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Guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela continue to expand their sound on new album

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The new album from the duo Rodrigo y Gabriela is like an encyclopedia of guitar sounds...

(SOUNDBITE OF RODRIGO Y GABRIELA'S "THE EYE THAT CATCHES THE DREAM")

CHANG: ...From poolside jazzy riffs like this...

(SOUNDBITE OF RODRIGO Y GABRIELA'S "THE EYE THAT CATCHES THE DREAM")

CHANG: ...To funky flamenco strumming...

(SOUNDBITE OF RODRIGO Y GABRIELA'S "SEEKING UNREALITY")

CHANG: ...To something that sounds straight out of the cowboy Western movie soundtrack.

(SOUNDBITE OF RODRIGO Y GABRIELA'S "TRUE NATURE")

GABRIELA QUINTERO: When you play guitar and you're young, you just want to play, and you don't see borders musically. You only see guitar - six strings (laughter).

RODRIGO SANCHEZ: You can play any kind of music - classical, jazz, rock, ranchero.

CHANG: Gabriela Quintero plays rhythm, and Rodrigo Sanchez plays lead. Their new album is called "In Between Thoughts... A New World." And despite the duo's fluency in so many different guitar styles, the thing that originally brought them together in the early 1990s was their shared love of metal.

(SOUNDBITE OF TIERRA ACIDA SONG, "SIN TI")

CHANG: The two played in a group called Tierra Acida in Mexico City.

QUINTERO: I think we shared the same sort of musical taste. We both were attracted to guitar music, especially thrash metal, which is based on riffs and solos.

SANCHEZ: We had kind of this, I think, the musical tastes in common and, you know, the drive and the energy to - you know, to play. But we had this love for acoustic guitar as well as electric.

CHANG: That love for acoustic guitar soon led them to take a whole 180 in their musical careers. They left the metal band behind and went to play beachside resorts on the Pacific coast of Mexico.

(SOUNDBITE OF RODRIGO Y GABRIELA'S "NEW ONE")

QUINTERO: We were playing, like, background music and the weddings and the sunset and, like, really swanky scenarios.

CHANG: And from there, they drifted to Europe, thinking they would be entertaining people in similarly comfortable settings, but not so.

QUINTERO: We were a little bit culture shocked back then because we arrive in Ireland '99, and that was April. It was freezing (laughter), and we didn't speak really well English.

CHANG: And gigs were hard to come by, so instead, they began busking on the streets of Dublin.

QUINTERO: Playing there was a humble experience and also made us concentrate a lot. We needed to be so present in those 40 minutes, so intense, just giving our hearts there, you know? So...

CHANG: And those efforts paid off. In 2008, one of their songs appeared in the pilot of "Breaking Bad."

(SOUNDBITE OF RODRIGO Y GABRIELA'S "TAMACUN")

CHANG: Walter White is sitting in the back of a police car, watching Jesse Pinkman stage a daring escape.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BREAKING BAD")

BRYAN CRANSTON: (As Walter White) Oh, my God, Pinkman.

CHANG: And a few years later, they took the stage at a White House dinner...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BARACK OBAMA: After the initial performances by Rodrigo and Gabriela...

CHANG: ...Performing for President Obama and his guest, former Mexican President Felipe Calderon.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

OBAMA: We want to see you guys out here having some fun. All right?

CHANG: And then in 2020, they took home a Grammy for best contemporary instrumental album.

(SOUNDBITE OF RODRIGO Y GABRIELA'S "METTAVOLUTION")

QUINTERO: Our last album, "Mettavolution," before this one won the Grammy. So we were just very excited to know that we had - we were facing this very long tour worldwide. We were so ready and excited, and then this pandemic started. And then we learned we were not going to go anywhere. You know, it was a lot of this uncertainty.

SANCHEZ: We started to write music just as therapy, I guess, when we were in the studio. And knowing that we didn't know what was going to happen, we didn't put any kind of limits on what we were going to use in terms of instruments. And, you know, so we added electric guitars. We added electronics. And eventually, we added a full orchestra.

(SOUNDBITE OF RODRIGO Y GABRIELA'S "TRUE NATURE")

SANCHEZ: So things were kind of growing. As we kind of recorded the, you know, first, the second track, the third track, we were getting really into it, but we still didn't know that was going to become our new album.

CHANG: What is it like working with a full orchestra after, for so long, working with just the two of you most of the time for your albums?

QUINTERO: Well, initially, when we were just on the process of finishing the - all the electronic parts of this album, then we both came up with the idea to - why we don't add an orchestra? Why not (laughter)? You know, it's just like, if the world is going to end, we might end it with playing and creating this album and this music.

(SOUNDBITE OF RODRIGO Y GABRIELA'S "DESCENDING TO NOWHERE")

CHANG: Well, when people ask you, what is your music's cultural identity, how do you answer that question these days?

SANCHEZ: We never do.

(SOUNDBITE OF RODRIGO Y GABRIELA'S "THE EYE THAT CATCHES THE DREAM")

SANCHEZ: People can call it whatever. We don't really belong to any particular genre that has been kind of created by someone in a record store or something, you know?

(SOUNDBITE OF RODRIGO Y GABRIELA'S "THE EYE THAT CATCHES THE DREAM")

CHANG: It is incredible to see the path that you have had as a duo from, you know, two guitarists busking in Ireland to becoming an international sensation, working on film soundtracks, playing for U.S. and Mexican presidents, winning a Grammy just a few years ago. And when you look at the arc of your career, why do you think your music has resonated with so many people?

QUINTERO: Probably it's Rod's catchy melodies had to do with that and because it has the beat. It makes it very accessible, you know? It makes it danceable.

SANCHEZ: That's a great question. But we were never into the idea of becoming the most skillful guitar players, you know? It's - we don't come from that background of, like, oh, I need to be the fastest, or, I need to be, you know, the best guitar player in the world or whatever.

QUINTERO: The catchiest.

SANCHEZ: Exactly. We just wanted to play music. And having all these cultural background, like, mix of, you know, being in Mexico City, being this middle-class kid, listening to all these music from all over the world and our parents and all that, probably that - you know, everything - it's a combination of everything that has, you know, this big appeal, I guess. I don't know. What do you think?

CHANG: (Laughter) I mean, your music always makes me want to dance. I feel like I almost vibrate when I listen to your albums.

QUINTERO: Oh, cool.

(SOUNDBITE OF RODRIGO Y GABRIELA'S "FINDING MYSELF LEADS ME TO YOU")

CHANG: Rodrigo y Gabriela's new album is called "In Between Thoughts... A New World." Thank you so much for sharing this time with us.

QUINTERO: Oh, thank you, Ailsa.

SANCHEZ: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF RODRIGO Y GABRIELA'S "FINDING MYSELF LEADS ME TO YOU") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Christopher Intagliata
Christopher Intagliata is an editor at All Things Considered, where he writes news and edits interviews with politicians, musicians, restaurant owners, scientists and many of the other voices heard on the air.
Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.