Dany Villarreal is the lead guitar powerhouse for The Warning – a Mexican rock trio that features Villarreal alongside her two sisters, drummer Paulina and bassist Alejandra. After spending much of their combined childhoods developing a love of their respective instruments through the Rock Band video game, the three siblings later honed their crafts and established The Warning in 2013.
Fast-forward to today, the Villarreal sisters have two studio LPs under their belt – XXI Century Blood (2017) and Queen of the Murder Scene (2018) – an EP titled MAYDAY (2021) and a handful of high-profile appearances supporting The Killers, Foo Fighters and Def Leppard. There’s plenty more to come, too, with The Warning also set to hit the road with Halestorm – another one of their heroes – later this summer.
For Dany, her role as the band’s sole guitarist has been key to the band’s rapid success. Despite the challenges her duty poses – compounded by the fact she’s also the lead vocalist – Villarreal has seemingly mastered the art of juggling viscous riffs, unpredictable rhythms and blinding leads at once with ease.
Noted for her vocal-like solos and adrenaline-heightening progressions, Villarreal's guitar work is the foundation to the band's tight-knit sound, which is evidenced from all six MAYDAY songs – from the rebelliously up-beat DISCIPLE to the serenely heavy CHOKE.
Villarreal sat down with Guitar World to discuss sharing songwriting duties with her siblings, the thought process behind her “singable” guitar solos, The Warning’s latest single MONEY and the ‘03 Gibson Les Paul baritone guitar that she once fell in love with.
Some of the best rock songs ever written have come from three-piece bands. This trio formula works for The Warning as well. As lead guitarist, what is your songwriting process?
“I think being a trio of sisters is definitely a plus. We have great communication and we're best friends, so it works out really well. As for the songwriting process, it usually starts with Paulina on the piano. She makes some chords and has some basic song ideas, and then we all start working on it together.
“For me on the guitar, it's especially challenging. I have to find a way to incorporate cool guitar riffs into rhythm and lead, and find a balance between those two. I have to make the song exciting, and make sure it can be played by one guitar player live.”
In your rhythm playing, I can hear some Green Day and Nirvana inspiration. When it comes to your lead, who do you look up to?
“I’d say Matt Bellamy of Muse is my biggest inspiration when it comes to writing my lead parts. Like Matt, I too am the lead singer and the only guitar player in my band. When you do both, a lot of thought goes into making sure your guitar parts don’t get stale or mundane. Your guitar playing should be memorable and exciting from start to finish, and Matt does an incredible job at that.”
Keeping listeners engaged through melody is a strong suit of yours. How do you go about creating your guitar solo?
“I take a very melodic approach when writing my solos and try to make sure they are somewhat singable. I’ll often start by humming or singing a melody, and if it works, I’ll then translate it to the guitar.”
One unique aspect of The Warning is that you’re all sisters. How you have influenced each other's playing throughout the years?
“Music is something we've always done together, so we were connected through that from a very young age. Doing this with my sisters has inspired me so much because when things get tough, we are always there to support each other and push through.
“Also, there is nothing like being in a band in general and then knowing when something clicks, you're just like, 'That was so cool.' That’s an amazing feeling. Getting to do that with my sisters is absolutely incredible. Plus, we have like a telepathic sister connection – we can just look at each other and we instantly know what each of us is going to do. It's a very fun process.”
Rock Band was a great outlet for you as a young musician. What in particular challenges you now in the present, now that your skills have grown so much?
“Rock Band inspired us to grab our instruments, so I'm definitely grateful for that. I guess my challenge now in 2022 is to keep growing. There's always more that I have to learn.
“I want to get to know more musicians and appreciate how everyone sees music in their own way. I wish I could learn how to integrate all of it into my music and just learn to play whatever with whoever. That's my goal for this year.”
Your track CHOKE opens with a subtle guitar tone, but later it's near-impossible not to headbang as the heavy distortion comes in. What is the importance of embracing different elements of instrumentation in rock music?
“CHOKE is a bit more of a dynamic song in the musical sense of it. We love to do that throughout our album. It's very important to have those heavy guitars – to have that song be felt – but the most important thing is the feeling that we want to express throughout the song.
“It's a little bit more melodic in the sense that it's a bit of a more dramatic song than the rest of them. It's powerful, but in a more sentimental way. The aim was to encase that in this slower tempo and with melodic guitars, while still retaining the heaviness. The aim is to just give each and every song its own unique touch.”
Your most recent single is MONEY, which has some gnarly guitar tones. What pedals were you using?
“Recording the guitars for MONEY was incredibly fun. It's a very different song in terms of groove and sound, so we played a lot with different amplifiers. David [Bendeth, producer] has his own custom modified amplifiers and guitars that we use throughout the whole album, and it was the case with this song as well.
“I remember with one arrangement specifically we went all George Harrison on it. I learned the song backwards and then recorded it so it sounds all weird, and I love that. It was a challenge but it was amazing.”
What guitar did you use while recording?
“I actually used several to record MONEY, all of which are a part of our producer David Bendeth’s collection. I don’t remember the exact combinations of guitars and amps that we used for this track.
“I do, however, remember falling in love with the tone of his 2003 Gibson Les Paul baritone guitar, which we layered in. It made the whole song come alive.”
You've played sold out shows with The Killers and Def Leppard. Who are two more artists or bands you want to tour with?
“There are a lot of artists I would love to hit the road with, it's almost impossible to choose. But one of them I think would be Muse – they're a lifelong inspiration to us. Since they're a trio too, they have inspired us so much to create what we envision in our brains, and encouraged us to have the freedom to express ourselves fully in our music.”