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Everything Dead is Alive Again: A Chat with The Nighty Nite's John Congleton

Photo Image: John Malachi
18 July 2011

John Congleton is one of Dallas’s great musical secrets. Though his current reputation is as a hot-shot producer—his name can be found on records by such notables as Modest Mouse, Explosions in the Sky, The Polyphonic Spree, and The Roots, and a ton more—for many North Texans, he is known as the leader of the dark-as-hell, what-is-this band singing about, twisted-minded The Paper Chase—a band who mixed punk, metal, gospel, and wickedness into a very dark, disturbing combination, creating albums that were cathartic experiments—as well as conceptual rants—about society, romance, and the unforgiving nature of nature.

Or, rather, was. “We were given a thirteen year sentence of hard labor,” declares Congleton, taking a break from his studio work, “and we’ve done our time.” His somewhat humorous yet bleak statement is very much in the spirit of his work with the band. “Actually, though, I think we did what we set out to do. We got to tour the world a few times, toured the US a bunch, and put out some records that people liked. What more could one want? I can’t think of anything.”

When listening to his new project, The Nighty Nite, one would be hard-pressed to recognize a difference between projects. It is only when reading the credits that one notices the difference, and in so doing, reveals a much more mundane possibility for the Paper Chase’s demise: longtime friend and musical companion—and the only other constant member of the band—- Bobby Weaver is nowhere to be seen. “I think you’ve hit that nail right on the head. Bobby is my best friend; we’ve known each other for years, and though I could easily get away with calling The Nighty Nite the Paper Chase, it just wouldn’t feel right to me.”

Nor was the Nighty Nite an intended “new” band. “We had tried to get things together for the Paper Chase, but it just wasn’t coming together. Bobby had things he wanted and needed to do that had nothing to do with music. Sean wanted to focus his efforts on his project, so Jason and I decided to carry on, with help from friends.” Those friends include members pianist Kevin Schneider (Shearwater), violinist Christopher Tigner (Wires Under Tension), and additional guitarist and musician Jordan Geiger (The Hospital Ships). “They’re all great musicians that I’ve worked with, but more importantly, they’re my friends first. That’s important to me.”

Congleton beams, though, when talk of debut EP Dimples, out now on new label Graveface. “Thank you,” he says confidently, “It IS something old, yet something new. Ultimately, I think fans disappointed in the news of my band’s demise will find solace and discomfort here.” But the busy Congleton, when pressed for details about the band’s next move, is noncommittal. “I’ve thought about it, yet I haven’t. We might make an album. Or we might not. We just did a tour, but my days are so busy, I can’t be too committed to the future. I hate to sound like a parent, but I have to say, ‘we’ll see,’ and that doesn’t necessarily mean ‘no.’”

“I’m always going to make music, in some capacity,” Congleton reassures. “The name of the project, while important, isn’t that important to me. If Bobby called me up and said he wanted to do something and we decided to do an epic double album Paper Chase concept record, we’d do it, but if I wanted to do that same record with a different band, I’d do it, too.”

Which brings up an interesting point: the final Paper Chase album, the critically acclaimed, stunning Someday This Could All Be Yours, Volume 1—a record that used weather and destructive storms as a metaphor for issues of the heart, and is oft cited as the band’s best work to date—was purported to have been a two-disc concept record. “We started it, but it just didn’t gel, so we moved on. Some of The Nighty Nite material is left over from that, but there is more. I don’t think it’s feasible for it to see the light of day. I, too, agree that it was our best work to date. Besides,” Congleton says, with characteristic mischief in his voice, “Isn’t it fun to bow out with the first volume of an unfinished anthology? Leave ‘em wanting more, is what I say…”


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