Taylor Guarisco embraces musical freedom, though the singer/guitarist for Louisiana indie-rockers Givers also applies certain rules in the process. That seeming contradiction took shape when Guarisco and singer/percussionist Tiffany Lamson launched the band in their home city of Lafayette, filling an open night at a local cafe by inviting their musician friends to play an improvised set.
Guarisco, who had toured as a bassist with Cajun and zydeco bands, picked up a guitar. Jazz-trained trumpeter Josh LeBlanc agreed to play bass. And Lamson, who grew up singing in church, stepped out from her recent duties behind a drum kit. And they all sought distance from the funky sounds of New Orleans.
“The first experience with Givers was ‘OK, let’s try to get everyone dancing but not play any funk music,’ ” Guarisco says from New Mexico, headed toward a Nov. 17 date at the Sinclair. “These little silent rules that guide where the band goes, a lot of that influence comes from Lafayette, which is a very dance-atmospheric place.”
Much of that influence came from the Festival International de Louisiane, a free music fest that takes over Lafayette in April—just before New Orleans’ better-known Jazz & Heritage Festival—with an emphasis on world music.
“As kids, we grew up seeing all this amazing music from West Africa,” Guarisco says. “The Lafayette influence was that, mixed with all these Cajun and zydeco bands. There was a resurgence in all this music… young bands being more innovative and pushing the envelope of what Cajun music can be.”
He joined that renaissance with Cajun group Feufollet and toured with Terrance Simien and the Zydeco Experience. But with Givers, Guarisco and his compadres reflected more of those African influences on the quintet’s bright, percolating 2011 debut In Light, which drew comparisons to both Vampire Weekend and Guarisco’s favorite band, Dirty Projectors.
So for follow-up New Kingdom, set for a Nov. 13 release, he says that Givers set a new rule: “None of the grooves are going to be Afrobeat or West African, joyful, celebratory music.” The resulting album reverberates with synthesizer and drum sampling, sounding closer to a freshly scrubbed electro-pop band.
“We all wanted to make a modern record,” Guarisco says, though he doesn’t cite specific inspirations. “Everybody’s different in the band as to what they let in, but part of my stance in making the record was going into a cave and not letting too much from the outside come in.”
Givers again tapped In Light engineer Korey Richey, who added programming and percussion to the band, rounded out by drummer Kirby Campbell and keyboardist Nick Stephan. “We all stepped forward in the production realm, where we were layering things,” Guarisco says. He traded guitar and bass with
LeBlanc, who brought in MIDI guitar pickups to trigger some of the synth sounds.
Lamson, however, truly comes into her own on New Kingdom. Although she still splits lead vocals with Guarisco, Lamson sails with dynamic, resonant phrasing over the synth and strings-cushioned production.
Their partnership took root in 2005 when Guarisco transferred to the University of New Orleans, where he joined Lamson in undergraduate studies. “We came from the same town, but didn’t really know each other in high school,” he says. “We said, ‘Maybe we’ll make some music and jam some time.’ Then we became good friends in New Orleans. She had this apartment upstairs from me.”
Then, barely three weeks after Guarisco moved in, Hurricane Katrina struck. “I was leaving Friday to play with this Cajun band,” he says. &ldquldquo;I found out Sunday there was a hurricane, and I was like ‘Oh, shit!’ Our place had like 20 feet of water!” And that’s how he and Lamson landed back in Lafayette.
Those Lafayette roots can be difficult to hear in the sheen of New Kingdom, especially in contrast to Givers’ earlier work. However, Guarisco contends, “There are certain moments on the album that feel more Louisiana groove-inspired than the first record.” Plus, there’s a spoken-word segment by Dr. John on the electro-funky “Sleeper Hold.”
Either way, when you’re an artist seeking free expression, Guarisco says, “You have to make each step a different one.”