Hermanos Gutiérrez :: The Aquarium Drunkard Interview

Brothers Estevan and Alejandro Gutiérrez grew up in two words, splitting time between their father’s native Switzerland and Ecuador, where their mother’s family hailed from. But on El Bueno Y El Malo, the siblings evoke the sound of some sparse and sun-bleached desert. Though they eschew lyrics, the language of cinema flows through their twangy and expansive songs, performed on electric guitar and lap steel. Produced by Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys and The Arcs, it marks the first time the brothers brought another collaborator into the midst, but their soulful, unspoken connection remains firmly in place.

Hermanos Gutiérrez joined us to discuss their origins, filmic inspirations, how the desert influences their recordings, and share a new video for “Hermosa Drive.” | j woodbury

Aquarium Drunkard: You guys were born to a Swiss father and an Ecuadorian mother. Could you tell me a little bit about what your life was like growing up? 

Alejandro Gutiérrez: Yeah that’s true. Our father is Swiss, our mother is from Ecuador and we were born and raised in Switzerland, but we traveled and visited every year to our family in Ecuador. So growing up in Switzerland was always beautiful. But we also were always so grateful to have this second country and to visit the roots of our mother. And it’s just a completely different culture—especially with the food—so it was really nice to grow up with two worlds.

AD: What kind of music do you remember first hearing when you were growing up?

Estevan Gutiérrez: My Swiss father liked to listen to classical opera music on Sunday mornings—you know, really boring stuff. [Laughs] He was very into that. But my grandfather in Ecuador, he loved to listen to Julio Jaramillo. He was our favorite singer from Ecuador and he sang boleros and it was just so completely different. I remember that our grandfather, sometimes because of the emotions, he started to cry. He felt the pain in the melody. It was beautiful to see that the music had touched his soul.

Alejandro Gutiérrez: If I were to tell you a musical memory that I have from my childhood, it’s actually my brother playing the guitar. He played the classical guitar and he played old milonga style; it was the sound of our house for many moments. We got all touched by just seeing him playing.

AD: You played more classical music at first? 

Alejandro Gutiérrez: Yes I started in like second or third grade. I started on classical guitar and learned Argentinian folk music, milonga. It’s kind of like flamenco, a lot of finger picking. I was always into that and that’s how I learned to play the guitar. I had lessons and yeah then when I got into the teenager years I started to put my own flavor in it. When we started to play it was like our two… how do you say… our two…

Estevan Gutiérrez: Souls?

Alejandro Gutiérrez: Our souls combined and created the music we now play like Hermanos Gutiérrez.

AD: When did you first pick up the guitar, Estevan?

Estevan Gutiérrez: I think when I was sixteen. Alejandro left for a year or two for Ecuador and I had a feeling of missing him. I started picking up the guitar. I come from a different generation; it was right when YouTube was very popular and all those tutorials came out with those songs and where you can play with chords and tabs. So that was my beginning. I just bought a guitar and I started learning it. I never liked to play covers, so I instantly tried to figure out my own style.

Alejandro Gutiérrez: I remember when I came back from Ecuador, he just played the guitar and I was like, “Wow! How did you do that?” 

AD: You both learned music very differently. Did playing together  feel natural pretty much right away or did it take a little time to get acclimated to each other? 

Estevan Gutiérrez: Well we definitely felt something. He moved away to study in Zurich. One day he called me and said, “Hey why don’t you come and visit me. Bring the guitar maybe we could play together.” And then I remember when he showed me an idea that he had. He said, “There’s something missing—maybe you can add what you feel…” And that was exactly what he heard. So in that moment we just realized that, yeah, we can build something with our energy together.

AD: What kind of influences did you share? 

Estevan Gutiérrez: My biggest influence as a band, when we started the band was Hermanos Lebrón from New York. They’re a salsa band from the ‘70s. They’re five brothers and they formed the band Hermanos Lebrón.  

