Hermanos Gutiérrez: "It's not about skills, it's not about technique – it's about the feeling you put into that music"

Estevan Gutierrez and Alejandro Gutierrez of Hermanos Gutierrez perform at Stubbs on March 15, 2023 in Austin, Texas.
(Image credit: Lorne Thomson/Redferns)

The Gallaghers, Schenkers, Davies, Robinsons, Everlys… rock 'n' roll has a history of fractious brothers, but the Estevan and Alejandro Gutiérrez couldn't be further from that drama. There's a sense of harmony not just between their personalities, but in the sublime instrumental music they make. 

Hermanos Gutiérrez (Spanish for Gutiérrez Brothers) create guitar parts that evoke journeys through the vistas of an imaginary western, drawing on the endless inspirations of the desert and their Ecuadorian mother's musical heritage to create music for the soul. Their most recent album, 2022's El Bueno y el Malo, was produced by Black Keys man Dan Auerbach at his Easy Eye Sound studio in Nashville and the duo are now selling out shows far and wide, but it actually took a while before the brothers realised the special connection they had as musicians. 

"It was the same night that we played for the first time together because we were at his apartment," remembers younger brother Alejandro of their musical meeting as adults. "He moved away with like an hour away from we're born and raised [in Switzerland]. And so I visited him and took my guitar and then he showed me a song that he came up with. And he said, 'Hey, it's kind of cool but something's missing. Maybe you can play something over it]'.

Hermanos Gutiérrez was born the same night we played for the first time

Alejandro Gutiérrez

"We were just jamming and connecting through the guitars and the melodies," he adds. "And at this moment, his roommate entered the room, and he was like, 'Whoa, that's amazing. From which band is that? What's the name of the song?' 

"He was actually the one that opened our eyes. He said, 'Guys, you have to record this. You have to play concerts, you have to go on tour.' And we thought, yeah, why not? It feels good. And so we came up with the name Hermanos Gutiérrez in 10 seconds. It was clear; Hermanos is brothers, and our mother's maiden name is Gutierrez. So Hermanos Gutiérrez was born the same night we played for the first time."

Hermanos Gutiérrez

(Image credit: Larry Niehues)

Our mom really got silent when he played a guitar – she even cried and got emotional because this Milonga style is very melancholic music and makes you sad, but in a good way, in a very healing way

Alejandro Gutiérrez

There's an eight-year gap between you, did you have different experiences from each other learning guitar?

Estevan: "I started to play the guitar when I was in second grade. And I started to play the classical nylon guitar, and especially the Argentinian folk music, which is called Milonga. And I fell in love with the feelings that you can put into this music by just finger-picking. I still play it and also, my style is very influenced by this finger-picking style. So I just played it until I was maybe 18, 20.

Alejandro: "My brother left for one year to Ecuador, that was when I was 16 years old. And he always used to play at our home, and he really set the mood sometimes. Our mom really got silent when he played a guitar – she even cried and got emotional because this Milonga style is very melancholic music and makes you sad, but in a good way, in a very healing way. 

"When he left, I really wanted to play the guitar as a way of missing him and the sound and the music. So I just watched a bunch of YouTube tutorials on how I can learn the guitar. And I started with folk music – Jack Johnson, singer-songwriter stuff. And they just learned the chords and progressions and since then I just kept going. But I never really liked to play covers so I always tried to find my own style – my own voice without singing, obviously. And yeah, here we are, like, I think we managed to find a very particular style combined with those two approaches that we have."

You've been really prolific in your writing with an album nearly every year since 2017. Do you write on the road together or does it just that time of reflection and inspiration come when you're back home?

Alejandro: "In the beginning, we weren't touring that much. We were not popular at all so we had plenty of time. Obviously, we had different side jobs and we were more into other stuff. And now we're touring, it's become more harder I think – being focused while you're on tour and coming up with new stuff. Sometimes it happens, but the real deal is happening before we go to the studio. That's our way to do it. 

