In The Studio With Rodrigo Y Gabriela

May 11, 2014

A pair of former heavy metal guitarists who left Mexico for Ireland, Rodrigo y Gabriela developed an acoustic sound that has taken the duo from playing on the streets for change to some of the biggest stages on the festival circuit. Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero joined NPR's Arun Rath in the studio at NPR West to perform a few selections from their latest album, 9 Dead Alive. Hear the music, and their conversation, at the audio link.

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Thanks again for listening. This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath and this is the music of Rodrigo y Gabriela. They're a pair of former heavy metal guitarists who left Mexico for Ireland and developed an acoustic sound that's taken them from playing on the streets for change to some of the biggest stages on the festival circuit.

PHILIPPE PETIT. FRENCH HIGH-WIRE ARTIST AND AUTHOR: Rodrigo y Gabriel's latest album is called "9 Dead Alive." Each track is dedicated to a different person, or in one case dedicated to animals and nature. The piece you're listening to right now is for Fyodor Dostoyevsky.


RATH: Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero joined me at NPR West earlier this week to talk about these new songs.

RODRIGO SANCHEZ: We decided to pick eight people, four male and four female figures, from history that we think they're still alive among us. You know, their legacy is still among us, you know, through art, you know, literature or we have some humanitarian people there. And we didn't want to pick the usual suspects.

GABRIELA QUINTERO: They somehow improved humanity. So that's - when you think about these people or their work you think there is still hope for many things, you know.

RATH: People like Viktor Frankl who developed the philosophy of finding hope after something like the Holocaust, and Harriet Tubman, of course, the underground railroad. But there are more obscure figures as well, like Fridtjof Nansen. I'm not sure if I'm pronouncing that correctly.

SANCHEZ: Yeah, that's right. I mean, he was very important. He liberated almost 400,000 war prisoners. He was of a well-known figure in Norway. But he was involved in politics without really wanting after he was, you know, appointed the first ambassador in England from Norway.


RATH: And I should say the title of that track is "Fram."

SANCHEZ: "Fram," which is basically a boat that he - because he was an explorer as well.

QUINTERO: It's a boat but it means forward. I think that's the meaning of the word.

SANCHEZ: Yeah, he didn't reach the North Pole but he opened the whole bridge, you know, to go there. And he built this boat which, is amazing. And he cannot change the whole perspective and techniques to sail, you know, to go and to break the ice and all that.

RATH: Let's talk about the animals and nature track, "Torito." How did animals and nature affect the writing there?


QUINTERO: There's no better humanity without us connecting with the animal world and their natural world. And I know it sounds super hippy and all these things but I think it's important to kind of - for me, anyway, to just share like that, you know.

RATH: Do you ever take your guitar out in nature and just play outside?

QUINTERO: Well, I live in Zihuatanejo which is apart of Mexico that is - you know, at the end of the film "Shawshank Redemption" Morgan Freeman goes to Zihuatanejo 'cause it's a part I - it's not mythological or it's not an invasion. It's a natural...

SANCHEZ: It's not the actual place where he stayed. They show...

QUINTERO: Yeah, but a lot of people...

RATH: It's probably Vancouver.


QUINTERO: But a lot of people go to Zihuatanejo because of that film. And that's where I live so nature is never out of tune, you know.



RATH: Well, you have your guitars with you and I know you have a song I think you're ready to play about a famous guitar maker.

SANCHEZ: Yes, of course.

RATH: It's called "Soundmaker" and it's dedicated to the individual who gave us the modern guitar.

SANCHEZ: Yes, the classical guitar, which is the one we kind of play now.

RATH: Great. Let's hear this.



RATH: That was great. It's really - it's hard for me because I had to be quiet over here. I wanted to make noises. It's hard for me not to grunt and make sounds when you guys are jamming like that.


RATH: It's great.

SANCHEZ: Thanks.

RATH: That's Rodrigo y Gabriela with an in-studio performance of "The Soundmaker" from their new album "9 Dead Alive." Gabriela, you take rhythm guitar very seriously. You're getting some serious percussion out of your guitar though. You're smacking it and slapping it in different ways. What's that technique?

QUINTERO: This technique is - well, I don't know what it is honestly but at the beginning I try to played like a flamingo guy but I couldn't pick those rhythms. And then living in Ireland as well I met a lot of Irish musicians say play the Irish drum that is called bodhran that is played with a stick. And that goes more with my technique. And I - that - when I saw a couple of bodhran players - they are amazing over there - I thought, oh well, I can do that with the hand. My guitar playing and percussion parts, it goes more with Irish music than flamingo music. So for instance all this...


QUINTERO: know, like...



RATH: That's Rodrigo y Gabriela. The new album is called "9 Dead Alive." Thank you so much.

SANCHEZ: Thank you very much. This was great. Thank you very much for...

QUINTERO: Oh, thank you guys for inviting us.

RATH: So do one more song?


RATH: Could I make a request?


SANCHEZ: Well, if you can do it, (Unintelligible) .

RATH: I like "Misty Moses," the Harriet Tubman song.



RATH: What do you think?

SANCHEZ: OK, let's try it.

RATH: I'll try to be quiet over here while you play.

SANCHEZ: Let's try that.


RATH: And for Sunday, that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath. Check out our weekly podcast. Look for Weekends on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED on iTunes or on the NPR app. And you can follow us on Twitter at NPRWATC. Happy Mother's Day and lots of love to the two best moms I know, my own mom and my wife. You are amazing. We're back next weekend. Until then, thanks for listening and have a great week. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.