World-renowned Mexican outfit Rodrigo y Gabriela are no ordinary pair of guitarists. With heavy metal influences and a past that evolved from being in a Mexican death metal band, this incredibly talented duo can sure shred with the best of them.
Rodrigo y Gabriela recently released their incredible fifth studio album Mettavolution earlier this year and subsequently the pair are touring the world in support of their latest offering. This run includes a rare performance on Tyneside at the prestigious Sage Gateshead. You would have to look back as far as 2008 for the group’s last appearance in the North East.
National Rock Review recently caught up with the duo backstage after their recent show at the Sage Gateshead to talk about their latest album, their approach to writing their instrumental compositions and their plans going forward.
So you’ve just come off stage at the Sage Gateshead, and it’s been a while since you last played here – I think it’s 11 years. How was the show for you guys?
Gab: It was really good. This crowd here has always been very good to us. It’s always been very faithful and very supportive. So for us, it was a very special gig.
Rod: I think so too because before we stopped coming, we used to come here very often.
Gab: We started in Ireland and then we moved. Well, we were almost living in the UK, because we were all the time on tour and we toured every single city in the UK.
Rod: Even Grimsby.
Gab: And Blackpool. We went to Scotland and Wales. So for years that was our life and it was here in the UK. So it just felt almost like home.
You’ve just released a new studio album, which is titled Mettavolution and immediately before even hearing a single song, I was already intrigued by the title. What was the kind of general concept or theme behind the latest album? What were you thinking about?
Rod: Well, Mettavolution is kind of a spiritual concept. And the actual name is a word that we made up, but it’s coming from Metta, the Sanskrit word which means compassion. And, it is as well used for the meditation practice – the Metta meditation practice and evolution. So for us basically it is a message to try to evolve more in a compassionate way.
I know on the record you’re dealing with complex topics such as Buddhism and human evolution. I mean, a lot of these subjects are tricky to explain using lyrics, let alone instrumental. How do you approach grappling with those complex subjects in the instrumental world? Was it more about conveying an emotion or feeling through your music as opposed to trying to put out a message using words?
Gab: Yeah, it’s because if you think about in terms of evolutionary terms, language has existed 10 minutes ago. So before languages, we got emotions, that was a way we would communicate before and that’s the way that animals communicate also. So, I think it was extremely important for us to be homo sapiens and just be very expressive. And music is a language of emotions. So that’s why Echoes is a good example. And that’s why it has beautiful lyrics – but most of the track is instrumental, even for the Pink Floyd guys.
Because then on the subconscious level, and a very deep level you want to say too many things. So there’s just one way it can come out of you and that’s a way, and that’s a meaning there. But we’re not gonna try to put it into words, into concepts and do it like this because then it’s the mind again just making everything really small. And you’re supposed to experience.
Last week I was interviewing Paul Gilbert and he’s got a new instrumental album out. And I was talking to him about how he wrote songs and he said with this particular album, he kind of wrote lyrics for songs and then he constructed the song structure around the lyrics. But then when he released the songs, there were no lyrics. So he used the lyrics just to kind of construct his track. But they were never really there. So I was just wondering when you guys are kind of putting down songs. How do you go about formulating the songs? I mean do you ever write lyrics?
Rod: Yeah, that is exactly what we did. The other albums were different, but it was more kind of a regular way of writing music. I would come up with a riff and Gabriela with the harmonies. But for this album, we wanted to change and then we did the concepts and lyrics. Like we wrote songs with lyrics to create a concept and then we did instrumental versions.
I’ve got to talk to you about Echoes because having watched you play it tonight, it blew my mind. I was up in the balcony when you were playing that song and you brought it right down, you could hear a pin drop in the room, it was so beautiful. What was it about that song, in particular, that made you want to cover it on the record? Did you feel that it just kind of fit the overall theme of the album?
Gab: Yes, because of the spiritual message of the album. Rod was saying, it’s all just complex themes. But also Echoes has this message in the lyrics and it’s just this poem. And so for us at the beginning we didn’t know – I never thought put it on the album. But a friend of ours that is a good journalist in Mexico, he’s a big fan of Pink Floyd. He presented to us Echoes like maybe 10 years ago when we did the Hanuman video – he directed it. And then he said, I want to do a little bit like Live From Pompeii, and in that video Hanuman we are like sort of similarish. And then he shows us this video of Live From Pompeii. And I was a big fan of Pink Floyd, but I didn’t know Echoes that well – I wasn’t that familiar. So since that day, the track kind of spoke to us.
And then eventually, maybe before we recorded the album – way before we started, he had started jamming it. And it was very hard to play because the rhythm is mellow, it was different. I didn’t know how to approach it. And it took, at least to me, it took me a long time to do the arrangement because it’s very minimal. So it came out very minimal with just a little bit of notes here and there. And then Rod said we should put it on the album. And I’m like, Oh, that’s crazy. This song lasts like 20 minutes. And then we did it and it was released as the single.
