Union Transfer




Delicate Steve

Sun, July 29, 2012

Doors: 8:00 pm / Show: 8:30 pm

Union Transfer

Philadelphia, PA


This event is all ages

In understanding GIVERS, it’s helpful to think of a constellation, a configuration of points of brightness that when placed in succession, led to the Lafayette, Louisiana-based quintet’s brilliant debut. The metaphor proves particularly useful given the name of their album – In Light (Glassnote Entertainment Group) is a collection filled with joy and brightness, buoyed by constantly evolving rhythms, warmed by spangling guitars, and illuminated by the melodic altruism that is the band’s mission statement.

The first point of light in the pattern stretches back to the band’s origins- lead singer/guitarist Taylor Guarisco and lead singer/percussionist Tiffany Lamson both signed up to attend the music school at the University of New Orleans in the fall of 2005. A fallen-through accommodation led to Lamson crashing on Guarisco’s couch, bonding over their shared love of sound. Guarisco’s immersion in the sounds of New Orleans as a youth led him to play in handful of different funk, Cajun, and Zydeco groups. This influence on his playing was easily complimented by Lamson’s strong upbringing and appreciation for classic rock, soul, and pop. The musical connection between them was immediate and thrilling to them both. With her drums set up in the kitchen and Guarisco on bass, the duo would play together long into the night, eventually singing together as well as finding their voices matched each others’ perfectly. “There’s a very magical part,” explains Guarisco. “We slowly started inspiring each other to sing more and more. Honestly, that’s one of the major miracles of my connection to Tiffany, and hers to me. We didn’t have anyone else in our lives beckoning us to sing out.” Guarisco specifically remembers an evening spent on a friend’s balcony in Baton Rouge that sealed Lamson’s status as a genuine singer.

That fall of 2005, Hurricane Katrina forced them back to their home of Lafayette where they began to form the basis for GIVERS. The next point of light occurred when Guarisco found himself playing music with drummer Kirby Campbell and trumpet player Josh LeBlanc. Campbell and Guarisco had played together before in various situations; they knew LeBlanc as one of the most impressive trumpeters in Lafayette. “One night we decided to meet up in this very small practice room that had no air-conditioning, very low ceilings…it was very intimate and very loud. Josh grabbed the bass instead of playing trumpet, and we were all blown away by how amazing he was,” explains Guarisco. All three of them describe that night as a “game-changer”, ending with Guarisco asking Campbell and LeBlanc to properly form a band. “I was going to go to Berklee College of Music,” says Campbell, “but that night Taylor pretty much convinced me to stay.“

A few months down the road, Lamson got a call from a club looking for a band to fill a last minute spot. Though there wasn’t a band to speak of between her and Guarisco, they immediately called Campbell, Leblanc, along with keyboardist Will Henderson and saxophonist/keyboardist Nick Stephan, their most consistent companions at that point. The night would serve as yet another point of light. As the band improvised for over two hours—the crowd’s response was immediate. “Being into improvised music and having that be a big part or our lives has had a huge influence on our sound as a whole,” explains Lamson. The connection was working; the six of them began playing together regularly, deciding to call themselves GIVERS.

The band would spend that next year holing up in Campbell’s apartment, molding improvised jams into taut, finely-honed songs, and recording an EP along the way in the very same place. “Kirby and Will and Nick all lived in the same house, and Taylor was basically living there,” explains LeBlanc. “Everyone was hanging out all the time, and that’s what solidified us as a group.” The closeness became immediately apparent in their songs. “We had all been in a bunch of bands, but for some reason, the chemistry with these people seemed to do something very special to all of us,” Guarisco says. Their friendships and musical bonds became a source of inspiration and empowerment.

