Dignan’s music has qualities that many young bands strive for but can’t quite obtain. What started out as songs written by a couple of friends in a McAllen, Texas, church in the late hours of the night has grown into something haunting, epic and densely layered. Take one listen to Dignan’s latest release, Cheaters and Thieves, and you’ll immediately be awed by swirling harmonies, ensconcing instrumentals and meticulous songwriting—all of which seems to take as many cues from the existential probing of Pedro the Lion as it does the philosophical fury of Brand New’s last two albums.
In talking with keyboardist and accordion player Davy Palomo, it wasn’t hard to tell that Dignan is a driven bunch. And when you’re from a town as far south as McAllen (on the southern-most tip of Texas), you have to be. It takes the band five hours to get to cities like Austin, and when they embark on national tours, they have to travel at least 12 to get outside of Texas. But Palomo assured me that getting to the Aug. 29 show at Mohawk will be no sweat—Dignan’s just happy to be committing themselves to something they love.
What’s the music scene like in McAllen? Is it pretty vibrant?
Davy Palomo (keys, accordion): Yeah. There’s a lot of different types of music. But I think that everybody who goes to shows goes to listen to music. We’ve gone to other places to play shows and people come just to hang out outside the whole time. But people come to listen, and they always seem to really be enjoying themselves, no matter what it is that’s going on. Everybody’s super responsive. Everyone is ready and willing to listen. They’re at a show to see a show and listen to music.
Did you come to the band with the accordion, or was that something you guys later thought would sound cool?
Palomo: Yeah, that came about randomly. We were in Ohio or something, anyd our old drummer bought an accordion at a pawnshop and they were just like, “Hey you should try and incorporate this in some way into a song or two.” So I was like, “Oka, I’ll give it a shot.” And from there it became more prominent and now it’s almost my main instrument. It was very unexpected.
Was it hard to pick that up, or did you have experience?
Palomo: No, I had no experience whatsoever. I actually just found out about a year ago that I play it left-handed because I had no idea what I was doing the first time around. I just kind of picked it up and messed around with it for a while. I’m not going to say I’m a terrific accordion player, but I think I know what I’m doing.
Have you ever tried to switch and play right-handed?
Palomo: Yeah, when I was told I was playing left-handed I tried it and I was just like, no. That makes absolutely no sense to me.
You guys have a pretty epic, dark sound. How do you go about crafting that?
Palomo: I think every song starts out with a main guitar riff, and from there everybody puts in their two cents, and we just start building layers upon layers, and we try to get something pretty layered as far as instruments go. From there we try to do the same with vocals and hope that it will be a very powerful song, whether it’s just by listening to the music or listening to the lyrics. I think we’re all looking for something that’s emotionally moving.
I read that David Bazan, formerly of Pedro the Lion, sent you a picture of himself holding your record. Do you know how he got a hold of your record?
Palomo: It’s an interesting story. I guess last year he got a hold of the record, and this year a friend of ours was, not on tour with him, but happened to be at a show where he was at. And he’s kind of friends with mewithoutYou, so he was hanging out with them, and they were on tour with David Bazan. And I guess their manager had given David Bazan the CD. And they were all hanging out afterwards and David Bazan was there looking at the CD. And our friend comes in and he’s just like, “Dude where did you get that?! Those are my friends.” And the drummer from mewithoutYou came in and he’s like, “Dude that’s Dignan! You have Dignan’s CD?” And he was like, “Yeah, someone gave it to me.” So my friend was just like “Hey, let me take a picture of you holding it. This is going to make their day. They’re gonna go nuts.” It’s a pretty awesome photo, too. He’s got this really goofy grin, and he’s holding a thumbs up.
You guys are all big Pedro the Lion fans, I guess?
Palomo: Yeah, especially Andy, our lead singer. That’s definitely one of his biggest influences, or idols, I guess you could say. He really enjoyed it when we got that picture. It’s like for me, if Brian Wilson was holding a Dignan CD, that’s what this was for Andy.
I know that David Bazan’s music is pretty centered around spiritual themes, and Dignan’s stuff was written in a church sanctuary. Does spirituality play into your music at all, or is that a coincidence?
Palomo: I don’t think it’s coincidence at all. I think it can be confused for religious music at times. But I don’t think it’s that. I think it’s more a soul-searching kind of thing—looking and wanting to know that there’s something bigger out there, and looking for some kind of spiritual answers. I think everyone in life goes through that, regardless of what you believe. It’s more on that level. It’s just kind of growing up and looking for answers and wondering who or what can give you answers.
Do you think your music brings you closer to those answers?
Palomo: Playing every night definitely makes you that much more emotional because it’s personal stuff, to anyone, really. They’re very cathartic songs, and I do think listening to it and playing it, even, is kind of peaceful in a way. But in life, everyday, there’s another question to be answered.
So you guys are working on a new album?
Palomo: Yeah, we’re working on a full-length for sometime next summer.
Are there any specific things about this that make it different from Cheaters and Thieves?
Palomo: The musical influences this time around. We’re all listening to a lot more Beach House and stuff like that. The musical feel is different. I don’t think it’s as dark as Cheaters and Thieves. It’s a little bit lighter, but whatever we’re working on, it still has all the signature Dignan layers.