Record of the Week: Hermanos Gutiérrez’s ‘Sonido Cósmico’

Ecuadorian-Swiss brothers Alejandro and Estevan Gutiérrez had played music together for many years and released four records independently as Hermanos Gutiérrez pre-pandemic, drawing from their multicontinental heritage and blending Latin American “desert” sounds with elements of surf rock on two guitars.

But when they linked up with Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys — owner-operator-producer at Nashville-based record label Easy Eye Sound — their hypnotic instrumental guitar music reached new audiences worldwide. Hermanos Gutiérrez’s 2022 Easy Eye debut El Bueno y El Malo secured the brothers mass exposure in the U.S. via opening slots for Jason Isbell, a NPR Tiny Desk Concert (viewed 2.7 million times to-date) and performances at major festivals including Bonnaroo and Coachella. El Bueno y El Malo was even nominated for Album of the Year for the 2023 Americana Honors and Awards, in a field of mostly straightforward country-sounding records.

Hermanos Gutiérrez returned to Nashville to record new songs with Auerbach and built upon their great rapport, the established trust, to explore new sonic territory. The move, in fact, was to ascend above the terrain and into the cosmos. Hence this full-length’s title, translated to “cosmic sound,” Sonido Cósmico.

Hear (here and via podcast channel) Estevan and Alejandro describe their work on this album, a conversation we shared when they dropped by WNXP for a performance in our Sonic Cathedral on the same day they headlined their first show at Ryman Auditorium — the first Swiss band to ever do so.

Inspired by “Dune” to make otherworldly sounds

Celia Gregory: “Can you think of a specific song as an example of how maybe you two brought ideas to the table and then folded it together? I’m so curious when I see you perform, of course, this brotherly synchronicity. But as far as composing songs and deciding whose parts are what.”

Estevan Gutiérrez: “Yeah, I remember ‘Sonido Cósmico’ — the title track. My brother was inspired by watching ‘Dune’ the movie, and I also watched a movie in the same time, but we didn’t know that we were watching that movie together, like in the same time. And so I remember when he showed me this one idea and he was like, hey, this is like something new. But you have to add the thing that you feel for the song. And so I tried to play a melody. We have these magic moments when you feel that the music, like our two guitars are, how do you say, like, getting together?

CG: “Merging? Marrying?”

EG: “Yes, exactly. We have these moments and they’re like, they’re so beautiful and powerful. And that was definitely one special moment that we had.”

Opening to outside influences

Alejandro Gutiérrez: “We told Dan [Auerbach] from the beginning that we want to hear him, like, coming up with more, with his thoughts. I think on the first record, he was way more waiting on us to ask him, like, ‘What do you hear?’ But, this time he was very like, ‘Let’s try this.’ And we just have the same vision, I think. So at the same time, it felt risky, but also very liberating.

Like adding drums was such a cool part of ‘Low Sun.’ I mean, we had the basic melody. And then Jeffrey was a music session player from Nashville. He showed up and he was just so on point and it just felt right. So it was not about thinking, ‘Is this right or wrong?’ No, it just feels right. It just feels good. And I think that was the approach of the whole record. You know, it just felt beautiful, all the layers that we added.

Connecting with fans through instrumental music

CG: I was thinking about how as instrumental musicians, sometimes it’s hard to label what that is…ultimately, it’s moving music. And how do you, how can you register that in fans, since it’s not like you have words that [people] are singing along to when you’re at a show? How do you connect with the audience when you’re playing, whether it’s a small room or a big festival like you’ve just done recently?”

EG: “We have melodies and we have lyrics, it’s just not spoken…The listener, when they come to the concert, they have this inner journey…Sometimes after the concerts we talk to the fans and the feedback is amazing. We have big guys coming [up] saying, ‘I had to cry. This is the first time I was crying on a concert.’ Every time we have these moments…we are so grateful for that.”

A cosmic moment, taking flight from Earth to space

CG: “I know that especially with the translation of this record, cosmic sound, it was intentional to come off the Earth. And I think one of you said, ‘Now we’re flying.’ What about this record feels cosmic and how did you get there sonically?”

EG: “We truly believe that our music was born in the desert, and it’s like our favorite place. And the moment Dan Auerbach called us again and he was like, ‘We should talk about album number two. We were thinking about the whole vision, the whole concept of the new album. And so we were checking out new ideas, and all of a sudden I remember the moment that it felt like we were taking the spirit, and we were lifting it up to the space of the universe. And then we came up with that new sound, that cosmic sound. And so we chose Sonido Cósmico for that album.”

CG: “Wait, what was the moment, you said a specific moment? Was it when you were playing together?”

AG: “Yeah, it was in our basement, in our studio room, that we came up with an idea. And I think what was special about this record is not having limitations, or feeling restricted in the way we want to approach this record. So that’s, for me, my interpretation of cosmic — like no limits. There’s space, there’s room and just, be brave enough to try out new things.”

Gratitude for playing together

CG: “Any time I’ve ever heard you perform and speak on-stage or in an interview, you say how grateful you are to be able to play together. That’s what you lead with, being blood brothers and getting to do this now as a job. Do you remember a time where that felt like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is happening. This is actually what we get to do for for life’?”

AG: “I’m still realizing it sometimes when I wake up, [that] it’s happening, and I think it’s incredible. And I feel so blessed to have my brother sharing the stage with me. It’s like so beautiful. I don’t think we ever imagined coming so far with the music. It was never our intention, but somehow we’re able to connect with the people and it means something to them. So what else could we wish for? It’s just an incredible journey so far and yeah, super grateful.”