We sit down with Mexican guitar maestro Rodrigo Sanchez, one half of the acclaimed duo Rodrigo Y Gabriela to discuss the story behind their latest record Area 52, a potential Australian tour and what it’s like working with acclaimed soundtrack composers.
Hi, how are you?
Good thank you Simon, and you?
Good thanks, now before we kick off I just wanted to say congratulations on the new album, I’ve given it a few listens since last week, and it’s fantastic.
Thank you very much Simon, thank you.
What was the inspiration behind the new album?
Well honestly the original idea was about buying some time really in between albums. But you know it just turned out to be a big production and one that we eventually embraced. I originally came up with the idea so the labels wouldn’t put more pressure on us about when we’d be back in the studio. But you know they liked the idea. In the beginning my idea was way simpler, it was going to be something much simpler, where we wouldn’t even have to go and record anything. And it started to grow and grow.
We realised that we could not only rearrange things and re-record things, but come up with different versions, pretty much reinventing the nine tracks of ours that we picked for this album. And that you know made us happy. That was the moment we decided to go for it as a full on project. And I’m happy, because we didn’t even want to tour, the idea in the beginning didn’t involve any touring, but obviously as soon as we were getting into the project and listening to the results we wanted to tour, and that’s what we’re going to do, and we’re very happy with it.
So how did you choose which of your existing material to reinterpret?
Well you know, the whole thing was kind of my fault. I just picked nine songs that I felt were going to sound good with the orchestra. I just picked the nine and said to Gabriela “what do you think about these nine?” and you know she’s pretty easy to convince, and she was a little detached at the beginning from the full idea, because she thought it was going to be simpler. So all the pre-production was pretty much on me, and I didn’t think much about it either. It was like these tracks will sound good with the orchestra, and we didn’t really change it, there were always nine, nine tracks from the beginning when we started working with Alex Wilson, the British jazz pianist who helped us out with the arrangements for Cuban orchestra.
I gave him nine tracks straight away, “these are the tracks, please start sending some rhythms that you think will go with the original, or we can add some twists here and there”, and that’s what he started doing, and we were back and forth. It was like “Okay what about if you do it quicker faster here?” and then together once we had the rhythms for each song he came to Mexico and together we restructured everything, we started to give a new shape to each song, but with the new rhythm, and with the Cuban rhythms and it all shot off from there.
So was it all recorded live, or did you take separate takes?
No, not really. Well the orchestra was recorded live and some of the guitars. When we went to Cuba, we had to play the guitars, for them to understand the lines and all that. They recorded it all live, but after we finished the sessions there, we started to focus on all the extra guitars, like the electric guitars, the steel string guitars, the lap string guitars and all that. We did that, all in our own studio. Then we started to pull out much harmonies to the lines that had already been played and things like that. Then eventually we invited, we have some more guests apart from the Cubans. We have guests from all parts of the world, like Anoushka Shankar and Carles Benavent, and they joined after you know. We had to go to London, to Paris, to LA to record these guys.
Wow, for a sort of stop-gap project it went huge
(laughs) Yeah, but you know it’s important as well for people to know, this isn’t our new direction, I think it’s important for people to know that. But I think it’s interesting enough, the people on this album, some of them are already legends and some of them are young and already so talented and I think they all added something very special to the album, and it’s turned into a full blown thing, I mean with due respect, just having a Cuban orchestra behind us, wouldn’t have been the same. I didn’t want to do that; I wanted to break the patterns and to expand on what we already do. We don’t have any fucking rules and that’s what we wanted to do you know.
Was this your first time producing, or have you been behind the desk a few times now?
I produced the 11:11 album, and this one I had a good job. This album was co-produced with Peter Asher. So together we worked on the album, he was pretty much involved in the Cuban sessions, but after the Cuban sessions I took over, because it was time to add all the guitars and the harmonies that I know. I know that part of the structuring, and the tracks were ours, and here in my studio I know the sound that I like and I have my guy, my engineer who’s worked with me for five years and it easier to sit down and get the right sounds and sit down relax and record all day till your happy.
Is it something you think you’ll find yourself doing more and more, or are you happy to let other people come in and produce?
No, I get pretty isolated you know, I like to concentrate, I take it a little bit too serious maybe, but I like to be very focused, other people would get bored to death probably.
So with the new record, are you going to be touring it with the whole orchestra?
Yes, yes that’s the idea. Now it’s January and we have been doing pretty much five years touring since the first album came out in 2006 and we toured for 3 years and then stopped literally for like 3 months to record the 11:11 album, and then we went off again, until now, until December. We never really stopped. So this tour we’re going to do is only going to be about this album. Because otherwise it will just be like continuing the 11:11 tour which has finished, and it was already more than 3 years for the album promo tour. We really want to give people now something different, something we have done before.
That’s why it’s important to let them know it’s the product, and to offer something different for them is important, they want to listen to new music. Although this isn’t really new much, it’s reinventing the songs, for some of the tracks on the album, for some people it will be difficult for them to realise they are tracks that they are already familiar with. Which is good, because they can feel like they are hearing something new again. That’s the whole idea of this tour.
You were last in Australia early 2011, are there plans to be heading back down our way again soon?
Yes, absolutely. I think at the end of the year. I was talking to my management this morning and we were talking about it. We are trying to cross those dates off along with Japan and New Zealand. So hopefully we’ll be down to see you before the year ends.
Excellent! On the last few tours you’ve played some large festivals, do you prefer those shows to the smaller more intimate stages?
Festivals are just part of a full year touring, you know. I kind of enjoy both. During the summer it’s festival season in Europe and for us, we’ve done it since we started, I would miss it if we didn’t do the festivals, if there’s a year we don’t do it. But when you go back into the normal venues, even when they are not that small, like 7000 capacity, they feel different, because you know it’s your show and it’s more responsibility, but on the other hand it’s great because you know the people that come see you are your fans and you get to share this moment with them. You have to give your best, because they pay some money to forget about the world outside, or just to have a good time, and you know that’s our job. To help them forget and to have a good time.
How do you approach the song writing process?
Normally what happens is, when it’s writing time, I sit down and try to come up with melodies. Once I have a melody going, that I think it suitable for the duo and the project, I record it. Then I show it to Gab and if she likes it, she takes it away and she works on some harmonies. Once she has the harmonies she comes back to me. And together if we are happy with that little bit, we start working on the structure of the full song. It’s not a quick process; it takes us a while to write a piece. We are not that prolific in that way as we’re quite picky with the details. But that’s the way it happens most of the time.
That sounds like a pretty interesting way to work. So just briefly, what was it like working with Hans Zimmer on the PotC soundtrack?
Yes, it was great. We had met Hans before, because he had been to one of our shows. He sent us a letter saying he was a fan and that he liked out music. And he wanted us to have breakfast with him the next time we were in LA, and we did that, we met a few months later, had breakfast and became friends. We became friends for a year, and every time we were back to LA we were there in the studios. Then one day he just told us “I want to do this thing, and I want to do it with you” and we said, “Yeah lets do it”.
I mean it’s not the kind of cinema I would go to see, but I didn’t do it for the film, I did it for working with him and for working on such a big production, and working with a different type of music. It was great, great to work with him. Last year we did Puss in Boots, which was great; it was a different experience again. There was less pressure, because Puss in Boots is animated and a much smaller production than that of Pirates of the Caribbean. It was a great experience working on both soundtracks and hopefully we can make more this year.
Well I just got the signal to wrap up, so thank you very much for taking the time out to speak with me today, it’s been a pleasure. Hope you have a great rest of the day.
Thank you Simon, thank you man.