"We sit down together in my brother's basement and we like really show each other the melodies and stuff. And, of course, those little sketches that you have, like fragments of ideas, they happen in between. You come home from a tour and just jam and you have this lovely feeling that you want to express yourself and you come up with a melody and you record it on your phone. Then you show it or you just leave it. So that's more kind of the process right now. I think it's hard on tour to come up with new stuff."

Every time that we play we each of us is in his own world travelling on a journey

Estevan Gutiérrez

The image of the desert looms large in your music when I'm listening to it, but how much of an inspiration have those kinds of landscapes been for you? 

Estevan: "It's everything for us. Every time that we play we each of us is in his own world travelling on a journey, and it's always the two of us somewhere. Our mother lives next to the beach, and it started there in Ecuador. But then we kind of felt that our music is not just only from the coast, and so we found through three, four years that our music is definitely also from the desert. And now we're working on new ideas and it's amazing how we're travelling even further, but I can't tell more, because it's still in the process, but it's it's really cool where we're travelling at the moment."

The cover of your 2020 album Hijos Del Sol is a painting with two saguaro cacti - do they represent the two of you?

Alejandro: "Yes, actually that's a nice story. When we were writing that record we found an artist, Ed Mell – he's based in Phoenix, Arizona. We reached out to him because we saw the painting, it's called the . So we reached out asking if we could use a painting of his and he said, 'Yes, of course, let's have a call'. And so we had this call and he was so cool. He's like, I don't know, maybe 70 years old. And I said, 'We want to use this picture because it symbolises [us], those two seguaro standing in the desert. It's like the perfect image. And he just said, 'Yeah, of course'. 

"I don't know if he realised that we were not popular at all back then. But he was so sweet, and he gave it to us like for a very symbolic price. So it was not even expensive at all. It just came really from the heart, so that's Beautiful and yes, you were right, man – it's basically us in the desert, represented by those two ."

Your music has this beautiful cinematic quality – have you had any approaches by filmmakers to soundtrack their work?

Alejandro: "Yeah, they're coming, of course, but we just don't have the time right now. We're very focused on our own stuff, and we're working now on the new record. Let's see what happens next year but it's the dream for us – we would love to work with a director and have the visuals in front of us, come up with ideas and see how it feels to tell the story.

"We're just waiting for the right story and the right director because I think that's essential. We feel our music is very particular so it has to be a very particular story that goes hand in hand. But we're not in a rush – we're happy with how it's working. We're going back to the studio with Dan Auerbach and that's the next thing. Step by step."

Dan Auerbach produced the last record – was that a big step to let someone into your musical world like that for the first time? 

He was the perfect person for us because he never wanted to change the essence of us

Estevan Gutiérrez

Estevan: "We always knew that at the right time, the right person would show up. And it was then. We had this connection with him from the first time we had a short call, and then when we met in Nashville, it was just incredible. I mean, he's so talented and he really loves our music and what we are doing. 

"He was the perfect person for us because he never wanted to change the essence of us. He just wanted to level it up. And he did it and it was incredible to work with other musicians on  El Bueno y el Malo. We're so excited to go back to Nashville and to create even more with him."

Is there something special about Easy Eye as a studio as well?

Alejandro: "The vibe is very special. I wish every musician could have the chance to go there at least once in their life to really see and feel what's happening in that studio. It feels like it's Dan's home, and the moment you're in it you see all those old guitars, the amplifiers… I've watched a video of him telling how he built that studio and apparently he chose she chose every single cable in that studio. Everything is so planned and intentional. So there's no way you can't feel that in the studio.

"Even the lighting; the floor is black and white, the whole thing is very special and it doesn't feel like you are performing, in a way – you're hanging around with buddies and you're creating something beautiful. I think you can feel that in the recordings that he's doing; laid back but still being focused and having fun and this passion for music. So it's very unique."

