GIVERS are now New Orleanians, and singer Taylor Guarisco explains how the new "New Kingdom" became different from "In Light" without anyone saying a word.
When GIVERS released In Light in 2011, the band’s cheerfulness was an inescapable part of the story. They sounded almost unnaturally buoyant, but conversations with members revealed that their positivity was rooted in self-assurance. Their belief in themselves, their chemistry, and the rightness of what they’re doing fueled their optimism. It also helped them through the lengthy process of recording their follow-up album, New Kingdom, which was released last week. It shares a fundamental optimism with In Light, but is less fizzy and more mature. The positivity is tempered but still present, and it still comes from a core place.
My Spilt Milk presents GIVERS at One Eyed Jacks Wednesday, and according to guitarist and singer Taylor Guarisco, “It became a silent, secret rule for all these songs, to guide the songs into a place where they felt familiar and like a place you’ve been before. But you leave it thinking, Maybe I haven’t been there before. We knew we wanted every song to sound familiar and alien.”
The recording process had a number of “silent, secret rules,” as Guarisco referred to them—understandings as to what they would or wouldn’t do. One was that the West African pop elements that factored prominently on In Light were out. They also didn’t want to repeat themselves. They wanted listeners to move, but they wanted them to move differently.
When Guarisco talks about secret, unspoken understandings, it’s tempting to dismiss it as an extension of the group's extreme self-possession, but he’s talking about something simpler than that. He was reading the band’s tea leaves based on the songwriting process, noticing what ideas did or didn’t get any traction along the way. There were no band meetings to discuss do’s and don’ts for the album, but when nobody brought African references to the table, it was a sign of where everybody’s heads were at.
“That’s the beauty of being in the zone with people you trust who you love and share a similar vision,” he says. “You can all of a sudden realize that these rules are being created by something bigger than you. I’m listening to those rules from the bigger source.”
Those silent, secret rules evolved through the recording process. The band holed up for a month in a vacation home on top of Beach Mountain in North Carolina in November 2013 and remade the house into a studio with all of their recording gear and instruments. While there, they jammed, found moments they liked, isolated them and developed them. Part of the process was making concrete the vague ideas they had about what the album should and shouldn’t be. One of the first markers was the song that would become “Sure Thang.”
“I remember when I showed Josh [LeBlanc] the demo, he looked at me like Yep, okay, we’re making a record. He got really serious,” Guarisco says.
After a month in North Carolina, GIVERS relocated to a camp in Falls River in Louisiana for another month to further give form to the new ideas.
“We had a dry erase board that had a little over 50 songs at that point,” Guarisco says. “Those 50 songs after that month became 30 songs that we were going to work on.” From there, they went Dockside Studio in Maurice where they recorded In Light, and 30 songs became 15. When GIVERS played in front of Bon Iver at Jazz Fest 2012, Justin Vernon offered them use of his studio in Wisconsin. GIVERS took him up on the offer, and they spent Mardi Gras 2014 and the month after at his place overdubbing vocals, synths, and percussion parts. From there, they returned to Louisiana to continue working on the album at Dockside and The Parlor in New Orleans. When they played Voodoo in October of 2014, they announced that the album would be out the following spring.
“It took longer than we expected,” Guarisco says. “It’s not up to my mind. There’s a bigger mind that I have to listen to. Songs will tell you when they’re done.”
The process of getting hard-nosed about their music and finding a distinct place for it after the acclaim In Light earned hasn’t taken the excitement out of things for Guarisco. While we’re talking, he is dying to tell me what artist’s session he and fellow GIVERS Tiffany Lamson and LeBlanc are at The Parlor studio for. He agreed not to say so he won’t, but days like this one are the reason that he and the rest of the band members—including drummer Kirby Campbell and keyboard play Nick Stephen—now call New Orleans home. “I love so many things about Lafayette,” he says. “But as a person who wants to be involved with musical and artistic ventures, I’m closer to the things that are happening here. I grew up worshiping the music and ideology of New Orleans. Now I get to pay rent here.”