Q&A: Rodrigo Y Gabriela Reinvent Old Favorites With Area 52

Read more

Rodrigo y Gabriela have come a long way since their days busking in Ireland. The guitar duo, which skillfully melds classical techniques with rock/metal bravado, have grown in worldwide appeal and have sold out venues such as the Hollywood Bowl. They have a new album out on January 24th, Area 52, which reimagines a number of their hits (“Tamacun,” “Hanuman,” “Ixtapa”) with the help of a Cuban orchestra and other guests such as Anoushka Shankar (yes, THAT Shankar).

We chatted with Rodrigo about Area 52, the group’s work on Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and Puss In Boots, and why thrash metal is the best metal.


Why did you decide to recreate your songs?

The original idea was to come out with an album-between-albums. It was a project that I decided to offer to the label and to Gabriela because after 2006, when the first album came out, we haven’t really stopped. We stopped for five months for the recording of 11:11 in 2009 but that’s pretty much it. A year ago, our management was wondering when we were going to go to the studio again to record a new album. I thought it was crazy. I mean, we need a break to learn something new. So I said, “We’ll go to Cuba because for sure we’ll learn something new from Cuban musicians.” Honestly, at the beginning, it was a simpler approach. I was in the middle of the tour, so I didn’t think much about it, but the label really liked it. As soon as we started planning it, things started to happen. Gabriela and myself really started to get into the whole project. We started to embrace the whole thing. Then we realized we had to change the structures of each track dramatically to make it exciting for people and for us as well. We didn’t want to go out there in support of this album if the versions were going to be the same with a background orchestra. Along with Alex Wilson, who did the Cuban arrangements, we decided to restructure all the songs and we started to really get into it and then with all the guests, it became this big project.

It’s refreshing to hear these songs we already know, and suddenly there‘s a sitar solo in the middle. It’s like, “Whoa, what is this?!”

Exactly, I had to! I wasn’t going to play them the same. No way. It was a very different process for both of us to play the solos. I come from the rock side so I normally make the solos and then, once I nail them, I record them. For this album, it was very much on the spot. I was with my engineer and we had already gone to Cuba and had all the background music so it was literally playing around and saying, “Ok, I like this take here.” It was pretty much like that. That’s why I don’t even remember what I did but I listened to it and I really liked it.

Yeah, the introduction to “Anuman” is totally different.

I hope people understand that this is not our new direction but, I think it’s an interesting enough project to support, play a few shows with and we hope people enjoy it as much as we did. When I listen to the album now, for me, it’s like a different band. It’s not like listening to my own albums because I don’t even do that. I don’t go back and listen to the new albums because I’m very judgmental with what we did and I want to change things here and there. For this album, I can just go back, relax and listen to it. There are so many things going on and so many musicians on there that I’m not focused on what I’m doing so I really enjoy listening to it, which is a good thing.

Free Download Rodrigo y Gabriela – Juan Loco (feat. CUBA) by ATO Records

How was this different than working on the Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides soundtrack?

There’s a lot of difference there because when you work for a soundtrack, especially for that one, it was really complicated. It was a lot of pressure because we didn’t have video. We were working without really knowing what we were doing. It’s a big film. There’s a lot of people involved. They used to do meetings on Tuesdays with producers, directors, editors and everyone listened to the music…it was pretty tense! I couldn’t stand that. We went to one meeting and that was the only meeting we went to. We didn’t want to go back to the next one. It’s terrible! A lot of people think that they know everything about music and telling [composer] Hans [Zimmer] what to do, it’s just terrible. In the end, we enjoyed it, but when we did, for example, the soundtrack for Puss In Boots, it was a lot easier. It was way more relaxed and friendly. Well, Pirates was friendly, it just had a lot more business involved. This one, we were free to do whatever we thought was great. We worked with Henry Jackman who is another great composer. We met a few times, we understood what we were going to do, we went to our studio and they were handing us stuff to work on so it was way easier. It was a different kind of project because it was way smaller. Now with the Cuban orchestra, it’s more of a learning experience. It was sharing music with these amazing musicians which is really what we’re all about.

