Using their vocals and instruments as brushes and palettes, five friends from the Rio Grande Valley paint rural and summery musical landscapes. Their haunting voices and poetic lyrics mix like hints of green and blue and fiery yellow woven into the fullest tapestry of sound.
Hailing from McAllen, a South Texas metroplex with a population that is more than 95 percent Hispanic, the group is making harmonious and orchestral moves. Keenly reminiscent of San Diego-based Pinback, Dignan presses onward with deep, multi-layered vocals and eclectic sounds.
None of the members are classically trained, save a few band class dalliances. But, this should not discredit them – they are all dedicated musicians. As a young and passionate band, they have built up a solid following. Their music leaps from their hearts and from their albums and this is exactly how it’s meant to be.
Beginning with original band members Andy Pena and Devin Garcia, there have been a number of line-up changes, until coming full circle with David Palomo, Heidi Plueger and Trey Perez. Throughout all these changes over the last seven years, the band has built and nurtured their sound through nights of sleep deprivation and the fusion of musical influences.
This refinement hasn’t gone unnoticed. In less than nine months, the initial pressing of their first EP The Guest sold out. Their third and latest studio release, Cheaters & Thieves, sold more than 500 copies with the first week. Paste Magazine has also developed an understandable affinity for the band, spotlighting the band’s music. Specifically, their Cheaters & Thieves single Two Steps was featured in the July 2009 issue this year. And, their MySpace page boasts almost 500,000 plays, reflecting the momentous influence of social media on a band’s rise to success.
In the back patio of Casino El Camino, in downtown Austin, I briefly interviewed the group. Embarking on a three-month tour promoting Cheaters & Thieves, they answered my questions with quiet and simple responses. They expressed excitement about touring the country yet again. More pleasant than pulling teeth, they spoke candidly and bonded with me more when the tape recorder was off. Quiet musical geniuses and social introverts, I can say that all went well.
They are among the next generation of Texas’ musicians – astute, active in composition and the community. And, in all their socially awkward glory, they bask, imploring you with their open hearts and singing voices to sit down and have a listen.
Where does the name come from? I Googled it and came up with weird search results. I sifted through quite a few but none made sense.
Devin: The name Dignan comes from a movie called Bottle Rocket. We liked the name and we just used it to name the band. Owen Wilson’s character is named Dignan and we thought basically, “Why not?” It doesn’t really mean anything.
Since it didn’t mean anything in the beginning, have you tacked on any meaning or has the name remained meaningless?
Devin: It’s pretty much stayed without definition. We’re just Dignan.
Although I’ve read your press materials, which are very well-done by the way, I would like to hear how the band started in your own words.
Devin: Andy and I met in church seven years ago and we just started playing music with a friend Nathan, who was in the band at the time. We just continued and over the last few years had a number of line-up changes. We’d play covers and stay up late.
What kind of covers?
Heidi: Yeah, come on, let it out. Open up.
Devin: Oh my gosh…I don’t even know.
Oh come on! What were they?
Devin: What were they? We just did Weezer covers. How about that? And, it was good.
Your media packet tells me that you guys poured your heart out into this record. What are the ways you did just that?
Andy: We went away to Kerrville. We just locked ourselves away in this house for a while for about a week and a half. We just practiced and this was every day after six months of touring off and on. Everything just came out after those six months.
How do you describe yourselves as a unit? Who’s who personality wise. I’ve interviewed some interesting groups so far for Austin Vida. What makes you guys cohesive, aside from the music?
Davy: I think we are all really socially awkward and I think that’s what makes us, us. It’s what brought us together. We are all individually shy people but when we are together we can overcome that shyness and make the music we make. We don’t really party. I mean we party, but we are pretty mild-mannered. Ya know, we will drink but we will sit and watch Planet Earth or something like that. Not too crazy. [band laughs]
I’m from the valley. Nothing as cool as McAllen but I grew up in Harlingen. It was always known, when I was growing up, that McAllen was the place to go. This year, more and more, is being heard about how the arts and music scene there are growing. For example, Texas Monthly did a spotlight on McAllen. How does it feel to be from the valley touring and representing South Texas?
Andy: I think right now people are just catching onto it. They are being trendy and just want to be seen. But, at least it’s starting and that’s a good thing. Perhaps, eventually, within the next 10 or 15 years it’ll be more credible. That’s not to say it’s not credible now, it’s just still in its beginning stages. It does feel good, though, to have something to do with that. I think we all take pride, coming from there.
How did you guys get from playing shows in the valley to where you are now?
Devin: It’s been a long time since our first show where we playing to only a few people. It’s been a lot of stepping out and trying to get people to notice us and get interested in the band. When we first started we sounded different. It’s been a very slow process but it’s been really good. Our last really big show in McAllen was our CD release show and we pretty much sold out Cine El Rey with about 400 people. It was so nice to see that after five years of playing shows.
And, what about SXSW experiences? How does it feel to be a part of that festival?
Devin: We played this year’s Paste Magazine party at Ace’s Lounge. It was so awesome. It seemed like this big thank you, to us, for even being in a band. HAHA! We were treated really, really well. I think we were continually buzzed the entire time. We started drinking beers at 10:30 a.m. and we ate like kings, got tons of free stuff and it was really, really cool.
If I said your music makes me feel like lying in a field under a starry night sky…would you think I was weird?
Devin: We always try to write really hopeful and beautiful songs and if that means to you that it sounds like lying in a field in a dream-like state, that’s great!
Heidi: Yeah, we don’t want it to sound like a nightmare! I think we all like our music and are really proud of it. It’s not like in some bands where you hear people say, “I don’t really like the music but it’s fun and has a lot of perks.”
You are a band with Hispanic members. Being from the Rio Grande Valley, how has this maybe infused your music and affected how you see or identify with some of your fan base?
Davy: With me, I guess it’s a bit different because I play accordion. I guess that the only connection we have towards Latino musical roots. But, aside from that, I think being from the Valley and being Mexican-American and going out into the nation is something I definitely take pride in. It’s a lot of fun. The Valley has such a homogenous culture and then to get out and realize there are so many types or people and places is such a remarkable experience.