Interview: Rodrigo Y Gabriela

Alex Yau chats to Rodrigo Y Gabriela

Posted on Feb 14th, 2012 in Features and Interviews, Rodrigo Y Gabriela / By Alex Yau
Rodrigo Y Gabriela Rodrigo Y Gabriella have continued to impress audiences since 2000 with their unbelievable technical ability which fuses elements of metal, jazz and Latin. Their recent record Area 52, a reworking of nine previous tracks with 13 piece band C.U.B.A, is one of their best records yet. They’ve been so successful that they’ve sold 1.2 million albums to date and Area 52 reached number six in the indie charts. We had a chat with them about their new album and tour.

Bearded: Hello, how’s it going?

Rodrigo Y Gabriella: Good thank you. We are very busy at the moment preparing for our first tour with C.U.B.A. It is the first time we will tour with a band of musicians and not just ourselves with our guitars. We are just about to start the rehearsals with the full band.

B: Pirates of the Caribbean, Puss in Boots, Area 52 – it’s been quite a busy year for you. How have you found it?

RYG: It has been very busy for us. We were touring the 11:11 album for a long time and then we went into the soundtrack work. It was a very different experience on the soundtracks. We were collaborating with Hans Zimmer, writing together in a room. You have much more control when you are making music for your own album. With films the producer or director has the final say on what ends up on the screen. You are not in control in the same way.

B: With Area 52 made up of your nine favourite tracks, how did you ever decide upon the tracklisting? Did you both argue about the listing?

RYG: They are the songs that always work very well for us in a concert, the ones the fans want to hear. We had to think about how they would work with the Cuban musicians – the different rhythms and instruments and how we could mix the two styles. It was quite easy to agree on the songs that would work.

B: How many tracks in total did you choose from?

RYG: We considered all our original songs but we had a good idea from the start what would work. We did not want to include any cover songs.

B: How was it working with C.U.B.A?

RYG: We were blown away by the quality of the local players; Gabriela says it was like going to music school; and she was right. They didn't know who we were; but then again they don't know who Coldplay are either; it was just about playing together and listening and learning. Those rhythms, you really have to adapt to them. In the beginning, it was painful. I was like a beginner again.

B: Was it difficult tailoring them to your live shows at first or did it all work straight away?

RYG: You will have to ask me after we play the first show. This is a very new journey for us.

B: How was it working with Peter Asher, Rafa Sardina and Alex Wilson? What did they bring to Area 52?

RYG: Alex Wilson worked on the arrangements for the songs. We spent a lot of time on Skype before we went to C.U.B.A. We don’t read music so Alex wrote out the parts that the Cuban musicians would play. Peter helped with the sound of the album, the playing from the musicians, bringing everyone together in the studio. He has a lot of experience. We met him when we were working on the Pirates soundtrack and we became friends. It was Rafa’s job to mix everything together when we were done. He had a very hard job because there is a lot going into every song but he nailed it.

B: It was recorded at Abdala Studios. How did that feel? Was it special considering Silvio Rodriguez founded it?

RYG: It was a great place for us, a very interesting one. It is part owned by the government and they never have any musicians from America as clients. It is a real hub for local musicians who come to sit in the coffee shop at the front. There was always lots of activity, lots of creativity. Los Van Van were recording in the studio next door and Samuel Formell Alfonso who’s from Los Van Van played drums on Santo Domingo. It was incredible.

B: You enlisted Charles Benevent because you felt he could change the rhythm and make it less Latin. Does this mean a future direction change?

RYG: We don’t think of ourselves as Latin music. In our heads we are a rock band who play acoustic guitars. We have very wide tastes in music, from metal to jazz to Latin and beyond. We are endlessly curious about music, and when we are travelling we are always listening to new stuff and old favorites. We chose Charles because of his work with Paco de Lucia. We just couldn’t believe how fast he played.

B: It’s quite a big album considering the instrumentation. Would you ever go bigger?

RYG: I think we learned on Area 52 not to judge something before we do it. It started as an interesting experiment but then it grew into something much bigger. It was supposed to be a fill-in album but it became the most ambitious thing we’ve done. It opened our eyes to a lot of things, opened up paths we were maybe afraid of in terms of experimentation and collaboration. Who’s to say where it will lead in the future?

B: Are you 100 per cent happy with Area 52 then?

RYG: It turned into something much more than we thought it would be. I am proud that we collaborated with musicians we admire like John Tempesta, Anoushka Shankar and Carles Benavent. We created a new hybrid sound which is part Latin, part Cuban, part Metal. It doesn't really sound like anything else we have done before. We will never forget the whole Cuban experience, the kindness of the people and the quality of the musicians.

Area 52 is now available and they play the following UK dates:

Feb 19- The Olympia, Dublin, Ireland
Feb 21 - The Academy, Glasgow, Scotland
Feb 22 - The Ritz, Manchester, England (Sold out)
Feb 24 - Brixton Academy, London, England (Sold out)