You used some of Dan's gear on the album – like the '58 Gretsch 6120 called Rudy?

Estevan: "I played the album on his Gretsch 6120. I have the same but I have the reissue – the Japanese model. But he gave me his guitar to use and I played that album on that guitar and there is something magical about it. I even played on one of his amps, he has a Magnatone Panoramic Stereo. 

"That amp is incredible and helped create a new sound that I was playing on Bueno y el Malo –  this vibrato sound in combination with tremolo, and some delay. It was just amazing that we came up with it. It was pretty simple – it was nothing made on the computer. It was just out of this incredible vintage amp."

I noticed you have a Strat, Alejandro, but do you prefer to use semi-hollow guitars, like your Silvertone 1446, in general?

Alejandro: "I used that Strat in the beginning for the first two records, but then I started researching a little bit and I got more of an impression that I should use a semi-hollow body. And that's what I'm playing right now and I'm super happy with it. Sometimes I struggle a bit with the feedback on stage with the monitors. That's a little bit annoying, but semi-hollow guitars are my guitars."

When you tour do you tend to hire Fender Deluxe Reverb amps? 

Alejandro: "Yes, that's correct."

It's one of the most widely recorded amps in studio history but what's special about them for your music?

Alejandro: "The way we're using it, we really need clean amps – clean channels. And I think that amp really provides it at a very high level and a very consistent level, even though it really depends if it's a reissue or an old version of that sound. The tubes are different, of course. I think it really helps to get the sound that we always want to have and it's easy – they're easy to play with."

Do you use the amp's spring reverb? 

Alejandro: "I have the Strymon Capistan and I'm using it like a reverb – a subtle layer that I'm adding, and it's kind of different from the usual reverb."

Estevan: "I used to use the reverb of the amps on tour. But every amp had like a different reverb. So that was kind of annoying that I had to check out on every sound check what the reverb was like on it. So I started also to use the Strymon Flint first, and it's a pretty solid and beautiful reverb."

Alejandro Gutiérrez and Estevan Gutiérrez of Hermanos Gutiérrez perform onstage at "SXSW Presents" during the 2023 SXSW Conference and Festivals at Stubbs on March 15, 2023 in Austin, Texas

Estevan and Alejandro onstage in Austin, Texas, March 2023: Alejandro uses a variety of tunings with his Rickenbacker Electro NS lap steel (Image credit: Stephen Olker/Getty Images for SXSW)

It's really interesting how you use reverb and echo percussively too

Alejandro: "I think it's your horse riding thing."

Estevan: "I found the El Capitan Strymon [tape delay] pedal. And I remember the moment I tried it out, I called my brother, he was in London at that time. I called him and I told him, 'Hey, man, this is gonna create a new sound for us'. And I was right because at the end I have it always on. I always work with it and it gives me a delay and the echo. And the way how I slap the guitar in combination with the bass and the melodies, it gives me this feeling of riding a horse.

"It's an essential pedal – the El Capistan is my main pedal." 

Strymon El Capistan

(Image credit: Strymon)

I read that you tracked El Bueno y el Malo in two and a half days with a lot of first takes used. Do you rehearse the songs a lot before recording or do you just have this intuitive dynamic between the two of you now? 

We never played with a click track – it's just always our feeling

Estevan Gutiérrez

Estevan: "For sure, sometimes we're not even aware of what we have – we already play like one together. Dan told us, 'Hey, guys, the way you play together, you're always on time.' We never played with a click track – it's just always our feeling. And yes, we rehearse a lot and especially before we go to the studio. 

"So we always wanted to go to the studio and have like 90 or 95% of the song already. We know how it's gonna be. And so Dan was also impressed by how fast we were at the studio. So that's true, we recorded the main tracks, like the base of all the tracks, in two and a half days. And then we had time to do overdubbing. 