Both Guarisco and Lamson credit being back in Lafayette as one of the major influences on what they were creating. “I can’t imagine growing up anywhere else and being the way we are. There is a life about the music here. People are drawn to dance with freedom; there is a sense of enjoyment in music that I haven’t seen in many other places,” says Lamson. “Being from southwest Louisiana has an effect on everything we do,” agrees Guarisco. “The way in which we play music…the way we talk…the way we think…the way we dance…everything really. Because of the heat in the South, people take their time in their day-to-day affairs. Being from the South, we have all learned how to slow down and appreciate life as it is here now, something that in most parts of the world is totally lost. All of this is directly reflected in every aspect of our music, as well as every other celebratory music in Louisiana, whether it be Zydeco, Cajun, Creole, jazz, or funk.” After a few more shows, their break came when Lamson approached their future manager, Aaron Scruggs, booker for Baton Rouge venue Spanish Moon. “I went and begged Aaron for three days in a row to give us a show, this random band from Lafayette that nobody’s ever heard of,” says Lamson. With the band’s members returning to school and scattering across the country imminently, the show would decide the future of GIVERS. Scruggs eventually booked them for a Friday night and was impressed enough to offer them an opening spot for Dirty Projectors in July, one of the only stops in their tour where they happened to need an opener. “With that one show, everybody dropped out of their college career, the touring Zydeco band, and whatever else prevented us from preparing for that one show. And it wasn’t for a tour, it was for a single show” says Guarisco. Dirty Projectors liked the show enough that night in Baton Rouge to book them as an opener for the east coast leg of their fall tour. “It was that tour that solidified our paths in music. We thought, if this can happen, anything can happen.” explains Guarisco.

In listening to In Light, it’s easy to hear what propelled the band so quickly to blog buzz, coastal tours and opening slots for Dirty Projectors and Ra Ra Riot. While on tour with Ra Ra Riot, the band made a stop at the Austin City Limits festival, where their set was seen by Daniel Glass, founder of Glassnote Entertainment Group, who was immediately taken by their sound and charisma. “GIVERS are genuine, unique and uplifting,” says Glass. “Their live show is a visceral experience that captivates you, and makes you feel like a member of the band.”

GIVERS signed to Glassnote Entertainment, and set upon making their debut album with acclaimed producer Ben Allen, who had worked with bands like Animal Collective, Cee-Lo, Deerhunter and more. “Ben Allen seemed like a great option for us in the sense that his experience ranges from left field experimental all the way to right field pop. We wanted someone who would understand both the pop sensibilities of our music, as well as appreciate and highlight the more unconventional aspects of our songs,” says Guarisco. The resulting record, In Light, perfectly emphasizes everything exciting within a GIVERS song. “Up Up Up,” the bones of which were born out of the band’s second improvised show, is a bouncing ode to resilience, featuring waves of glimmering programming and infectious guitar peals. “On one end there’s a joyful, celebratory side of the album,” says Guarisco. “On the other, it’s more introspective, more meditative.” Towards the end of the album, “Atlantic” is one of the more meditative songs, placing Lamson’s once-hidden vocals at the forefront, as delicate ukulele gives way to almost Celtic beats while her voice, warm and gritty, like sand sifted, echoes out over the song. In order to tap into the more serious and solemn-natured songs, they called upon producer and mixing engineer Chris Coady, who’s back catalog includes Grizzly Bear, TV on the Radio, and Beach House. Coady’s contribution to the album lies within the darker, more moonlit songs that seem to bring an overall balance to the album.

Above all is the unrelenting positivity in every note of the record, central to the band’s polarity. It’s the joy that only the truly gracious can have, and in discussing their trajectory, they marvel at the pattern and fortune in their wake. “Every dot is just as important as another. All these dots are so crucial,” says Guarisco. “One without the other – it wouldn’t be the constellation that is GIVERS.”
Delicate Steve
Delicate Steve
The first time I heard any of this music, Steve was giving me a lift home after a Nat Baldwin show. We were going up Allen Street in Manhattan, and I'd finally convinced him to play me something from the new album. "This is going to be the last song," he said, and put on "Luna." OK, maybe I'd had a couple of beers, but in the dark of night the lights of passing cars and neon signs glowed molten and forlorn just like Steve's guitar, and there was a serene space in the music as if it were the eye of a storm. It was one of those times when surroundings, moment and music combine to make a powerful impression. I'll always remember it.

And that's a big part of Delicate Steve - the mystical synergy that music can have with life. It's why the new album is called Positive Force. "I want to put out a positive feeling," says Steve. "It's so much more fun to get people all excited and uplifted."

