From Mexican metal band to busking in Dublin to Cuba to the White House, the unlikely story of Rodrigo y Gabriela continues with them getting back to their roots as an acoustic instrumental duo.
In a recent interview Gabriela Quintero said that after their last album, Area 52, where they augmented their sound with a 13-piece Cuban orchestra, they wanted to go into the studio where "it was me and Rod, two guitars, two microphones and one engineer who pressed 'record.' And that's it."
The new album, 9 Dead Alive, is a musical tribute to eight long-gone people from different fields who influenced the lives of her and her musical partner, Rodrigo Sanchez. For example, the opening track, "Soundmaker" is a homage to Antonio de Torres Jurado, the inventor of the modern Spanish guitar. The inspirations for other tracks include Eleanor of Aquitaine, Harriet Tubman, Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Austrian psychiatrist Viktor Frankel. A ninth track from the duo, both vegans, is a "tribute to animals and the natural world," Quintero said, for their role in making us "more human."
"We kind of like to share what speaks to us on the personal level," she said, noting that their first album was a tribute to the people they met during their busking days, their album 11:11 was a tribute to musical influences such as Jimi Hendrix and Paco de Lucia.
The two guitarists met when they played for Tierra Acida, a metal band in Mexico. To try to turn a new page in their lives, the two took acoustic guitars and moved to Dublin, where they began a single-minded pursuit of re-inventing their music.
To make money, they began busking for spare change. Unlike many street musicians who are, at best, ignored, Rodrigo y Gabriela began to gather audiences who actually paid attention.
"We were playing to people that were into what we were doing," said Quintero.
They were not talking or just having a laugh. That made me a bit more anxious and nervous, but also looking forward to going back and playing. It makes you make more effort and a little bit more inspired to work on something.
During the time, they befriended an Irish bodhran frame drum player, and Gabriela adapted his strumming hand motions to her guitar. While her style is reminiscent of flamenco's rasgueado strumming technique, she said, "I never got the flamenco rhythms right. I wish, because I love it." Instead of flamenco, the duo has tackled tunes that point to their metal days such as Metallica's "Orion" or Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven."
What captivated Dublin pedestrians eventually found them larger and larger audiences. Their devoted fans are as eclectic as their history, but their unique style has landed them on national television, the White House and festivals around the globe.
The new album, Quintero said, is "as if me and Rodrigo were playing in your living room with two guitars. That intimacy was very important for us to show and share with our audience and fans."
They are now embarking on a U.S tour. Quintero said, "we don't improvise like jazz musicians but we have a range of parts within our structure." She said their avoidance of soloing goes back to their days as metal fans when they'd go to see a favorite band. "We wanted to hear them play exactly the way they recorded on the album, but a lot of the time they didn't and me and Rod used to hate that," she said. "One day maybe we will become a little more relaxed about it."
Quintero said that typically Sanchez comes up with a song's melody and she works on the rhythm as they build the structure. As they build the song, she said she likes to keep the process "visceral... I don't judge the harmonies; I don't judge the chords." She noted that since neither of them have formal musical training, it can make it tougher to find something they are looking for, but, she added, "you are more innocent."
Rod and Gab playing "Hunaman" -- acoustic guitar duo as metal band
"Soundmaker" from their new album with text about its inspiration