Diego Bernal and Ernest Gonzales Present ‘Atonement’ at the Aztec

This is the story of how Ernest Gonzales (Mexicans with Guns) saved Diego Bernal and how the Current saved them both. Sort of.

The story begins in May 2011, when Bernal put his music career on hiatus to run for City Council’s District 1 spot. He won and got re-elected this year, but he didn’t put out any new music until this summer’s Atonement (Exponential Records), a collaboration with his pal Gonzales and his first album since being elected. But it wasn’t easy to get there, as Gonzales told me recently during a joint interview.

“In the final stages, it was hard to wrap up the project because [Bernal] was…” Bernal’s phone rings, “…answering his phone all the time.” Bernal smiled and went to a separate room to deal with what appeared to be an important call, the kind politicians get.

“See what I mean?” joked Gonzales. “Music’s supposed to be more important than the City, building sidewalks, giving kids backpacks, and all that stuff… OK, I understand that’s kind of important, but making beats is very important as well!”

Bernal began to see his friend’s point of view, so the two got together for a project that became a return for Bernal and a first for Gonzales.

“You don’t want to lose too much of you being a politician, and I don’t make any apologies about being a musician,” said Bernal. “I had to get back into it at some point. This is the first time we’ve put out a bunch of music together.” Previously, Gonzales had only remixed “Bring it on Home,” included on Bernal’s 2009 For Corners debut. For the introverted Gonzales, Atonement was also a whole new way of creating music.

“I don’t like to work with people and I don’t like to talk to people,” Gonzales said. “This is the first time that I actually sat with someone in the studio side by side, making new music, and itwas great.”

It was also the first time Gonzales, who usually experiments and sees where the wind takes him, approached the project with a clear goal in mind.

“The way I see it, I’d describe [Atonement] as the soundtrack to an unmade Mexican Western movie,” Gonzales said. “We put music to specific scenes we had in mind.”

The result is a collection of dusty electronic beats, moods and textures, all wrapped in lots of bass and Latin influences from jazz to folk.

While it is truly a collaborative effort, Bernal credits Gonzales with being the kick in the butt he needed.

“My own process of making music is very slow, while Ernest is really fast,” said Bernal. “But once we finally worked together, it all happened very quickly.”

They had been toying with the idea of presenting the album at a special place, like the legendary Aztec Theatre, but weeks went by with no set date. So the Current had an idea: why don’t you play the album as part of our Music Awards showcases? They agreed, and the gorgeous lobby of the Aztec will be reopened just for them, for a night that will also feature Third Root, Chisme and others. It will be the first in a new multi-event cycle at the Aztec, a former movie theater built in 1926 that has been remodeled and kept in mint condition, keeping the essence of the original.

Atonement is more than an album, it’s an excuse to give back to the community. Kids, to be exact: all proceeds from the sale of the album—which is available via exponential.bandcamp.com on a name-your-price basis—will go toward the creation of SAMPL (San Antonio Music Production Lab), a non-profit dedicated to teaching kids DJ skills, production and beat-making. Not a bad idea, and a way for Bernal to merge his two passions of music and civic involvement.

“The beats are done,” he said. “Now we have to make the parks better.”

Diego Bernal/Ernest Gonzales CD release party feat. DJ Jester the Filipino Fist, DJ Rivera, DJ Sonora, DJ Solo Serve (of Ghostpizza), Third Root, Chisme

$5 in advance, $8 at the door
(wristband gives you access to all seven showcases)
9pm Sat, Sept 28
Aztec Theatre
201 E Commerce
(210) 481-1200

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