"It was really cool. But it means now we're gonna go to the studio in August, so we're now working every day and starting in the morning and writing. Always practicing. It's very special progress and we are happy to be in it."

Do you ever use a looper onstage to incorporate any of the overdubbed elements?

Estevan: "Yes, there's two ways. I have, like one song that I do first with the the base, like the melody. And then I loop it, but everything is always live, so you have to be pretty tight with the loop. Then I record some bass over it and some percussion over it. 

"The other version is that we're playing and then at the end we kind of feel like, okay, now for the outro we can go bigger. And then during playing the outro I record it and then it changes from the guitar to the slide and I can also change; play the bongos and everything. But I don't use it for every track. It's maybe on three, maybe four tracks during a concert."

Using a looper really is a skill in itself.

Estevan: "It is and you have to be so tight, because otherwise you would hear it and  it would sound so horrible. I remember the time we played in January on Tiny Desk [see video above]. I was looping Tres Hermanos, which we wrote with Dan, and I thinking before I hit the record button, 'Okay, this has to be tight, because otherwise, it's going to be on the net forever'. But it was good."

Hermanos Gutiérrez

(Image credit: Larry Niehues)

It's different for everybody but do you have any advice for guitarists who want to write instrumentally with other guitar players – anything they could keep in mind?

Estevan: "I think our biggest gift is that we are brothers and we're connected, so I think weren't aware for a long time that we have this gift. For us, it's like we can feel each other. I'm not saying it's easier for us but sometimes we just trust in the other one, because we know he's gonna come up with what I'm missing.

"I would say just stay authentic; play what you feel to play, don't try to play something that you're not feeling. That's my suggestion that I would give to other musicians."

I don't consider myself an amazing, crazy guitar player. But I think I put a lot of feelings in it.

Alejandro: "I would say trust in the process. Sometimes the song starts with one single note, which sounds special to you. It's about really trusting it; 'Alright, so I'm gonna find the next one so I have another part'. So it really starts with fragments. 

"And it's just a crazy journey where a single note can take you, and if you really keep going and trust in it, the output is always going to be amazing. Maybe it sounds like a different sound, but you've learned so much with that new progression so it's always learning. 

"It's happened to me so many times where I hit a single note by accident and I'm like, 'Oh, wow, this sounds nice'. So I look for another one. I'm in that moment; I'm realising I'm telling a story, and I don't know where it's taking me. So really trusting in that is important, I think. And it's not about skills, like my brother says, it's not about technique – it's about the feeling you put into that music. I think that's the essence of everything. Because I don't consider myself an amazing, crazy guitar player. But I think I put a lot of feelings into it."

Estevan: "Yeah, absolutely. And I want to add something also; it takes time. Sometimes we write a song from the beginning in 20 minutes. We have songs like this that we just played, and there is it. But sometimes we work on a song for maybe a year. The idea started a year ago when one of us came up with an idea and then we put it away. Then we're working again on it. So sometimes it takes a long time to create a song, which is also okay."

Alejandro: "Sometimes you're not ready for the momentum. It's interesting, talking about it, that just leaving it on the side coming back to it can be helpful as well. So time, yes. Good tips from my brother!"

Brothers Stephan Gutierrez and Alejandro Gutierrez of Hermanos Gutierrez perform during the 2022 Newport Folk Festival at Fort Adams State Park on July 24, 2022 in Newport, Rhode Island

(Image credit: Douglas Mason/Getty Images)

For more information on Hermanos Gutiérrez visit hermanosgutierrez.ch, Instagram and Bandcamp 

Rob Laing
Guitars Editor, MusicRadar

I'm the Guitars Editor for MusicRadar, handling news, reviews, features, tuition, advice for the strings side of the site and everything in between. Before MusicRadar I worked on guitar magazines for 15 years, including Editor of Total Guitar. I've currently set aside any pipe dreams of getting anywhere with my own songs and I am enjoying playing covers in function bands.