TMF meets Rodrigo y Gabriela
Never let it be said that the Mexican duo rest on their laurels. With many of us desperately keen to see them back in proper, six-string-shredding business, they turn their backs on the old album-tour-album conveyor for what might initially appear to be a retrograde step. Hooking up with An Actual Band, jettisoning their key strength in favour of a more conventional format, it’s enough to worry the hardcore Rodrigo y Gabriela fan. But their new collection is artfully and sympathetically curated; it’s an album that lights up their craft in new, wholly unexpected way. Area 52 mocks your apprehensions: for many artists, revisiting the old stuff is a dread manoeuvre, borne of artistic drought and declining popularity. With the duo showing signs of neither - their last studio album 11:11 showed their creativity to be in rude health and their fan base grows apace - we chatted to Rodrigo about their metal roots, their unique live show and why sometimes you have to take a step back to go forward.
You started off perched on stools onstage, then you stood up, now you’re – albeit temporarily - a band. As your popularity increases, your confidence to test yourselves must surely be growing.
This tour is going to be a completely different vibe for us. We've been touring for a few years now, and maybe people have seen us a couple of times, but this will be a complete departure. It's a bit of a step into the unknown, to be honest.
Going back to your old songs must have allowed you to reassess them and maybe tweak them. Were you tempted to make any significant changes? Or are you as happy with them as you were when you recorded them originally?
Working with Alex Wilson on the arrangements on Area 52 was interesting; his demos for the new versions were terrible because of the samplers he used, but the ideas were brilliant. I think the songs have taken on a new lease of life with new arrangements and a big band playing them.
You have a lot of fans from the rock community. With the very different nature of your new band, should we be concerned that you are leaving behind your heavy metal roots?
I think there is quite a lot of rock on this album, actually – 'Hanuman', '11:11' spring to mind. It took a while to get the Cuban musicians to understand where we were coming from; they had never heard of us, or even Coldplay for that matter. So when we got the first mixes back, we decided it was a bit too Cuban, too traditional; we decided we had to bring more rock to the record.
Your new project sees you re-working old songs. What plans do you have for new ones? Once ‘Area 52’ is complete, will we see you take time out to start work on a wholly new album?
Our next album will be completely different, maybe we will hook up with our heavy metal friends. As a duo we have the freedom to go where we want, which is a great feeling. Touring this album is the next thing for now.
You have always acknowledged the musicians who have influenced you. Mostly they are older or established artists. Who inspires you from the current younger generation?
I like The Mars Volta. There is an Irish band I like called Adebisi Shank. I'd consider a band like Le Trio Joubran to be contemporaries of ours.
On your last album you really developed your song craft. Previously, maybe the emphasis had been on your technique but '11:11' was more about composition and seemed to have more emphasis on narrative. Do you see that?
Definitely, on the album we did with John Leckie; we became well known for the covers – 'Stairway To Heaven' and 'Orion'; we didn't want to repeat that on 11:11 so it was important that it was all self-written.
Talking of technique, and speaking on behalf of all clumsy guitarists, it must take some considerable practice to continue to be able to play like you do. Tell me about your practice regime. Are you still trying to develop as musicians?
Hopefully! We have the studio close to home now which makes a big difference when you want to try something out. The tour is coming soon now so we really have to knuckle down and play together a lot every day.
On your last UK tour, you both did solo spots and both appeared to improvise within those spots. That must be scary!
Gab doesn't know what she is going to do when she starts her solo but it gives the music an edge and you have to keep an element of surprise in there.
On that tour, you filled the Manchester Apollo where three thousand fans rocked it like they were at a metal gig. You must be pleased that you left the metal scene, yet you've taken classical and flamenco elements and still managed to present them in such a way that you and your audiences have a rock concert experience.
Well for us, a gig shouldn't be just about the artists, but about the total event; especially about the energy coming back from the audience; we feed off that and it inspires us to play better. The best shows are when you have that understanding with the audience, either in a club, or a concert hall or at a festival.
Area 52 is out now on Rubyworks.