Fuse spoke with lightning-fingered guitarist Rodrigo Sanchez while he, his partner Gabriela Quintero and a 13-piece Cuban orchestra toured behind their latest album, Area 52. Rodrigo y Gabriela usually play their metal-influenced brand of flamenco on their own, so Fuse wanted to know what made them decide to recruit a baker's dozen of backing musicians for their new release. We also found out how the Mexico City-by-way-of-Dublin duo got involved in scoring Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides with movie music heavyweight Hans Zimmer (The Lion King, Inception).
So you and Gabriela worked with Hans Zimmer on the score for the fourth Pirates movie. How did that come about?
He had been to a few of our shows and we knew he liked our music—he had invited us to have breakfast at his studio the year before he offered us the film part. So we'd been friends before that. We never thought we were going to work together; we became friends without thinking about that. And then after a year he said, 'I have to do this score thing with Pirates and we have a new character Penelope Cruz and I want to do it with you guys because it's gotta be different.' And we said 'yes,' more for the fact of working with him than the actual film itself, obviously. But it was amazing.
How collaborative was the process?
Super collaborative. The thing with that film is that I love the music that's already made for the roles: We were not going to change that. We had to come up with new music for the new character, Penelope. We worked together for three months. Some days we were sitting together; sometimes we had a meeting and would go on our own to work. It felt like family.
On your new album, Area 52, you brought in a 13-piece backing orchestra called C.U.B.A. What made you decide to suddenly bring in a backing band?
Originally, it was an album between albums, you know? We took nine tracks and we experimented. But as it became more intricate and interesting, [we realized] the project had more life than what we [originally] thought. Eventually we decided we wanted to tour with it. It's only a project, but we thought it was worthwhile to travel around with it.
Has the backup band changed your approach to playing live?
It's totally different. We share responsibilities now. In a way it's more relaxed for Gab and myself not to be under so much pressure. The most important part is that we introduce these amazing musicians to people. All of them have their own projects, and to introduce them to our crowd and know that they're enjoying it is important to us.
I see Anoushka Shankar [daughter of sitar legend Ravi Shankar and half-sister of Norah Jones] plays sitar on your new album. Is she going to tour with you at all?
No, she's on tour doing her own album, which came out at the same time. We've been trying to get together for one show before the year ends. We're in New York, she's in LA, things like that. But she's been a good friend of mine for six or seven years, and we know whenever we have a chance we're going to make it happen.
Take a listen to Rodrigo y Gabriela's revamped version of "11:11" with C.U.B.A. below, and be sure to catch them at Bonnaroo on June 8.