And like its predecessor, 2010's also aptly titled Wondervisions, Positive Force really is uplifting, straight outta the idyllic, tree-lined streets of Steve's hometown of Fredon, deep in rural New Jersey, where he wrote and recorded this album. (Listen closely and you can hear the local crickets in a couple of songs.) Maybe it's a little more burnished, leisurely and cunningly layered this time, but there's still that winsome Delicate Steve charm, by turns tender and triumphant, of songs like "Big Time Receiver" or "Afria Talks to You." These are eleven soulful, unabashedly heartfelt variations on the theme of joie de vivre, and each of them is kind of irresistible.

Steve not only played all the instruments on the album - very much including the lyrical and virtuosic guitar that defines the album - but he recorded the entire thing, and mixed it too. And that's all very impressive, but the thing to remember is, Steve is first and foremost a songwriter. His compositions have verses and choruses and sometimes even bridges. It's just that he doesn't happen to be a vocalist. So he gets his guitar to do that. That's why, funnily and miraculously enough, this is instrumental music you can sing along to.

Actually, a few songs do have vocals - besides "Two Lovers," there's "Big Time Receiver," "Touch," and "Redeemer." (Steve sings, joined occasionally by Christian Peslak and Mickey Sanchez from the crackerjack Delicate Steve live band) And even then, the human voice is just another instrument. "As guitar-driven as this album might be," Steve says, "I didn't want it to feel like an instrumental record. I wanted it to have a more encompassing thing, so it couldn't be called instrumental." So Steve calls it wordless music.

But where on earth does this wordless music come from? Steve says the inspirations for Positive Force included a bunch of classic rock, like Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles, Crosby, Stills & Nash, and the Kinks. You can hear the Beach Boys in "Love," the title of "Afria Talks to You" is a deliberately misspelled reference to Sly Stone, the guitar playing on "Tallest Heights" is Steve's tribute to Michael Jackson's vocal style, and "Luna" is a tribute to Miles Davis. Steve's ultra-expressive, melodic slide work hails back to Derek & the Dominos and George Harrison, and I hear some serious proto-Delicate Steve in Santana's sublime "Samba Pa Ti," not to mention various Afro-pop and all reggae's sunsplashed variations.

But there's a futuristic gleam to Delicate Steve that deletes all comparison to just about anything except maybe contemporaries like Yeasayer, Ratatat and the late, great Ponytail. Yeasayer's Anand Wilder, a big Delicate Steve fan, said the music reminded him of early '80s stuff by French-Beninese musician Wally Badarou, who also made bright, upbeat music drenched in ecstatic sunshine. (That explains the title of "Wally Wilder.")

You might notice the hot licks all over Positive Force. Or you might not, since they're so tastefully deployed. That's a big reason why Steve has become a go-to guitarist in the New York-area underground. One night in December last year, he played at downtown NYC avant music club the Stone with a riveting side project by Anand Wilder - and he was so great that the next band, which featured members of Javelin, Man Man and Cibo Matto, asked him to sit in. In 2011, he did an exquisite collaborative single with the great Brooklyn band Callers, sat in with Nat Baldwin from Dirty Projectors, Akron/Family, Fang Island, Janka Nabay, Yellow Ostrich and Ra Ra Riot, and that May, the Delicate Steve live band backed up Sonic Youth's Lee Ranaldo and Les Savy Fav's Tim Harrington on some smokin' Minutemen covers at yours truly's Our Band Could Be Your Life tribute concert in New York.

All this stuff happens not just because Steve is a splendid musician but because he and his music exude what we call in the business "a good vibe." That feeling permeates every nook and cranny of this record. In a world that does its level best to validate every bitter, cynical thought you've ever had, Positive Force is, in its own delightful way, provocative - it challenges you to accept unqualified sweetness and warmheartedness. "The world is already so full of stuff," Steve observes. "So if you're going to put something in, why not make it something good, instead of adding more negativity. That's part of the mission statement."
Venue Information:
Union Transfer
1026 Spring Garden St.
Philadelphia, PA, 19123