When acoustic guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela gave listeners a first taste of their upcoming album, Mettavolution, they didn't just tease them with a quick four-minute cut. Instead, they delivered a towering 19-minute take on Pink Floyd's "Echoes," the track that took up all of side B of 1971's Meddle and set the band on a new trajectory.
The pair are no stranger to cover tunes, having delved into Pink Floyd before with "Wish You Were Here," along with "Stairway to Heaven" and songs by Metallica, Radiohead, and Rage Against the Machine. The results always transcend the "wouldn't it be cute if someone played Slayer on a ukulele" covers that clog YouTube, and "Echoes" might be their greatest achievement in that area thus far.
We spoke with Gabriela Quintero about the ambitious undertaking, and she shared details about how the arrangement came together, the specific live version of the song upon which they based their cover, and what it's like to have fans study her guitar technique so carefully. Mettavolution is due out on April 26.
AllMusic: You and Rodrigo had covered "Wish You Were Here" in the past; did you know you wanted to cover another Pink Floyd song in general, or this song specifically?
Gabriela Quintero: We didn’t know. We like doing things where we can play with the audience, and that’s why we would do “Wish You Were Here” or “Stairway to Heaven.” We’re both big fans of Pink Floyd, just for fun, in the studio, we decided to play “Echoes.” At the beginning, for me, it was difficult, how I was going to approach it, it’s always a challenge. For us to play “Echoes” on two acoustic guitars with no voices, it was almost like a game.
Then we started to play a little more of the piece, and on our last tour in the United States, we started to play the whole thing onstage, and it lasted like 20 minutes. We knew we had to go back to the studio and record the album, and we never thought we were going to put “Echoes” on the album, but it was Rodrigo who said, “We should really put ‘Echoes’ on the album,” and I was like, “That’s crazy,” and then he said, “We should release it as a single,” and I said, “That’s even crazier.” But then at some point I said, "Fuck it, why not?"
AllMusic: It's a song that's easy to get lost in while listening to it. Does that also happen while playing it?
Quintero: You don’t want to do that if you’re the one who’s playing, but the idea is for people to get lost as they listen. That’s an important thing, to get lost in it. Nowadays we need more music like that, music that can make us go a little deeper. That is the music I love, music with deep, profound emotions. Now everything is fast, short, and light, and I think it’s important to counteract all of that.
AllMusic: The original song is a good example of David Gilmour and Richard Wright harmonizing vocally; did that lend itself well to a two-guitar interpretation?
Quintero: What we did on the melody was to do a little bit of that with the two guitars, and those are Rodrigo, he recorded one voice and then the other voice. But it needs to make sense in the larger sense of the piece, because sometimes what you do with a voice doesn’t necessarily apply on the guitar, and vice-versa, so we worked on the arrangement as a separate piece.
To me, it’s very symbolic, because it was the first piece that they wrote not thinking about writing hits. [Syd Barrett] was gone, and he was the one who wrote all the hits, so I think this was one of the first pieces where they said, “Fuck it, this is us and what we’re doing,” and I’m so happy they did it that way. It’s a very long piece, and it has almost no voices, just a little part, and the lyrics are genius, but the music is very, very emotional.
AllMusic: Do you think your version tells a different story than the original?
Quintero: No, I think it’s along the same lines of the story, which Roger Waters had said was about connecting with other people at the human level. He wrote that back in 1971, and for me, today, it’s really relevant to come up with something like that. A lot of people don’t know about it, and for me, it’s great that we can come over and talk about this piece and people will go back on YouTube and discover it.
AllMusic: It's not the most obvious song from their catalog, can you remember how you first encountered it?
Quintero: It was not long ago. I was a big fan of Pink Floyd when I was a little girl, and my mom went to see The Wall at the cinema and she said, “Yeah, they destroy the school,” and I was like, “That sounds incredible, I’d like to see this.” Eventually she got us the videotape, with subtitles in Spanish so we could read what the lyrics were saying, and then I discovered Dark Side of the Moon and all that. But it might have been about 10 years ago that I discovered “Echoes” through a friend, who loved the Pompeii video, so I knew I’d heard it before, but I didn’t know much about it. It left a great impression on me, I was very impressed with how this band in 1971 could come up with something like that, I think it’s genius.
AllMusic: There are lots of little ways you put your own spin on it, from the harmonics at the beginning to the scraping and sliding in the middle section. Were those easy decisions to make?
Quintero: It was challenging for me, because it’s slow, slower than what we normally do. Every time I would come up with an arrangement, I decided to be more minimal and did more guitar playing. In the past I’ve done a lot of rhythms and a lot of percussion and things, and here I said, “Oh, I need to play normal chords and scales and solos.” For many years in this band I became like a drummer and a bass player, so for “Echoes” I came back to play guitar, to play simply and with a lot of feeling.
Most of our “Echoes” is based on Live in Gdansk by David Gilmour. So there’s a part where they start jamming, and we started jamming, too, but it didn’t really cut it. So at some point, after us playing it over and over and playing it live, we started coming up with different harmonies, and ended up with a whole section that we wrote for the piece that fits in where they would jam. That’s where we introduce the part that we wrote and then we go back to the place with the bird sounds and all this, which we did with the two guitars.
AllMusic: When you talk about writing arrangements, are you doing it on paper or all in your head?
Quintero: We use our heads and our ears. We don’t write music, and this is a really long piece, so it took us a while to get all the sections, and sometimes we’d get lost in the piece, but we’d both know where to go back to it. At this point, it’s like a map. Neither of us write music, so maybe one day we will, I think it would be easier, but for the moment, we use our heads.
AllMusic: When you play live, sometimes you have cameras mounted on the headstocks of your guitars, with the video displayed so people can see your technique. That's practically the opposite of the stories of Eddie Van Halen turning his back so the audience couldn't see what he was doing. Do you enjoy being on display like that?
Quintero: We’re a very visual act, people like to see us play, and they like to see what the hell we’re doing. I’ve been asked many times about what effects I use to come up with the beats. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t think anybody can do beats like this. So our lighting guy came up with these little cameras for the guitars and he projects them behind us when we’re playing, with different angles. We’ve been doing this for years, and we still get, “What are you doing, how do you do this?” So I try to explain, but it’s very hard exactly what I’m doing, because I do it so instinctively at this point, it’s become mechanized, I can’t just say, “I hit it like this, I hit here.”
Those guitarists, like Eddie Van Halen, the true guitar heroes, they play solos and are really fast and do crazy things, and me and Rodrigo never thought of ourselves as guitar heroes. We like bands that have great guitarists, but we’re not so much into one guitarist, like Satriani, we both like bands like Testament and Megadeth, where you have two great guitar players. When we came up with playing together, we were trying to come up with ways to complement one another rather than compete for who is the fastest.
AllMusic: I've been known to play the original "Echoes" on bar jukeboxes, which generally doesn't go over very well. Do you think your version would work any better?
Quintero: It depends which bar. That sort of music is a perennial thing, it can get lost in the midst of all these new things that are so attractive, all so commercial and so produced, but eventually it will come back to the surface, maybe in 10 years, 40 years, this little wooden boat will come back to the surface. You can put on a great album in a nightclub and they won’t pay attention, they’ll think it’s boring. But through the years, these people’s names will come back, and that’s the best indicator we can all have. We tend to think in terms of these fires that come and burn and then die out and never stay, it’s not perennial. To me, “Echoes” and things like this have their legacy in music and humanity.