The story has been told many times of how Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero, the Mexican guitar duo were unearthed over a decade ago while busking on the streets of Dublin, Ireland. The discovery led to a globally successful recording and performing career fueled by the pair’s unique brand of fiery, classical guitar merged with elements of rock, metal and all other genres in between. Rodrigo Y Gabriela have just come off an extensive tour celebrating the 10 year anniversary of their self-titled, breakthrough album and are heading back into the studio early next year to record a new album. They’re also touring Australia in March 2018. Australian Musician’s Greg Phillips recently spoke with Rodrigo Sanchez about the duo’s sound and the new record. Also at the end of this interview, check out our opportunity to meet Rodrigo Y Gabriela at either their Melbourne, Brisbane or Sydney show.
Rodrigo, you have just finished up some American dates as part of the 10th anniversary of your break-through album. What have been some of the highlights that stand out for you since recording that album?
Wow, that’s difficult to answer. I think being able to take part in the music industry without having the expectation to be part of it. When we were doing shows in Ireland and a little bit in England before the album came out, we were just focused on the music and a few years before that we were playing on the street. We didn’t really know that this was going to be such an important moment with the new album coming out and then signing to a label and touring the world non-stop until today.
I think as far as highlights, playing the main stage at Glastonbury. Two nylon string guitarists who had worked our way up from the first time playing there in the little tent, to playing at 6 o’clock in the afternoon. It was an amazing time of the day to play. I think it was a highlight for a non-traditional rock band and I guess it was a triumph for music in many ways. Many other projects could now see that you don’t have to have the same format. But we’ve been able to play the most beautiful venues around the world and there have been many highlights.
How do you prepare for a tour. With a band of maybe 4 or 5 members there would be many rehearsals and a lot of gear to consider. Is it different for you with two nylon string guitars and just the two of you to discuss set list etc?
It sounds easy but it is not that easy actually. The production level might not be the same as Metallica but definitely it is more complex than you think. To start with, we don’t travel with two guitars, we travel with 8 guitars … sometimes ten. They are very strong in some ways but delicate in other ways, so we do have to travel with a lot of spares. We have an amazing crew that do everything for us but the logistics and the rigs are not easy, we have a very complex set up. In order to make the guitars sound great on stage technically is not that easy. Yamaha worked for years to come up with a system that nobody else uses because of the way we do it, especially when we play big venues or festivals. We’ve been working with them for 12 years now and the guitars have been improving all the time. They are custom made and the electronic part is pretty complex, you know the connections that go back stage etc. Gab’s set up is a little bit more simpler than mine but we use Fractal Axe FX now and we have different sounds for each microphone inside the guitars with the little piezos and really is not so easy. So we have a great team for the pre-production and a production manager. In terms of set list, Gab and I … if we are not touring we are writing music or in our studio, so if we know we are going to be on tour, we practice the set list and before the tour we do 3 days of pre production in whichever city we’re going to start the tour. If we have to change lighting or visuals, we do that so it is not as simple as it might look.
Did it take you a long time to get a good acoustic sound on stage when you first started playing venues?
When we started out, it took years. When we were playing in Ireland in cafes or pubs, I was the sound engineer. I had a little desk and we kind of developed a sound but we’re talking about bars and small places. Then when we started playing shows, we hired a sound engineer. He’d seen us a couple of times and I told him what we wanted. I wanted a super thump coming from the guitar, almost like a kick drum sound. It took us years. When we translated our sound from pubs to bigger stages you suffer the problems you get when you only have a pickup in a guitar that wasn’t built especially for big shows. When we went to Japan, that was the first time Yamaha approached us and they started working with prototypes. I remember the last big issue we had was probably 2007 when Muse was on their first stadium tour and they played at the new Wembley and we supported them. The stadium was almost full. My sound engineer was having a nightmare because we were not prepared to do those shows. From then, Yamaha helped us to develop a system that was unique for the time and we’ve been improving it every year.
Do you still get to play electric guitar at all?
Yes I have lots of electric guitars in the studio. We have been given many electrics and I still have my Marshall stacks. I play them now and then, not all the time but i have them ready to go.
Where are you at with your new studio album?
We are about to start recording … we’re finishing the writing now. We’ve been writing and doing some tests pretty much for the last two years while we’ve been on the road. We should have had the album out this year. We had new material written but we were not happy with it, so we spoke to management and said let’s keep touring and give us more time to keep writing. I think we are going to start recording in early January and hopefully the album will be out in summer but we are very happy with it now.
I read somewhere that there might even be some vocals on the album?
You know we did try that. We did write some songs and did some demos with singers from some famous bands but I am not going to say who because at the end of the day, I don’t think we are going to release any of that. We tried everything but I think people like the Rodrigo Y Gabriela sound and to go out and sound like many others bands, we just decided it’s probably not what people need. We decided to work in a way where we don’t repeat ourselves but stick to a code and do what we do best but the album is very different and you’ll see. We are very happy and excited.
What kind of tricks have you learned to stop yourself from playing the same licks or writing the same songs over and over?
Well that’s what we did with this album and I think the trick was to try everything else. By trying songs, not only with vocalists but with other guest musicians and different instruments, a lot of effects. We tried everything, so many different styles and songs and I think that has taken us back to what we are. It’s funny because on these days when we are writing every day, it’s reminding us of the days when we were writing the first album. Not because the music sounds the same. For this album, I feel for the first time … even though we had 11:11 and 9 Dead Alive in the middle … that I am writing something new. I am excited because the sound is different and I am playing melodies which have nothing to do with what I have done before. Gabriela’s signatures are different and we are discovering different rhythms that she has never played before, so we’re happy and excited and we haven’t felt like that for the last two years.
Thanks for your time Rodrigo. We’re looking forward to seeing you in Australia next year.
Thank you so much, we’re excited to be coming back.
WANT TO MEET RODRIGO Y GABRIELA?
We have double meet and greet passes up for grabs for the Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane shows
TO ENTER: simply tell us the brand of guitars that the duo currently use (Hint: the answer can be found on this page), include a phone contact and specify if you want tickets to either Melbourne, Sydney or Brisbane concerts (This competition does not apply to Perth or Adelaide gigs). Email your answer to email@example.com with ‘Rodrigo Y Gabriela meet & greet’ in the subject field. Entries close Monday Feb 26th, 2018.
To recap: We need the answer to the question, your phone contact, the city where you want to see the duo and enter before 26th Feb, 2018!
RODRIGO Y GABRIELA | 2018 TOUR DATES
Friday 9th March – WOMADelaide
Saturday 10th March – Forum Melbourne (18+)
Tuesday 13th March – Astor Theatre (18+)
Thursday 15th March – Enmore Theatre (All Ages)
Friday 16th March – The Tivoli (18+)