Jun 16, 2014

Thievery Corporation by two: a conversation with Rob Garza

Unfortunately this interview happened over the phone. But when I found out that I was interviewing Rob Garza, one half of ThieveryCorporation, my heart was in my mouth. 9.45 am, the call promptly arrived and the next 20 minutes were some of the best of my life. That I eventually met a drunk him at the after-party and chilled is a whole different story.

Rob Garza
 What are you expecting from your India trip?

To be honest, I don’t know what to expect but I’m looking to go over, have a great time, share my music and just enjoy being there.

Have you heard any Indian music?

Not so much. I’ve not heard too much electronic music from India but of course, we have people like Anoushka (Shankar), whom we have collaborated with in the past. To be honest, I’m not so up to date with the current electronic scene.

How hard was it for you to create your own identity as a solo DJ after Thievery Corporation?

I think it’s actually been quite easy. After I moved to San Francisco, people started asking me to DJ, which I hadn’t done in a while. When they started asking me, a few years ago, I said ‘Yes’ and then I started saying ‘Yes’ more and more. And then as people found out I was DJing, they started hearing it and actually liking the music I was playing at the clubs. I was doing remixes and some original productions as well. People have just been inviting me and really encouraging me. It’s been great.

Is it more satisfying than Thievery Corporation?

You know, they’re both two different types of satisfaction. It’s always great to go out with a band and play live. But there’s also something kind of liberating in being able to go out by yourself, play other people’s music and just get into the atmosphere of the room and everybody’s just enjoying and getting off on the music. I really enjoy that too.

Has Thievery Corporation taken a backseat and only features as a few tracks in your DJ sets or are you and Eric still working together?

No, we have a new record coming up early next year. I’ve been recording with Eric and we’ve been doing a lot of stuff in the past year. Thievery Corporation is still in full form.

How do you decide what works for Thievery Corporation and what goes into your solo sets?

Well, Thievery Corporation has a specific sound, a certain kind of fingerprint. The solo stuff that I’m doing is more electronically inclined – little bit more up-tempo, deep house oriented.

When it comes to collaborations, what do you look for in artistes?

First of all, I’ve to be a fan of their music. The other thing is just getting along with them. There are some people who you meet, respect their music and really get along with them. Sometimes, you don’t know exactly what it is but it just makes a great collaboration and that way, I’ve been very lucky to have collaborated with some of my favourite artistes.

Do you have any lined up at the moment?

Right now, not so much. We just finished the new album and it’s still more about our love for Brazilian music and bossa nova – jazz from the late 60s. For the next album, we’ve probably get into some more collaborations.

And when it comes to picking vocalists for each song, is there a line of reasoning?

I think that there’s so many – we’re big fans of musicians and vocalists from all over the world. We have some Brazilians vocalists we love, David Byrne from ‘Talking Heads’. It really depends on the song – we have to really hear the song and then think of a voice and it comes more spontaneously. We don’t really think of it.

You call yourself an ‘international music explorer’ on your website. Care to elaborate? Does travel play a big part in your life?

I’m travelling pretty much every week to different parts of the globe. I love being in new places, meeting new people and playing music. Musically, even since when we started Thievery Corporation, travel’s been one of the inspirations for what we do. As an artiste, the music always comes first but it’s that sense of exploration that affects what we do and how we do it.

Do you remember the Nepal gig when you played for trekkers climbing Mt Everest?

That was a great gig. It was for a group of young ladies who were trying to raise money to get to the top of Mt Everest. I played outdoors, it was a beautiful world and I loved playing in that part of the world. The Himalayas were just stunning. That was one of my favorite gigs.

What’s the process behind naming your songs?

That’s a good question. I don’t know how that happens but usually, at the end, when we have to send the track out, we just come up with something while trying to be clever.

When you’re not touring or in the studio, what are the other things you enjoy doing?

I really enjoy just spending time with friends and family and going to the beach and mountains. When I’m not playing, I like listening to music.

What’s the songwriting process like? Is there intoxication involved?

(laughs) Sometimes we’ll have a few drinks, a little smoke. But in general, I just get into the studio and start playing around with instruments till stuff starts to happen. I don’t really like think about it. It’s just a natural, organic process.

Is it groove-based or sample-based? How does a track build up?

It’s more groove-based for my solo stuff and for Thievery Corporation. It starts with the groove and then it goes off from there. When we started in 1995, it was more sample-based but now, not so much.

How do you remember the early Thievery Corporation days?

I think when we started was really exciting because we were just doing it to have fun. We never really thought that we’d ever have a career of it. We were just making our music and decided to release some vinyl and then people started following us around the world saying that they want more vinyls. All of a sudden, we were traveling and getting to see different parts of the world and playing our music. So I remember those times with a great fondness. I’m still very happy doing what we do.

How do you keep yourself passionate about music over the years?

Well, there’s the challenge. For me, in this case, my DJ set and getting back into electronic music has kept me passionate. I started off being an electronic musician, making techno records when I was 19 in 1989. With Thievery Corporation, we really got into the organic side of music exploring that side of things which I really love. Getting back into producing has made me passionate again because it’s the side I wasn’t exploring for a long time and now, I feel so much great creative energy in me.

But are there still days when you feel uninspired?

Of course, it’s like life. There are days when you say ‘Nah, I don’t feel like doing this today’.

Which Thievery Corporation track are you most attached to?

That changes all the time. But one that we did with David Byrne called The Heart’s A Lonely Hunter – that’s because it talks about walking into my spaceship and being beautiful forever. I always love hearing it and always love playing it.

The interview was published in Deccan Herald on November 25.

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