Listen to Austin 360 Radio

Lousiana's Givers bring indie Afropop to Austin. Again.

Patrick Caldwell
Tiffany Lamson, top, Taylor Guarisco, Josh LeBlanc, William Henderson and Kirby Campbell are Givers.

Taylor Guarisco was two weeks into his first semester at the University of New Orleans, studying jazz and classical music, when he responded to a call to sit in for a weekend show with a Cajun band he'd long gigged with.

Guarisco traveled light, leaving most of his things, still in boxes, behind in his newly rented New Orleans duplex. He departed on August 26, 2005, never to glimpse most of his personal effects again.

"The only thing I took with me was my bass, and my acoustic guitar, because I didn't really trust my roommate to not play my 1955 Gibson. And then the hurricane came and put everything underwater," says Guarisco, 23. "And come to find out those would be the only two things I saved, the only two things that I would have been really sad about."

As casualties and complications from Hurricane Katrina go, Guarisco got off easy. He returned to his hometown, Lafayette, La., alongside new acquaintance Tiffany Lamson, a fellow University of Lafayette-turned-University of New Orleans-turned-back-to-University of Lafayette student who lived on his duplex's second floor before the storm struck.

They kept in touch, and nearly five years later they together front Givers, a winsome five-piece of early-twentysomethings who craft a distinct gumbo of Afropop, electronica and indie influences, with the added perk of some Dixieland horns here and there. The vocal interplay between Lamson and Guarisco keeps Givers' anthems perpetually bouncy and worthy of sing-alongs and has brought an impressive level of attention for a band with just more than a year — and one four-song EP — under its belt. Today Givers returns to one of the band's most adoring cities to headline a show at Emo's. It's one of many, many stops in Austin since the band formed in early 2009. (And it's back in October for the Austin City Limits Music Festival.)

The band's even logged more local shows in that time than some outfits that call Austin home.

"Austin has always been such an awesome city for us. Being from Lafayette, it's always been amazing to have a six-hour drive to one of the most awesome places that anyone who loves music could ever go to," Guarisco says. "There are so many people that are actively engaged in pursuing shows. They take it kind of seriously. They go out on a Wednesday night for sure."

Guarisco appreciates that kind of dedication. He shows a similarly slavish devotion to music that cuts across genres and instruments, starting with guitar in the third grade, moving on to the trombone and the tuba and eventually the bass. He logged countless hours in Lafayette High School's classical music program and played Carnegie Hall at an early age.

"Our conductor was a very serious, very well-rehearsed guy who would have us play for like eight hours straight," Guarisco says. "So it instilled this sense of 'Well, if we have to rehearse it we'll do it again and we'll do it again and we'll do it again.' It really made an impression on our work ethic.' "

That program also introduced Guarisco to future Givers William Henderson and Kirby Campbell — like the band's other three members, Lafayette natives. They continued to play in a series of improvisational groups into college, playing jazz, classical and Cajun music throughout Louisiana. They eventually roped in Lamson and bass guitar and trumpet player Josh LeBlanc. The quintet played a few shows in early 2009, and Guarisco and Lamson's vocal freestylings led to a more stable musical direction inspired by the indie pop of Vampire Weekend, Mates of State and, most prominently, the Dirty Projectors. Guarisco counts the uber-trendy Brooklyn art rockers as his favorite band. Dirty Projectors frontman Dave Longstreth eventually took notice of Guarisco, too, and swept Givers along as the Projectors' opening act last fall. For Guarisco, who's happy to launch into elongated praises of Longstreth's style, that was a pretty big compliment.

"It was a very, very, very surreal dream come true. That band has been my favorite band for at least three years, and I kind of had this obsessive relationship with this music this guy had made," Guarisco says. "It got to the point where I was almost ashamed to say that after three years that I had one band that was my favorite band that I couldn't stop listening to. It seemed like all my friends had a new favorite band every month or two months. And I was like 'Sorry, I can't stop listening to everything these guys have done.' "

A commonality both bands share — and that will play a major role on Givers' debut album, due for release late this year — is a fascination with sounds descended from Afropop. Alongside Longstreth's expansive Dirty Projectors, Vampire Weekend and Local Natives, among others, Givers is one of a crop of young, white indie bands to base its sound on music with roots on the African continent.

Given its musical heritage — each member of Givers grew up surrounded by zydeco and Creole music — that might not come as a surprise, but Guarisco has his own theories on the resurgence of Afropop in today's crop of Pitchfork and Paste favorites.

"There's something about the music that we've had in our ears for a while, articulate music that's really cool and well thought-out and it really stimulates your mind, but it may not do anything to your butt," Guarisco says. "May not make you want to dance. I think that has in some ways worn its course. Now we're seeing bands balancing out the articulation and technique with that expression of the heart and that moves your butt. I think that's what we're really seeing happen here."

pcaldwell@statesman.com; 912-2559