Best of What's Next: Hacienda

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Best of What's Next: Hacienda

Hometown: San Antonio, Texas
Album: Big Red & Barbacoa (coming April 2010)
Band Members: Dante Schwebel (guitar/vocals), Abraham Villanueva (piano/organ/vocals), Jamie Villanueva (drums/vocals), Rene Villanueva (bass/vocals)
For Fans Of: The Beach Boys, Dr. Dog, The Band

Dante Schwebel stifles a laugh when asked how he got here—“here” being a van situated halfway between Portland and Seattle, rolling along with him and his three younger cousins in tow. “We weren’t really a band at first,” he says. “When we started it was just to entertain ourselves—no aspirations, really. Nothing more than just playing upstairs, just something to do.”

More specifically, Schwebel and the Villanueva brothers are way up in the Pacific Northwest because they’re on tour with squally blues-rockers Alberta Cross, just one of many road-trips Hacienda has made in the past few years. Despite the band’s casual beginnings, they quickly realized they were making music worth sharing, a mix of Beach Boys-esque harmonies (the kind most often born from deep familial connections), classic Stax Records grooves and a guitar sound Schwebel says they pulled from Steve Cropper that recalls the rootsier side of ‘60s pop-rock with its swirling melodies and irresistible swagger.

“We showed it to one person, Dan Auerbach,” Schwebel says. “And that was it.”

A musical connection and deep friendship soon formed between the Black Keys guitarist and the young San Antonio band. Auerbach would go on to produce Hacienda’s 2008 debut LP Loud is the Night, which highlighted the vintage sounds on which the bandmates first cut their teeth. With spine-tingling vocals, frank lyrics, organ rolls that seem to start high in the dusty hills and bass-lines that beat like the heart of a forgotten America, it sounded like The Band via south-central Texas instead of Upstate New York.

But the four bandmates pride themselves on the constant evolution of their live show, for which Loud is the Night only served as a launching pad. “First and foremost, we are a rock ‘n’ roll band—we play rock instruments and we like to have fun live,” Schwebel says. “When we recorded our first record, we had so many tunes—as is the case with a lot of first records—and we just decided to make a pop record. We take a different approach live. It’s nice because as young band you do so many supports slots, and you play in front of so many audiences, so we can just pull from all these different spots and reinterpret the songs from night to night and tour to tour.”

This chameleonic tendency paid off when Auerbach asked Hacienda to play as his backing band when he toured in support of his first solo album, Keep it Hid. As Schwebel recalls, “About a month before his tour, Dan sent us the record and asked, ‘Can you learn this in a month?’ Of course we said yes. Then we went into the studio and thought, ‘Did we bite off more than we can chew?’” But playing with Auerbach night after night paid off, and hugely impacted the sound of Hacienda’s forthcoming second album, Big Red & Barbacoa (coming in April). The album was recorded with minimal overdubs and very few takes, and though it features just the foursome and a bit of percussion, it finds them working up to a much heavier sound than that of their debut.

Auerbach, who also produced the new record, spelled out his intentions to the band: “People have the first record, and now they have seen you live, so let’s give them the rock ‘n’ roll.” For Schwebel, Big Red was yet another opportunity to “show people what it is we do.” Back in the Seattle-bound van full of cousins, he’s quick to reply when asked about Hacienda’s current aspirations. “To get to where people can’t wait for us to get into town,” Schwebel says. “And then to just plug in and play loud.”