Interview: Rodrigo Sanchez (Rodrigo Y Gabriela)
Speaking to EG from his home in Mexico, Rodrigo Sanchez was looking forward to playing his third Nottingham date in twelve months. Clearly, we must be doing something right.
“They asked us which cities we wanted to play, so I just remembered the cities where we had a good time and a good response on the last tour. Nottingham’s definitely one of those cities. We like it – it’s a little bit fucking mental there.”
At both the previous Nottingham shows, the audience shouted for Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, and then sang along while the duo played their instrumental version. Does that happen often, or is that just a Nottingham thing?
“I think it happened first at Glastonbury. It’s so funny, because thanks to YouTube, wherever we are in the world, there’s always someone asking for it – but it was born in the UK.”
The duo’s playing seems very spontaneous on stage – but in reality, it must take a lot of practice. How much does the performance change from night to night?
“We try not to keep to the same order. To begin with, we used to play the same set – but we were getting bored, so we started to add surprises. By the end of our first big tour, we were improvising every night. Sometimes, you have a certain belief that some tunes go together in the middle of the set, and some are better at the end – but that’s just in your head, you know? That can make you a bit insecure. But when we started improvising the set, it was amazing – because then you feel free.”
On stage, Rodrigo and his partner Gabriela Quintero display a lot more energy than you might expect from a typical acoustic guitar duo. They also play very fast, and for a very long time. Is it physically difficult work? Do the hands suffer?
“We have to take care. It’s like playing tennis or soccer. Straight after every gig, we put our hands on ice, and Gabriela will put ice on her back. It’s just normal procedure.”
A lot of the duo’s musical energy stems from their background on the Mexican thrash metal scene. Now that they perform acoustically, have they had to learn a new playing technique, or are there similarities between the two styles?
“You’re playing a totally different instrument. When I switched from electric to acoustic, I had to re-learn a different way of playing. I’ve seen some guys play an acoustic guitar as if it was electric, and I don’t like it. I can always see when a guy is more used to playing electric than acoustic. Now, whenever I have the chance to grab an electric, it’s quite difficult for me.”
Despite this difference, one feature which unites Rodrigo and Gabriela’s acoustic playing with their metal background is a shared rhythmic complexity.
“That’s right. It’s mostly Gabriela who leads the rhythm section, but when I play the metal riffs which I’ve introduced to our music nowadays, it’s quite the same. If I take an electric guitar, I can still play the rhythm, no problem. But if I take a solo on an electric guitar, then it’s totally different.”
Both players – and Gabriela in particular – also use their guitars as percussion instruments, plucking the strings and slapping the bodies of their guitars at the same time. It’s a technique which many listeners won’t have experienced before.
“There are a few other similar guitar players that we now know of, although we didn’t before. Gabriela’s style is something that she developed, and those other guys don’t really play like her. Some of is more like tapping the fretboard with the right hand, but the way Gabriela moves her right hand is totally different. It’s a mix of different rhythms: from Latin styles that she heard when growing up, to flamenco – although she doesn’t play flamenco herself – to some of the traditional bodhrán playing that we’ve heard in Ireland.”
Having started out by busking on beaches and in restaurants, it was in Ireland that this Mexican duo enjoyed their first taste of major success, having arrived in Europe as complete unknowns.
“To be honest, we didn’t go to Europe looking for more opportunities. It was the other way around: having played in bands, we didn’t want to have anything more to do with the music industry. So once we started doing gigs, it was a surprise to be back in the industry. Suddenly, things were there. We had a manager, and so on. But it was pretty much organic; we didn’t want to be disappointed again. That kind of feeling probably helped us to break through and make it happen.”
“I still feel now pretty much in the vibe of enjoying what we’re doing, and not becoming super-happy or super-excited about things, because it might still all end tomorrow. That’s what freedom is.”