I’m always trying to make everything alright / but talking for hours about the sun / could never light up the darkest night,” Hlavinka sings in a poignant refrain that serves as a throughline in the song. Eventually she repeats the last line of that refrain before altering it slightly: “Oh would you light up…” Her voice rises to an ethereal whisper, trailing off before she can finish. The song ends on this vulnerable note.

It’s an appropriate ending for a track about learning to love oneself and others unconditionally.

“I learned that the only way to love yourself and your people is unconditionally–through all discomfort, through all eras, through all changes, through all the versions of ourselves we have been or have yet to become,” Hlavinka says of her experience writing the song. “I learned that the best way to love is by letting go.”

This desire to love unconditionally also comes through in the song’s titular refrain: “As long as I’m breathing / I’ll hold you upright.” 

“Hold You Upright” is The Western Den’s first release following their striking 2019 debut album A Light Left On. Breakout singles “Spark, Set Fire” and “I Still Remain” revealed the duo to be nimble indie folk practitioners capable of crafting moody, spindly compositions that foreground Hlavinka’s vocals.

Hlavinka and West began collaborating nearly seven years ago, when they met on an online forum for admitted college students. The duo released three EPs–2015’s All the Birds, 2013’s Battle Hymns, and 2013’s Midwinter–before releasing A Light Left On, and they cite artists such as Wye Oak, Bon Iver, Sylvan Esso, and Phoebe Bridgers as influences. 

Indeed, Hlavinka seems to channel Bridgers in her delivery of the charged first lines of “Hold You Upright:” “I saw a bird’s first flight down / landed in a puddle and nearly drowned.” It’s a line that feels like it could’ve appeared in Bridgers’ 2017 debut album, Stranger in the Alps. (She invokes birds in the chorus of “Smoke Signal” to similar effect: “You must have been looking for me / Sending smoke signals / Pelicans circling / Burning trash out on the beach.”) Hlavinka sings of her effort to save the bird, but doesn’t share its fate. As with unconditional love, it’s the effort that counts.

Listen to “Hold You Upright” below.

3.8 || New Haven, CT || Cafe Nine

3.9 || Troy, NY || Superior Merch

3.10 || Brooklyn, NY || Trans Pecos

3.11|| Boston, MA || Great Scott
3.12 || Portland, ME || HOME
3.15 || Burlington, VT: Congregation Ruach HaMaqom

3.20 || Winchester, VA || Hopscotch Coffee

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