Interview with singer/songwriter Digney Fignus
Digney is a singer/songwriter based in Boston. He has opened for The Ramones and Dr. John. His latest CD, "Talk of the Town" is climbing up the country charts at #26, right before Bob Dylan!
Debbie: Tell everyone about you and your band, Digney
Digney: Well, I am a singer/songwriter out of the Boston area. I’ve been playing music for a long time. I started singing in the choir when I was a youngster. The music I am playing now evolved out of a lot of different traditions. What I think is a little different about the music now, or the way I am presenting it, is that it wraps around a story line. I think that’s a little different from what’s out today and it’s a challenge to me as a writer as well. The band has developed over the years. It started with Chris Leadbetter, the mandolin player you heard.
Debbie: What is your background in guitar and singing?
Digney: The choir of course. So I got to study first as a soprano. My grandmother was my first influence. In her early years, she had been an actress and had some roles in New York. Once she started her family and moved to Boston, she got a job at Symphony Hall in the ticket booth, so she knew all of the musicians. One of my first musical experiences was when she brought me to the symphony. A little kid like that going to symphony hall, the acoustics. What an experience! Then she brought me backstage to meet the musicians. So it was really quite an experience. It really made an impact.
Debbie: So even though it was classical music, which is not the music you play, you really appreciated it.
Digney: Well, classical music is the basis of everything, really. The classical musicians explore every aspect of music. And you find a lot of classical themes in popular music. And the classical musicians of the time stole from popular music too so it’s all a back and forth thing. It’s all music and it’s just the way that it’s put together.
Debbie: When did you get interested in the blues?
Digney: I was in a rock and roll band and that happened after I started to get into the rock and roll writers and see where they were coming from. This was in high school. I started playing the harmonica so the blues was a natural thing to learn! I had a Muddy Waters record that I probably wore right through the grooves. Great stuff. That was my thing. I didn’t need any amplifier; I could just put it in my pocket.
Debbie: When did you start playing the guitar?
Digney: I started out as a bass player. But I was always interested in writing songs and I found that the bass was kind of limiting for me so I picked up the guitar as a way to expand my writing. As far as formal training, it was very important for me to study singing. I studied with an opera coach and from her I learned how to breathe. I learned where my voice should be coming from and that’s important as you start to do shows. You want to sing correctly otherwise you’re going to lose your voice. That was an important turning point for me and enabled me to grow my voice and not blow it out. I also did study formal guitar. I took some jazz lessons which introduced me to chord structures which I was not familiar with as a blues player. Along with my street training and ear training, just listening to music, I did have some formal training.
Debbie: How do you approach songwriting?
Digney: I don’t try to close the door on anything. I don’t say no. As a result, I have written some crappy songs but they never get played out! But you have to write a lot of songs to get good at it. Don’t be afraid to write a song that you think is great today but when you listen to it tomorrow, it’s going to sound like tripe. So I’ve written a lot of different songs and there are a few of them that actually came out pretty good.
Debbie: Do you start with a chord progression or is it a lyric that generates your ideas or is it a melody that comes to you?
Digney: Everything. All different. You know those classical songwriter’s stories of “I jumped up in the middle of the night. I didn’t have any clothes on. I grabbed a piece of paper and I wrote it down!” Sure, I’ve done that. I’ve come home, and I have a lick in my head and I’ll try to figure it out. A lot of stuff comes to me driving for some reason. I’ll be in the car and zoning out and I’ll have a jukebox running in my head. Maybe it’s because you’re in this semi-hypnotic state.
Debbie: That’s interesting. You’re not the first person who’s said that.
Digney: Of course there’s some stuff that comes from mistakes! There is a song from the “Trouble on the Levy” CD called “Boudreaux”. When I was working on that song, I had the chord structure and I kind of knew what I wanted it to be about. In the beginning it was called “Backwater Ann” because I wanted it to be about this swamp girl from the bayou. So Chris comes over and we are practicing the song. I didn’t show him the lyric sheet or anything. He starts singing “Backwater Man” and I said, “Hey, wait a second, that’s not a bad idea”. So I changed the lyrics around and made it about a man.
But it’s still not working. Then I remembered a joke I heard about a man called Boudreaux. And the thing about the joke was “everybody know Boudreaux”. That was the crux of the joke. And I thought, hmm, that is going to work. So I changed the title from “Backwater Man” to “Old Boudreaux who everybody know” and all of a sudden, the song clicked and came right together. It started out in a completely different place.
