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Nightingale – Living Life in the Slow Lane, and Avoiding Lot Lizards Along the Way

We will always have Mexico Lindo.

It doesn’t sound very romantic, but as I searched for the correct Mexican restaurant on 32nd and Zuni where I was to meet Nightingale, I couldn’t help but think of the last performance I experienced from the four boys from Denver, during one of their SXSW gigs and this habit of gathering in spicy places.

Like many of us from D-town, Nightingale, which includes lead vocalist and guitarist Ryan Sniegowski, lead guitarist Scott Bagus, bassist Eddie Dugan and drummer James Barone, trekked across country to dive into the droves of music fans, label reps, and hundreds of thousands of bands for that week in the middle of March. But it wasn’t until the last day in Austin that I ran into them at the Iron Cactus, another Mexican spot right in the heart of 6th Street.

After a day of trolling the shops on Congress with Ryan Policky and Sarah Marcogliese of Drop The Fear, I decided to take a break on my own with the local specialty, Mexican Martinis, a basket full of chips and some impressive guacamole. I got a call from my friend, Aimee Follette, who just happened to be at Iron Cactus with the guys and with the same idea in mind.

It had been almost a year since I’d first seen them play at Hi-Dive, so I was excited to hear about their SXSW adventures. Unfortunately, they had gotten kicked off one of their night gigs at Planet X due to some underage drinking that was being allowed. While the police were writing tickets, the bands were stuck and not able to play. Since one of the main sponsors had paid for the two headlining bands to play that Friday, those gigs were moved to Saturday, so Nightingale, along with a few other bands scheduled for that Saturday, was S.O.L.

To make it up to them the promoter switched them to a Sunday day performance at some Mexican restaurant on Lexington. It sounded very odd, so I was in.

After finishing up our afternoon delights we piled into their Winnebago styled motor home, complete with the tan and brown décor and the smell of the road, and headed out in search of Mexico Lindo. With Scott at the wheel and despite the Bermuda Triangle affect that Austin has in trying to get around, the rock bus pulled into the parking lot of the almost abandoned restaurant and we all played roadie to get them set up to play on the patio.

It was a typical balmy, March day in Austin, and even within the somewhat awkward make shift stage, they made it work as if they were playing a pro-style slot at La Zona Rosa. I was amazed to hear how such a round and warm sound matched the climate that surrounded us, with dreamy layers of velvety riffs, Ryan’s gentle embrace with a slide guitar touch that poured slowly over James’ light taps, spinning our little world in slow motion to the title track of their debut release, Last Leaf.

Back to reality and back at home a few weeks later, we gathered once again at another Mexican food establishment to catch up on their first official album since the band started one year ago.

“Will we be able to hear over the crunch of tortilla chips?” James asked with a grin, but that was the least of our challenges as one fairly large Latin patron felt the need to express himself loudly and fifteen feet from the person he was talking for the duration of our lunch hour.

The drummer had joined the group last April after their original drummer, Bill Englebach, had pulled himself from the mix. Aside from some playing on his own, this was his first experience at being a part of a band. Today, James is not only an equal partner in Nightingale’s songwriting but he’s also in another band, Sun Has Risen, which played their third gig this past Thursday at Larimer Lounge.

“As far as the songwriting goes, there’s not one of us that’s more of a force than the other,” Ryan explains. “A lot of songwriters have an idea within a song or a message, then have these lyrics that fit a certain sound. For us, it’s mostly just soundscapes that are formed together, then the lyrics are almost like secondary and just lie on top.”

It’s those soft sheets of resonating guitars, drums and reverb that tumble together in such a way where you can’t tell where Scott’s lead leaves off and Ryan’s rhythm begins. “Some of my closest friends can’t tell,” said Eddie.

Ryan smiles slyly at his bassist and says, “There’s even some stuff that Eddie’s done that I’ve taken credit for, which is pretty cool.”

