Rodrigo y Gabriela: Mixing Metal and Mexico Disenchanted with their status as heavy metal rockers, the duo of Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero traded electric guitars for acoustic models then hit the road for Dublin. Their fusion of metal with their Mexican roots has become popular in Europe.
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Rodrigo y Gabriela: Mixing Metal and Mexico

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Rodrigo y Gabriela: Mixing Metal and Mexico

Rodrigo y Gabriela: Mixing Metal and Mexico

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(Soundbite of acoustic version of "Stairway to Heaven")

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

When Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero were stuck a long way from home and almost broke, they did what any self-respecting guitar players would do. They took to the street with a rock standard.

(Soundbite of guitar playing)

WERTHEIMER: Rodrigo and Gabriela's heavy metal odyssey could have began in Seattle, Austin, or Athens, Georgia, but these were Mexican heavy metal kits(ph). And they started performing in Ixtapa on Mexico's Pacific Coast. Their band came close to a record deal then broke up. That was 10 years ago.

Sanchez and Quintero sold their electronics and went to the beach. They kept body and soul together, playing cheap acoustic guitars in hotel lobbies. And then in 1999, they decided to go to Ireland.

Fast forward eight years, and Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero, playing as Rodrigo y Gabriela, finally have that record deal. Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero join us from member station WXPN in Philadelphia. Welcome.

Mr. RODRIGO SANCHEZ (Lead Guitarist, Rodrigo y Gabriela): Hello.

Ms. GABRIELA QUINTERO (Rhythm And Guitar-Top Hand Percussion, Rodrigo y Gabriela): Hello.

WERTHEIMER: I'm wondering, first of all, what you were doing in Ireland? Why did you decide to leave a beach resort in Mexico and go to Dublin?

Ms. QUINTERO: Well they was - my mind in Europe, I traveled Europe and learned all their styles of music and there we don't know the language and experienced an extreme adventure. And the first place we decided to go was Ireland.

WERTHEIMER: Why?

Ms. QUINTERO: Just randomly. It was some place unknown to us completely.

WERTHEIMER: You were performing on the street for tourists. And you played acoustic covers of heavy metal songs, is that right?

Mr. SANCHEZ: We started doing that in the hotels in Ixtapa, on the beach. That was the only repertoire we had. It was pretty convenient for us because the tourists didn't really realize that we're playing Slayer and Metallica and all those, so and those…

WERTHEIMER: So they thought these are Mexican folksongs, perhaps?

Mr. SANCHEZ: That's right. That's right.

Ms. QUINTERO: I guess.

Mr. SANCHEZ: And so we went with the same kind of spirit to Europe. In Dublin, we couldn't really play in the hotels because that doesn't really work the same there and you know. So we have to bask around and…

Ms. QUINTERO: Now…

Mr. SANCHEZ: …the Latin kind of feel just came out afterwards. It's the mix of the metal influence we had with the Latin music, what we are now.

WERTHEIMER: Well, now on this new CD, you have a version of the Metallica song, "Orion."

(Soundbite of Rodrigo y Gabriela's "Orion")

WERTHEIMER: For our listeners who don't necessarily know that song, what does the song mean to you? Why did you put it on the album?

Ms. QUINTERO: That piece, "Orion," is from an album called "Master of Puppets," which is a classic of metal - it's just a masterpiece. So we love that track, it's the only instrumental track in that album and with all the sound that we put on in the acoustic guitars like the original version. For those who know it's very extortionate(ph) and very - so we wanted to do exactly the same version but acoustically.

(Soundbite of Rodrigo y Gabriela's "Orion")

Ms. QUINTERO: To give the reference point that we don't play Mexican music or flamenco music or something that is traditionally classically, we completely - I'm breaking the rules here, you know. So that's why we did it.

WERTHEIMER: "Orion" has, like, several moods or movements or sections to it. It really seems to be a very pretty good showcase of the kind of music that you play now.

Mr. SANCHEZ: Yeah. That's right. I mean, I think, there was an influence that bassist Cliff Burton left in Metallica before he died. It's a very emotional track as well for metal heads.

