How did it come about that there’s so much acoustic guitar on your record?
I played acoustic on the demos. We always thought that we’d redo those parts on electric but by the time we did the album the acoustic was part of the sound. The frequencies of the acoustic guitar just seemed to work better with the other instruments. The songs definitely didn’t have the same spark with the electric.
Did you change your approach at all?
Not really—I played the same way I always have. But it was different in the sense that I didn’t have to think about amps or tones or any of that. I could really concentrate on the parts.
What was your main guitar?
My brother’s nylon-string Ramirez. That was the magic guitar that he never let me play growing up! I used it for all the Latin-sounding stuff, but I played it with a pick. I played an old Alvarez for the steel-string stuff.
It’s not all that common to hear nylon-string guitar in hip-hop. How would you describe your job in the band?
Steve [Knight], the other guitarist, brings the folk-music influence, our rapper Piper is the hip-hop side of things, and my Latin influence is the glue that holds it all together. Steve’s great at hooks, Piper spins knowledge with his lyrics, and my guitar parts bring compassion and feeling. It’s like crying.
What are some of your other influences that came out on this record?
I do some sweep picking on the song “Spun” that I got from Al Di Meola. Jimmy Page is another huge influence on my acoustic work. I’m from Chile originally and I listened to a lot of Chilean folk music growing up, so that’s in there too.
You worked for a long time before you got this break. What advice do you have for struggling guitarists?
The key to getting your shot is staying open. You never know what music you might end up playing. So practice, be on top of your game, and when you meet the right people you’ll be ready. Don’t get too locked into thinking, “I’m only a rock player” or “I only play jazz.” If you’re not open you might never meet the hip-hop guy or the pop guy who might be the perfect person for you to work with.
Do you think we’ll see more guitar in hip-hop?
In my mind it’s wide open. I’d love to hear a country picker on a hip-hop tune. Not just to play some licks but to write the song. I think that would be great. I think the guitar can make for a cooler concert experience than what some people associate with hip-hop, and it might bring in people who normally don’t listen to that kind of music. We’ve been playing in all these foreign countries where no one really understands English, but they all understand the guitar, you know?