(Editor’s Note: In lieu of a more traditional intro, I wanted to try something a little different here. The other day I checked in with Zeta guitarist and founding member Daniel Hernandez Saud. We had originally planned to share some dates on tour in March, but by the time news of pandemic had officially broke, our formerly tangible network of festivals, tours, and gigs had all but disappeared.
Despite the circumstances, Dani’s attitude on the phone was surprisingly energetic. To be honest, I think rescheduling was the last thing on our minds: it was just good to talk. It was almost like being at a Zeta show; I knew within minutes that I was going to have to record.
Dani’s words on guitar and songwriting were as insightful as they come, but what really resonated with me were his descriptions of music as a universal language. It’s ability to inspire compassion no matter the circumstance really hit home. Hopefully through these words, we might better observe these qualities in our own lives.)
FB: Thanks again so much for letting me record this. So before Zeta, were you playing guitar at all? How old do you think you were when you first picked it up?
Dani: I started playing guitar when I was eight years old, and not too long after that I founded Zeta with Juan Chi. It was exactly four years later when I was twelve when we started the band in 2003.
We technically started in 2002, but we were starting to write our songs by playing covers, so it took us a year to realize we feel good enough with each other to start fresh and just play our songs. So that’s why we count from 2003, because it’s when we actually started this journey.
FB: That’s cool, when you knew it was right you were already in the thing together but made the conscious choice to start saying exactly what we mean.
Dani: Yeah! I mean at the moment Juan was like fourteen and had another project, and me, I was single! (laughs) But his other band, he was only half committed to, so we started from scratch and just said, “let’d do it.”
FB: You guys really put your guitars through the paces on stage. I noticed both you and Juan Chi play Les Paul and SG’s for the most part, do you remember what you were playing on back then?
Dani: Wow… well, dude, back then it was my red Stratocaster by Squire. My fierce guitar, given to me by my mom. I was like eleven when I got that. Having a nice instrument with good wood and hardware will help, but I think at the end of the day, you don’t need that to change the world. You just need your expression and the ability to do that on an instrument.
I remember I had that Stratocaster, then I had an Ibanez that I didn’t use for too long. Then I remember I got a PRS-style, but it was this radical Hamer… that was a good guitar. Like 2005, 2006 I played a Gibson. An SG Faded. I got there, and I just found myself. There are some Gibson haters out there but it depends on you man. You got to find yourself in a sound. Honestly, I found it in those soap-bar style pickups. I was rocking the SG for a while but Juan Chi gave my my first Les Paul, which I kept up to this point. I’ve had it for twelve years.
But my wife gave me that Double Cut LP for my birthday, and oh my… bro, I’m there. I’m here. I love it so much. On the Les Paul, it’s so thick. On the next Zeta record, I want to cut more with this guitar. These P-90’s really do the job. It’s like a Les Paul had a child with a Strat; it’s got the thickness of the Les Paul, but more aggressive. It’s a spectrum I love to experiment with.
FB: So, between the two… since you’ve played on Fenders or Squiers and also for the last several years of Gibsons, but you’re also a really heavy delay pedal user. Do you think the darker guitar tones or the brighter ones are better for how you use delay?
Dani: Probably 85% of my set I have something going with delay. Even if it’s just a little tail. I’ve never been a solo guitar guy, I never found myself in that. I don’t feel myself there. But if you see my playing, I use a lot of microphones because the tones and textures build a bunch of stuff that will repeat for a while, so I go do a dark tone. But when I go for something with more presence, I switch the the hotter, brighter pickup.
FB: That sweet bridge pickup. That makes sense. Oh, dude I have to ask. When did you start using the table?
Dani: I started using the table three years ago. A while ago I started getting very into the pedal stuff, but for a while I was just a guy with a guitar, cable, and amplifier. But in my compositions I wanted to create more dimension, space, to almost recreate words as well. So as I used more pedals, I found myself in the position where I just wanted to raise it up.
I’m also a big performance lover. So I kind of think of how that looks where it’s uncomfortable to be bending down, while I make this music we play, you know, while we need to catch each other, so this is perfect for me. Actually half of them up on the thing, and some are on the ground so I can tap with my foot. I do stuff with atmospheric stuff but I also try to use tap-tempo to match the percussion. So I use that to make cues that the drummer can go with so it’s mainly because of that. It looks better, it feels better, so, I mean it came as a need, but now it’s part of the show.