WERTHEIMER: Now you said that you do not play flamenco and I gather that flamenco guitarists would agree that you don't. But for my benefit, I wonder if you could just explain the difference between your style and flamenco guitar. I mean, maybe…

Ms. QUINTERO: I don't know much of that music but I know it's based in different rhythms so we don't play flamenco. It's something that is almost ritualistic. A few years ago I attempted to play some flamenco rhythms but I never actually got them right. So I - all the reasons I caught(ph) the wrong flamenco rhythm. So it's - for so many reasons, we don't play flamenco. We love flamenco, but we don't play those bulerias, soleares. It's like a mass, you know, in a flamenco show.

WERTHEIMER: Well, the song "Ixtapa" sounds a little bit like flamenco to me, you know, which shows you how much I know.

(Soundbite of Rodrigo y Gabriela's "Ixtapa")

WERTHEIMER: What was the inspiration for "Ixtapa"? Were you remembering living there? Were you living there when you wrote it?

Mr. SANCHEZ: Well, actually when we wrote it, it was almost a year and a half or two years, we went back to Ixtapa after eight years. We got a chance to get properties, and you know, there was kind of our first time we came back and we had what we wanted before, you know, so…

WERTHEIMER: You came back as a success.

Mr. SANCHEZ: Well, going…

Ms. QUINTERO: Yes.

Mr. SANCHEZ: …success. Yeah. But now it's where we spend our time off, you know, in Ixtapa because we love the place.

(Soundbite of Rodrigo y Gabriela's "Ixtapa")

WERTHEIMER: How do you write a piece? I understand that you guys don't read music. How does this process work? How do you do it?

Mr. SANCHEZ: I work a melody on my own, whether you call it a riff, or a leak, or whatever, and I show it to Gabriela and she works on the harmonies. And then together, we work the structure of the song. It can take up to a month or two months, sometimes, you know, or sometimes, it's quicker. Most of the time that's the way it works in a melody. I do it myself, and then the solos and then, Gabriela just comes down with the rhythms.

WERTHEIMER: And you play back and forth, and back and forth until you think you've got it right.

Ms. QUINTERO: Exactly then we record it…

Mr. SANCHEZ: That's right.

Ms. QUINTERO: …at least, back again…

Mr. SANCHEZ: And then we play it live, you know, in live shows, and then we see what works and what doesn't.

WERTHEIMER: Does this recording, this CD, is it very much like what you do live? Do you think you got the live show down on tape?

Ms. QUINTERO: No. The live show is different, in the sense, that the energy is much more powerful. It's higher level, and the speakers, and people are quite energetic, very responsive.

Mr. SANCHEZ: We play venues, standing venues. We play at big rooms. And it's kind of more - falls more into rock scene. We didn't look for it. It just came out that way, you know, so…

WERTHEIMER: So everybody is on their feet and…

Ms. QUINTERO: Yeah.

Mr. SANCHEZ: Yeah. Yeah. All the time. And we talk and we say stories of the songs and we, I mean, we are pretty much the way we are naturally and we talk a lot between songs because we don't sing. So whatever we have to say, we just say it.

WERTHEIMER: Now right now, you're, sort of, in the bosom of the recording industry. You're - you've got a new CD. You've got a concert tour. There are promotions. You're talking to people like me. Are you finding this tough? I mean, are you thinking that it would be good to get back on the street?

Ms. QUINTERO: Not at all. To be honest, no, that will be really difficult. We went a way - our approach to music basically is that we can tour, but as long as we have this space between tours that we can be able to do things well like normal people do.

WERTHEIMER: Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero better known as Rodrigo Y Gabriela. Their recent self-titled CD is now out on ATO Records. The two of you were wonderful. Thank you very much.

Ms. QUINTERO: Thank you, Linda.

Mr. SANCHEZ: Thank you, Linda.

(Soundbite of Rodrigo y Gabriela's "Ixtapa")

WERTHEIMER: You can hear more of Rodrigo Y Gabriela's music on CD and in performance. And also take a guitar lesson from them at our Web site, npr.org.

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Scott Simon is back next week. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

(Soundbite of Rodrigo y Gabriela's "Ixtapa")

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