Rodrigo y Gabriela

January 1, 2010

“WE RELAYED OUR CRAZY STORY OF traveling the world on our last studio recording,” says Gabriela Quintero, who constitutes one half of the instrumental acoustic duo Rodrigo y Gabriela. “This time, it seemed natural and honest to pay tribute to our influences.”

The well-documented epic of how she and Rodrigo Sanchez met playing in the Mexico City-based thrash act Tierra Acida during the mid ’90s, bailed for Europe where they gained recognition busking on the streets, and went on to become globe-trotting headliners, is as unique as the duo’s heavy flamenco style. Their latest album, 11:11 [ATO], reveals that style’s sources, and finds the duo experimenting as never before.

11:11 consists of 11 songs dedicated to as many heroes, such as Carlos Santana, Al Di Meola, Paco de Lucia, and fallen metal deity Dimebag Darrell. Notable guests include Testament’s Alex Skolnick, who lends a searing electric solo to the dramatic Dime tribute “Atman,” and Strunz and Farah, who guest on the de Lucia homage, “Master Maqui.” Recording at the duo’s newly constructed studio sanctuary in Ixtapa (near Acapulco), Sanchez pushed the envelope regarding how up-front and aggressive an acoustic recording can sound. Quintero’s churning rhythms create a booming background for Sanchez’s shredding riffs and cutting melodies.

It’s cool that you once again include a DVD with a guitar tutorial along with the studio CD. Why do you do that?

Sanchez: It’s important to share whatever you know about your instrument. I know I appreciated it when I was a kid. For those who can’t afford lessons, it might be the only access they have to that kind of instruction. We included a video tutorial with the first record, and we started to see a lot of kids busking on the streets of Europe playing our tunes, especially the one we demonstrated.

What are your impressions when you see kids playing your music?

Sanchez: They do better with my parts. Gabriela’s technique is hard to nail down because it’s more personalized.

Quintero: I see a lot of kids on YouTube doing very well—particular the Japanese for whatever reason. I don’t expect people to play exactly as I do. I like when players find a base in what I’m doing, and then find their own peculiar ways to express their own particular feelings.

How did you develop such a unique rhythm technique?

Quintero: When I played heavy metal, I was into plectrum playing, and solos, just like you would expect. It changed when I became interested in learning to play flamenco music. I wanted to learn rasgueado rhythms. There are millions of variations and patterns, and I was particularly interested in how to execute triplets. I couldn’t afford lessons, so I had a friend show me what he knew, and I took it from there. I imagined how a flamenco guitarist would play, and I practiced for years doing it my own way. When I finally traveled to Spain I realized, “Oh Jesus, they are doing it completely differently!” I would still love to learn proper flamenco guitar one day. My current style is the result of trying for many years to invent different things in order to make Rodrigo y Gabriela sound whole and complete. It’s very demanding, and requires much practice.

What did you learn about building your own studio?

Sanchez: The process can be an expensive nightmare, but it’s great in the end. It’s nonsense to spend $75,000 in a professional recording studio. We decided it was better to spend our money on building our own studio with a Pro Tools HD system in an aesthetically pleasing environment. We didn’t regret it because we wound up in there 24/7 for six months making this record. That’s how you win. You have a chance to experiment with new sounds, and you can redo something if you don’t like it.

Can you document some of the trials and tribulations you encountered along the way?

Sanchez: We were supposed to record with John Leckie. He worked at Abbey Road studios during its heyday, and he produced our first album. It had a ’60soriented sound that came from having us sit down in a room and play together live. I didn’t think it was that great. We tried working with him again this time, but we simply had different ideas. I knew that Colin Richardson was going to do the final mixes. He’s legendary for making awesome metal records, and I wanted him to do what he normally does except with acoustic guitars. I knew I had to revert to the way I used to record my old metal band. We scratched everything, and started again. I wanted a very precise and clean sound that was very strong and in your face. I wanted the clinical sound of a thrash recording.

How exactly did you achieve that sound?

Sanchez: By recording tracks one by one—not together. Gabriela would go first. After she nailed her part the first time, we tried to get two or three more rhythm guitar takes that were exactly the same. We’d have three Neumann U87s positioned on the guitar—one on the neck, one towards the base of the body, and one more towards the middle. At the end of the day, we’d have between nine and twelve tracks of Gabriela’s guitar doing exactly the same thing. Then we made sure everything was spot on. That’s how we got the massive rhythm sound. The process was the same when I cut my metal-inspired riffs. When it came to the melodies—sometimes I doubled them, and sometimes I didn’t.

