Rodrigo y Gabriela – Ride the Lightning
September 26, 2009 § Leave a comment
Published: Music Australia Guide #69, September 2009.
Mexican acoustic guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela merge flamenco flare with a metal attitude. They speak with Dan Rule about impressing their metal idols and new album 11:11.
There are countless factors that contribute to our understanding of music, reckons Rodrigo Sanchez, one half of dynamic Mexico City-bred guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela. No more so than attitude.
“It’s never just about the music,” he offers, mulling over the thought for a second. “I think it’s the way you portray yourself and your performance and your attitude that changes people’s minds.”
Since first bursting onto the European touring scene in 2000, Sanchez and partner in crime Gabriela Quintero have risen to become one of the most idiosyncratic and downright unlikely rock acts the world over. Utilising little but their nylon-string guitars and lightning-fingered techniques, the pair – who released their electric new record 11:11 on September 4 – conjure a sound so powerful it defies their wholly acoustic set-up.
“The most important part of our music is that we still have a metal attitude,” says Sanchez, who is resting up at the duo’s studio in the Mexican coastal town of Ixtapa. “A lot of our material is really nothing to do with rock or metal, but when we play live or put something down on record, our attitude is.”
“When I’m writing music, I still think that I have a band or something. There’s just so much going on in the songs.”
The sight of Rod y Gab in full flight is nothing short fearsome. With Sanchez taking the lead melody, Quintero functions as both a harmonist and percussionist – often simultaneously – utilising her guitar as hand-drum between explosive clusters of flamenco strumming.
But the duo’s approach comes as little of a surprise considering their back-story. While they first made a name in Europe for their Spanish-styled covers of classic metal and rock anthems, such Metallica’s One and Orion and an electrifying take on Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven, Rod y Gab’s rock lineage goes much, much further back.
Indeed, Sanchez remembers being weened on 80s metal as a kid growing up in Mexico City. “As a middleclass kid, you kind of had the opportunity to make that big decision, you know: ‘Am I going become a mainstream guy who listens to all the American and Mexican pop bands? Or am I going to become a rocker?’” he laughs.
“I was really lucky to have a brother, five years older, who introduced me to metal. I was nine even when Metallica came out with their first album and my brother was already a fan, so it just seemed to make sense.”
“Just the precision of all those early 80s bands from the American thrash metal scene – Metallica, Slayer, Testament, Anthrax, Megadeath – was just amazing,” he continues. “Even if the music didn’t make sense to you, you couldn’t deny the technique. They were just amazing musicians.”
Sanchez and his elder brother formed thrash metal four-piece Tierra Acida at the start of the 90s, later being joined by Quintero and hitting the Mexican underground circuit. But while the band went onto garner a committed following in the scene, they failed to achieve wider success. By the close of the decade Sanchez and Quintero had quit, preferring to playing hotel bars as an acoustic duo, where at least they could earn a living.
That said, the standard repertoire of jazz and bossa nova was never going to fly. “The only real skills we had were for playing metal,” says Sanchez. “We tried to do Santana stuff or some Eric Clapton or whatever, but we knew how to play Metallica or Slayer much better, so we just decided to adapt it to acoustic guitars. And you know what? People liked it!”
Buoyed by the response, they sold their old equipment, relocated to Dublin and hit the busking trail, playing an array of covers and original material on the streets of Ireland. After being noticed by songwriter Damien Rice, their career took off and soon after they were playing festival slots throughout Europe.
After releasing early records Foc (2001) and Re-Foc (2003), they dropped their self-titled debut proper in 2006, which flew straight to the top of the Irish charts and garnered them a swathe international attention.
Recorded in their newly-built studio in Ixtapa, new record 11:11 adds a new level of sophistication to Rod y Gab’s sound. Glowing with Latin flare and near-brutal intensity, it’s set to take their unique sound to an even wider audience.
“The idea for doing this kind of record was to do something different,” says Sanchez. “The worst thing is just repeating yourself.”
“We just want help people to realise that there are a lot of great music out there, whether it’s metal or not. Because we play acoustic, non-metal heads are far more open to our sound. Hopefully then, they can go onto appreciate metal for what it is – incredible music.”
And they’re finding fans in all the right places. While legendary Testament guitarist Alex Skolnick plays a blistering guest spot on 11:11 (he found the band on MySpace two years ago), even the gods of metal, Metallica, have shown Rodrigo y Gabriela a sign.
“Yeah man!” urges Sanchez. “Robert Trajillo wrote an email to us and said they were listening to our version of Orion in the studio and he just wanted to let us know that they loved it!”
“You know what?” he pauses. “We can’t do much better than that.”
11:11 is out now via Shock