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By Tom Murphy
If you rely on your eyes, you might not find the Nightingale house. In a neighborhood that's rapidly becoming gentrified, where Novas on cinderblocks sit next to Volvo wagons and classic bungalows languish in the shadows of sterile new condos, the little white cottage is almost lost. But seek it out with your windows down, and you can't miss it.
Make your way past the crimson front door, and you're immediately drenched in the wettest psychedelic guitar rock this side of My Bloody Valentine. Scott Bagus is in the middle of a searing solo over Ryan Sniegowski's bed of guitar noise, Eddie Dugan's rumbling bass and James Barone's laid-back-yet-insistent beat.
Though it seems to be coming from all sides at once, the massive sound originates from the dormer of the house. To set foot in this crowded room is to enter the mind of Nightingale. The countless patch cords are its nerves, carrying the raw energy of vibrating guitar strings, while the numerous pedals that litter the floor are its synapses, junctions that transform the electricity into a pulsating roar that is at once deafening and soothing. In this jumble of euphoric sound, it's easy to get lost. And these four gentlemen appear to have done just that.
Dugan is absorbed in his driving bass line -- which provides the hook for many Nightingale songs -- but looks up briefly to give a welcoming smile. Bagus's solo soars to a noisy crescendo, and the quartet expertly brings the song to a satisfying close. A dissonant buzz fills the ensuing void, and everyone scans the room for its source, finally settling on Bagus's tower. He fiddles with the knobs and power switch, but the hum will not relent. Sniegowski picks up a screwdriver from amid a pile of cords and hands it to Bagus, who still has no luck. Finally, Dugan notices that the LED on one of the guitarist's homemade stomp boxes is glowing ominously, its fuse blown like an eardrum. With one clomp, the noise is silenced.
Dugan is the first to break the hush. "Can I get you anything?" he asks. "Coffee? Water?"
Rummaging through a gear bag, Sniegowski offers something a little more practical. "Or how about some earplugs?" he says, holding out an economy-sized bag. "I should at least offer you some earplugs."
Sniegowski, who plays guitar and sings, speaks quietly but confidently. With his sandy shoulder-length hair and his thrift-store clothes, he's arrived at a look that's somewhere between Brian Jones and Beck. A self-professed gearhead, Sniegowski built many of the pedals in this room himself. In addition to providing the wispy, somnolent vocals that are critical to Nightingale's sound, the Colorado native is the source of much of the fuzz and rhythm guitar.
Bagus handles most of the lead-guitar duties. His head seems to nearly touch the low, slanting ceiling, and his feet seem lost -- or perhaps grounded -- in the dizzying array of effects that lies before him. He appears to be trying to take up as little space as possible, crowding himself in between his pedals and his beloved Space Echo, a temperamental piece of gear that is essential to his vibrato-draped leads and is becoming less predictable with each passing year.
Sniegowski and Bagus met five years ago, outside a record store in Boulder, through a mutual friend who knew they shared a love of guitars. Soon, they were playing together in the Occasion. It was just two guitars and a drummer until Dugan, who attended college with Bagus at the University of Colorado, joined in. After college, Dugan joined the Peace Corps and was sent to work in the jungles of Ecuador. While back in the States to visit his family in New Jersey, he came to Colorado to visit Bagus. That's when he says he got sucked into the spellbinding sound that Sniegowski and Bagus were beginning to develop. Soon after, he parted ways with the Peace Corps -- via e-mail, no less -- to focus on the swirling maelstrom of Nightingale, in which his bass lines are the ballast, the grounding leash for the wild beast.
"Sometimes there's just so much psychedelia going on," notes the soft-spoken bassist, slyly glancing at his guitarist friends. Unable to resist the pun, he continues, "The music needs some kind of base."
The other key to solidifying the lineup, however, was Barone. Although he's younger than his bandmates, he's an equal contributor -- far more than the average drummer -- and he never hesitates to speak his mind. Throughout rehearsal, he makes observations and suggestions and offers constructive criticism. Even more remarkable, he can speak to his cohorts in their language of chords and keys. "Let's take it from that ringing E," he says as they begin to wrestle with a newer song.
"James is amazing," Sniegowski observes. "Before I met James, I had never heard a drummer talk before.
"Our first drummer couldn't keep time so well," Sniegowski continues. "The more important the gig, the more nervous he'd get and the faster he'd play." That drummer, Bill Englebach, stepped aside willingly and handed his sticks to Barone. "That's when our sound really started to take shape."
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