There’s no question that you’ve arrived in the music industry when you’ve been commissioned to play for the president alongside Beyoncé. Not many musicians can boast that they’ve entertained the hippest administration yet to occupy the White House.
But, not many musicians can pull off a sound as full-bodied as Rodrigo y Gabriela’s. What sounds as if all of heaven’s angels are strumming stringed instruments is actually created by only two fast-fingered guitar masters, which can sometimes put the duo in a creative box.
“In every album and every project, it is kind of the same: We have to come up with different things within the limited realm of two guitars. That’s why we have to be more creative,” Rodrigo Sanchez says.
The explosive sound that Rodrigo y Gabriela manage to produce in an acoustic setting is matched only by the level of intricacy and urgency also coming from their fingers at any given moment. When those two play, every musical apex is met with a phrase that’s equally climactic, until the listener is left with nothing but awe and the question, “How is it possible for that sound to come from four hands?”
The intensity and complexity of Rodrigo y Gabriela’s compositions likely stem from their rock roots. In the ’90s, the two played in the heavy-metal band Tierra Acida in their homeland of Mexico. But when a record deal fell through, they packed their six-string guitars and set off to play in the streets of Dublin.
While Rodrigo y Gabriela were rocking in Europe, “we found ourselves playing all of these Latin rhythms that we actually didn’t like when we were kids,” Sanchez says. “We had all of these rhythms subconsciously deep inside of us.” But as they made the transition from playing plugged-in to strumming on the street, he says, they never lost their rock influence.
Rodrigo y Gabriela have garnered quite a bit of buzz over the years for their rhythmic style, which has been labeled as world music and flamenco. And although they are being constantly classified, the pair vehemently reject genre labels, with Sanchez saying, “That is not really what we are. We are a duo.”
Genre cataloging aside, they’ve kept music critics and listeners on their toes by continuously re-imagining their songs, and now, they’re applying that philosophy to their style.
“We are trying to move away a little bit,” Sanchez says. “It’s not that we want to move away from what we’ve done before, but we are really trying to find different ways to express ourselves through two acoustic guitars only.”
Finding new ways to articulate the voice of the six-string is not new for Rodrigo y Gabriela, but setting out to focus on the rock element is. Sanchez says the style for their upcoming album, which is currently in the works and slated for release in early 2014, will be truer to their original rocker style.
“In our [past] albums, you can hear the influence rock music had, but now it feels like the rock side that we really have is just coming out naturally,” says Sanchez. “It is even a different sound to the whole thing. It’s a different approach.”
Though the duo often says their songs are a reflection of personal experiences, the switch back to a rock ethos doesn’t have any particular impetus.
“I think it is very natural,” Sanchez says of the paradigm shift. “We never plan what to do for whatever project we are working on, but it just started feeling very natural to play these rhythms that are very opposite to what we have been [playing].”
Although the music itself sounds very calculated, Rodrigo y Gabriela’s perpetual reinvention of styles and songs has not been. Sanchez says simply, “If we don’t feel it, we just don’t do it.”
Like musical chameleons, the duo allow themselves to be influenced by their backgrounds and environment, and the current shedding of their metaphorical skins is the next step in their progression as artists. So, while their summer tour may include older material, the performance of new songs will show that Rodrigo y Gabriela don’t stay the same color for long.
RODRIGO Y GABRIELA
Red Butte Garden
300 Wakara Way
Friday, July 12, 7:30 p.m.
$45 for adults, $30 for children