In understanding GIVERS, it’s helpful to think of a constellation, a configuration of points of brightness that when placed in succession, led to the Lafayette, Louisiana-based quintet’s brilliant debut. The metaphor proves particularly useful given the name of their album – In Light (Glassnote Entertainment Group) is a collection filled with joy and brightness, buoyed by constantly evolving rhythms, warmed by spangling guitars, and illuminated by the melodic altruism that is the band’s mission statement.
The first point of light in the pattern stretches back to the band’s origins- lead singer/guitarist Taylor Guarisco and lead singer/percussionist Tiffany Lamson both signed up to attend the music school at the University of New Orleans in the fall of 2005. A fallen-through accommodation led to Lamson crashing on Guarisco’s couch, bonding over their shared love of sound. Guarisco’s immersion in the sounds of New Orleans as a youth led him to play in handful of different funk, Cajun, and Zydeco groups. This influence on his playing was easily complimented by Lamson’s strong upbringing and appreciation for classic rock, soul, and pop. The musical connection between them was immediate and thrilling to them both. With her drums set up in the kitchen and Guarisco on bass, the duo would play together long into the night, eventually singing together as well as finding their voices matched each others’ perfectly. “There’s a very magical part,” explains Guarisco. “We slowly started inspiring each other to sing more and more. Honestly, that’s one of the major miracles of my connection to Tiffany, and hers to me. We didn’t have anyone else in our lives beckoning us to sing out.” Guarisco specifically remembers an evening spent on a friend’s balcony in Baton Rouge that sealed Lamson’s status as a genuine singer.
That fall of 2005, Hurricane Katrina forced them back to their home of Lafayette where they began to form the basis for GIVERS. The next point of light occurred when Guarisco found himself playing music with drummer Kirby Campbell and trumpet player Josh LeBlanc. Campbell and Guarisco had played together before in various situations; they knew LeBlanc as one of the most impressive trumpeters in Lafayette. “One night we decided to meet up in this very small practice room that had no air-conditioning, very low ceilings…it was very intimate and very loud. Josh grabbed the bass instead of playing trumpet, and we were all blown away by how amazing he was,” explains Guarisco. All three of them describe that night as a “game-changer”, ending with Guarisco asking Campbell and LeBlanc to properly form a band. “I was going to go to Berklee College of Music,” says Campbell, “but that night Taylor pretty much convinced me to stay.“
A few months down the road, Lamson got a call from a club looking for a band to fill a last minute spot. Though there wasn’t a band to speak of between her and Guarisco, they immediately called Campbell, Leblanc, along with keyboardist Will Henderson and saxophonist/keyboardist Nick Stephan, their most consistent companions at that point. The night would serve as yet another point of light. As the band improvised for over two hours—the crowd’s response was immediate. “Being into improvised music and having that be a big part or our lives has had a huge influence on our sound as a whole,” explains Lamson. The connection was working; the six of them began playing together regularly, deciding to call themselves GIVERS.
The band would spend that next year holing up in Campbell’s apartment, molding improvised jams into taut, finely-honed songs, and recording an EP along the way in the very same place. “Kirby and Will and Nick all lived in the same house, and Taylor was basically living there,” explains LeBlanc. “Everyone was hanging out all the time, and that’s what solidified us as a group.” The closeness became immediately apparent in their songs. “We had all been in a bunch of bands, but for some reason, the chemistry with these people seemed to do something very special to all of us,” Guarisco says. Their friendships and musical bonds became a source of inspiration and empowerment.
Both Guarisco and Lamson credit being back in Lafayette as one of the major influences on what they were creating. “I can’t imagine growing up anywhere else and being the way we are. There is a life about the music here. People are drawn to dance with freedom; there is a sense of enjoyment in music that I haven’t seen in many other places,” says Lamson. “Being from southwest Louisiana has an effect on everything we do,” agrees Guarisco. “The way in which we play music…the way we talk…the way we think…the way we dance…everything really. Because of the heat in the South, people take their time in their day-to-day affairs. Being from the South, we have all learned how to slow down and appreciate life as it is here now, something that in most parts of the world is totally lost. All of this is directly reflected in every aspect of our music, as well as every other celebratory music in Louisiana, whether it be Zydeco, Cajun, Creole, jazz, or funk.” After a few more shows, their break came when Lamson approached their future manager, Aaron Scruggs, booker for Baton Rouge venue Spanish Moon. “I went and begged Aaron for three days in a row to give us a show, this random band from Lafayette that nobody’s ever heard of,” says Lamson. With the band’s members returning to school and scattering across the country imminently, the show would decide the future of GIVERS. Scruggs eventually booked them for a Friday night and was impressed enough to offer them an opening spot for Dirty Projectors in July, one of the only stops in their tour where they happened to need an opener. “With that one show, everybody dropped out of their college career, the touring Zydeco band, and whatever else prevented us from preparing for that one show. And it wasn’t for a tour, it was for a single show” says Guarisco. Dirty Projectors liked the show enough that night in Baton Rouge to book them as an opener for the east coast leg of their fall tour. “It was that tour that solidified our paths in music. We thought, if this can happen, anything can happen.” explains Guarisco.
In listening to In Light, it’s easy to hear what propelled the band so quickly to blog buzz, coastal tours and opening slots for Dirty Projectors and Ra Ra Riot. While on tour with Ra Ra Riot, the band made a stop at the Austin City Limits festival, where their set was seen by Daniel Glass, founder of Glassnote Entertainment Group, who was immediately taken by their sound and charisma. “GIVERS are genuine, unique and uplifting,” says Glass. “Their live show is a visceral experience that captivates you, and makes you feel like a member of the band.”
GIVERS signed to Glassnote Entertainment, and set upon making their debut album with acclaimed producer Ben Allen, who had worked with bands like Animal Collective, Cee-Lo, Deerhunter and more. “Ben Allen seemed like a great option for us in the sense that his experience ranges from left field experimental all the way to right field pop. We wanted someone who would understand both the pop sensibilities of our music, as well as appreciate and highlight the more unconventional aspects of our songs,” says Guarisco. The resulting record, In Light, perfectly emphasizes everything exciting within a GIVERS song. “Up Up Up,” the bones of which were born out of the band’s second improvised show, is a bouncing ode to resilience, featuring waves of glimmering programming and infectious guitar peals. “On one end there’s a joyful, celebratory side of the album,” says Guarisco. “On the other, it’s more introspective, more meditative.” Towards the end of the album, “Atlantic” is one of the more meditative songs, placing Lamson’s once-hidden vocals at the forefront, as delicate ukulele gives way to almost Celtic beats while her voice, warm and gritty, like sand sifted, echoes out over the song. In order to tap into the more serious and solemn-natured songs, they called upon producer and mixing engineer Chris Coady, who’s back catalog includes Grizzly Bear, TV on the Radio, and Beach House. Coady’s contribution to the album lies within the darker, more moonlit songs that seem to bring an overall balance to the album.
Above all is the unrelenting positivity in every note of the record, central to the band’s polarity. It’s the joy that only the truly gracious can have, and in discussing their trajectory, they marvel at the pattern and fortune in their wake. “Every dot is just as important as another. All these dots are so crucial,” says Guarisco. “One without the other – it wouldn’t be the constellation that is GIVERS.”
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