It's hard to believe that it's been 11 years since album-buying audiences first got a taste of Mexico's Rodrigo y Gabriela - or Rod y Gab as they're affectionately known - when the duo's
That first jolt of quickly flittering, densely percussive, hard and fast acoustic guitar music from Rodrigo Sánchez and Gabriela Quintero still sounds frenziedly fresh. It's nearly as experimental as their jabbering cover version of Metallica's "Orion" (the pair did meet playing in a thrash band), their harried, co-penned score for Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, and, of course, their first-ever run at Cuban arrangements on the new Area 52.
"We never have any expectations, whether it's the successes of what we've done or what it is we are going to do. We don't want to know too much about what people think we're doing," Quintero says before laughing. "Hopefully that means we're keeping it really real."
Rather than writing or performing new songs on Area 52, the duo and their new producer, Peter Asher (who worked with Linda Ronstadt), tested the waters of Cuban orchestral music and large-scale arrangements for the album. But they used their own self-penned catalog as the raw materials.
"Right after 11:11 (a 2009 album), we decided that we wanted to stay off the road and play around in the studio, but we weren't exactly ready to start writing again," Quintero says. "We had long been curious about Cuban music. I grew up with it, as my grandfather had those albums on his turntable. So did Rodrigo.
"There's always been a great artistic relationship between Cuba and Mexico. In the '30s, '40s, and '50s in particular, there was a lot of back-and-forth," she says. "We wanted that experience. We wanted to get out of our comfort zone. Our grandfathers would be proud."
They wanted to enrich their spare, frantic sound of two guitars - Rod's lead and Gab's pulsing rhythm - and to toss around the ball of traditionalism, theirs and that of Cuba's music. So they brought in a wide band of violin, violas, flute, trumpet, trombone, and Cuban percussion, plus pianist Alex Wilson and masterful sitarist Anoushka Shankar.
"When I told her it was a Cuban album she'd be playing on, she screamed about how exciting it would be to add her Indian flavor to that mix," Quintero says.
One can't help wondering why the new album is titled in reference to America's no-fly zone for extraterrestrials. "Well, it started off as a joke," Quintero says. "As musicians, we refuse to see or hear any borders. We have to just play what we like and break all the rules, ours and everyone else's. We do metal. We can shift to "Take Five" and jazz. It's all a fusion in every sense of the word, what we do. Personally, though, we would like to think that there is alien life out there."