This seamlessness is the testament to just how far Nightingale has come in just one year, but Ryan points out that they actually do have their own place. “I have a tendency to play a heavier guitar part, and Scott will do something that’s little more shimmering with a more focus to it and is ear catching. Mine is just more of a blanket of sounds a lot of times.”

Soon after the band began writing music they began work on the Last Leaf album, so essentially it has been a year in the making. Although Eddie stated that when it came time to record, the tracking went pretty quickly, but the rest of the process went much slower. “We’re such audiophiles in our own heads about how we want things to sound, so we produced it all ourselves.”

Then Ryan adds, “The mixing of it probably took five times as long as the time to record it. We just kept going back to it until the right sound was there.”

Their goal was to bring that warmth of analog but on a digital recording budget, and the band’s audiophile penchant for vintage instruments also played a big part in end result. The band has been compared to some shoegazer bands, probably due to Ryan’s vocal similarity to Ride’s melodic singers, Andy Bell and Mark Gardener. That is just one facet to the rainbow full of spectrums that shine from Last Leaf, along with the “Above the Sound,” a surf movie soundtrack that could easily been crafted by Jane’s Addiction if they’d made their move in the late ‘60s era or mid ‘70s, and chosen acid over heroin. The haziness of opening track “Ezra’s Ghost” melts with dirgy eloquence, echoing a chrome plated heartbeat before the whole place explodes into psychedelic eurphoria.

Nightingale is self professed at being promotional neophytes, but didn’t feel they really needed to get aggressive in their pursuits until they had something to back it up. “We’ve only been together a year,” Ryan said, in a way that seemed to be reminding himself of this fact. “They’re some bands in Denver that are all promotion and no play. There’s substance, but it’s their promoting skills are equal to their musical skills.”

He points out that they’ve been improving in this area, and getting themselves on some bills at SXSW was proof. And since they were gearing up for this CD release, it was also time to get that press shot done.

“We wanted something that had a timeframe that captures a little more closer to the music rather than some digital picture taken at your friend’s house,” Ryan said, half jokingly. What they didn’t know is that this kind of pro style session would require hair and clothing stylists, “So it was a bit of a humbling experience, but we were also laughing at the idea of it all.”

What was just as hilarious was hearing about their trip back from Austin to Denver and the spots where they were able to park the mobile home to sleep where Lot Lizards were rumored to be swarming about. “There were these stickers in these gas stations with this green lizard chick all skanky and a cigarette hanging out of her mouth, leaning against a truck with like a red X across her and it said, ‘No Lot Lizards,’” Ryan explains as the rest of us are trying not to choke on our enchiladas. “We were joking because I had to open the side door [of the motor home] to urinate, and there’s no better way to attract Lot Lizards then to hang yourself outside the front door like that. I couldn’t even go ‘cause I was laughing so hard.”

As Nightingale embarks on their next chapter by releasing their first official CD, Eddie gets the mood at the table a little more serious as he reflects back on the time it took to get to this point.

“Going back to what Ryan and James said about being non-self promoters as a relatively young band, I guess it says a lot when it took a year to make a CD, our pace and how much time we allowed it to take,” he said. “You know, I think some bands will record five or six songs in a weekend, pump it out and not really put as much thought into it. I don’t know what sets our pace really, but we’re not in any rush to go anywhere or push anything in general.”

The band may be laid back and their music definitely reflects a deeper introspective vibe, perfect for a lazy Sunday afternoon of sipping ‘ritas at Mexican joint, but they are making headway and moving forward. Having the SXSW experience under their belt, Nightingale is making plans (with the help of Ben DeSoto from High Dive and Public Service Records) to get the rockin’ Winnebago back on the road to tour this summer and start spreading the word. Eddie just believes that, “the music will fall in the right hands at the right place and at the right time.”

Nightingale play tonight with Bright Channel, Black Lamb, Ghost Buffalo, and DJ Anton Newcombe, who will be on had to spin his magic in between sets at Larimer Lounge. The show gets going around 9pm and is 21+.


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