Rodrigo y Gabriela have one of the great success stories in recent memory. After growing frustrated with the Mexican metal scene, the guitar-shredding duo abandoned their metal sound -- and their country -- for the more-musician friendly city of Dublin, where they cultivated a hearty following in that city's pubs and street corners until being discovered by Irish folkie Damien Rice. Success followed, as did a quartet of well-received albums, which defy classification as they zigzag across influences from thrash metal to flamenco. Their latest album is Area 52, which re-works some of the band's previous material for a 13-piece Cuban orchestra. We caught up with the male half of the duo, Rodrigo Sánchez, to chat about the record, his thoughts on their next one, and his favorite Seattle vegan joint. Rodrigo y Gabriela play the Paramount with C.U.B.A . on April 3.
Well if the record was an attempt at getting your record company off your back so you could rest, how did the tour come about? It wasn't supposed to tour. But when we met Alex Wilson, which is a guy I had thought about for doing the arrangements, I began to get more excited and we asked him to come to the studio in Mexico so we could work together. Instead of having new versions of old tunes, we kind of reinvented the tunes. We added a lot of new parts, and sometimes it's almost unrecognizable because it's not really what the original take is. We became very excited and we decided we definitely have to do a tour with this kind of band.
What was it about the sound of Cuban music in particular that you decided would be a good companion for this record? We grew up listening to Cuban music in Mexico. Although I didn't consume it, it was everywhere, and especially my parents' generation. They really loved it. If you're a musician you will know that Cuban musicians are special, that they understand music in a very different way.
Did you learn anything new about your songs through the process of arranging them in new ways? Now we know that we have much more possibilities and perspectives to add to the next duo album. We don't even know what we're going to do but anytime we go back to the duo format we know that we can open up a little bit more.
Were you worried that your fans might be let down by not getting an album of new material? We didn't really think about the fans or reviews when we were doing it. We felt it was going to be something more interesting on a personal level. When we came from Cuba, we added more layers of guitars and we took away some of the horn solos because we thought maybe it made it too Cuban. And that gave us an idea of adding much more guitars into the equation so we could balance that out and have people understand it was really a mix of our music with the band.
Might we see a similar approach down the road with your songs arranged for a different style? Probably not different versions of the old material. What now we know is that we can just expand somehow. I think we are more free than a lot of bands are. We really come from a rock background and I have a feeling the next album will have to be back where we started. Maybe we'll just come out with a more acoustic-based metal album with lots of metal friends that we have met on the road recently. I think we should move, move, move into different directions each time because we are free to do that so why don't we?
I'm assuming the album's title is a reference to Area 51, the government airfield that supposedly houses some kind of UFOs. Am I on target? For us, going to Cuba was like going into an unknown territory. As well, when we went there it was very funny the way we communicated because we couldn't explain the kind of rhythms we wanted them to do so we started to use all kinds of percussive sounds. It was like talking to aliens. The way they actually play and understand music is like beyond human understanding sometimes. It's incredible.
What comes to mind when you think of Seattle? It was one of our first gigs when we first came to America. Our first show was at a venue called Chop Suey. And I remember it perfectly. Then I remember playing the Paramount on Halloween night, which was a great show. And there's a good restaurant that we like to go to called Bamboo Garden, which is a vegan Chinese restaurant, so I like to go back to Seattle all the time.