FB: I think it was 2016 or around there that I first saw you with a table, and I just thought you were such a genius, because he doesn’t have to do what I have to do in forty five minutes. Everything he is doing, he looks so much better (laughs) He’s not kinking his back, people aren’t checking out his hair…
Dani: When you’re playing and it’s easier like that you can get into the pedals so much more and still watch the rest of your band. In bands like yours or mine, it’s very necessary. Zeta combines our songs and the way we feel on every show so maybe we’ll stretch a part or build a cue, so we’re going with the flow but on cue *snaps* we’re there.
FB: Your shows, whether they’re at a fully packed festival stage or a dimly lit dive, typically, often leave the crowd saying things like “Did we just see the best band in the world? Have I just had a life changing experience?” and I think now is a better time than ever for us to understand why. I’m not making it up. You’re very humble, but Zeta, in my opinion, have played a great part in waking people up, shaking so much ignorance off of us without even using words that half the crowds understand. Does it ever feel like leadership to you? I know that’s a lot.
Dani: Yeah I’m just trying to condense everything I’m thinking… since the beginning, we always wanted to bring some kind of solutions to the people around us and the communities we get to visit. We’re all fairly sensitive though, and we have our own belief, but I identify with so much that is happening all over the world. I’m very happy to see people putting their own voices out.
But between that, and being in a band, we have been in so many countries and cities getting to know so many people and so many different kinds of struggles. That definitely will affect you. If you’re sensitive, if you’re open to think about it, feel that, it will always affect your music. The way you express.
And even when we’re not using words. It’s what we’re feeling, what we’re thinking. So I truly believe that putting all these feelings and emotions we find in different places… an inner energy. A love, a unity, compassion over everything. It does not matter where you are from. You will identify it and get some kind of stimulus. The music comes as an answer to everything that we feel all the time. It’s like all the intention I’ve put into my life since I was a young kid till the day of today, that it’s so a part of me.
At this point I’m very happy I can express myself better in English. In the beginning though, when we got here, it was hard. Picture if for you, in another language or city, you know, it’s hard to get up in front of a bunch of people that don’t speak the same language. It’s hard to be super nice, and say normal things like “how are you feeling, welcome, come closer, etc.” Picture yourself in the same thing. Be that channel, that bridge for a minute, that has to connect all your band with a crowd in different language.
Starting for something social, something cultural, whenever it comes to talking in another language, they really need to think in that language, it’s not enough saying a few words. When you’re playing you have all these high levels of emotions and adrenaline that comes with heart and really deep feelings, so when you have to feel all of that. You have to move.
FB: Zeta is one of the best examples I can think of bringing those snap-decisions and chemical reactions in our brains to the show, and you bring those to the forefront. It’s really cool to see people going home from the shows with vinyls and lyric sheets saying things like “I think I know what they’re saying, but let me be sure.” And sure enough, and it’s exactly what they thought, this utterly transportive, magical stuff. Is Zeta like that for you?
Dani: In the beginning I’d say something that I didn’t know how, or at least how it would sound to my friends in Spanish… but some way, somehow, people get it, and get emotional. It’s crazy. I truly believe music is a universal language. There is more stuff you can communicate through the language of music, like when you don’t even know how to explain yourself with your own words.
Brother, remember, there’s proof that music creates different waves of vibrations that put you in different moods. It’s been used by our ancestors so many times with so many rituals to connect with higher levels of consciousness. I truly respect music as one of the biggest, strongest, oldest tools we have to survive and deal with hardcore struggles. I don’t remember the last time I saw music as a hobby or a game.
When I was a kid I had a lack of father presence and all the problems that come with it, and I found a safe place. Just a room with my guitar. Like, I remember going back from school having no problem just closing my door and spending six, seven hours playing guitar. I would learn like fifty songs, and play all those songs and when I finished I would just play them again, because the way it made me feel. It was better than anything.
And when you’re feeling some way, like sad or depressed, you can listen to music that might make you feel better. Sometimes you’re feeling nice, and you listen to something, and it fucking takes you down. But you know, it’s so amazing, you even find a way to enjoy it.
If there are any left, you can purchase the vinyl for Zeta’s latest album Mochima at Death Protector Collective, or stream their discography on Bandcamp. You can also see our other Zeta interview with co-guitarist Juan Chi.