Q&A: Rodrigo y Gabriela on doing it live, metal riffs, and veganism

Rodrigo y Gabriela: 9 Dead AliveRodrigo y Gabriela9 Dead Alive (ATO, 4/29/14)

“The Soundmaker”

Rodrigo y Gabriela: “The Soundmaker”

In the five years since Rodrigo y Gabriela released their last full-length, the acoustic-guitar duo has been anything but idle—touring the globe, contributing to multiple soundtracks, releasing an album of alternative song versions with a Cuban big band, and even collaborating with former Megadeth guitarist Marty Friedman.

Released this spring, 9 Dead Alive finds the vegan ex-couple at their roots, releasing a purely two-piece album that channels even more of their thrash-metal past than before. Acoustic chugging, darker melodies, and dueling harmonies dance with classical guitar and delicate passages, resulting in a classic yet unfamiliar Rod y Gab. Alarm spoke with Rodrigo about getting back to being a two-piece, the duo’s writing process, and their vegan lifestyle. 

Was the plan to get “back to basics” with this album?

That was the plan, and that was exactly what we did. It was good for us to collaborate with other musicians and work on other projects, but we always knew that we were going to go back [to the two of us].

On 11:11, it was a more technical approach; we were very focused on the timing and the edits, everything that we needed to make the album flawless. But for this album, we were like, “Fuck it. We’re going to do it the way we sound live, just two or three mics in the studio.” For me and Gab, this is the best sound that we’ve gotten from any of the albums because it’s closer to what we do live. It also has a lot to do with having Andy Scheps on the mixing, because he understood our influences from metal and the fact that we didn’t want to have a polite acoustic album.

There’s more of a metal influence on this album. Did anything specific influence its direction?

The basic idea is that I don’t play any Latin melodies anymore. We still have the percussive elements from Gab’s guitar, but now instead of having Latin-influenced melodies, I just play riffs—riffs that anyone can play on an electric guitar. We didn’t want to do another album with the same kind of approach. We achieved what we wanted—to do something different that sounded like us still. Even the harmonies that Gab does, it’s not like the patterns that we used to do.

Rodrigo y Gabriela

How have your individual styles evolved over the years?

You can call it evolving, but I think that we’re going back to play what we started playing before. It’s kind of a circle—now we’re going back to the metal.

I was in a metal band for eight years, and Gab for four years. It’s a different instrument, but I went back to what I felt more comfortable playing with. I’m glad that I have a lot of material now—two albums—of a kind of music that’s more challenging for me to play, because it’s new.

That’s kind of what I did over the past 10 years—achieve a level of musicianship that we didn’t have. But now we feel like we can chill a little bit. It’s a different kind of language without electric guitars, but we know the feeling—music that’s a little bit more aggressive, that has a different energy.

I’ve spoken to each of you separately about your vegan lifestyle. What encourages you about the growing veganism movement?

It’s obvious that we have more issues that are a part of eating meat. We know now that there are a lot of implications with environmental issues.

A lot of people around us have changed their diets. I think they just learn through us that there’s a lot of information out there, and once they get it and read it, it’s amazing—people in our crew, friends that are close to us. That was the same way that we kind of changed as well. Gabriela was born into a vegetarian family, but I wasn’t, and I became vegetarian many years ago.

Of course, there’s a lot of crap [information] there, so you have to be careful. But even a week ago, one of the most serious science journals released for the first time, officially, an article that says there’s a way higher risk of getting cancer and diabetes [from eating meat]—things that a lot of people kind of knew, but they weren’t proven properly. But this study was [conducted] with more than 6,000 people over the years, and that’s exactly what science needs, to release these articles.

You can’t just trust just a guy who’s telling you to eat raw and you’ll be at peace. I think that when you have real proof and things that people cannot debate, it’s up to you. Then if you want to continue eating [meat], well, that’s up to you.