Rodrigo y Gabriela at Jazz Aspen: A heavy move away from metal |

Rodrigo y Gabriela at Jazz Aspen: A heavy move away from metal

Stewart Oksenhorn
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Chris StrongMexican guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela performs Saturday at the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Festival.

Gabriela Quintero makes it clear that the goal, for herself and her partner, Rodrigo Sanchez, was to be successful professional musicians. The style of music that got them that success? At most, a secondary concern.

So when Quintero and Sanchez, fans of thrash metal, were flailing for several years in a Mexico City metal band named Tierra Ácida, spending more time on promoting themselves and lining up gigs than playing music, and not having much to show for those efforts, they didn’t mind switching musical directions. They put aside their biggest influences – Megadeth, Pantera, Testament – traded the electric guitars for acoustic ones and worked up a lounge act they figured would play well in the hotels at the beach resort of Ixtapa.

“Bossa nova, ‘Take Five’ – things we didn’t learn how to play in the metal band,” Quintero, a 38-year-old, said from a recording studio in Zihuatanejo, on Mexico’s southern Pacific coast. “We got a full repertoire of background music.”

In Rodrigo y Gabriela, the twosome have found a place that could be called in between Tierra Ácida and lounge act – though it doesn’t resemble either metal or mellow jazz. Rodrigo y Gabriela is an instrumental duo, just Quintero and Sanchez playing on nylon-string guitars. But they don’t treat their instruments with the delicacy that nylon-string guitars are accustomed to. They shred, they use reverb and other effects. And they pound: a recent hiatus for touring was reportedly necessitated by hand injuries traced to Quintero’s aggressive style of playing. The band’s 2006, self-titled album featured a cover of Metallica’s “Orion.”

Rodrigo y Gabriela have started performing again, and when they make their Aspen debut, Saturday at 5 p.m. at the Jazz Aspen Labor Day Festival, the set could include their take on “Stairway to Heaven.”

Quintero says that, even in the metal days, she and Sanchez had other musical interests. “We, as person, listened to not only metal,” she said. “We liked all sorts of music. We were young, like kids. We listened to jazz, classical, even pop. With metal, we thought, This is a good track. We’ve always been quite open that way.”

A main reason for settling on metal was that the two had no formal musical training, and metal seemed like a good style for unschooled musicians. But when they turned to lounge jazz, they still didn’t take lessons, nor did they emulate some of their Latin-influenced guitar heroes, like Paco de Lucia and Al Di Meola.

“To play flamenco, like a good flamenco guitarist, that was hard. That was like a dream, because we didn’t have these kinds of lessons,” Quintero said. “At the end of the day, we couldn’t play like them.”

Instead, they created their own style, touching on flamenco, but with elements of pop and hard rock. Frustrated with their lack of success in Mexico, they moved to Dublin, where they played on street corners and in pubs. Damien Rice, the prominent Irish singer-songwriter, noticed them and invited them to play at a festival. They have since played at major festivals, on “The Tonight Show,” and, in 2010, at the White House, where they expected to be, once again, relegated to the background. Instead, they were put on a stage for a proper performance in front of President Obama, who turned out to be a fan.

Rodrigo y Gabriela continue to explore musical paths. Last year they helped write and record the score to “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Strange Tides”; when I spoke with Quintero, they were in the midst of two recording projects: creating the score to the upcoming animated film “Puss in Boots” (starring Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek); and re-working some of their old songs, with the backing of a Cuban orchestra.

Quintero doesn’t miss the days of plugging in and playing metal.

“I’m happy with the acoustic. It’s a whole universe, infinite, endless sounds,” she said. “We still listen to a lot of metal. And we’re still kind of playing it, musically.”

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