Patrick Hallahan and Dante Schwebel Share Spanish Gold
Though Spanish Gold is pretty much the epitome of a 21st Century festival- scene supergroup, the new band’s three members actually trace their inspiration back to the tail end of the 20th century: The garage-rock-fueled trio specifically cite the freeform programming of MTV’s classic 1986-1996 period as a mutual reference point for both Spanish Gold’s mix of rock, R&B, pop and funk sounds as well as their desire to create concise, but inspired catchy nuggets. Guitarist and lead vocalist Dante Schwebel (City and Colour) conceived Spanish Gold as his longtime band Hacienda was on the brink of falling apart and recruited drummer Patrick Hallahan (My Morning Jacket), guitarist Adrian Quesada (formerly of Grupo Fantasma) to help flesh out his initial sketches. Thanks to a boost from The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, who connected 2/3rds of the band in the first place, the group spent time recording in the Southeast with producer Collin Dupuis (JEFF the Brotherhood, Bombino). The sessions resulted in Spanish Gold’s full-length debut South of Nowhere and a new project that all three members of the group are determined to make more than a side-project. Jambands.com spoke with Dante and Patrick while the three musicians were fleshing out Spanish Gold’s future.
Let’s start with the origins of Spanish Gold. Dante, you and Patrick toured together as part of Dan Auerbach’s solo band in 2009. At what point did you start writing material for Spanish Gold and bring Patrick and Adrian into the fray?
DS: We formed Spanish Gold in 2012. I was always working on stuff when I was at home. At the time I was in a band called Hacienda but I felt like we were finishing up and going in different places with that band. We’re not really sure whether we felt like continuing. You know, we were kind of a hard road band for five years or so but around that time we were in transition and we all had a bunch of material. I was always writing songs and working on songs but I didn’t really know what to do with them. That’s always the hassle or the predicament that songwriters find themselves in. With the material being sort of like garage rock songs, I couldn’t really quite figure out what to do with them. I knew it didn’t really sound like some of the garage rock stuff I had been doing previously with Hacienda. I am always working on all sorts of projects. I’m actually in Toronto now—we’ve been here for a few days doing rehearsals for City and Colour and we’re about to start a Canadian tour. So we’ve just kind of been held up in a club here doing rehearsals for the last few days.
So when the first idea came up for Spanish Gold I called Adrian. We had known each other and I thought he could lend something to this batch of songs pretty easily. I called him and we demoed a few things and each session got us to another step. Once we got to the point where these songs were taking shape, I said, “Man, I know a drummer!” Patrick and I played together when we both backed up Dan Auerbach on his solo stuff several years back. So I said, “I know a drummer that I think would be perfect for it.”
Dan gave us the key to his studio in Nashville and I invited Patrick and Adrian. That was the first time Patrick and Adrian met yet we ended up cutting about half the record in four days or something. So by the end we said, “Let’s make a record out of this and see what happens.”
Patrick in certain ways 2014 has been your year off the road while My Morning Jacket works on a new record. What were your initial impressions of these songs and what made you decide it was worth dedicating a good chunk off your vacation time to this project?
PH: Well, Dante and I kind of always kept tabs on each other. He and I had hit it off from the get go on that Dan tour, and I always had it in the back of my head that he and I were going to do something at some point. We just always had good chemistry on stage.
He called me to tell me what he was doing with this side stuff he had been working on. We were talking on the phone and he told me he was working with this guy from Grupo Fantasma, whose is a killer producer, and we got together and worked on some demos. At that point, he didn’t even know what he was going to do with it then. I was just excited for Dante so when I got the call and he said, “Hey do you want to get in on this?” I said, “Yeah” because it sounded like a fun little recording project. My thought process was like, “Sure, I’ll meet you in Nashville with people I’ve never met before and see what happens.
But when I met Adrian, we pretty much just instantly hit it off. I think we approached things in a like-minded way. The three of us really synced quickly in the studio, and I think that’s why we decided to keep it going—it turned into something more than just a tiny little side project. It had grown legs because the chemistry was real and you can’t fake that.
When the project was originally announced there was a very specific description of Spanish Gold’s sound. A particularly revealing quote said, “We kept finding that we had a lot of the same reference points during the recording. It became evident that we were still children of the MTV era. We grew up with MTV when it was still a music channel. The way that the programming crossed genres from R&B to hip hop, rock, soul and pop music is how we approach records. It’s an album of all those styles. Like watching a random hour of MTV programming circa 1986-1996. It’s a nod to Michael Jackson, Dr. Dre, Madonna, the Beastie Boys or Tom Petty, all with a Texas border town setting. It all adds up to a fun listen that you can keep on repeat.” At what point in the creative process did you totally dive in the classic MTV-era?
DS: We were all coming from different bands and every band has a different personality based on the people that are in it. And something that we all had in common just in conversations and you know you go get a beer after you work in the studio and you’re kind of trading an iPod, everybody’s listening to somebody else’s iPod at different times. We were all of that era. We could all recall these songs and it would make everybody immediately reminisce about what it was like to be 14 again. One thing that was great about MTV during that time was that they played every genre—even Tom Petty was on MTV at that time. They would follow up Tom Petty with Dr. Dre and that kind of mentality about how to program music is something we really felt a connection with. I think MTV had a lot of trust in people at the time because it wasn’t so uniform. It wasn’t so much about choosing this demographic over that demographic and, if you were like any of us, MTV was probably on in your household about 20 hours a day. You got exposed to everything, whether it be MTV Raps, Headbangers Ball, Alternative Nation or 120 Minutes. So when we were making the record and once we were about six songs in, someone would say, “Well, this song doesn’t really sound like that song and that song. I said, “Yeah, that’s kind of the thing.” It’s almost like you’re playing a great mix tape with different styles.