By: Chris Clark
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?
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.
|Thievery Corporation by Dave Vann|
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.
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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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?
When you guys got your start in the mid '90s, what were your intentions as musicians? Could you have envisioned this kind of success back then?
Never could we have envisioned any success at all. We just made music in the only way we could – an MPC 3000 and an ASR 10 and a DAT machine. I can't believe it worked, and I tell everyone that we've been in the "bonus round" for a long time.
Before Thievery, who were some of your musical influences? How did your style develop?
I grew up in suburbia listening to rock mostly. I had one P-Funk record which I liked very much. Then, I discovered WHFS, 102.3 FM [long-since gone] and my horizons broadened considerably. They played punk, reggae, new wave and other interesting new music. That radio station was independent and family-owned, and they programmed the music very freely. This, sadly, does not exist anymore. The NAB, Michael Powell, Clear Channel and an army of combovers has seen to that. Like The Ramones said, "We want the airwaves."
Living in D.C. you're right in the thick of American politics. What impact does that geographical location have on your daily life?
D.C. is a surprisingly nice and beautiful city; with perhaps more diversity than any I've visited in the U.S. - only Toronto seemed more culturally diverse. This international flavor certainly piqued our interest in global sounds and travel from an early age. At a local used book and record shop, I often find collectible Brazilian records and other gems. On the down side, it really is Hollywood for ugly people. The people in power are some of the slimiest individuals you can meet, and the young people who come to D.C. to work in politics are so fucking naïve it's startling.
It seems that you guys are constantly busy with music, whether it be in the studio, on tour, or whatever. What do you do when you're not doing all that?
I work with some friends opening restaurants, clubs and bars. In that sense, I never quit my day job. We recently opened Marvin, a Belgian/soul food bistro and bar in the Shaw neighborhood of D.C. Other than that, I just read a lot, and a bit of basketball. Nothing too exciting there.
Your music is such a meshing of the world's varying cultures and rhythms. Do you find that in life, music is truly THE universal language?
I think so. It's something that many people across the globe can commonly share. It's an incredible feeling to go to a place like Portugal and play to people who know the lyrics to our songs.
Of all the music that's out today, both popular and not so, who are some of the artists that really grasp your attention?
I'm sorry to say none. Of course there is a song or two, here or there, but no one artist. I think I'm stuck in the past in that regard. I'm waiting for someone of the stature of Bob Marley, The Clash, Bob Dylan, Curtis Mayfield and The Impressions. We need music and a message like that.
At festivals or shows worldwide, who are a couple acts you've witnessed live that you may not really have known about that blew your mind?
The only three groups that have ever blown my mind live are The Skatalites, Public Enemy and Paul Weller.
I just read that Radio Retaliation will be part of Facebook's first significant music promotion. How did you end up combining forces?
They simply called and asked us if we would do it. I think we had a couple of Thievery fans in their ranks.
On the business tip, Thievery's music has also been featured in countless TV shows, commercials and movie soundtracks. How do you get approached to do all these?
Usually, these requests simply come from music supervisors and we are often all too happy to comply.
Where does Thievery Corporation go from here?
Like I said earlier, we're in the bonus round. We've gone further than we ever imagined and we just want to continue to enjoy ourselves and make the music that we want to hear. As long as it's fun, we'll keep doing it.
For more on Thievery Corp, check out our exclusive video interview on JamBaseTV.
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