How did you get Anoushka Shankar on the record?

She’s my friend. We’ve been friends for about five years. When we came back from Cuba, the album sounded great but it sounded a little bit too Cuban. It was super Latin influenced. We like that but we also like rock n’ roll, so what we did was to try to generate some kind of mix between the styles we like, to bring some kind of rock feel to the equation. That’s why I had to use the electric guitar and the lap steel guitar and steel string guitar. I started to use all these elements and Gab started to use the wah-wah pedal on her rhythms. She normally does that live but she doesn’t do it that much on our albums so we had to throw that in. Then I invited John Tempesta




From White Zombie?

Yeah, he’s a friend of mine. I told him, “I’d love you to be part of this,” and he right away said yes, so really, I just talked to people that I knew that are great musicians and I knew they were going to be into it. We brought them together and we erased a few of the trumpet solos that we had from the Cuban sessions because it was way too much. We changed those solos and added more guitar solos. It was a long production in a way. We went from Cuba to Mexico to LA to Paris to London to record all these musicians. Eventually, the product, I think, reflects this mixture of influences and a little bit of the Cuban stuff which is the base.

And you spent the summer in Havana to record it?

We spent two weeks in la Havana recording the full orchestra. Gab and myself went there to record with them. We did some of the guitars there just as a guide for them to listen to what we were gonna do because we had no idea. We had some guidelines for them. Once we had the full orchestra, we came back to our studio and that’s when we started to listen to it back and forth. We started messing around with the guitars and, eventually, when we were adding the guitars, that’s when I started thinking about having guests as well. Everything was evolving because we were getting more excited about it.

The record doesn’t sound like it was built piece by piece. It sounds like everyone was in the studio together.

The full orchestra did that. It was important to have the rhythm and bass recorded together. In a way, it’s the way metal bands record. I’m still very much attached to all those techniques because that’s the way I learned how to record. Most metal bands do the drums and bass first and then they throw the rest in. In a way, that’s what we wanted to do as well and we used this solid orchestra behind us. It really feels alive because of the greatness of these musicians.



Do you still listen to metal?

Oh yeah! I’m kind of old-fashioned. There are a few bands, new bands, that are good and interesting to listen to but, again, they play like the old way. There’s a band from Colorado called Havok and they play good thrash metal like from the early ’80s. There’s a lot of bands that I don’t want to say their names that are from the new generation of metal. There are good musicians in these bands but I don’t like the fact that they mix the real thrash metal riffs with some of the nu-metal stuff that came out of the end of the ’90s. It’s like {starts singing in deep, growling voice}, and then suddenly {sings in higher pitch falsetto}. I don’t like that. If you’re gonna fucking do it, do it properly.

Are you more into early Sepultura style thrash metal?

Yeah, of course. Sepultura is amazing. That’s actually the first time I met Gabriela. It was with a bunch of friends and we all went to see Sepultura at the Beneath The Remains album tour in 1989. We met there.

You played some pretty big shows recently in LA including the Hollywood Bowl. You even had fireworks. What is it about those venues that makes you want to go all out? I remember back when you guys were playing the Troubadour.

I guess that’s how a band evolves. Those venues are beautiful to play in. The Hollywood Bowl in the summer is really an event. The Greek was pretty much a progression and an evolution from the venues we had played in LA before. I think those are natural steps for bands to follow. We’ve been lucky to get there and have people going to our shows to enable us to play these venues. We are very thankful for all the people who are paying money to see us, and we try to really do the best out of it every night. Obviously, it’s like a soccer game. Not every game is the best game ever, but what we do is give our best effort. I think people recognize that and that’s why we do it.

Yeah, I mean, you went from busking in Ireland to playing for the President of the United States.

{laughs} Well, you know, we’re all people. It’s the experience and the perception we have about things. In reality, we are all the fucking same, so we try to separate that and realize that what matters is the music and make people feel something.


Catch Rodrigo Y Gabriela at a city near you!

[insert-video youtube=R2YKa1AGc5E]


Download more Rodrigo Y Gabriela tracks below: