Thievery Corporation: The Bonus Round

By: Chris Clark

Thievery Corporation
Thievery Corporation has effectively become a household name over the years. Rising from the Washington D.C. underground and into the international spotlight, Rob Garza and Eric Hilton have taken eclectic sounds from all corners of the globe and fashioned them into an exquisitely refined and decadently delivered anthology of life's rhythms. Dating back to 1996, they have taken a wholly organic approach to making music, incorporating a vast, dexterous inventory, filling their productions with so much fluidity it's hard not to become completely engulfed by every track. Known for their tasteful amalgamation of dance friendly productions, sinuous tempos and otherworldly instrument pairings, Garza and Hilton have spawned a unique sound.

More than just music, Thievery Corporation expresses an undertone of political uprising reminiscent of Public Enemy and The Clash. They are not afraid to challenge established thought or rhetoric, something apparent in the duo's burgeoning body of work. An internal fire and insatiable thirst leads their music into socio-political battlegrounds, and perhaps there was no better time than now for JamBase to interview the group. Coupled with the release of their fifth independently released album, Radio Retaliation (released September 23 on Eighteenth Street), we wanted to touch base and gain insight into how they feel about the current state of the world, the upcoming election and what it's like to record with artists from all over the world. Eric Hilton took some time out to answer our questions.

JamBase: Let's jump right into the new album. Give us a glimpse of what the songwriting and recording process was like this time around. Does the formula always stay the same or was Radio different?

Eric Hilton: The main difference this time is that we hammered out our ideas on bass and guitar. We developed a solid groove for each song and then took them as far as we could before considering adding vocals. Obviously, we felt a couple songs were best as instrumentals, but we really like doing full vocal songs.

JamBase: When you're putting together the tracks for an album, how do you decide which songs to include and how to assemble your eclectic cast of guests?

Thievery Corporation by Dave Vann
Eric Hilton: Essentially, we just create a short wish list. Seu Jorge, Femi Kuti and Anoushka Shankar were on it and we were very fortunate that they were all able to visit us in D.C. and record at our studio.

Upon first listen, this album has a definite political undertone. In your opinion, in such turbulent times as these, do you find it your responsibility as an artist to speak out?

I'm not sure if we see it as a responsibility. I'd say it's more of a luxury to have any platform from which to make a statement that could reach a wide range of people. In the end, it's nice to just state for the record where we stand.

Have you been keeping a close eye on the conventions and all the shit that's going on?

I just hope one day that people realize that the Democratic and Republican parties are both owned by the same corporate masters and that we need more choices. I'm so frustrated with people who believe in the positions of third party candidates and then say, "But they can't win." Since when did it become about winning? This type of practical thinking, in my opinion, has created the conditions that we live in today.

Like your studio efforts, your live show has really developed legs over the years and taken on a life of its own. How much time and energy have you put into that aspect of Thievery? I find it rather astonishing that you can bring together that many various musicians and make it so cohesive on stage.

Thievery Corporation
I'm a bit ashamed to say that we put surprisingly little effort into the live show. I think the success of the live shows is a testament to the people who travel and perform with us, because they all bring enthusiasm and energy. I think people are pleasantly surprised with the intensity of our live performances, and that has enabled us to play big shows like Hollywood Bowl, Lollapalooza and ACL.

Discuss the difference between releasing albums on your own label, ESL, versus signing with a major. Do you get courted by them?

We have been courted by majors in the past but I think it's widely known that we are not interested in losing our independence. It's a hard road to start your own label, secure distribution, pay royalties and set up tours, but it's extremely rewarding. Nobody makes demands on us. We make records at our own pace and we say and do what we want. That is priceless.

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