If music’s faithful — the Killers’ Brandon Flowers, Flyleaf’s Lacey Mosley, Prince, Sufjan Stevens, Daniel Smith, etc. — have converted us to anything, it’s the idea that religion and rock stardom can, in fact, coexist.
Enter McAllen indie quintet Dignan, which came to fruition five years ago in the confines of a, gulp, church. Bassist Devin Garcia and guitarist-vocalist Andy Pena formed Dignan at their local church in McAllen, mostly because it offered easy access to a giant rehearsal space and a ready supply of amps and instruments. Even so, Garcia said, an aspect of spirituality is still evident in the music.
“I’m not speaking for everybody,” says Garcia, whose band — including drummer Trey Perez, auxiliary instrumentalist David Palomo, and keyboardist Heidi Plueger — will headline a gig at the Warhol on Saturday, November 8. “But we’re all very emotional people and very spiritual people. We all have our faith and our beliefs in various things, and it tends to get into the music.”
Although the members of Dignan are comfortable expressing their spirituality through their music, Garcia said, they don’t perform to proselytize.
“None of us have any problem with it,” says Garcia. “`But` a lot of those bands want to preach to you. In the middle of the set, they’ll just stop and start preaching. We’re not that band.”
Dignan might not be “that band,” but it may very well be “the band” as far as South Texas indie enthusiasts are concerned. The quintet’s last gig — a sweltering summer show at the Warhol — drew hundreds of fans. And those fans arrived rather early (for rock-club standards), since Dignan wasn’t even the headliner on that particular Thursday evening.
Although Dignan has released only one EP — 2007’s The Guest — and a smattering of one-off demos, they have developed quite a following across the nation, as well. At a recent festival in Illinois, Garcia estimates, Dignan drew several hundred fans to its afternoon performance.
“A national festival, and people are waiting to hear us and sing our songs,” Garcia says. “The crowd response was insane. To see something like that on the other side of the nation — 400 people hanging out waiting to see you — that’s a nice feeling.”
So many artists have embraced spirituality these days that it’s beginning to feel like the latest rock rebellion, but Dignan’s back story is unique for other reasons. While indie music is still mostly seen as the realm of nerdy white dudes, three of Dignan’s members are Hispanic dudes, while another — Plueger — isn’t a dude at all. But the fact that Dignan comes from the border town of McAllen might most make them feel like outsiders.
“A lot of our close friends joke with us about being Hispanic and about being where we’re from, and we think about it,” Garcia says. “It almost feels like we’re up against it and we have to try that much harder, not necessarily because of our race or background, but because of the fact that we’re from the deep south of Texas.”
But Dignan’s music is developing a loyal following in and around the San Antonio-Austin area. The band is talented and its output damn good, so the band might just help to remove the stigma of small-town South Texas they perceive in some listeners.
“The last time we played a show in Austin, some guy was blown away because we were from McAllen,” Garcia said. “He told us he couldn’t believe anything good could come from there, that he didn’t know anything worth anything was down there.”
The indie-music label — much like the idea of independent cinema — suffers from being indiscriminately applied to watered-down and derivative works currently oversaturating the marketplace, and here Dignan proves equally unique by bringing some semblance of originality to the genre. Many of the influences for songs such as “Officer,” “They’re Outnumbered,” and “Curtains” are apparent (Radiohead, Broken Social Scene, etc.) but Dignan has recently begun to transcend them to create their own sound.
“We’re a very young band and we’re definitely growing, but even still, we’ve surpassed all these things,” Garcia says. “I never guessed anyone would have known who this little band was and actually bought and enjoyed our record.”
But getting this sound on an album is another problem.
Thanks to a busy touring slate, members have had little opportunity to write, much less record, a full-length debut, but Garcia speculates that Dignan will be able to devote some time to the project over the upcoming holiday break. That release, Garcia says, will likely sound more mature in scope than last year’s EP. That release drew upon the band’s earliest influences — the Get Up Kids and pre-shark-jump Death Cab. The band’s next record, like the band itself, will reflect more complex artists like Colour Revolt, Arcade Fire, and Denton’s Midlake.
But determining clear goals for making an album, or even working as a band is difficult in the unstable modern music business.
“Making it used to be signing with a major label, having money in the bank, and buying all this stuff,” Garcia says. “But here we are working on a new record, and records aren’t even being sold anymore. I’m wondering, are we going to just do a digital release, and if so, who will steal it?”
Hopefully, all the “thou shalt not steal” types frequenting Dignan shows wouldn’t be, but the band seems mostly unconcerned, more interested in performing and inspiring audiences, though their music is more challenging and lyrically ambiguous than the poppy feel-good pap often passed off as inspirational music.
“We just want to play, deliver a good show, and let people have a good time,” Garcia says. “It’s about giving them hope, really. Our songs are darker, but there’s hope in them.” •
8pm Sat, Nov 8
1011 Ave. B