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Taking Flight

Birds of a feather: Eddie Dugan (from left), Scott Bagus, James Barone and Ryan Sniegowski are Nightingale.
Chris Sessions

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."

That was a little more than a year ago. Today, as Nightingale runs through "Ezra's Ghost," the four play as if they've never known anything else. Barone, his eyes focused on some distant point, lays down a jazzy groove with no discernible pattern, while Sniegowski builds a wall of feedback and Bagus lets the Space Echo's tremolo tremble. Dugan's heavy, metallic bass riff cuts through the rush of sound, driving the song into the next verse.

Soon, "Ezra's Ghost" and five other songs will be kicked out of the safety of Nightingale's nest via the band's debut CD, Last Leaf. Produced by Hot IQs' Bryan Feuchtinger, it's a dense epic of ringing tones and rumbling undercurrents, of sparkling melodies and face-melting solos -- all swathed in a woolly blanket of fuzz and reverb. With debts to '60s psychedelic rock, '70s classic rock and '90s shoegazers like Ride, Straitjacket Fits and Slowdive, the record will find a home with anyone who appreciates the mesmerizing beauty of spaced-out, melodic noise. Even Dugan's bass -- an instrument frequently left rather dry -- is given the full effects treatment.

"Most bass players don't use many effects," notes Sniegowski. "But Eddie plays tape echoes, Leslie simulators, all kinds of things." Indeed, even Dugan has his own bay of pedals at his feet, which he carefully stomps for just the right sound on each note.

"The bass can be really boring," Dugan observes. "But it doesn't have to be. I never feel bored. I can play some fundamental root progression of the song and enjoy it, as long as it's pounding and buzzing." Just describing the experience of playing with Nightingale, he seems to be drifting off, consumed with his own similes.

"When I play, I feel like I'm carrying this giant weight," he muses. "I feel like sometimes it can speak for experiences and emotions that I could never convey. I've played music a lot, but it's never made me feel like it does now. I feel like I can travel space and time with this music."

Barone agrees that the experience -- like the music itself -- can be ethereal: "When we're up in that room, the door is shut, and we just start playing; nothing else in the world is in my mind. I feel like my arms and legs just do it."

Bagus, too, is prone to entering a Zen-like state while performing. "I'll be playing something and get completely lost in the music," he confesses. "Then I'll suddenly wake up and be like, 'What song are we playing?'" Bagus also speaks disparagingly about "distractions" -- which seem to be anything that doesn't pertain directly to music or to his band -- as if the outside world exists only to pull him callously out of his hazy musical reverie.

"I mean, I love a lot of so-called shoegazer bands," Bagus says, "but I can't stand that term. When I'm playing, I want to make sure I'm doing something other than looking down. But if I have any stress or sense of foreboding, playing is a relief. It's just a good feeling when we can all connect."

Tuned into one another's frequencies, the group seems to have a fathomless quarry of creativity to mine. "If you locked us in a room for a couple of hours," Sniegowski offers, "we could come up with a couple of songs, including lyrics, if we had to."

But Nightingale is in no hurry to throw together a bunch of songs in hopes of amassing quick fortune and fame. "Nothing's too urgent," Sniegowski insists. "We're pretty patient. If someone could hand us a piece of paper with some cool places to play and names of musical projects to check out, that would be cool."

Despite Sniegowski's claims that nothing is urgent, the need to bring the sound out of the dormer and into the world -- to allow Nightingale to unfold and develop -- feels very urgent right now.

"We haven't seen a lot of the road yet," Sniegowski says, lost in thought again. "These songs need time to grow."


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