Dignan: Deep in the Bleeding Heart of Texas
Late one night in 2009, my friend Garret was dropping me off at my dorm at the University of Florida. Pulling into the parking lot, we passed by a van adjoined by a trailer and a group of exhausted looking 20-something year olds. I went back out to see if these guys (clearly musicians) needed help.
While I was wrong about their need for assistance, I judged correctly they were in fact a band. I introduced myself and made conversation with the shy, timid smiles of the five youths while they waited on fellow tourmates after a show in the area. My motion of goodwill was rewarded with a couple of free CDs from the band.
This was my introduction to Dignan. I enjoy telling that story when I introduce this band because the unforeseen impact of the encounter matches the unassuming character of their sound, an amalgam of modesty and melody.
The quartet (formerly a five piece) hails from McAllen, Texas, a relatively small city that sits in the middle of the Rio Grande Valley, just five miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border. Andy (lead vocals/guitar), Devin (bass), Heidi (keys/vocals) and David (vocals/auxiliary instruments) have managed to operate inside of a creative bubble in a town with a population that’s roughly 77% Hispanic, playing indie in a town where airwaves are dominated by Tejano and Mexican music.
Named after a main character in Wes Anderson’s debut film Bottle Rocket (1996), the project was manifested of bored nights Andy and Devin spent in their local church with uninhibited access to a variety of instruments and an open practice space. After the inclusion of a few other local musicians, Dignan was born, already with an aptitude for lush instrumentation and deft songwriting.
The influence of the church setting on Dignan’s songwriting is tangible. Pena and company use a diverse palette of friendly melodies, haunting harmonies and rich textures to produce songs that reflect on love, loss, religion and the human condition, with a sense of both hope and lament. Over the course of three releases—The Guest EP (2007), Tangled Woods EP (2008), and Cheaters & Theives (2009)—they have crafted a cohesive sound that sits comfortably somewhere between the tuneful shapeshifting of Grizzly Bear and the brooding introspection of Pedro the Lion, all the while adhering to a commendable DIY ethic.
Right now the four are recording a new album to follow up their most recent (and excellent) full-length, Cheaters & Thieves, and soon they will be announcing some tour dates (I’m keeping my fingers crossed for Florida). Considering their namechecks in publications like Paste Magazine and past openings for bands like Ra Ra Riot and Colour Revolt, you’ll want to keep on eye on these guys in the near future. In the meantime, you can relax and enjoy a few cuts from Cheaters & Thieves below: