Hacienda – Soulful Rock ‘n’ Roll

hacienda2.jpgThe three brothers and one cousin that make up Hacienda passed a copy of their homemade demo on to one person.  They had little aspiration beyond perhaps playing a bit locally.  But that one person just happened to be Black Keys guitarist Dan Auerbach, and he really liked what he heard on the homemade demo.


What Auerbach heard on that demo was soulful rock ‘n’ roll that instantly called to mind the soaring celestial harmonies of the Beach Boys, a deep swinging groove ripped from Muscle Shoals, and songs that sounded equally as at home in the 1960’s as they do in the 21st Century.

For the quartet from San Antonio, Auerbach became an important mentor and friend.  He would eventually go on to produce their debut album Loud is the Night.  As he was preparing to tour in support of his debut solo album he asked Hacienda if they would serve as his band.  They agreed and along with My Morning Jacket’s Patrick Hallahan, they played and toured with Auerbach for much of the last year as the Fast Five.

While on the road Hacienda (Dante Schwebel -guitar/vocals, Abraham Villanueva – piano/organ/vocals, Jamie Villanueva – drums/vocals, Rene Villanueva – bass/vocals) worked on their follow up to Loud is the NightBig Red & Barbacoa which is due to be released in April.  Their time with Auerbach was an influential one, as he again produced the album and the sound and direction of it owes much to their time as the Fast Five.

Guitarist Schwebel took some time from their current tour with Alberta Cross to discuss the new album, their tour and much more.

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Honest Tune: How did Hacienda end up becoming a band?

Dante Schwebel: {laughs} We just started playing a lot together after I moved up to go to college in San Antonio.  The other dudes were all still in high school, and I think Jamie was still in junior high.  It was really an accident, really unplanned.  We started recording stuff because Abraham bought a little recorder and we just started recording things and we liked the way they sounded.  Then we showed it to one person, Dan Auerbach, and that was it.

hacienda1.jpgHT:  When was that first moment when you realized you could be a band, that you had something special?

DS:  You know its funny but that has only happened recently.  I think, call it pessimism, but I know for me at least, while we have been playing I have been waiting for the other shoe to drop.  So many bands aren’t able to make a career or even get out of town. So when we were playing we kept thinking we are just going to do these couple of gigs and then go back to the ranch and back to work.  I guess about a year ago we saw our tour schedule and thought shit, I think people are responding or we wouldn’t be getting any work. 

So it is still kind of a new thing.  When we were first started we liked the tunes we recorded, but we never expected anything to happen from them.  It wasn’t until recently that I thought, "you know, we are a pretty good little band."

HT:  It just snuck up on you?

DS:  Yeah.  And you don’t know what to do. Not taking yourself very seriously seems to be working, so you don’t want to start taking yourself seriously.  You don’t want to put the pressure on. 

HT:  Do you feel that since you are getting some recognition from your time with Dan Auerbach that there is some pressure, or do you still just go out and enjoy it?

DS:  It is really easy to enjoy.  Playing with Dan was zero pressure.  The people at those shows are already fans of his and those songs. There is no pressure there. All you got to do is show up and plug in.  The pressure is when you’re playing in front of audiences that don’t know you, and you say, “Ok let’s see how this goes over.”  That is a little more pressure. 

hacienda4.jpgHT:  Is there a moment during the night or during certain songs when you can look out and say, “This crowd got it tonight.”

DS:  The first song in our set has an instrumental intro and it is [meant] to get us grooving on stage. There is always this moment that, if you see the audience start grooving right away to that, you know its going to be a good night.  More often than not that has been happening.  And if you get people dancing by the end of the set you know it’s happening. 

HT: I think you guys have such a vintage sound that people can quickly relate to it.  And while it is vintage, there is something very different and refreshing about it.  How did you guys come to develop that sound?

DS:  Thanks man. It came from our individual influences.  Everybody pulled from different influences when learning to play their instruments.  Rene, who plays the bass, played the violin as a kid.  He and I had a big shoot out for who was going to play guitar, and when he lost, he said, “Ok I am going to PLAY the bass, I am not just going to play some low end frequency.  I am going to PLAY the bass.”  When he plays he pulls from Motown and the Stax Records sound, and with that and the drums we were able to get the crowd moving a bit more than you would normally.

There is certainly a Beach Boys vibe with the singing and the harmonies.  That is the challenge for us.  If you pull from all these different places how do you sound like yourself?  Bottom line – I would love to sing like the Supremes, but I am not going to be able to, so I just do the best I can, and it is going to sound a little different. It is those differences that created our sound.

HT:  How was the tour with Dan Auerbach?  How did that impact you guys as a band?

DS: I think that is the biggest impact on what the new record is going to sound like.  We just finished recording it and it’s get mixed now.  The sound of the new record is kind of a result of playing with Dan.

About a month before the tour he sent us the record.  We listened to it a couple of times and charted it out.  When we got to Akron for rehearsals, Dan said “Do whatever you want, play how you play.”  He said, “I wanted your sound, so play how you play it.” We didn’t have to be faithful to the record. And the more we played, and did what we were comfortable with, the more pleased he was with it. He liked that kind of approach. He was very generous. He was really comfortable with just letting musicians do what they do.  We just try to spotlight him because that’s what a good band does.  The relationship with Dan is pretty close; we have known each other for years. 

We approach recording and our lives shows very different. The first leg of the tour we were opening, and then we would come out and play with him, and you couldn’t help but want to rock ‘n’ roll the whole time.  And when it came time to go in the studio we only had about a week and half, so we just continued with that energy we had from playing with him.

hacienda3.jpgHT:  Are you playing any songs from the new album live yet?  

DS:  We are playing maybe five songs in the set right now.  It comes out in April, so when it comes out we will probably feature most of it.  Some of the songs we have been playing for awhile. There is a tune that has been in the set that has always gotten reaction, and we hope people are waiting for these tunes when the record comes out.

HT:  You have been on the road for sometime with Alberta Cross, who is also starting to generate quite a bit of attention. How has it been on the road with them? 

DS: It has been fun for sure. The tour has been a pretty good fit. We didn’t know what to expect.  We have been friends with them since SXSW last year and we kept running into them at festivals and we kept hanging out. 

We knew the tour would work after one night when we were stranded in Cleveland for the night. They happened to be playing a secret show in town and asked us to come out to the show.  So we went out, and apparently the secret didn’t get out, because no one was there.  I have known about the band for awhile and that they have had some success in Europe and played with Neil Young.  It was funny to see them almost sheepishly walk into the venue, where it is literally the bartenders and a couple other guys from our band there.  They almost didn’t want to play.  But we bought them a couple of rounds of tequila and said, “Hey man we have see you before, but these guys haven’t, you got to play some music.”  So they played their set.  Then they said, “We have everything set up you want to jam with us?”  We ended up playing for like another hour.  We became really good friends. 

Their record is mellow, but we have a lot in common.  The audiences are always a challenge.  Even an audience when you are a young band that is looking forward to see you is tough.  You always feel you need to prove yourself.  Some people have the record, but this is the first time seeing us, or they saw us with Dan and now they are seeing Hacienda. 

hacienda5.jpgHT: The new album comes out in April – what are your upcoming plans up until then and beyond that? 

DS:  We are touring pretty heavy right now, right up until SXSW.  Then catch our breath a bit, and then get back out on the road for the album release.  If we could get into a studio at some point through out the year that would be great.  Each of us individually writes so many tunes on our own. So whenever we get a few weeks to do something we are usually back-loaded with songs. 

Working with Dan is nice.  He likes to cut records really fast.  The first one was done in four days.  This one was done in a week.  So it is easy to go in and get something done.  I would love to put out records at least once a year if not every nine months.  You used to get two Beatles in a year, three Rolling Stones records in a year. We would love to do stuff like.  So we will just always keep recording stuff and have that backlog that we can release when we want.

All photos: http://www.myspace.com/haciendaspace / photos by West Vita