Rodrigo y Gabriela
When we were playing on the streets in Europe, it was an amazing thing because we weren’t expecting anything. We even didn’t want to sign a record deal. We go back and feel that was a great time, and now it’s a great time. We cannot complain.
story by Mark Calaguas
Abandoning their conquest of Mexico City’s thrash metal scene, guitarists Rodrigo Sánchez and Gabriela Quintero began crafting acoustic versions of Led Zeppelin and Metallica songs, first for sunburned tourists in the resort town of Ixtapa, then as street musicians in Dublin, where the pair’s international career exploded with the help of singer/songwriter Damien Rice.
Though Sánchez and Quintero’s compositions are informed by flamenco, jazz, and folk traditions, their rhythmically intense performances bleed pure rock ‘n’ roll. For their latest album Area 52, the longtime partners travelled to Havana to reinterpret some of their old material with a bevy of Cuban instrumentalists. Sánchez spoke to Chicago Innerview before embarking on Rod y Gab’s most spectacular North American tour to date.
Chicago Innerview: After working as a duo for so long, what has it been like recording and touring with a 13-piece orchestra?
Rodrigo Sánchez: The recording process was great…and the live thing, we didn’t know what to expect. After the first tour we’ve done now with the band [in Europe] — it’s very different, but we really really enjoy it. There are so many reasons, but the most important is that we are sharing the stage with such an amazing bunch of musicians…They produce a lot of joy when you hear them play and I’m so happy to give them the space to be featured somehow.
Chicago Innerview: How did you come to collaborate with the other international artists featured on Area 52, like [sitarist] Anoushka Shankar and [Palestinian string musicians] Le Trio Joubran?
Rodrigo Sánchez: When we came back from the first sessions in La Habana and I was here in my studio listening to what we did, I thought we had a chance to experiment even more and mix things up with other musicians from different styles of music. All of them are my friends…I just called them directly and asked if they wanted to be part of the project, and they all agreed. It was really as simple as that.
CI: You appear at massive festivals around the world. When performing for such large audiences, do you ever draw from your early experiences playing on street corners and in hotel lobbies?
RS: It’s a process…When we were playing on the streets in Europe, it was an amazing thing because we weren’t expecting anything. We even didn’t want to sign a record deal. We go back and feel that was a great time, and now it’s a great time. We cannot complain and it is a part of life.
CI: Recent profiles indicate that you’re listening to lots more heavy metal these days and that the next album will revisit those roots. What bands have been capturing your attention lately?
RS: There’s a band from Colorado called Havok. It’s one of those young bands that really understand what thrash metal is all about. They’re not doing anything new, but at least they sound very much real. There was a time when a lot of these new metal bands with kids that become very skillful in guitar — they use the new ways to record music, which is more clinical. They use that to sound super powerful and fast, but that’s not what thrash metal is about, and I didn’t like that. I haven’t heard from any bands from the new generation that embrace the true thrash metal roots. Havok, I think they’re good, but I still listen to what I grew up with, Megadeth and Metallica and all those guys.
CI: Are there any possibilities of teaming up with some of your old-school favorites in the future?
RS: I have that idea in my head, but I haven’t told anyone. It is still way too early. I have to come up with some kind of serious acoustic riffs that are based in rock so we can actually see if it can go together with jazz rhythms. We have to experiment first on our own to see if there’s space to bring them on and do something different. I think the core has to be very very solid and it’s something I haven’t really worked on, but I’m going to start. The problem is, the Area 52 album is going to take us probably a year of touring, and afterwards I really need to focus on the next album, even before that.
Rodrigo y Gabriela :: Chicago Theatre :: April 12.