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Hacienda on Their New Line-up and Rare 502 Gig

Photo: Courtesy photo, License: N/A

Courtesy photo

Still smiling: The Villanueva brothers take Hacienda’s lineup change in stride

When classically trained brothers Rene (violin), Jaime (guitar) and Abe Villanueva (piano) moved to Boerne, their high school had no orchestra—so they turned to rock, with Rene switching to guitar, and Jaime to drums. No singing experience? No problem.

“It was all practice, practice, practice,” Rene told the Current at the band’s rehearsal space, an actual hacienda in the middle of nowhere (Boerne, technically). Now their two- and three-part harmonies are one of Hacienda’s most highly praised features, a testament to their devotion to the Beatles, Beach Boys, doo wop and ’60s vocal groups.

When cousin Dante Schwebel left the band after three albums, instead of freaking out, the brothers decided to change their sound and become a guitar-less trio. That philosophy of making lemonade out of life’s lemons has suited the band well so far. Shakedown (2012), their third album (again produced by the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach), took them all the way to a live appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman and solidified their status as one of the top—and busiest—San Antonio bands.

“We can’t complain,” said Rene. “Everything’s has been going awesome for us.”

Yet, the band is practically starting all over again.

On his website, Schwebel—who moved to Nashville and at press time hadn’t replied to an email from the Current—wrote he’s been working on an album with Patrick Hallahan (My Morning Jacket), Adrián Quesada (Grupo Fantasma) and Patrick Keeler (The Raconteurs), “by far the most exciting project I’ve ever worked on,” but also had nice things to say about his cousins and the last album they all made together.

“I was very proud of [Shakedown],” Schwebel wrote. “It was the first time I felt that we reached our potential. ‘Pilot in the Sky’ is killer. I love ‘You Just Don’t Know’ and ‘Veronica.’ ‘Let Me Go’ is rockin’!”

When I ask Rene about Schwebel’s departure, for the first time in the interview his ever-present smile disappears.

“We saw it coming,” he said. “[Dante] started wanting to do different things and exploring new avenues, he felt he needed to do that. So we talked about it and decided he’d be happier doing his own thing and we’d be happier continuing on [without him]. This was the best avenue for all parties involved.

It was definitely a mutual decision.”

But how important was he? Who is going to replace him?

“Every person that’s around the making of an album is important,” said Rene. “He wrote a lot of parts, songs, arrangements, words for us, but we’re talented enough that, if something’s lacking, one of us can pick up the slack and toss it around and find new ways to approach things. We all can play guitar and we all can write songs and chords. It’ll be different ’cause [Dante is] not here, but I don’t think we’ll be missing or lacking anything.”

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