He started playing guitar when he was eight.
"It was always what I wanted to do since I was too small to play guitar. I don't know why. And I remember looking at the back of Glen Campbell records, and he's holding a guitar, and I said, 'that's what I want to do.'"
He met Hofeldt, an Idaho native, at 21 through a mutual musician friend as sidemen in another band. "We clicked right away and had a lot of exciting ideas for a band we talked about," says Hofeldt. "It didn't blossom immediately. "
Villanueva left Oregon for Austin in 1990.
"It's amazing how much music there is in this town in general and specifically country music. It's incredible. All the variety of country music in Austin is incredible. Bob Wills still is the king. Country music has never waned in popularity. It's always been part of the culture, so that's really where I needed to be. "
He eventually summoned Hofeldt to join him, and he came in 1993.
They started playing together, but needed a band name.
"We just needed a name for a gig. Brian and I were talking at a party," Villanueva says. "We were trying to figure out something that sounded kind of cool. We were talking about the railroad influence in our lives. Both our grandfathers worked on trains."
"It was little bit of a maverick (appeal), but we don't want to hurt nobody."
The band's first release was unusual in that "Live Tracks" was a live album recorded at a radio station gig at KUT radio in Austin in 1994. Some songs ended up on later albums.
The next year, the band released "Jackpot" on Watermelon with Alvin producing. "He came to the Continental Club in Austin," Villanueva explains. "That was our regular gig. We had done that for a year and a half. Dave came by the gig...I think he really loved it. He said, 'man I want to produce your guys' next record. I said, 'we don't have a record label.' He said, 'let's see what we can do."
Watermelon, an Austin-label, put out the album after Alvin put in a good word.
Watermelon encountered financial difficulties and eventually was acquired by Sire, later bought by London.
Sire released two albums: "Reverb Deluxe" in 1997 and "Full Western Dress" two years later.
Unfortunately, the timing of the latter was not good.
"Full Western Dress" was released at the same time as the label changes were going down.
"London came in and fired the entire staff," Hofeldt says. "They were not interested in country."
"Being on a Nashville label is an important part of country music. They weren't able to make forays into the country world because it wasn't their world and it was our world."
Villanueva says the band decided to head to Lucky Dog from Sire because of changes when the latter was sold in the ever changing record industry.
Villanueva says, "It was something that had nothing to do with us. It was a corporate changing of hands. That was the beginning of the end. It didn't make any sense for us to stay there. We had no outlet. It was kind of the end of that situation. We were grateful for what we had. We were able to do three videos and the success on CMT and other country video stations throughout the country has really helped us a lot on terms of exposure and fan base. Being on TV is just a good thing."
"There are no sure deals," he says of the Sire deal. "Everything has gone the way it should go."
"We talked with Lucky Dog at the same time Sire was talking about absorbing Watermelon. Lucky Dog just started up right then. It turned out that Sire and Watermelon struck up a deal, so Lucky Dog wasn't an option for us at the time. But it all worked out."
Lucky Dog "was just where we wanted to go. It seemed to make the most sense for us. We're very satisfied with the deal."
"With Sony coming into the picture, it was definitely a jumping off point, and it made sense," says Villanueva. "If everything lines up correctly, we do have a chance because they can do something about that. They're all geared for it. They have all the resources. We have a shot at country radio. We'll see how it goes."