Local musician with great ambitions reflects on his roots
Music — it’s all around us, and most people have found it a soothing balancer to accompany the leisure in their lives. For Frankford native Mike Givens, however, music is his life, a reassuring solace of what he’s accomplished and the promising future that awaits this young, talented artist.
Givens took to music well before most, starting on drums before he was even in middle school and picking up a guitar when only 12 years old. His parents grew up listening to The Eagles, Tom Petty and Jimmy Buffet, and he developed a growing appreciation for the classics.
Determined not to let a promising opportunity slip away, he pursued his ripening talent and began playing in a band by the time he reached seventh grade, alongside childhood friends Peter Howard and Brandon Elliot. Surprisingly, Givens is one of the only ones in his family who locked into such a calling, and he taught himself everything he knows, constantly improving his abilities day in and day out.
Since he started learning to play covers and writing his own music in middle school, his repertoire has encompassed everything from 1950’s oldies to heavy metal, and everything in between. Aspects of light rock, alternative and reggae influences have come to distinguish Givens’ work in a specialized and unique approach.
His enticing vocals fit the mood of all his performances, from a smooth, syncopated melody to a raspy adaptation of a cover that makes it all is own. Recognizable names such as Jack Johnson and Ryan Adams are among his favorite influences today.
“I have a lot of the same style that they use when I write my music,” said Givens. “I’m really into the laid-back, easy listening stuff, but I’ve pretty much played every type of music you can think of.”
Over the years, his talent has taken him and a varying group of musicians statewide, from notable stages in Dewey Beach to Delaware’s Battle of the Bands, where his previous band, Substance, earned Best in Show. He has donated his time and talent on other albums and has mixed his talent with the likes of many well-known area performers.
After Givens graduated from Indian River High School in 2003, he and Howard both headed north, enrolling at Bloomsburg University in Pennsylvania. Education took precedent in his focus, although Gives utilized his time to venture into all kinds of musical avenues.
Despite the enjoyment brought by the area surrounding his secondary education, Givens returned to his inherent habitat, to the area that’s welcomed his ambitious perseverance since the start.
Accompanied by nothing more than a guitar, an amp and the strong supportive encouragement from friends and family, Givens has taken to local venues’ open-mic nights.
Nearly a year ago, he started up the Mike Givens Band, encompassing himself, and Howard, as well as several others, although conflicting schedules have limited the number of their performances.
“We’re trying to get out there more,” he said, of himself and the band. They have recently headlined performances at Bethany Beach’s Chalkboard and Cottage Café.
Givens and Howard still continue writing their own music, collaborating now and then and providing each other’s musical development with feedback.
“Peter and I have been writing and recording with each other for about four months, now,” Givens said, “just trying to get our stuff done. I’m hoping it’s going to take off in the springtime. We want to start getting out there and going all over the place. I really want to branch out and start meeting new people and artists.”
When there is time, the two continue writing their own music and playing off each other’s work.
“I’d bring what I’ve written to him and he’ll put his spin on it,” Givens said, “and he’ll show me something he wrote and I’ll add to it.” The two would even switch on and off with instruments, accompanying other with guitar and drums.
Though all has gone well for Givens’ developing musical endowment, it hasn’t quite reached the level that he’s been chasing for more than a decade.
“Hopefully, I can put myself in a position where I could get signed or start my own record label,” he said, looking into the future, five years down the road. “That’s my ultimate goal.”
Givens has explored the possibility of getting signed, networking himself with a variety of people.
“It’d be really nice to get my music up on a global level someday,” he said. He’s even delved into the idea of branching out into his own design label, like clothing, once he’s content with his music performance.
Like many artists who are as passionate about his practice as he is, Givens admits that some years from now, he’d like the glamour of big-city shows. However, he finds it hard to completely part from the lower Delaware region he’s called home his entire life.
“It’s great here,” he said. “If I do make it, I’d still like to come back here and help others get their start. The talent here is amazing, and lots of great people here are going undiscovered. Musicians here are very inspirational, and it’s really something to look up to.”
For Givens, stepping up to a microphone has been no problem, as a loyal following of fans motivate him every time he’s out. “I’ve always had so much support from everyone,” he said. “My friends and family have been behind me to the fullest. That’s what really keeps me going.” When in front of the crowd, Givens always finds himself in a zone, content with the world. “You get up there,” he said, “singing and sweating, everyone starts getting into it. It’s like being in another world. I just get up there and let it all go.”
His original work is constantly being introduced in his performances, always with much reception from the crowd.
“When you see people enjoying something that you wrote,” he said, “there’s no better feeling. What you write might have meant one thing to you, but others will come up and tell me how it related to them. That’s a good feeling to know they can get enjoyment out of something you did.”
For now, Givens continues plugging away, writing and performing music whenever the opportunity surfaces.
“I’m really thankful to be here,” he said, “and thankful for the talent I’ve been giving. I definitely don’t want to give up after going so far.”
Music lovers can catch Givens on Thursday nights at Chalkboard’s Open Mic Night and at the Starboard in Dewey Beach, along with fellow musicians, on March 29 for an afternoon performance from noon until 5 p.m.