It’s hard to pin down Texas band Giovannie and The Hired Guns. I mean that broadly, and we’ll get into that, but literally speaking, it’s hard to slap a genre on these guys. They’re not quite punk, not quite rock. They’re signed to a country label. And frontman Giovannie Yanez says you can hear the influences of his uncle’s norteño band and Houston rap in their songs.
Good things labels don’t matter to Yanez. Some parts of their latest album Tejano Punk Boyz—their first release on a major label, Warner Music Nashville—do fit that label’s country purview, but more went into signing with them than just finding a genre fit.
“It’s funny, we’re this band and anybody can label us as country, rock, fuckin’ Tejano rock,” Yanez says. “At the end of the day it was who was listening to what we had to say.”
And what Yanez and his band have to say, not only about how their music is made but in what they share in their music, is kind of the whole point. Yanez has lived a life, to put it simply, from working in a quarry when he was 13 to nearly dying a couple times, to guiding a band that’s skyrocketed in popularity in just a few short years.
Those early days working in his uncle’s quarry helped forge a toughness in Yanez that comes through in the band’s music.
“Once I hit a certain age, like 13 years old, I hated summer because I grew up in a Mexican family, and that’s all they knew, was to work. We didn’t know what a vacation was. And yeah. I started working with my uncle for a little while. I would go find these other jobs when I got to be 18 years old, but I would always find my way back to the quarry, because my uncle would always hire me.”
One of those other jobs was as a clerk at a pawn shop in Stephenville, a little town in the vastness of central Texas. Though Yanez liked it because it was less grueling than the quarry and because it came with the fun of seeing the “gnashy things people would bring in” like microwaves with roaches spewing out, it also gave him time to write music.
“I wrote some of the [debut] Bad Habits album,” he says. “Pretty sure all the ideas came while I was working at the pawn shop. I would go to the guitar section and act like I was tuning them.”
The eclectic influences that make up Gio & The Hired Guns’ sound came from the addition of members from all walks of life—drummer Milton Toles, who grew up playing music in church; guitarist Jerrod Flusche, who worked as a session player for country acts; Yanez’s cousin Carlos Villa, whom Yanez calls a left-handed virtuoso; and bassist Alex Trejo, who Yanez met while working at the pawn shop.
But Yanez remembers getting CDs for Christmas that influenced him in his early life, and that you can hear in the band’s sound today.
O”ne of the very first ones I can remember vividly is Back in Black and Dirty Deeds [Done Dirt Cheap]. I think track one in Dirty Deeds is ‘Big Balls.’ I was at that age, where I was like what the fuck, ‘I’ve got big balls, she’s got big balls’? Something about Angus’ guitar tune. AC/DC was my first rock band that I dove into. Then I had cousins that listened to heavy Houston rap and fell in love with that; Big Moe, and SPM is my favorite rapper.”
All of those influences, from Yanez and his bandmates, result in a sound that’s a bit like ’90s alt rock, a bit like pop punk, a bit like modern country, a bit like… well, a lot, but no one thing entirely. And what separates Giovannie and The Hired Guns from the bands to whom they might be compared is the raw, evocative, plain-language storytelling that Yanez booms out with his mighty, gravelly voice and which rides along powerful tones AC/DC would be proud of.
Those stories come from a turbulent life, Yanez says. On this recent album, Yanez is pulling away the veil to share some of the stories from it.
“These songs on this album on this recent label, some of ’em we’ve had for a little while, we just didn’t know how to say them or put ’em out there. It wasn’t the right time, if that made sense,” Yanez says. “I think we’ll always stay true because I’ve gone through a lot of shit. I should’ve died a lot of times and it’s fucking insane.”
Some of those experiences were acute life-or-death moments.
“I was at this festival in Stephenville and for some fucking reason, I guess I got drunk and I wound up int he back of a pickup and we have to drive to my buddy’s house, who lived 15 miles from this fuckin festival,” Yanez says. “And we have to get on a highway and I guess my drunk ass got up and fell out of the back of a pickup. I don’t know how I didn’t end up with head injuries or any of that. I had a broken pelvis, I had road rash. My back, my entire back all the way to the top of my ass. That’s why I have tattoos so they can cover all the road rash.”
And some were ongoing struggles that Yanez had to fight his way out from.
“I was addicted to Xanax at one point in my life. It’s a dark fuckin’ hole dude,” Yanez says. “I do not wish that on my worst enemies. When I was in that hole, you just have these dark thoughts when you don’t have your pill. It’s insane. You think you can’t just turn your brain off or whatever, and yeah man, that was a dark dark time.”
But those experiences coalesce through Yanez’s music, and he’s hopeful that they provide an outlet for those who are also going through dark times.
“I think that’s what it is. I think that me writing the music that I do, that we do… ‘cause even in the music, you can feel it. I’m just glad that I get to be here and share it. I’ve had some great friends that have brought me out of some dark holes.”
Giovannie and The Hired Guns will play Wonder Bar in Asbury Park on Dec. 14. The live show is a sight to behold, in large part because they maximize the energetic potential of their music. Yanez says he’s seen people in the crowd connect with the music on deep, emotional levels, and it’s both validating and humbling to get to see it.
“My heart just drops, I want to cry with them too,” Yanez says. “Cause I know what they’re feeling. I know what the fuck they’re feeling. I love it so much. I love that they love the music and that it helps.”
Giovannie and The Hired Guns. Wonder Bar, Asbury Park. Dec. 14. Ticket info here.