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Rodrigo y Gabriela signature model Yamaha Guitars


Mexican raised and Dublin inspired, international acoustic guitar sensations Rodrigo y Gabriela will be returning to Australia in March/April for Bluesfest and a national tour. AM’s Greg Phillips found one half of the duo, Gabriela Quintero on the other end of the phone after she’d just stepped off stage in London.

Mexican raised and Dublin inspired, international acoustic guitar sensations Rodrigo y Gabriela will be returning to Australia in April for their 6th tour of our country. The neuvo-flamenco rock duo continue to surprise us, pushing boundaries and exploring new ideas within the confines of just two guitars and two sets of fingers. In 2014, the pair released the self-produced 9 Dead Alive, a concept album of sorts which paid homage to some historical figures who have all made a positive impact on society. It includes musical tributes inspired by people such as 19th-century Spanish guitar maker Antonio de Torres Jurado, Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral, and anti-slavery campaigner Harriet Tubman to name a few. The album will form the basis of material to be played on this year’s tour, along with tunes from their ever-increasing back catalogue and the innovative covers they are universally known for. Speaking from a cold backstage room after a gig at Manchester’s 02 Apollo Theatre, Gabriela was keen to talk about some warmer weather on the upcoming Australian tour and their return to Bluesfest.
“We’re having very tropical weather now,” she says sarcastically of tonight’s port of call.  “Ha ha ha … no, it’s getting colder and colder. We’ve been to Bluesfest before and it was warm and fantastic. The audience was incredible. They were so committed and happy to participate, as do all of the audiences in Australia. I do have good memories.”

gabGabriela Quintero is the one-woman rhythm section of Rodrigo y Gabriela. With her lightning-speed strums of the strings and flamenco-style slaps and knocks on the body of her Yamaha acoustic guitar, Gabriela creates an inordinate amount of percussive beat for Rodrigo to play his beautifully fluid melodies upon. Gabriela has been honing her unique instrumental approach since she first received a guitar from her parents as a young girl in Mexico and was thrilled recently to be reunited with that original guitar.
“I desperately wanted to get a guitar and I asked my mum if she had the money to buy one,” she recalls of her childhood. “After a month or more of every day asking, if I can get a guitar, they took me to the centre where all the guitar shops are and I picked a red acoustic guitar. It was very cheap but I didn’t care, it was my favourite ever guitar and I still have it. I rescued it not long ago because I gave it to someone and they gave it to someone else, who gave it to someone else. It was broke in some corner somewhere, so I was very upset to see it but rescued it. I have it back in my studio now.”

yamahancx2000rThese days both Rodrigo and Gabriela play their own signature guitars. In 2010, Yamaha honoured the pair with their own custom-built instruments and produced a line of copycats for public consumption. Gabriela’s all-solid acoustic electric features a Hokkaido spruce top, flamed maple back and sides on the NCX2000FM/900FM model and Rosewood back and sides on the NCX200R/1200R. It has an African mahogany neck, ebony fingerboard and A.R.T. 2 way pickup system. For Gabriela however, the most important factors in the design of her guitar were projection and clarity.
“The way we come up with the music is always through acoustic guitars but because we play to rock audiences and also in venues that can hold two or three thousand people, we need to bring all the acoustic sounds as if we were a rock band with a big PA,” she explains. “In order to do that there are a lot of technical aspects you have to take into account. So those engineers at Yamaha designed these guitars … and I am not very technical … they explained to me and I’m like … ok,” she laughs. “What I know is that it has 8 different piezos, tiny little things inside the guitar so it can be played all over the wood and capture the wood sounds without using a microphone. Microphones can be dangerous if you put them at a high level live, they can feedback. It is a very complex thing but that was the main aspect for us to do the work with it. I’m not really into the different types of wood. Even if it is a cheap guitar, my mentality is to somehow  get the best sound for the instrument. If I can make that happen, I will. It’s always challenging, even if it’s a cheap instrument that doesn’t sound super good, but if you are able to play with all of your heart and expression, you might be able to get a good sound out of it and make the most of it.”

As a safety measure, on the road the duo travel with five guitars each and have their own individual guitar tech on hand. Unlike the authentic classical guitar players, Gabriela doesn’t use any precautionary products to maintain her fingers. “Flamenco players do a lot of that because they need their nails very strong but usually I don’t do that,” she tells me. “When I am on the road, on my right hand I don’t have nails. You know for a girl, that hurts sometimes but no, I don’t use any of those products.”
A guitar is never far from Gabriela’s hands. She has one in her room as well as a practice guitar at the venue, where she will often continue playing in the band room well after the audience has gone home. Because Gabriela now specialises in a percussive style of playing, she likes to keep her chops up in the melody area too. “I am practicing a lot of staccato style and arpeggios again. A long time ago I used to play a lot of different types of music but with Rodrigo y Gabriela, I just focus on the rhythms and arrange the tunes and I sometimes become lazy to practice other stuff. So I wanted to bring back all of that and now I practice every day, at least half an hour or an hour and If I can do more, I will.”
A few years ago Gabriela had an enforced break of almost two weeks from the guitar due to muscular problems. “I was playing so much,” she recalls, “maybe 150 gigs a year, so my arm was very tired and my back. I felt this pain and I was scared. I went to a physio and he said you need to rest. I was like no way, he didn’t know! So I went to another one and he said the same thing! Then I went to another one, I think around 17 different physios … then I realised I needed to rest! We had to cancel a whole tour but that was it, I needed to rest. The muscles were tense. Sometimes it’s stressful being in airports and on planes where you feel tense in your muscles.”

gabrod4While there are no concrete plans to begin work on the follow up album to 9 Dead Alive, Rodrigo y Gabriela continue to work creatively on new ideas on a daily basis. “We kind of always go and play by ear and let things happen dynamically,” she says. “I think it is important to keep working in a creative manner and working on new ideas and doing some new covers just for our own privacy. I think for any musicians it is important to immerse in the world of music and keep yourself inspired. Otherwise you can get lazy and it can be very easy to say oh well, I can go on the road and sell tickets but that is not very healthy because that wouldn’t keep you fresh and you wouldn’t be giving fresh new ideas to your audience. So we think like that on a daily basis but not with an album in mind just yet.  It’s important to keep the humour up too so it doesn’t get too serious. Recently we have been playing Creep from Radiohead and people seem to enjoy that, it’s just a jam. We keep playing a lot of Metallica but that’s more serious. It takes a lot of effort to play it. We play Metallica’s Orion and a little bit of Battery. It’s more challenging to do all of the rhythms on the acoustic guitar and trying to play the drum parts on the guitar so they are a little more serious covers.”

Rodrigo y Gabriela Australian Tour Dates 2015

March 29th West Coast Blues & Roots Festival, Fremantle WA
Tickets on sale Tuesday 18th November

Saturday 4th & Sunday 5th April  Bluesfest, Byron Bay NSW
Tickets on sale now at

Tuesday 7th April  The Palais, Melbourne VIC
Tickets on sale now at ph 136 100

Thursday 9th April Sydney Opera House, Sydney NSW
Tickets on sale now at Ph: 9250 7777
Yamaha guitars

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