Did you record using the same custom Frank Tate guitars that you had been using previously?

Sanchez: Mostly. We also used Yamaha guitars that were recently custom- built for us, but they still sound very new in the studio. Onstage, we use the Yamahas exclusively because the custom preamp and pickup system catches all of the wood sound. Yamaha placed several piezo pickups in various places in order to capture all the percussion that Gabriela plays, and they are pretty reliable. The Yamahas are actually based on the Frank Tate guitars, which themselves were originally based on a Yamaha APX series model from the early ’90s. We’ve come full circle. We still use D’Addario normal tension nylon strings.

What are the differences between your guitars?

Quintero: Rodrigo’s guitar is a little bit thinner than mine—both the neck and the body. My guitar is slightly bigger because I play rhythm, and require more punch. I also have more piezo pickups. I think my guitar has six. I play up by the neck for more treble, and down by the lower bout when I need more cojones. When you play around the pickup area, it delivers even more punch. The guitar can sound almost like a drum kit when it’s amplified properly through a P.A.

You are both integrating effects these days. Can you name them, and describe how you use them?

Quintero: I recently began using a Dunlop Dimebag Cry Baby From Hell. I use a volume pedal to get rid of the noise onstage when I’m not playing, and I have a tuner.

Sanchez: I use a DigiTech Whammy pedal a bit during my solo section in concert, but I didn’t use it on the record. I use a Dunlop Jimi Hendrix Signature Wah, and a Boss Over Drive.

One of the tracks on the record that features overdrive is the Di Meola dedication, “Logos.” Can you explain his influence, and share some insights about the song?

Sanchez: I used to watch Al’s tutorials when I was young. I already thought he was a crazy guitar player before he started using the Ovation. When he did the trio with John McLaughlin and Paco de Lucia, it was clear that he had moved from the electric to the acoustic. I always had it in mind that I would devote a track to him including elements of both. I ultimately decided that I would play only acoustic guitar, and add distortion to create an electric effect. The idea was to keep clean during the arpeggiated theme at the beginning, and then add overdrive on the second half of the tune. You can hear his influence in my choice of scales, and the way I constantly mute with my right hand even though I’m playing acoustic. We don’t normally use the kind of chord progression you hear on “Logos.” This is the first time we put something like that on an album. I created the effect at the very end using the expander in Pro Tools.

What are some of the other tracks from the record you’d like to discuss?

Quintero: The Hendrix tribute, “Buster Voodoo,” is interesting because it’s very different. I would normally play the main riff rhythm with a pick because the timing is more rock-oriented compared to the other tunes, which sound more South American, but I chose not to. The Paco de Lucia tribute, “Master Maqui,” is also unusual for us because it incorporates the tambito rhythm. When we visited Strunz and Farah in Los Angeles, Jorge Strunz explained that the tambito rhythm is played throughout the mountains of Costa Rica, in Cuba, and other countries. He showed it to us, and then we did our own version. The Pink Floyd dedication, “11:11,” also has a different time signature than we’re used to playing in. It’s in 11/8.

How did the tracks with Strunz and Farah go down?

Quintero: They couldn’t come down to Mexico, so they sent us their tracks via DigiDelivery, and we’d respond with instructions about what we would like them to change. We were a little bit of a pain [laughs], but Strunz loved that because he’s the same way. He was happy to accommodate.

By the way, what picks to you use?

Sanchez: I use a Dunlop Jazz II or Jazz III. I like the black ones.

Quintero: I use Dunlop Jazz IIIs. I prefer the red ones, [laughs].

“Santo Domingo” is dedicated to Latin jazz pianist Michel Camilo. That’s an interesting choice.

Sanchez: People wonder how a piano player can influence guitar music, but we are very inspired by his syncopated rhythms. His rhythmic sense sometimes makes the piano sound like a different instrument. Many of the main melodies that I create before I even show them to Gabriela reflect Camilo’s inspiration, and we syncopate them even further in the same way that Camilo does once we move forward collaboratively. He’s a crazy piano player who is extremely energetic, and we try to incorporate that in our guitar sound.

Did either of you play any electric guitar on this record?

Quintero: Alex Skolnick played the only electric guitar on the record. [Read about that session at] The other parts you might think were played on electric are actually Rodrigo playing acoustic with distortion.

It’s interesting to hear your sound progressing, and now that you have the studio, I suppose we can expect more of the same. Would you consider making a band record?

Sanchez: I don’t know, but we will definitely experiment more. We have the tools to do so, and it would be a waste not to.

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