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Since trading in the Mexican metal scene for the buskers’ streets of Dublin ten years ago, guitar heroes Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero have performed at the White House, collaborated with Metallica, Rage Against The Machine and Testament, and recorded with soundtrack legend Hans Zimmer on the fourth instalment of the Pirates Of The Caribbeanseries. Fulfilling a lifelong dream, they also recently travelled to Havanacombining their guitar attack with the 13-piece orchestra CUBA for latest studio record, Area 52.

Despite the number of high-profile names already in their address book, who else do they have a desire to collaborate with? “There are so many musicians that would be totally amazing to play with,” Sanchez says. “We met Carlos Santana one time, but we haven’t played together. That would be great, to play together. I think that’s something that could work. Like every day I can hear through my iPod bands that I think of playing together. We like collaborating with people; watching them, seeing the way they move their fingers and all that. It’s very open; our taste in music is quite wide.”

Their dynamic range – a fusion of seemingly incomparable styles and sensibilities somehow both ancient and futuristic – has won them legions of fans. However, despite considerable commercial success, the virtuosos openly acknowledge their classic-rock and metal origins. In fact, their next album will veer further in that direction. “The material we are writing for the new album is very much more based on the rock side of things, which a lot of it comes from the metal scene. I think the last album we kind of peaked in terms of playing Latin rhythm, and it feels like natural to [move] away from that feel… Everyone knows that we come from the metal scene and the good thing about [being] instrumentalists is that we don’t really belong to any particular genre of music. In a way we are kind of free to do whatever we want to do. People always judge the type of musicianship that we do, but we feel it’s good for us, and at the end of the day the best thing about it is we can play with metal-heads, jazz people, Latin people. We just play whatever we feel is good for us, in terms of what we want to achieve, musically speaking. If people like it, it’s a bonus for us.

“The metal thing, when we started playing, we recorded Orion from Metallica. I think we had a couple of tracks that we needed – enough to have a good mix on an album. We used to playOrion live, so we just went, ‘fuck it, let’s record it,’ and we also did Stairway To Heaven. Without knowing it, that opened doors for all these metal kids… The metal-heads themselves accepted the whole thing; Metallica embraced what we did, and we connected with some people who like heavy metal. To be honest, even when we were playing live before that it used to be kind of a surprise, the crowd that used to come to our shows, because we always had heavy metal guys and I never quite understood that. [But] these people recognised the metal part of us, even though we were sounding somehow Latin; especially in the way the structures [work], they knew that we were kind of taking it from there. The metal players, they recognised it. That kind of happened in the early days, then we got the approval in a way from all the metal-heads, and then it wasn’t so surprising – it kind of made sense.”

Not many newer heavy acts tend to inspire them much, though. “I prefer the older stuff,” Sanchez admits. “It’s tough for me to find new bands that create something new in terms of that… The bands that invented it, they have the best approach to it. There are still new bands, this band from Denver called Havok; they really play the old-school of thrash metal, which in a way is why I like them,” he chuckles.

He also keeps tabs on his homeland’s metal scene, and the country’s ever-supportive attitude towards live music. “It was difficult,” he says of their metal days. “The metal scene in Mexico was always very underground. [Foreign] metal bands had come down and played live, which started happening in the late-‘80s. But for Mexican crowds, Mexican metal bands kind of didn’t exist. It was pretty tough; it’s still pretty tough for the metal bands that are there. I think the reason why people don’t follow that much Mexican metal bands is because maybe they’re not as good. But there was always like a little kind of [group of] metal bands. And the metal bands are still there; it’s amazing. I don’t know how they survive, but it’s really incredible that they do.

“You go to Mexico and [see] bands play at least two or three times a day, from stadiums with bands like Metallica, to little arenas or little rooms with bands that are less popular. They’re very [excited] for any kind of live music. They’re very generous, Mexico. Bands who play 5000-capacity venues around the world, come down to Mexico and play their biggest show ever. They come to Mexico and play to ten or 15,000. What I see in Mexico also happens [everywhere] in South America, because they’re generous and they love going out for it. A lot of my friends in England, they’re from bands, they can tour around the world and play five to ten thousand and they go to Mexico and there’s even more. It’s amazing.”

They may not be a stadium-sized act in Australia – at least not yet, anyway – but Rod y Gab’sfollowing down under continues to grow rapidly. For the first time in Australiathey’ll be joined by prodigal Latin jazz pianist Alex Wilson, musical director on their latest album. “This is the first tour we’ve done without the orchestra; we’ve been touring with them for almost a year. It is great, but it’s also great to go back to this, because there’s a lot of communication that is impossible to have when you have thirteen people on stage. This tour feels really good; we kind of miss that type of performance in a way. We have Alex as our guest, which is a totally different thing; when you have just one guest, it’s amazing. We became very good friends and we have a great communication, musically speaking. But apart from that, we will be able to introduce a few of the tracks from the new album, which will be out sometime next year. It’s just amazing to sit down with a guy that can play. Alex knows all the Latin rhythms, but he’s really [adept]… He plays whatever you ask him to play. If you ask him to play salsa, he’ll be salsa. If you ask him to play gospel, he’ll be gospel. You ask him and he does it.”

Rodrigo y Gabriela will play the following dates:

Saturday 29 December – Falls Festival, Lorne VIC
Monday 31 December – Falls Festival, Marion Bay TAS
Wednesday 2 January – Sydney Opera House NSW
Saturday 5 January – Southbound, Busselton WA

Brendan Crabb