John Congleton knows his new band, The Nighty Nite, sounds very much like his old band The Paper Chase. He's OK with that. Mostly because, far as he's concerned, it should sound similar. Nothing has changed in his songwriting process.
Aside from the name, the only difference between his old band and his new is the lineup (and, with it, some of the instrumentation). That, he says, is what spurred the need for a new name in the first place. With keys man Sean Kirkpatrick now focusing on his Nervous Curtains project, bassist Bobby Weaver focusing on life as a single father and drummer Jason Garner standing as the only other remaining member of The Paper Chase, Congleton no longer felt comfortable using its moniker.
So, he came up with a new one. Then he recruited a couple of musicians he respected from recent sessions he'd had in producing other bands' songs—something he's become acclaimed for in recent years, thanks to his work on albums for the likes of St. Vincent and The Walkmen—and he just continued along the same path he's always traveled.
"I've never been super obsessed with making something that sounds different every time," he says. "There's never been a conscious effort on my part as far as 'Here's what I'm going to do now.'"
The Nighty Nite indeed features the same sharp and angular stylings that The Paper Chase thrived upon. The dark, gloomy nature inherent in Congleton's entire rather troubling catalog is all still there, too.
"There was no division," Congleton says. "I didn't start writing for The Paper Chase and start writing for something else."
In many ways, he didn't write anything else at all. The songs heard on Dimes in their Dimples, the new Graveface Records-released four-track debut EP from The Nighty Nite, are Paper Chase holdovers that most likely would have appeared on Someday This Could All Be Yours, Vol. 2, the anticipated, but now dead, follow-up to the natural disaster-focused first installment in the series, released in early 2009. A little secret: "Dimples," the would-be single off this new disc (released as a free download on Graveface's website last week), was to become the volcano eruption song among other tracks about earthquakes, tsunamis and other cataclysms.
Congleton has started writing new material, though, and a pretty impressive chunk of material at that. It's enough to fill the 45-minute set he and his band performed on their just-completed two-week tour of the Southeast and East Coast, partially in support of fellow Dallas-area doomseekers This Will Destroy You.
There was no This Will Destroy You to support on Saturday night at the Double Wide, though, as Congleton's new band made its hometown debut. Still, playing in the middle slot between True Widow (themselves riding high at the moment in the still-strong wake of their sophomore release, As High As The Highest Heavens And From The Center To The Circumference Of The Earth) and Joey Kendall (for whom Congleton has long served as producer and mentor), there was some pressure. Not from the audience, although Paper Chase die-hards crowded the front-and-center area of the Double Wide's cozy confines, but from within.
"The whole point of this tour was to learn how to be a band," Congleton says. "This isn't like a high school band. We live in different parts of the country, and I really like that. It means you have to be really committed to the idea of it."
Congleton performed vigorously as ever, wailing on his guitar and jerking about the stage as if yanked by the music itself. Garner, the drummer, similarly shined, playing with his usual ferocity, albeit this time standing behind his kit because that's what the near-tribal nature of the new band's drumming calls for. Congleton's new bandmates Kevin Schneider (stand-up bass) of Austin's Shearwater and Chris Tignor (violin) of Brooklyn's Wires Under Tension were rather stoic in their performances but impressive nonetheless, running their instruments through various effects pedals. And Denton's Daniel Folmer, who'd performed some with The Paper Chase in the past, proved effective on keys and guitar as the fill-in for Jordan Geiger of Kansas' Hospital Ships, who couldn't make the show because of family matters back home.
The entire group was dressed in traditional rural garb, looking like Amish farmers or, as Congleton put it, "the children of the corn." The juxtaposition of horrific, screaming guitar parts against drab attire heightened the stark nature of it all. So, too, did Congleton's devilish announcements to the crowd, such as when he stated, with a perfectly deadpan straight face, that "every time you lie, a kitten dies."
It felt like vintage Paper Chase. Sounded like it, too. That much clearly should have been expected.
"There was only one thing I knew I wanted to do different this time around," Congleton says. "Mostly, it's about how the band communicates."
Or, more specifically, how committed the bands members are to the cause—especially in light of how busy Congleton's production work is keeping him in Dallas.
"I've been consistently very, very busy for four or five years," he says. "And things are going really well, but it's like everything else. I still like to write music. I still like to play music. I still like to go on tour."
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If that means doing so with The Nighty Nite instead of The Paper Chase, so be it.
"With every passing day, I become more and more at peace with the fact that [The Paper Chase] will never play again," he says, while acknowledging the difficulty he's had coming to terms with that. "I mean, God, it was 11 fucking years that I put into that thing."
It sounds depressing when he says it like that, but the good news is this: The Nighty Nite's existence means that one of the most exciting musical minds that Dallas has seen this millennium is still creating music—even if at this point he's doing so less for glory and more for catharsis.
"I don't really have anything to lose at this point," Congleton says, letting loose something of a self-deprecating chuckle. "At the end of the day, I'm just doing this for self-satisfaction."