Rob Garza, Thievery Corporation
How many highly successful musical artists do you know that have thrived for 20 years without a radio hit, a big budget video, or major label backing? Moreover, have managed to do high-profile TV appearances, own and operate their own independent label since day one, sell several million albums and continue to expand their fan base across the globe each year. They’ve collaborated with such uniquely famed artists David Byrne, Perry Farrell, The Flaming Lips, Anushka Shankar, Femi Kuti, Seu Jorge, Bebel Gilberto, and been featured on major film soundtracks such as Garden State. They’ve headlined top music festivals, such as Coachella and Lollapalooza, and have influenced a whole generation of electronic producers and DJs. If you add these elements together, you can arrive at only one conclusion: Rob Garza and Eric Hilton, aka: Thievery Corporation. We’ve been fortunate to get some rare time with Rob Garza.
Thievery Corporation is You, Eric Hilton and a fair bit of collaboration with other musicians, thrown in for good measure, but what would you say you bring to the party and what does Eric bring, and how do you collaborate?
Well I think between the two of us, we both love producing music, and we have a pretty extensive record collection and appreciation of music, and I think at the end of the day that we know that we both like a piece of music we’re working on, we know that for us, it’s finished, and it’s important as an artist to be able to finish music because I always feel like I have so many friends that are talented, but they don’t know when something’s done, and I think we have this intuition that’s both of us think it’s finished and it’s ready to come out and we appreciate each other’s abilities as producers, and song writers and share similar aesthetics, so yeah.
I can’t think of any half baked releases that you’ve put out, to be honest with you, and it kind of coincides with the bouncing off each other and finding that closure as to when it actually done, but they’re always done to a very high level. So, what’s your secret to being so consistently high grade, (pun intended there). Is there a formula to keeping that quality so high?
Yeah, I think from the beginning we were very influenced by a lot of music from a lot of different places, whether Jamaican music, or music from India, different bossa nova, jazz and things like that, and we’ve always been just attracted to music that really fills the spectrum and it’s very round, fidelity wise, it really hits the lows and the highs, and it’s hard for us to put out music that feels, as you put it, half baked, and I think that’s one of those qualities that comes out between the two of us listening and creating together.
Absolutely, and your music thrives on collaboration and there’s a real feel of authenticity when you have worked in collaborations, and how do you go about forming those collaborations, but how do you retain that authenticity of the sound but then inject a bit of both of Thievery Corporation into it as well?
Well, when we started we wanted to make music that has one foot in the past, and the other foot in the future, and we were just messing around with a lot of different styles that, in those days you didn’t have the internet and everything, so the window to the world was through your record collection. So we would find just all of these beautiful, exotic, inspirational sounds that we loved, we would find a way to incorporate those in what we were trying to do, and it just felt natural to start collaborating with different artists and vocalists, and bringing it all together and I think we didn’t really know what we were doing then we started to develop this, sort of fingerprint that existed through all of our music, whether it was a show, a bossa nova song or something that was a little more trippy or sitar driven, they all seem to have this sort of quality about them.
Definitely. There’s lots of similarities, as you say, have that fingerprint or footprint through the Thievery Corporations sound, it flows through lots of music. There’s a few swerve balls along the way. But also, you’ve traveled a lot with the band and obviously musical influences around the world, there’s a very integral to your proposition. Where would you say you’ve traveled that’s had the biggest influence or impact?
It’s interesting when people ask us about how travel influences what we do, because I feel like we’ve really sort of traveled more through listening to old records, and especially music is just like a real time machine, in a sense, you can go back to the zone 1965, or London in the late 70’s and New York and it really captures that time, that sound, that vibe, and so I feel like the music has taken us to the places more so than when you get to those places, which sometimes arn’t as you imagined them to be.
I know exactly what you mean. Oh to have a time machine where you could slip back to some of those moments in time and place.
