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TAS In Session (MusicFestNW Preview): Givers

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The summer festival season isn't quite over yet; MusicFestNW in Portland, Oregon takes place this week and one of the younger bands receiving some lavish attention is Lafayette, Louisiana's Givers. 

Givers, who play at midnight on Friday, September 9, join a MusicFestNW lineup that includes The Antlers, The Horrors, The Joy Formidable, Explosions in the Sky, Blitzen Trapper, Little Dragon, Handsome Furs, Iron and Wine and many more.

The quintet, whose debut album In Light is out now on Glassnote/Island in the States and will finally drop October 10 in the UK, will release their second single "Meantime" on October 3. Their uplifting, vivacious music, a bubbling roux of Zydeco, Afrobeat and Latin-flavored pop, has earned them a loyal grassroots following, fanfare on both sides of the Atlantic and admiration from other bands, like Bombay Bicycle Club and Deerhoof who both recently did remixes for "Meantime" (see below).

Now on a fresh North American tour, Givers return to New York to play Terminal 5 on October 20.

Not long ago Givers -  singer/percussionist Tiffany Lamson, singer/guitarist Taylor Guarisco, drummer Kirby Campbell, bassist Josh LeBlanc and keyboardist Nick Stephan -  came by WFUV and The Alternate Side's Studio A to chat with Claudia Marshall about their rapid rise from unknowns to festival favorites, their love of dance music and much more.

Givers - Meantime (Bombay Bicycle Club remix) by Stayloose

Claudia Marshall: It’s been kind of a quick ride for you guys, huh?

Taylor Guarisco: I’ve known Nick [Stephan] for ten years and everybody else for between five and six years. We’ve all been playing together developing chemistry and paying in other bands together. The past two or three years this band has been playing shows, doing the whole rock band thing where you sleep on people’s floors, live in a van, eat poorly and sleep none. All that stuff.

Claudia: It sounds really sexy.

Taylor: It seems sexy, but not so much.

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4x-8Iol9JFg]

Claudia: Are the lyrics in the record?

Taylor: No.

Tiffany Lamson: No, they’re going to be online. On our website. I think it’s up for interpretation, though.

Taylor: People develop their own meanings to songs whether we know it or not. Most of the songs that we think we have some connection with are totally not about what you’re feeling.

Claudia: Well, you pretty much can’t sit still when you guys are playing. Even the slowest song on the record makes you want to move. Where does influence come from in your music? The dance vibe? You’re not morose singer-songwriters bent over an acoustic guitar. Was there something that you guys listened to growing up in Louisiana that maybe made that happen for you?

Taylor: It’s just Louisiana in general.

Tiffany: Definitely the south has that kind of vibration.

Taylor: Everyone dances in Lafayette, where we’re from. You go to any bar - most bars have bands and they’re geared to have everyone dancing by the end of the night.

Claudia: I was actually just in Lafayette for the first time and the thing that was awesome about it was this festival that you guys know about and, in fact, played at this year. The Festival International de Louisiane which is, for the uninitiated, is all about the roots of the music that we know that comes out of Louisiana. It’s Cajun and zydeco, but also the African influences.

Taylor: Until you start studying the history of Cajun and zydeco music, you don’t know that. I didn’t know that a big influence of Cajun music came from Haiti and West Africa until a year after I was playing in a Cajun band. It’s not common knowledge, but that festival does tie it all together.

Claudia: Do people ever hear about you and think you’re going to sound like New Orleans music? I don’t hear Dr. John as much.

Taylor: It’s funny, though. We grew up listening to Dr. John, the Neville Brothers and The Meters and that’s a big part of [what I mean] whenever I say that Louisiana is dance music. That’s boogie music.

Tiffany: The groove.

Taylor: What makes up our core is things like Dr. John.

Claudia: The next song you’re going to play, “Meantime,” is the second song on the record.

Taylor: A lot of these songs came from, what we call, a lack of certain nutrients in our musical diet and then we dove into these songs to cultivate those, grow all those, and put them into song. This has kind of got this doo-wop, Latin … I don’t know what you’d call it. It’s just things that we never played in other bands. We never played a rockin’ doo-wop vibe kind of song and we never had an Afro-Cuban thing in any other band. A lot of these songs came out like that.

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yw4MYYVdlWY]

Claudia: Nick is the newest member of the band?

Taylor: Yes and no. He was there when we started the band, moved to Austin for a while and just rejoined us.

Claudia: I’m always interested in band names and the fact that there’s not a “the” in the band. Did you have a band meeting to decide if you were going to be Givers or The Givers? Does it matter?

Taylor: Josh can answer this, but there was never a band meeting. It just always felt good as just “Givers” but Josh said something pretty cool the other day.

Josh LeBlanc: I guess the “The” implies that we are the only Givers. We’re just a part of the network of givers.

Clauda: That’s actually really sweet.

Taylor: He said that yesterday and we were all like, “We didn’t even know that!” He said that in an interview. Good job, Josh.

Claudia: The name of the band actually comes from a song by Lucky Dragons which is a band that people may or may not know. But it must take on a meaning of it’s own. It’s your band name. Are you the Givers as opposed to the takers or am I oversimplifying it?

Taylor: We never put it against the word “takers.” Just the idea fit with the way we all look at life and this being our thing that we can contribute to the world. Some people can be a teacher or a doctor; we’re here to play music and this is our service. Hopefully everybody can find something in their life that they can do that helps someone out. This is where we’ve all ended up so why not make it something that seems to fit that vein?

Claudia: It does reflect the positive feeling of the band; the sound is very upbeat and danceable and there’s a lot of references to light. The album is called In Light. It’s sounds like there’s almost a mission statement happening. Did you think that through?

Tiffany: It kind of happened, in a way, on its own. It became a motif of the record. It’s a theme that we all live by. We try to be that light, you know? A lot of our songs and our lyrics will come from improvising. You’ll listen back and realize that almost every song had that word in it. It really flowed.

Taylor: It was definitely an afterthought. After we made the whole record and we were mixing it and stepping back for the first time, we weren’t so in the songs. We found this theme that was woven through all of these songs and just naming the album In Light just seemed to connect the songs together in a crazy way for us. These songs are connected; they’re not just ten random songs put on a hard drive. They’re all saying something as a whole.

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Nksq74VbMA]

Claudia: The thing that strikes me the most about the music, especially given the fact that there are two percussion players, but there’s so much melody and harmony in this band that’s easy to overlook when you get into the dance groove? Again, is this something that happened naturally?

Taylor: In a way, it’s another yes or no.

Tiffany: It’s something that came really naturally. We all have different backgrounds and like different types of music and I think with those elements combined, the way it fell into place.

Taylor: It’s one of the first things that made us step back and go, whoa. It made us think that maybe we should pursue this. At the time, Tiffany and I were singing in a band. This is the first band I’ve ever sang in and Tiff has played drums and sang backup in a lot of bands. So when we began singing back and forth lyrically and melodically, it was definitely something different. There wasn’t much pre-planning at all.

Claudia: Can you talk about how the band got its big break opening for Dirty Projectors? When did that happen?

Taylor: It was pretty much the only date they didn’t have an opening act in Baton Rouge.

Tiffany: Our now manager booked a venue called Chelsea's and we’d just played at his club about a month before that, our eighth show ever. And he said we were awesome [and asked us if we wanted to] open up for his favorite band. It was Dirty Projectors.

Claudia: Are you guys already thinking about what’s next?

Tiffany: Yeah, we have little song demos ... we're just creating.