HotStar: Rodrigo y Gabriela
When Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero made a promise to themselves to leave Mexico and move to Ireland to work at nothing else but making music, they didn’t let rejections from Mexico’s Conservatory , not knowing English or a lack of money get in their way. When they couldn’t find jobs playing background music in hotels as they had in Ixtapa, Mexico, they took to the street as buskers.
While perfecting their signature sound in Dublin of fast-picking instrumental music combined with rock influences from playing in thrash-metal bands in Mexico, Rodrigo y Gabriela met Damien Rice, who invited them to support one of his gigs for the launch of his album, O. And that’s when the promise to make music began to get a lot bigger than earning spare change in the streets.
"We went and supported the gig and we realized people like us," Sanchez told Pollstar. "I think the first day we played with Damien we met our manager and we pretty much got signed right away."
Rodrigo y Gabriela’s manager, Niall Muckian, told Pollstar that when he first saw them perform he was "blown away."
"They made an immediate impression on me when I saw them. Watching them effortlessly cross so many different musical styles from jazz, metal to folk with a big beat sound, I knew immediately that I wanted to be involved," said Muckian. He signed the duo in 2003, four years after they made the trek to Ireland.
Muckian founded the label Rubyworks to release the duo’s CDs. Their third album, a self-titled 2006 release produced by John Leckie, who’s lent his hand to albums by Radiohead and Muse, hit No. 1 on the Irish charts – the first instrumental album to do so. They then signed a U.S. deal with ATO Records to release the album last October.
A song on that album, titled "PPA", suggests the duo has had some bad luck with individuals in the biz. The liner notes explain "The first P stands for Pinche, a Mexican term meaning fucking asshole. This is for all the people in the music business who think they know what’s going on but they actually don’t have a clue." Fortunately, their manager doesn’t fall into that category.
"He was the first person that was very important to be with because he could see the music we were playing wasn’t world or jazz or whatever, he could see the rock influences," Sanchez said. "Niall trusted in it more than we did back then. I didn’t think we were going to be doing this right now, five years ago … But Niall believed in it."
Their booking co-agent, Paul Wilson of CAA’s London office, who shares duties with Scott Clayton of CAA’s Nashville office, got involved about the same time as Muckian after also seeing them play support on a Damien Rice show. He was impressed with "their virtuosity and the sheer energy of their performance."
Wilson knew special consideration had to be taken when promoting Rodrigo y Gabriela’s sound so they wouldn’t be pigeonholed. The duo even felt the need to point out in the liner notes to their third CD, which includes covers of "Stairway to Heaven" and Metallica’s "Orion," that they don’t play flamenco music.
"Early on, it was not easy breaking out [from] that jazz/world area but we always had frank discussions and they were prepared to try different approaches with venues and playing with a mixture of different artists," Wilson told Pollstar. "A key moment for me was seeing them headline a big festival tent in Ireland in the summer of 2005. It was like a young football crowd, with a huge audience going crazy waving Mexican and Irish flags."
Wilson said the strategy was always promoting and marketing to standing venues and rock clubs and putting the duo on as many contemporary festivals as possible.
"That summer  every U.K. festival promoter, including promoters who had never heard of them before the festivals, said Rodrigo y Gabriela were the most talked about act of their festival. The word of mouth was fantastic," Wilson said. "The amazing part of their success is that they are the perfect live phenomenon – to date, they are rarely on the radio … So it really is genuine word-of-mouth at live shows and a few key television appearances."
While they have concentrated on the U.K. and the U.S., Wilson said there is huge interest in the rest of Europe, Asia and South America, where they have yet to play.
Muckian said one challenge in moving the duo into bigger venues, like Denver’s Red Rocks Amphitheatre, where they played in September, is getting the production right.
"It’s a very high energy show that sounds like a full band even with just two of them on stage. The production crew has managed to create a massive sound from just two acoustic guitars. They use crowd interaction to make up for any lack of vocals and a number of mini-cameras on the guitars to show the guitar playing to full effect," Muckian said. "I’ve yet to see a crowd they can’t win over … Lots of their own audiences even sing along to the notes played."
Rodrigo y Gabriela will be busy making the most of their guitars for the rest of the year with stops throughout the U.S. and then it’s back to Europe for a couple of shows in December. Sanchez said that they will be on tour for about a year and then the duo will take a year off to relax and write new music.