The Lure of Spanish Gold
Drummer Patrick Hallahan talks about how this side project has grown into a well-received band.
When you’re part of a critically successful band, it’s natural to focus all your energy and attention on that. And when a vacation comes, use it to refuel for the next go around. But for longtime My Morning Jacket drummer Patrick Hallahan, a break in the band’s exhaustive touring schedule and recording of their new album offered time for him to polish a diamond in the rough – the band Spanish Gold – that’s become a second musical home for him.
Hallahan wasn’t alone. Lead singer and guitarist Dante Schwebel, a friend of Hallahan, was looking for a more prominent position after leaving San Antonio, Texas band Hacienda. Rounding out the trio is guitarist Adrian Quesada, formerly of Austin, Texas band Grupo Fantasma and a longtime friend of Schwebel.
Spanish Gold formed in 2012 as an experiment but things went so well they decided to keep going. Last month (May 27) they released their debut album, South of Nowhere. The album meshes genres like R&B, hip hop, rock, soul and pop in the vein of the musicians’ MTV-diverse musical upbringing. They split producing duties with Collin Dupuis (who’s produced JEFF the Brotherhood and Bombino) and recorded at Dan Auerbach’s Easy Eye Studio in Nashville and at Lalaland in Louisville. Jim Eno (Spoon, Poliça) and Sam Patlove (The Octopus Project) also had a hand doing some of the production at their respective studios in Austin, Texas.
Prior to the band’s performance at Turner Hall Ballroom tonight, I spoke with Hallahan about the band.
How did you end up joining the band?
[Dante] had some material he was working on with Adrian, leftover from his days with Hacienda. Those songs were among the first demos I heard as a friend. And then a couple weeks later he asked me if I could sit in and put my two cents in and help produce. Now we’re on tour together.
What convinced you to join?
He and I had been friends for a long time. We backed up Dan Auerbach‘s solo tour (in 2009) so we already had a history of good chemistry and My Morning Jacket’s album cycle is winding down. So at the time it was a fun recording experiment with a dear friend and someone I hadn’t met before which is Adrian.
He and Dante are from the same hometown of Laredo, Texas. They went to the same high school. There aren’t a lot of musicians that make it out of Laredo and they kind of kept tabs on each other. When Dante decided to work on this material he called Adrian because a lot of the subject matter is where they’re from. Dante thought Adrian’s sensibilities would blend well with what he had in mind.
Dante is the centerpiece of this, he put it together because he had a relationship with me and Adrian. But Adrian and I met on this project.
How was the name Spanish Gold chosen?
We had about 700 band names before that. The name was actually the hardest part of this. We couldn’t agree on anything. Maybe the only thing we had an issue. [laughs] We settled on Spanish Bombs and then we found out there was a management company called Spanish Bombs and a hardcore band from the 90s called Spanish Bombs. Neither would let us use the name. I think it was Adrian’s wife that suggested Spanish Gold.
It fits the diverse nature of the songs.
Yeah, it was right there underneath our noses the whole time. It took months and months and quite frankly stress because we were [known as}the side project of Dante, Adrian and Patrick for a long time. Not a very good name for a band.
The band recorded at a few places. How did that impact the songs?
Being in different cities and different cultures rubs off on the music. Different air. Different people sitting in on each session. We had a lot of guest musicians on the album. In each city there were different players so there was different chemistry in each session. It’s what we wanted at the time, an album of different-sounding songs that have a common thread that tied it together pretty nicely.
With arranging the songs what was your role?
Nothing was ever concrete. That’s why we shared all of the production and writing credits equally because it just depended on the song who stepped up and added the most. So sometimes my role is just to be quiet and not interfere with the process. And other times my role is to step up and change the way the song was arranged. But the other guys did it too. We all took turns pretty evenly on who is leading at the moment and who is producing at the moment. That’s what you get with good chemistry and no egos. It’s a good collaborative environment.
Is it more collaborative than My Morning Jacket?
Yeah. But My Morning Jacket’s become more collaborative in its latter years as well.
How has the tour been going so far?
It’s been a lot of fun. This is our first time touring and we haven’t had a day off yet. Everyone’s getting along really well. It’s fun to finally take this album out into the live realm as we’ve been sitting on it over a year.
Do you feel you’re more in the limelight since it’s a smaller band?
I don’t care about any of that. I have as much spotlight on me as in My Morning Jacket. It doesn’t really matter.
What lessons learned from My Morning Jacket have you applied to this band?
It could have been any band – just years and years of trying to perfect the balance. I’ve been in bands and touring for a long time. So we’ve taken all our experience and applied it to what we’re doing now. It’s experience and lack of ego and lots of patience and being really organized with our thoughts.
Could you talk about being influenced by MTV?
I think that was more Dante [and his Rolling Stone comment]. We all grew up in a generation where MTV was actually a video station. The point he made in that comment for Rolling Stone was that we listen to all kinds of music and MTV was a perfect example. One stations with tons of different kinds of music on any given moment. That helped shape the variety in which we listen to music now.
Did everyone feel more freedom to go wherever you wanted sonically compared to your main bands?
Yes, there is freedom to do that but all three of us are coming at this from years of experience and knowing that, yes there are no limitations but we don’t want to get in the way of what the song wants to be. I think time teaches you how to be a good listener. Yes, we could put a thousand sounds and whatever we wanted, but it’s not as effective as standing back and listening to what the song wants to do and building from there.
What’s your favorite Milwaukee memory?
I have a lot to be honest with you, I really like that city. I think one of my most striking memories is in the earlier touring days of My Morning Jacket we were playing at The Rave at the Eagle’s Ballroom and I finished with soundcheck and snuck off and explored. I was terrified of the ghosts in that place. I found an old indoor pool that had been drained for years. I found these crazy old locker rooms and the flooring of that space was absolutely surreal and psychedelic. That’s definitely one of my favorite memories. That place is crazy.
What’s your favorite memory of your time with this band?
I think my favorite memory has been getting to know these guys on a musical level and learning a new writing process that I’ve never experienced before. So my favorite thing has been making a second musical home with these guys. All together it’s been a really positive experience.