When the Switzerland-based band Hermanos Gutiérrez began recording music together in 2015, the tranquil tones that emerged sounded a lot like the soundtrack to a film set in the American Southwest.
Alejandro and Estevan Gutiérrez didn’t plan it that way. Nonetheless, four years later they made a pilgrimage to Santa Fe to see the hallowed grounds they’d been paying homage to through their guitar work. Like so many who view Northern New Mexico for the first time, they were smitten, dreaming of one day performing here.
The pair will do just that on Sunday, Nov. 20, at St. Francis Auditorium in a concert stop sandwiched between much larger locales such as Seattle, Phoenix, and Denver. Their songs’ moods alternate between shuffling and brooding, spooky and solitary. And they evoke images of wide-open spaces. There are no words, thrusting the interplay between the brothers’ guitars to the front of the mix.
Alejandro and Estevan discussed their tour and history during a recent Zoom interview while visiting Joshua Tree National Park, several days before a performance in Los Angeles. The park’s namesake trees hung behind them, swaying in a gentle breeze beneath a cloudless sky, and the brothers were meditative in their answers — a pattern not unlike their music. They had recently arrived in North America for their 20-stop tour here and were eagerly anticipating the Oct. 27 release of their album El Bueno y el Malo.
Three years ago, the brothers flew to Denver for their fateful Santa Fe visit; they wanted to take in the scenery between the cities.
“I remember when we crossed the border from Colorado to New Mexico,” says Alejandro, 32. “We passed the Black Mesa. I think it’s to the right when you drive that way. We both got so emotional, being in that landscape. And it really stayed in our hearts, being there. We had five days in New Mexico, and it was one of the best trips we’ve ever done.”
The visit also inspired changes to their music, he says, including the addition of lap steel guitar. Indeed, El Bueno y el Malo is the band’s most musically complex record, incorporating a third guitar in spots, as well as strings.
The brothers’ North American shows follow a 13-date European tour. The latter included stops in Spain, France, Germany, Turkey, the Netherlands, and Scandinavia, with the final show in the band’s home base of Zurich on Oct. 18 — four days before their 2022 tour began in Nashville, Tennessee. They acknowledge it’s a lot of travel and credit their bond with easing the difficulties of life on the road.
“It’s a lot, but I’m happy that my brother is here,” says Estevan, 40. “I told him two weeks ago, ‘Hey, I couldn’t do it if you weren’t here on my team.’”
The brothers sometimes disagree on musical directions, Alejandro says, adding that the tension can be a creative force.
“It’s a relationship, and we have to work at it,” he says. “It’s also love, and we love each other unconditionally.”
Another element that has made touring easier: They’ve grown as people, Alejandro says.
“I think we’re getting more mature and spending our time wisely,” he says. “And we know when to rest and when to have a break. So we’re feeling great.”
The brothers aren’t traveling alone, but their entourage is small, consisting of a tour manager and a roadie. That helps make travel easier.
“At the same time, we have a very simple setting [on stage],” Alejandro says. “It’s two guitars, two amps, the lap steel, and bongos.” That means the band, which is using both ground and air transportation to get around North America, doesn’t have an abundance of gear to haul around.
The tour isn’t the brothers’ first in North America. In May, they played various spots in California, followed by a sold-out show at the Bowery Ballroom in New York City. The latter gave them a confidence boost as they began their European tour in late September.
The brothers’ father is Swiss and their mother is Ecuadorian, and they’ve spent time living in both places. Their musical journey began in earnest about six years ago.
“We never had the intention of building a band,” Estevan says. “One time Alejandro said, ‘Hey, bring your guitar over. Maybe we can play a little bit together.’ So we started playing, and it felt good. And then his roommate came into the room and said, ‘Hey, this is beautiful! What band is that from?’ And we were just jamming. He was the one who said, ‘Hey, you have to play concerts. You have to create a band and go on tour.’”
El Bueno y el Malo has won praise from critics in the short time since its release. In a four-star review of the album, allmusic.com writes of the track Tres Hermanos, “Two serpentine guitars create a harmonic labyrinth and a rhythm that recalls the rural Mexican cumbia. Lead fills waft in and out until the lap steel enters, creating alternate lyric lines, ringing harmonies, and pulse-like phrasing above simple percussion.”
It is the band’s fifth album and the first produced by Dan Auerbach, who gained fame for his role in the Akron, Ohio, garage rock band The Black Keys. Auerbach also plays on the song Tres Hermanos, so titled because of its trio of contributors.
Hermanos Gutiérrez’s management contacted Auerbach’s label about the musicians working together, then showed Auerbach a video of the brothers performing.
“After 10 seconds, he closed the laptop and was like, ‘Yeah, get them on a call. We need to talk to them,’” Alejandro says. “And that was it.”