Interview: Take A Trip With Thievery Corporation
Despite all his bubbling creativity, Rob Garza of Thievery Corporation still gets his biggest thrills from exploring music by other people – specifically by crate digging, the ritual hunt by dedicated DJs for dusty vinyl tucked away in the back rooms of record stores (if there are even any of those left). The difference is that in Garza's case, the crate is just as likely to be in an open-air market in Cairo.
Each record since Sounds From The Thievery Hi-Fi, their globe-trotting 1997 debut, has further distanced this duo of Garza and Eric Hilton from the Anglophilic navel-gazing common in electronic music–- instead weaving together meticulous sequences and left-field exotic flavors inspired by corners of the world where you might not even be able to plug in a drum machine.
That's OK, though; on last year's Radio Retaliation, they remained as engrossing as ever even as they pulled the ol' Crossover 101 trick of peppering guest vocalists across nearly every track. But those guests consisted of Nigerian Afrobeat prince Femi Kuti, Indian sitar player Anoushka Shankar, and Brazilian singer Seu Jorge. After all, "crossover" is a relative term.
The Hook: Do you listen to a lot of trip hop and electronica these days?
RG: I'm more enchanted with older, obscure, organic sounds and finding those rare gems.
The Hook: And where do you find them?
RG: When I met Eric back in '95, one of the things we had in common was a very eclectic record collection. We were both into jazz, Brazilian music, music from India, music from Jamaica. That's where our inspiration comes from–- finding a way of including all these sounds that inspire us.
The Hook: How deeply do you engage with the music you're drawing from?
RG: I think it's more an appreciation from the DJ aesthetic, crate-digging and finding things that inspire you rather than the musicologist perspective. Half the fun of the journey is exploring and being introduced to different things at different times and going off on tangents.
The Hook: What's your gut reaction to the term "world music?"
RG: I hate it. Everything in this world is world music, technically.
The Hook: Radio Retaliation features many tunes which seem to be heavily influenced by the chosen guest vocalist. Do you ever feel like you're giving away the keys to the car?
RG: What's funny about those songs is that a lot of the times we'll start off with the tracks close to being finished, and then we'll start to think of a particular vocalist. With the Femi Kuti track, Femi was in town, and we had a sketch, and he came in and started laying down the parts for Vampires. Anoushka Shankar as well; we had a few songs that we were trying, and "Mandala" was the one where it all kind of clicked together.
The Hook: Paul McCartney asked you to open for him at a D.C. show this past summer. What was it like being validated by a Beatle?
RG: That was pretty wild. That's like a whole new level.
The Hook: Their 1967 trip to India had a huge impact on their music, and on popular music in general. In a way, aren't you guys are sort of a modern embodiment of that same aesthetic blend?
RG: Yeah, that's a big turning point. We're fascinated by that time period, where you had a real cross-pollenization of East meeting West, jazz guys doing rock things, film music guys doing Bossa tracks. Those records that you hear sometimes, going back to those eras, are the most inspiring, these pieces that transcend you out of your normal space. That's what I love about music–- being that vehicle.
Thievery Corporation takes you places for $35, departing from the Charlottesville Pavilion on October 29 at 7pm.