Around the Block

Matt Riggle only recently started taking his band, 41 Gorgeous Blocks, seriously. The fact that he's been in the group for almost three years--and three albums, including this year's Swallow the Sandwich--doesn't really matter. It was just something that he did, because he had to, more than anything else. Not that anyone was forcing him to pick up a guitar and write songs. He just couldn't help himself.

Riggle tried to stop before, a few years ago. He was singing and playing guitar with The Fitz back then. But there was a problem: He wasn't singing his words or playing his songs; Dylan Silvers, now fronting [DARYL], held that job. "As much as I enjoyed The Fitz songs, I just wanted to start writing more by myself," Riggle says. "But, really, I just wanted to take a break. The Fitz was starting to become a full-time job, which I already had. It was just getting rough for me." So Riggle quit the group and concentrated on his job at Laser Trax, a now-defunct recording studio in Arlington.

"I thought maybe I kinda wanted to do the producer thing," Riggle says. "But after, you know, a few months of recording crappy bands, I changed my mind rather quickly." He laughs. "But when I worked at Laser Trax, I had a recording studio at my disposal. I started just recording songs by myself, you know, just playing everything on it. That's actually how 41 Gorgeous Blocks formed."

After one too many crappy bands came into the studio, Riggle quit his job at Laser Trax. Since he no longer had access to a studio, he took the songs he'd been working on to Deedle's Room, a low-key (but not low-end) operation run by Darrell "Deedle" LaCour, so he could mix them. When he left, Riggle had a band: LaCour on guitar and vocals, as well as drummer Matt Morris and bassist Matt Pittman. "I knew them from their previous bands," Riggle says. "My old bands had played with them."

In a way, though, it wasn't really a new band: "41 Gorgeous Blocks is almost a continuation of Ed Banky's Car," Riggle explains. Ed Banky's Car was the group Riggle was in with his brother Bobby, brought to an abrupt halt when Bobby passed away in late 1997. 41 Gorgeous Blocks could almost be seen as Matt's tribute to his brother: Both bands take their names from J.D. Salinger's A Catcher in the Rye, and Bobby's drawings grace the covers of 2000's An Emotional Young Person Just Like Yourself and Swallow the Sandwich. And one of Bobby's songs ("Bob Newhart II") appears on the group's debut. Even the music, at first, seemed to pick up where Ed Banky's Car left off, though the pop-punk path 41 Gorgeous Blocks started down at the beginning has been left behind for something that's closer to rock without any hyphens.

But Riggle never expected 41 Gorgeous Blocks to continue anything. "It was always a part-time deal," he says. "Especially our first album. It just came out of nowhere. We practiced for a few months and recorded an album and released it, because we didn't just wanna keep it. It was important to me, because it had been awhile since I'd released an album. And that was really my first full-length CD. That came out and we actually had the CDs in our hands, and we still hadn't even played a show yet." He laughs.

The group only began to pick up that pace recently: "Now we're realizing that if we want people to hear our stuff, we gotta play for people," Riggle says with a laugh. And now, they're trying to expand their reach outside of the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Last weekend, they played in Corpus Christi. The weekend before that they were in Louisiana. It's part of Riggle's plan to be touring regularly by next year, which he hopes will be helped by a potential road trip with Darlington or Slowride. It's also the reason why Pittman left the band not long ago, replaced by Tanner Leaser. (Riggle says that "we searched the whole continent for one named Matt"--keeping the group's unofficial three-Matt quota in effect--"but it didn't work.") Pittman also plays guitar with Red Animal War--which released its second album, Black Phantom Crusades, in September--and 41 Gorgeous Blocks didn't fit into his schedule anymore.

"Red Animal War, they're kinda unpredictable," Riggle says. "They might have a show, like, the next day. It just wasn't working. It was a mutual thing. He totally understood. And the guy that's playing with us now, Tanner, he already knew all of our songs really well. It was real easy for him to just kinda step in. He'd been practicing. Like, if Matt couldn't show up or couldn't make it for a practice, he was always there anyway, just hanging out, but he'd just start playing bass."

With Leaser on board, 41 Gorgeous Blocks is working on songs for its fourth album, due sometime in 2003, in keeping with the band's album-per-year standard. They already have eight or nine songs worked up, most of them closer to the sound of 2001's less-distorted It Isn't Supposed to Be This Way than Swallow the Sandwich. "[Swallow the Sandwich] was kinda weird for us," Riggle says, "because it was actually a bunch of old songs that we just went into the studio and recorded and said, 'Eh, why not?'"

He's not quite so flippant about things anymore. He wants to make 41 Gorgeous Blocks work, so everything is more important to him. And he wants it to be important to someone else. Maybe someone with a record label. Or a booking agent. A manager, maybe. Doesn't really matter, as long as Riggle can just sing and play his guitar and not have to worry about everything else.

"That's the other thing I kinda figured out: The reason I haven't, you know, been booking a ton of shows and tours is that it's exhausting," Riggle says. "I applaud bands that can do that. It already takes all your time if you wanna practice. Booking, that's another job right there. And then getting your CDs in stores..." He trails off into a sigh.

It's hard work taking a band seriously.