Alejandro Gutiérrez: I was always more into film scores. I remember I just saw a little short video from Mission: Impossible II and Hans Zimmer has his score over that. I always admired Alejandro Iñárritu’s work, working with Gustova Santolalla which is also just instrumental film scores. I think that’s my main inspiration for what I think I am doing right now.

AD: For those uncertain, Mission: Impossible II is the one where Tom Cruise has long hair. 

Alejandro Gutiérrez: Yes exactly.

AD: That’s a good movie. I mean it’s a pretty good movie. 

Estevan Gutiérrez: Is that were Ben Stiller plays a stunt double as a joke?

Alejandro Gutiérrez: Have you seen the parody where Ben Stiller imitates Tom Cruise’s stunt double? It’s so funny.

AD: From the MTV Movie Awards, yeah.

Alejandro Gutiérrez: They both have black shirts and they finish each other’s….

Estevan and Alejandro Gutiérrez: Sentences! [Laughs]

AD: That filmic quality is very evident in what you too as well; the new record’s title, El Bueno Y El Malo, references The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Are you guys pretty big cinephiles? Do you kinda watch stuff and share things with each other?

Alejandro Gutiérrez: Yeah we do I think we are cinephiles in a way—I’m not too much of a nerd, but we trying to watch good stuff. I think one of our favorite movies is No Country for Old Men from the Coen brothers. And Fargo. I also mentioned Alejandro Iñárritu.  

Estevan Gutiérrez: Quentin Tarantino is also super cool.

AD: “Tres Hermanos” features producer Dan Auerbach. This is the first time you guys let someone else in on your record making process, right? 

Alejandro Gutiérrez: [We worked with] Dan Auerbach as a producer, and recorded it in the States, but we tried to stay true to what we’ve done and be open to Dan’s inputs. It was challenging but also very liberating in so many ways.

AD: Were you guys skeptical about involving somebody else in the project? 

Estevan Gutiérrez: We’re not skeptical. We [just] always also knew that if we were going to work with somebody, it has to be the right person. Dan is just magical. He knew exactly where we wanted to go, and how  to keep the essence of Hermanos Gutiérrez but  add to it.

AD: There’s a distinct evocation of the desert in your music. In your heads, is that where the songs “take place” or are set in a narrative sense? 

Estevan Gutiérrez: I think in the end, that’s where our music comes from, it’s from the desert, or from nature [more broadly]. When we started, our mother lives at the beach so we always felt like, “Okay, we’re at the beach and it’s like driving down the coast,” but then after some years, we just felt that bigger music emerges from somewhere else. We took a journey and we drove together three years ago to Sante Fe. We drove to Denver then we drove down and it was beautiful, crossing the border from Colorado to New Mexico. We felt a feeling of “This is exactly where our music comes from.” It was like reconnecting. 

Alejandro Gutiérrez: I think there’s something happening whenever we go back to the desert; there’s a huge connection and in my dream I love to believe that maybe in the other life we were two saguaros we were brothers standing next to each other.

AD: Is music at the core of your connection as brothers?

Alejandro Gutiérrez:  It’s been very much at the core of our relationship. This back and forth exchange of ideas. I mean, I learned the guitar because of him you know? And even now if we have music we wanna share or even like clothing we’re very into clothing, we’re [always] exchanging stuff.

AD: You mostly wear the same size? 

Alejandro Gutiérrez: Yeah mostly he’s a little bit taller than I am but we have the same shoulders so yeah it almost fits.

AD: T-shirts at least, right? 

Alejandro Gutiérrez: Yeah, no problem

AD: Ever since we had Bill Frisell on the podcast and he told us a story about a moment of musical telepathy, I am tempted to ask people about that notion—especially brothers. 

Alejandro Gutiérrez: We’re not aware of it because it’s constantly around us and that’s what I like to believe in. There’s something resonating on certain frequencies between us, between the listeners, and in the end, it all makes us connected. That’s the beauty of music: to have that powerful element of connecting through melodies.

Estean Gutiérrez: I think maybe that’s what people hear in our music.

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