The middle bit in Pink Floyd’s Echoes they do this jamming and we did that but it didn’t cut it for us. So we wrote that middle section. So it felt better and it’s something that we wrote.
So this record, it’s been touted as your most ambitious to date and I just wanted to know, do you feel that you always have to keep pushing yourselves and your creative boundaries with each record?
Gab: Yes, I think so because it’s part of what gives flavour to life. Otherwise, I think it’s part of the evolution process in any creative aspects of doing music. I think is very important to push yourself out of your comfort zone – just take risks. And it took us a while to do this music. As I was saying, we wrote so many things. So for some of those are really crazy. One day we would release them – they’re crazy, but not for Rod and Gab. Not for what we do, not for our fans. So that’s why we wanted to keep it respectful to our fans.
On the subject of covers, I’ve always really loved your cover of Orion by Metallica. I’m a big Metallica fan and I just wondered if you could kind of tell us a little bit about how that cover came about.
Rod: Well, it’s from the first album. I think we just loved the song. We didn’t think much about it. Because we had done Stairway To Heaven, which they all told us not to do and we did it anyway. And then, we wanted to have something more contemporary. I dunno, it was just the love for the band and the music.
Gab: But that track particularly because it’s an instrumental track and it was written back in the day when Cliff was in the band. And he used to write with those guys. And it’s magic to me – it takes you to the actual Orion constellation because it’s so deep and beautiful.
But I think also Rod when we used to play it and stuff like background music and stuff – we were metal kids and just pretending. We know we are a lovely couple playing music for the American tourists, but we didn’t have a lot of material to play and so we had to come up with all the repertoire from metal music, but acoustically. So like One and Fade To Black, the tourists would say is this Mexican music, we would say yes – contemporary.
I believe next year marks the 20th anniversary. I was just wondering do you have any kind of special plans to mark that landmark? Are you gonna go and do anything crazy or have you not thought about it yet?
Gab: No, but let’s keep that in mind.
Rod: There is a lot of stuff coming because we had a lot of music written and some of it was pretty cool. And talking about metal in November, there is a release that you might like. Because we’re going to release an EP which is already done, with three metal tracks, which is Battery, Holy Wars and Seasons In The Abyss. Even when I listened to it, it’s amazing. We have the melodies, we have the drums here. So we want to release that in November. And Mettavollution will be released with vocals in France.
You should call the EP Metalvolution.
Rod: Yeah, that was the obvious name for the EP. But the label and all that they actually loved it at the beginning, but they said like it was confusing with the name of the album – So it’s called the Metal EP. But we used the same artists who did Mettavolution. It is pretty cool. So I don’t know, maybe next year with all of the new releases we will do something different.
You guys have played everywhere. I mean, you’ve played the Hollywood Bowl, you’ve played Red Rocks, you’ve done the Zenith in Paris, and the Royal Albert Hall. Is there anywhere left on your musical bucket list that you’d love to play? Maybe a venue or a country that you’ve not been to yet?
Rod: Yeah, we haven’t got to China. And Japan, it would be good to play the Budokan. Gee, I don’t know, we’ve been fortunate enough to play most of these iconic venues for sure. Radio City, Sydney Opera House. We are so lucky and thankful.
We’re fast approaching the end of this year. Have you got the next 12 months mapped out? Do you know what’s on the card?
Gab: Well, touring but what I think is important for both of us is to keep delivering music – to keep producing. So when we are on tour, I travel with a tiny little travel guitar. And that travel guitar is so good because it’s not a problem with aeroplanes. That’s very good because it keeps the roads to creativity open.
So before I come in, I was just the recording riffs and recording melodies and all of that. It just keeps all the time momentum. So instead of thinking, Oh let’s record this new album, for us, it’s better to come up with a lot of music and then to pick everything, and then they said okay let’s bring them another album or whatever.
So in that sense also, Rod although he doesn’t travel with a little guitar, sometimes he takes my guitar, like today in the car. He was playing the last Tool album. But all of those things there, they’re good for the creativity. And I think part of being old at the moment is just we’re very focused on what we like. And before that, we’d lost with wasting time and money because it’s just like travelling the world and ah look, buy these fucking whatever useless shit and spending money time and just being stupid. But now we’re just like, we know exactly what we like and we know that music is the best thing. Its the only thing that keeps the voice in the head.
Rod: No, the voice in the head is still there sometimes when we listen. But the practice besides music – meditation, we do a lot of that. So you at least just start observing the voice without judging.
Mettavollution by Rodrigo y Gabriela is out now.
Words and Photos by Adam Kennedy