Debbie: So you just tried to stay open to whatever ideas pop into your head.
Digney: Yes. Of course a lot of it takes place in the editing. Sometimes that inspiration comes through but I’m always going back and tweaking things. I’ve got little files of my songs and I’ll go back and change little things.
Debbie: One of your songs made it to the top 40 on the country charts, is that right?
Digney: Yes, the whole CD, Talk of the Town, debuted at number 27 the other day.
Debbie: What do you have to do to make that happen? How do you get the word out about your music?
Digney: Radio. It’s all about radio and friends and interviews and everything. You want to be able to put out there as much as possible. I’m kind of a ludite when it comes to the internet. I’m not an idiot but I do need help with that. Oh you can still download songs from iTunes and CDBaby.
Debbie: You really seem to enjoy performing and you are an engaging performer.
Digney: Thanks, I appreciate that.
Debbie: What do you like about performing?
Digney: Well, it’s exciting! It’s a bit of circus I guess. If you can get the audience engaged, it’s really exciting. It’s outside of the everyday ordinary experience. Kind of like riding a motorcycle. It’s a thrill! Or it’s the worst. If they hate you, oh boy, thrill ride number 2.
Debbie: Do you ever get anxious anymore performing?
Digney: I’ve been performing now for a number of years in a lot of different situations so I’ve kind of squashed that down. I’m not surprised by much now. I’ve seen huge fights in the audience. I’ve seen stuff blow up on stage. There’s all kinds of crazy stuff that can happen. But I can’t imagine anything that hasn’t already happened!
Debbie: What was one of your most memorable shows?
Digney: Opening for the Ramones and Dr. John.
Debbie: What was it about your experience opening for Dr. John, for instance, that was so memorable?
Digney: Well, there were 2,500-3,000 people out in the audience. That was kind of fun. In that particular show, it was the first time we had introduced people to the CD “Trouble on the Levy. What was validating to me was that we sold out of every CD we brought with us. There was a line outside of our merchandising booth and it didn’t stop until the end of the night. We were very successful and it was really validating that people wanted to get a piece of the music. That felt really great. And Dr. John was a very unique character!
Debbie: So tell us about some upcoming shows you are doing.
Digney: The most fun show is coming up next month in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania at the Mauchunk. That’s going to be a special show that WXLV is putting on. We’re playing with “Girls, Guns and Glory” who are in the top 40 as well. The show is called “Moon Over Boston”. It should be a lot of fun. This is all Boston bands. They’ve been playing my stuff down there a lot! Then back at the Regent Theater in Arlington on November 30th. We just played Scullers too but that was last week. It was great. We packed the house on a Wednesday night!
Debbie: I have to ask you about your name before we go.
Digney: Well, back in the day when I first changed my name and people would ask about it, I would say “I’m from Wales” and that would shut them up, thinking it was a welsh name. But really I made it up of course. No mother is cruel enough to name their child Digney. How many beatings in the playground would that have been worth?
My name is really Robert(Bobby) Brown. I was actually performing under that name for a while as a soloist/singer/songwriter in the Cambridge and Boston area. I remember distinctly, I was living in Cambridge at the time outside of Harvard Square, and I was walking down Kennedy Boulevard and on the sign outside of Johnathon Swifts, it read “Bobby Brown”. I thought, wait, I don’t remember booking a gig there! And sure enough it’s my name but somebody else’s picture. I thought this is messed up. I can’t be working the same circuit as myself! I was all upset. Not only would I not be able to work in my neighborhood, but I won’t be able to work in the United States without somebody else being who I am. So I was sitting around with my friends talking and trying to come up with a name for me. One of the hooks in one of my songs I was writing was “dig the fig”. Hmm.. . Then I said “Digney Fignus” and everybody loved it! And back then in the late 70’s, I was had my hair dyed and cut off so people didn’t want to ask a lot of questions!!
Debbie: Well, it really works and you definitely stand out.
Digney: Yeah, I guess so.
Debbie: It was great talking with you. Thanks for taking the time and good luck with your show in Pennsylvania.
Digney: Thanks. It’s my pleasure, Debbie.
Digney Fignus video