Have Guitar, Will Travel

The Paladins are back with reflections on a New World

The Paladins
The Paladins

A lot can happen when a band goes 15 years between albums. For The Paladins, there were side projects with other bands, the opening of a recording studio, social and political changes in the world, and just plain ol' getting older.

The band, known for their bluesy, western-and-bop sound and rip-'em shows, formed in San Diego in 1980, and rode one of the strongest rockabilly movements across the U.S. and Europe, playing festivals and getting radio airplay for almost two decades, until things started to go south. "In the late '90s things got tough," says singer/songwriter/guitarist Dave Gonzalez. "The radio scene changed, the rockabilly scene died a little bit, and started going in a direction we didn't want to go. We started to feel we'd been doing it for so long and never let up. In 2002, we decided it was time to take a break."

The band's hiatus lasted seven years, and the band members went their separate ways. Gonzalez played with other musicians. Meanwhile, standup string-bassist Thomas Yearsley started Thunderbird Analog Recording Studio in Oceanside, California. Then they started getting offers to play festivals again.

"We weren't sure if we wanted to do it," says Gonzalez. "I was afraid people would think we're too old, but our audience got older too! They come to the shows and tell us they raised their kids on our music, and they bring their kids to the shows. It's amazing, it's like we're having a second wind!"

The band, which currently consists of Gonzalez, Yearsley and drummer Brian Fahey, got their chops back playing festivals again. Then, Gonzalez says, people started asking for a new record.

"I was almost afraid of it at first," he says. "I knew it was a tall order to write a bunch of new songs and actually have something to say after all these years."

While The Paladins have long been known as a good-time rockabilly band, for the new album, Gonzalez, who still sports the retro style of a cool cat, wearing a dark, slicked-back quiff and down-home vintage wear, felt it was time to go a little deeper. "First of all, we're older now. When we were younger, we didn't think about the political scene. We just sang about cars and chicks. After getting away from it for a while, and working with people like Chris Gaffney [from Gonzalez's popular side project band, The Hacienda Brothers] and other producers, I wanted to be a better songwriter."

Gonzalez realized that he had some things he wanted to talk about when they started recording at the end of 2016, a time when the country was reeling from the divisiveness of a particularly brutal election year. The resulting album, New World, captures some of the issues plaguing him, particularly in the title track.

"There's got to be a world where people can just get along," he says. "Other countries are still fighting, and our country is very divided right now. It's scary. I've been around 55 years and I've been lucky enough to see some good times. I pray for the young people to have something to inherit and to be proud of instead of what's going on right now."

On the thought-provoking, slow-grooving, bluesy number, "Who Sold the Water to the Waterman?" he tackles the growing water shortage, particularly the droughts that have ravaged California, where Gonzalez grew up, and in his new home of Austin, Texas. "In California, they told us we can't shower too long or wash our cars, the farmers are getting cut off and they're giving the water to the developers," he says. "It makes me mad."

After releasing the album and touring throughout most of 2017, Gonzalez says New World has been well received and he's glad they did it. "I feel so proud of it, and it was great working with Thomas. Once we started writing together, I realized what a joy it was to do that again."

The band plays Tucson on January 13 at 191 Toole. Gonzalez has a particular love for the city, both as his father's hometown, and as the place where he worked with The Hacienda Brothers. He always looks forward to coming back. "It's such a great place. People there love all kinds of music, it just all comes together in Tucson!"

Gonzalez recognizes how extraordinary it is to have a band with a history as long as that of The Paladins. "Bands do their thing and have their run. The Paladins are good friends and we get along. When we get back to playing it's still right there. I wasn't sure it could happen or if I could cut it anymore—and maybe some people say I can't!" he says with a laugh. "But I think I was underestimating myself. I can't play the same as I did when I was 25 but I know more now as a musician, I've worked hard to be a better songwriter and that's what it's all about, to just keep getting better." ■