Yeah, exactly, but when you go back to places like Istanbul and you stop in a late night bar, and there’s a big band playing Turkish traditional music and stuff, and you really get these amazing vibes and you feel the spirit of different cities that you’re in. There’s a lot of that in D.C. where we started because there’s a big diplomatic community, you have lots of embassy’s there, and so there’s communities of people from all around the world, for such a small city, and we would go up 18th street, where the label was, and the bar and the studio was, and you’d have these places and you’d here West African music, or music from Argentina, or Columbia, or Persian music and things like that. We discovered a lot of musicians and singers there, who were from these places, and we would bring them back to the studio. In a way, hanging out on that street was a way of traveling as well.
Talking of the 18th Street Lounge, what happened to ESL? I hear that you’re still putting out Thievery Corporation through ESL, but you’re not getting involved with so many of the other artists and such. Is that something that’s a strategic plan, going forward, or is it an outcome of the modern world of music distribution?
Yeah, I think it’s an outcome of the modern world of distribution. Back when we started the label we were putting out CD’s and physical products and so it was a lot going on. I think there was a real transition when things got faster and limewire started happening people would just straight up download music and people weren’t paying for music anymore. A lot of the artists on the label used to do really well, but then it became really difficult to figure out what was happening at the time. It took a minute, to say the least, for streaming services to become as popular as they are now, and for the volume of the way that people consume music to happen to the streaming services. But being a label wasn’t really that much fun because people were stealing music and it became this thing where we weren’t having as much time for ourselves to create music. We were spending a lot of time trying to keep this record label alive rather than being able to focus on making music at Thievery Corporation. It started pretty well, but as things moved on it was hard going up to them and being like, hey, this is your royalty, which was like one dollar. It became not such a fun business to be in. So we were like, ‘Lets just concentrate on what we love and what we do best!
Are you still planning on putting out compilations? The International Sound and the early esl releases were awesome.
Yeah, well, you know, that compilations and stuff I think in general now people just do it with playlists We haven’t even really thought of doing that in a while because it’s interesting, especially in Europe, people discovered Thievery Corporation through compilations, whether its café Del mar at the time, our compilations, and that’s what a lot of people will be exposed to new music through these compilations. That doesn’t really exist in the same way.
So, Thievery Corporation’s always had a strong social and slightly anti-establishment narrative, and quite a positive reflection on local and global issues. Is there anything on your radar at the moment? Obviously other than that orange twat you’ve got in D.C. at the moment. Anything else that’s troubling you?
Well, I mean the world seems to be in quite a predicament, it feels these days, just in general, you know. And especially because of, as you say, the orange twat, and especially when you see things like helping fuel companies, and things like that, and making it easier for big businesses to basically take over government control of land for drilling, and its just so much going on these days.
Well just see what happens, here in the next election.
What’s the plan for the up and coming show? Is it going to be a continuation of the Treasures from the Temple tour? What’s the plan?
Yeah, so in a way it’s just pretty much a continuation of the Treasures from the Temple tour, so we have Racquel Jones with us, and a lot of material probably that’s different. There’s plenty of new material that the fans in London haven’t heard yet, still to perform, yeah some new songs, new singer Racquel Jones from Jamaica…
Yeah, she’s awesome.
Yeah, so yeah that’s it like the shows are fine also on those, and it’s been a while since we’ve been in London, so it should be good.
Absolutely. No, you definitely don’t come round very often. So your live shows are renowned for being pretty special, and that’s not always the case. The producer based artists, a lot of the time, converting that production, studio environment into a stage show can be quite sterile, and a lot of people stick behind mixing desks and all not very much going on, but you’ve got a really good stage presence, and actually really good cohesion with quite a varied group of musicians. How do you manage to hold all of that together? Do you do a lot of practice, or is it something that you just get into in rehearsals?
From the beginning we’ve always been interested in live music and we would step out to check out different artists and bands in the local D.C. scene to or from other places like I was mentioning earlier. You know, Columbian singers, or Reggae artists, and that stuff.
We’ve just been huge fans of live music and we realize where our weaknesses are and we’re great at being in the studio and recording parts and things like that, but we’ve really just dropped in the people the who have become our family over the past ten years of great guitarists, sitarists, bass players, drummers, things like that and singers, so they’re quite talented and they do a lot of the heavy lifting and our thing is that we don’t try to pretend to be virtuoso’s on any particular instrument, and so its a lot more interesting than seeing two guys just messing around with a laptop and sitting around.
