Bridges and Blinking Lights Gets Its Sound in Focus

Guess which band member turns into a wolf during the full moon.
Billy Surface

It's probably not a surprise to hear that Bridges and Blinking Lights frontman Jake Wilganowski is a restless man. His band's two records—2007 debut Standing on the Same Stick and the forthcoming sophomore album Heroes, Guns and Snakes—both make the most of their run times, packing an album's worth of chunky riffs and earworm melodies into each song, as if the band can't wait to move from one idea to the next. Wilganowski's distinctively raspy yet delicate vocals and the melodic interplay of his guitar with Marc Montoya's are distinctive features of the band.

But Bridges and Blinking Lights is perhaps most strongly defined by the dynamic, multi-part complexity of its songs. So perhaps it's fitting that Wilganowski is already thinking about the next album, even though Heroes, due for release March 2, hasn't even been officially released.

It would be a shame to skip over the remarkable follow-up, though. With its sprawling, amazingly self-assured debut, the band took time to add layers upon layers, recording the drums in a warehouse and building on top of those tracks with a hodgepodge of sounds, all ported into a computer. But the focus of engineer Matt Pence at Echo Lab—not to mention the studio's hourly rate—resulted in a second album that showcases the band's hook-laden songs without extraneous elements.

"The new one is a little more straightforward rock," Wilganowski says by phone during a day off from his day job as a freelance television cameraman. "We recorded in a studio, but I don't really consider it a studio album. When somebody says 'studio album,' I think lots of extra stuff, really layered. It's really simple, but I like it."

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It helps, he says, that the recording process at the Echo Lab wasn't nearly as tiring as when the band tried to do the same on its own. In fact, Wilganowski says, it was like a vacation—a wilderness vacation with BB guns. (Montoya and drummer Chris Considine were the best shooters.)

"It's just fun being out there," he says. "When you're out there for a few days, you're just like, 'Ahh, I wish I could do this all the time.' It's like being in a fantasy world."

Of course, it wasn't all BB guns and nature walks. Pence—a Dallas Observer Music Award winner for the engineering work he does when he's not drumming with Centro-matic and South San Gabriel—was meticulous about helping the band get the best sound, particularly from the drum kit. But he did more than fuss over mic placement: One of Wilganowski's favorite tracks, the song that eventually gave the album its title, would have been little more than a throwaway melody had it not caught Pence's ear.

"We've kind of messed around with it, but it's not really a song," Wilganowski told him at the time.

Countered Pence: "Well, let's make it a song!"

The resulting "Heroes, Guns and Snakes" is one of the most straightforward of songs on the album of the same name. It blossoms from a peppy, repeating three-note bass line and slowly builds up with chiming guitars and twinkling keyboards, drums occasionally pausing as the instruments ring out, yet never straying too far from the opening hooky riff.

It's a contrast with the rest of the album and, by extension, the rest of Bridges and Blinking Lights' catalog. The band has a tendency to cram as many different melodies as possible into each song, dividing them with tempo changes, instrumental breaks, stops and starts. And with a seemingly limitless supply of catchy riffs, who can blame them?

"Consuela" is a good example of the band at its ADD-addled best, with a rough-hewn melody, chunky riffs and guest player Tamara Cauble's lonesome violin propelling the song until a midpoint breakdown, where it stops and builds from cool electric piano and cymbals into a full-on classic-rock guitar solo.

"I don't want to say we get bored easily, but we're definitely not the type of band that gets a four-, five- or six-chord riff and just kind of jams on it," Wilganowski says. "I have a tendency to change the parts fairly quickly within each song."

Wilganowski says he doesn't know if that quality is an asset or a detriment, but it's hard to gripe about the result. And this restlessness spills out into his eagerness to move on to the next album.

"The next one, I'd like to maybe record drums in the studio and do the rest ourselves," he says. "The thing about being in a studio is it can get expensive really fast. Things like drums, it's important to have good gear to record it well. But things like guitars, you can get away with recording it yourself and get a really good sound. The next one, I personally—I haven't talked to the guys yet—but I would love to do one that's a real 'studio album,' just go all out. You try to find that balance between releasing a record that has tons and tons of bells and whistles that would be really hard to reproduce live. I think it would be really fun to go in and make a crazy studio record, like The Beatles."

Of course, until then, the band has an album—a great one, at that—to support. On Friday, February 27, they'll play a CD release show at the Double Wide with support from Spooky Folk and Dove Hunter, followed by a March 4 show at Dan's Silverleaf in Denton with Spooky Folk and The Heelers. Chelsea Callahan, who books the Double Wide, is helping them plan a Midwest tour in April.

Wilganowski is especially excited about the band's Friday-night slot at next month's NX35 festival in Denton. With the exception of drummer Considine, everyone from the band has moved from Denton (where the members first met) to Dallas for work reasons. Wilganowski still considers Denton the band's hometown. He doesn't pay attention to Denton-against-Dallas debates, though, considering them both part of one bigger scene. Nonetheless, he's glad to see Denton get so much attention from the music world as Paste and The New York Times have written lovingly about the city in recent years, and he's glad to see NX35 founder Chris Flemmons capitalize on the attention by booking fellow Dentonites Midlake just as the band releases a highly anticipated album.

"All things seem to be really hitting at the same time, and it's really a good thing for musicians in Denton, Dallas and Fort Worth," he says.

Despite his seeming impatience to move on from one riff to the next, from one album to the next, though, he doesn't feel any uncomfortable urgency about the rising profile of Denton in the music world.

Mostly because he's confident it won't be a passing trend.

"I think we're in the beginning of a big thing that's about to happen," he says. "I don't feel like it's going to be a short-lived thing. I feel like we're finally getting our roots in. I don't feel any pressure. It's exciting, more than anything. But I guess we'll see."

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