If you go down to the bayou today, you’re sure of a big surprise.
No, you won’t find sexy vampires of the kind that HBO series True Blood would have us believe populate the backwoods and front-porches of the state of Louisiana.
Nor, six years on, will you find a New Orleans that’s still on its waterlogged knees in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Although you might, if you’re lucky, find another HBO TV crew – led by David Simon – filming a Katrina-era drama. Treme, Simon’s first series since he made The Wire, is a show hymning the praises of both the Crescent City’s spirit of survival, and its rich musical past and present.
But speaking of which… Louisiana is the cradle of Cajun culture: the French-Canadian-derived heritage that is fundamental to the Deep South’s folk tradition, its cuisine – and its music. And if you want to hear that music of the bayou updated, rebooted, rocked-up, reenergised and mixed in with another vibrant regionalist musical form, zydeco, then please be upstanding. Because once you hear the exuberant likes of Up Up Up and Meantime you won’t be sitting for long. Salut to the party music of summer 2011.
We give you… Givers.
Imagine a band signed by the forward-thinking American indie (Glassnote) that has helped Mumford & Sons become the second best-selling albums artist in the US this year. Imagine African polyrhythms played by a jam band. Imagine a dance music that’s ravin’ Cajun.
That, nearly, is Givers.
“Cajun is so important to us because it represents where we come from,” says Taylor Guarisco, singer and guitarist with this five-piece-band from Lafayette, Louisiana. “And we’re so proud of where we come from. Cajun is such a resonant force because it really does represent not just a music at all.” These skipping rhythms, jaunty melodies and funky bass lines “represent a lifestyle that we all live in the south, which is to enjoy life and celebrate life. And to do what you have to do in life to get along – but never forgetting that you’re just a moment away from appreciating life and celebrating life.”
In Light is the blindingly appropriate name of their debut album. Givers, blessed with two vocalists and a million musical ideas, are a band to fill your ears, hips and heart with uplift and sunshine.
Givers began life at the University of New Orleans. Guarisco and Tiffany Lamson (singer, ukelele, percussion), both natives of Lafayette, had both enrolled in the university’s famed music school. “New Orleans is just the epicentre of everything funky,” says Guarisco by way of explaining his choice of college. “That was a big thing for me – as a jazz studies major you wanna be where there’s jazz. So New Orleans is the place for sure. There’s no city in the world like New Orleans.”
The pair became roommates and musical partners. They realised that they shared a passion for musical performance – and vocal talents. “It kinda came naturally that we both sang,” remembers Lamson, “because Taylor and I weren’t really thought of as lead singers in the beginning of the band. We were just messing around, singing, just having fun with it. That way we can support each other. It just came naturally. That’s the beauty, the playfulness, of the back and forth, giving each other a chance to shine and support teach other with vocals together. That’s the natural style in our band whenever we improvise – a give and take.”
Then Katrina struck, forcing Guarisco and Lamson to relocate back home. There they hooked up with old pals from the local music scene: Kirby Campbell (drums), Josh LeBlanc (bass) and Nick Stephan (keyboards, flute). The new band – named after one of their favourite songs by one of their favourite bands, experimental Los Angeles duo Lucky Dragons – recorded an EP and quickly became a fixture on the local music scene. Word spread, and Givers nabbed support slots on tours with Dirty Projects and Ra Ra Riot.
While opening for the latter, Givers detoured via Austin City Limits festival in Texas. There their gig was caught by Daniel Glass, founder of Glassnote Entertainment Group. The man who also signed The Temper Trap, Kele (Okereke, of Bloc Party) and Phoenix for the US had keen ears. “Givers are genuine, unique, uplifting,” says Glass as he remembers that first show. “Their live show is a visceral experience that captivates you, and makes you feel like a member of the band.”
He offered the band a deal and – maintaining the momentum and enthusiasm that had served them so well so far – Givers quickly began recording their debut album with producer Ben Allen (Deerhunter, Cee Lo Green, Animal Collective).
In Light is the sparkling result. Debut single Up Up Up is an irresistible calling card, bristling with ideas including a head-banging flute solo and a psych-rock outro. It’s a song that, from the first few bars, is off to a galloping start – literally. “I recorded the sounds of the hooves of my goats for the opening beats,” says Campbell. “Why?” he laughs. “I just thought it fit really well. And I didn’t have to pay them.”
The Afro-reggae skip and big-rock pound of Meantime is another radio-play classic-in-waiting, showcasing the sublime interplay of Guarisco’s and Lamson’s voices. Go Out At Night is a woozy, late-night blues, showcasing Lamson’s cracked-sob of a voice, and a song that builds to a soulful, organ-heavy climax. Ceiling Of Plankton, meanwhile, demonstrates their intuitive way with a surreal lyric. “I still haven’t entirely figured out how I write some songs really,” admits Guarisco. “Sometimes I just chant this kind of illegible language – syllables that feel most comfortable with the melodic ideas.
“And then the phrase ‘ceiling of plankton’ came out at one point. As soon as it got moulded into those words, it created an image in my mind that became this metaphor, this symbolism for this certain thing that I felt my life right there.”
Guarisco laughs. Yes, he knows how that sounds. No, he can’t offer further explanation. But for sure, he and his bandmates are confident that British audiences will follow the band’s increasingly numerous US fanbase and understand exactly what Givers are on about when they see them live this summer.
“We really do play every show like it’s one of our last ones,” says Guarisco. “Say the second-to-last one – then we would really tap into the musical element. So, every show we just really go for it. We don’t hold anything back. Which is a thing that we like to hold as our focus. So there’s lots of energy onstage. I look around whenever we’re playing and everyone is playing their instruments as hard as they can on every song pretty much.”
So every show is their penultimate show. But how would Givers’ ultimate show be? Taylor Guarisco thinks for a second.
“If it was our last show we would probably break everything and knock out all of our teeth, and piss and shit everywhere. Just be animals!”
Go see Givers quick. Before things get out of hand, and before your ears are trampled by more than just goats.