So we have these great artists that we work with, and that brings the whole thing together, you know. A lot of the work, in a sense, is done in the studio when we make the records and then when we perform, I have my part in the whole and everything, but there’s also a lot of things happening live on stage, which just makes it all come together.
Absolutely. Coming back to standing in front of a laptop. Your other life, you were pretty prolific, house music producer and DJ, you’ve done lots of incredible mixes and remixes, are you still hitting the clubs and making dance music?
I am out there a bunch, its something I enjoy. I enjoy being able to DJ and play other types of genres because its not like I can sit around listening to Thievery Corporations music and sound all day. All day every day. That’s the thing, and connecting out there and connecting with audiences and playing different styles of music and also producing in a lot of different styles as well. I always compare it to being in a hot tub. Be really great at everything but you don’t want to sit in the sink or hot tub, you wanna jump in the swimming pool or the cold part or something, and then get back in so.
That’s a nice analogy.
But yeah, I just like keeping busy and everyone else had different things that happen.
Definitely, well you seem to still be able to apply that midas touch to what you do in the studio from a more upbeat perspective. I greatly enjoy a lot of your remixes, they are really good.
Oh thanks, man.
But what’s next then? What’s on the cards? Are you still in the studio from a Thievery perspective, should we expect many more years of great music, or… What’s the plan?
We still have a bunch of music that we’re cooking up at the moment, and we’re also doing an album that we worked with an orchestra in Prague because we did this thing at the Kennedy center in D.C. with the orchestra, and that was a way of reinterpreting a lot of our music. What the markets drive, and I think that its something that will be released later this year.
Thievery Corporation are alredy getting their teeth stuck into their world tour. They are going to be gracing us in the UK for Two nights at the O2 along with loads of other acts taking part in this years Innervisions festival. Tickets available here – www.innervisionsfestival.com
WED 3 JULY – ROBERT GLASPER + Chris Dave, Derrick Hodge & DJ Jahi Sundance + Resolution 88 – LONDON, ROUNDHOUSE
WED 3 JULY – JOEL CULPEPPER + Sans Soucis + Chloe Bodur – LONDON, UNDER THE BRIDGE
THU 04 JULY MAVIS STAPLES + Stone Foundation – LONDON, ROUNDHOUSE
THU 04 JULY SAUL WILLIAMS + Veda Black – LONDON, UNDER THE BRIDGE
THU 04 JULY RICHIE SPICE & THE ELEMENT + Kioko – LONDON, ISLINGTON ASSEMBLY HALL.
FRI 05 JULY DOWN TO THE BONE + Jen Kearney – LONDON, UNDER THE BRIDGE
FRI 05 JULY GENTLEMAN’S DUB CLUB + SUBMOTION ORCHESTRA + Belle Benham – LONDON, SHEPHERD’S BUSH EMPIRE
FRI 05 JULY FELA KUTI:SALUTING THE BLACK PRESIDENT + Bubi Thomas – LONDON, EARTH
FRI 05 JULY MACEO PARKER + Ria Currie – LONDON, ROUNDHOUSE
FRI 05 JULY & SAT 06 JULY THIEVERY CORPORATION + Rolo McGinty – LONDON, INDIGO AT THE O2
SAT 06 JULY JANET KAY & CARROLL THOMPSON & Juliette Ashby – LONDON, UNDER THE BRIDGE
SAT 06 & SUN 07 JULY VAN MORRISON + James Hunter – LONDON, ROUNDHOUSE
SUN 07 JULY GILBERTO GIL + Caravela – LONDON, SHEPHERDS BUSH EMPIRE
SUN 07 JULY JARROD LAWSON + Mali Hayes – LONDON, ISLINGTON ASSEMBLY
SUN 07 JULY MONDAY MICHIRU + Loria Boban – LONDON, UNDER THE BRIDGE