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Thievery Corporation : The Kotori Interview

Thievery Corporation celebrates the turn of their Century
By Skye Mayring

Look, mom! Up in sky!
No, it’s Thievery Corporation!!

D.C.’s dynamic duo of world music aficionados, Rob Garza and Eric Hilton, are hardly mortals. Sure, if you caught a glimpse of them roaming the streets of their home base in the nation’s capital, you’d dismiss them in their nearly all black attire as a pair of thirty-something Neo-Beatniks. At a glance, you wouldn’t figure them owners of their own label, ESL (Eighteenth Street Lounge), which is cranking out their 100th release this month.

They’d probably never tell you about their successful summer tour, including a sold out performance at the Hollywood Bowl, sharing the bill with The Flaming Lips and Os Mutantes. You’d definitely have to conduct your own thorough research to reveal Thievery Corporation’s superpowers: fusing the roles of musicians, businessmen, DJs, friends, collaborators, producers, songwriters, and philosophers. Their arsenal of attributes seems uncanny, but it’s their modesty that makes them superhuman.    

“We really don’t think about being famous. Music is just about doing what you love and being in the studio, said Garza. “Here in Washington, people are low-key and interested more in politics than music, which keeps us humble.

In 1995, a night of philosophizing and discussing music over cocktails at Hilton’s popular bar, 18th Street Lounge, converted two strangers into the team responsible for the declassification of the downbeat genre. Mixing bossa nova, dub, East Indian, and Jazz records, among others, Thievery Corporation envisaged the distribution of their music to be as unrestrained and sophisticated as the music itself. Exactly ten years ago this month, they launched their independent record label, ESL. Despite the increasing workload for Thievery, Garza hopes to celebrate with a massive party for all the label’s artists.

Coincidentally, the anniversary of ESL aligns with the label’s 100th release, ESL Remixed. This compilation showcases tracks composed by various ESL artists which they or their respected contemporaries rework. Highlights of the compilation include Connie Price’s instrumental soul jam rendition of Blue State’s “Golden Touch, and Beat Fanatic’s delicate layering of swanky house grooves, maracas, and hand drumming on a remix of Karminsky Experience’s “Belly Disco. Surprisingly, the less triumphant remixes on the album include those by Mardeski, Martin, and Wood and Louie Vega.

This new release follows Thievery’s trend of evolution through collaboration.  The success of their 2005 release, Cosmic Game, proves partly attributed to the vocals of music industry dignitaries such as Perry Ferrell, Wayne Coyne, and David Byrne.  

“Working with different artists who have inspired us, was monumental in our career. I think we’ve grown more confident with our own skills since Cosmic Game because of all the studio time we put in.

With song titles like “Holographic Universe, “Doors of Perception, and “Marching the Hate Machines (Into the Sun), you can imagine that listening to Cosmic Game is like being trapped in the passenger seat of a beat-up Cadillac, piloted by Hunter S. Thompson, on a psychedelic road trip to the most frightening parts America. Despite its cross-examining lyrics and entrancing beats, “we weren’t experimenting with psychedelics while working on Cosmic Game, Garza maintains. “But when I was younger I used to experiment with it a lot more. I think as you get older taking acid and not being able to come down for 8 hours doesn’t sound as fun as when I was in my early 20s.

Sans LSD, Hilton and Garza gained inspiration for the album by reading books about the “secret history of the United States by authors like Jim Marrs, Zachariah Sitchin, and David Icke, in addition to researching such theorists on the internet.

“There’s the line [from the song, ‘Amerimacka’] that the American Dream is like ‘licking honey off a knife.’ The American Dream is like honey, but there is a very dark edge to all of it.

Thievery intends to open the minds and ears of their listeners through socially conscious lyrics and varying styles of music, but Garza has found it increasingly difficult to reach out. He admits to being discouraged over what’s happening and doesn’t feel that he’s as focused on politics, an understandable position especially considering the responsibilities attached to balancing their married lives with the ever mutable demands of their multiple roles in the music industry, while coping with the recent death of their vocalist, Pam Bricker. A respected D.C. jazz vocalist since the early 1980’s, Bricker hung herself, at age 50, in February 2005. Thievery showcases her talent on the albums Richest Man in Babylon and Mirror Conspiracy, the latter of which also features the Garden State soundtrack hit, “Lebanese Blonde.

“She is always going to be missed on the tour bus and in the studio. She was an amazingly beautiful and talented person who will live on in our memory. When we play music, we think about her all the time.

Garza’s strategy for keeping himself together mentally and professionally is remaining passionate about Thievery and ESL’s music. By remaining inspired, Hilton and Garza helped launch the careers of Ursula 1000, Joe Bataan and Ocote Soul Sounds, and Thunderball by means of the ESL label.

One of their most successful acts, Thunderball, is responsible for the guitar and sitar grooves intertwining with Bricker’s vocals on “Lebanese Blonde. Releasing their 3rd full length album on November 7, this trio of cosmopolitan producers, formed somewhat serendipitously. Before creating the group, Steve Raskin played in an indie rock band and worked in graphic design - his introduction to ESL came when designing the first Thievery album cover.

“We heard the music Steve was working on and liked it so much that we put out a first compilation called Dubbed out in DC. We licensed a couple of his tracks and realized that he had a lot of other great material. Thunderball’s upcoming release is long overdue. Those guys are top producers and always work with a wide variety of music.

This wide variety of music on the ESL label accounts for its sprawling fan base. People tell Garza that their babies enjoy falling asleep by listening to Thievery Corporation. He even attests to seeing fans in their 70’s come to shows.  

“I don’t think we really try to target anyone in particular. We just try to make music…and music finds its own audience.
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