Interview: Turn Down for Thievery Corporation
By Scott T. Sterling
While the current state of electronic music in America leans towards all things bigger, louder and faster, Washington, D.C. duo Thievery Corporation have built a career on the decidedly turned-down sound of downtempo. But it’s not always pillows and hookah with the band. Their hypnotic and energetic live shows always feature a full roster of musicians and singers on stage, which amplifies Thievery Corporation’s intimate approach
Saudade, the group’s seventh studio album, hones in on the mellow tones of Brazilian bossa nova beats augmented with a battery of vocalists who sing in no less than five different languages across the full-length’s 13 songs. Turn up for bossa nova.
“What initially brought Eric and I together was that we both shared a passion for Brazilian music and bossa nova songs,” band member Rob Garza told Radio.com, referencing his longtime partner, Eric Hilton. “When we were making [our previous album] Culture of Fear, we started making some songs that ended up on the Saudade album. We kind of had them in our back pocket, because they didn’t really fit with the political tone of Culture of Fear. After that album was done, we pulled some of those songs up, and they inspired us to make a whole record of the music that motivated Thievery Corporation to come together in the first place.”
Currently on tour behind the release, Garza said that the album’s mellow slant won’t drive the live shows. Those will still rely mostly on more upbeat aspects of their sizable catalog.
“With this record, it’s kind of difficult in the sense to do a whole show with those songs, especially in a festival setting. You can’t really follow some artist who really gets the crowd all hyped up with an hour of mellow bossa nova music,” he explained. “So we’ll just be subtly fusing a few of those tracks into a set of songs our audience is more familiar with, bringing some elements of the Saudade flavor into the mix.”
Having been around since the mid-’90s, Thievery Corporation has seen the ebbs and flows of electronic music in America, which is currently peaking with the explosion of all things EDM permeating youth culture to the point of saturation. It’s a trend Garza doesn’t see changing anytime soon.
“What will be really interesting is how it evolves from here,” he said. “I’m hoping that people will eventually want to go back to the roots and find out about dub music, early electronic music, house music in the same that people who go into rock and roll wanted to go back and learn about the blues. What’s known as EDM is just the way that electronic music has transferred to the mainstream. When I say ‘mainstream,’ it’s not a word I use in a very positive sense.
“On a personal level, I have a hard time getting into a lot of it. But there are a lot of kids who have a different opinion. A lot of that is just about being young. Kids are being exposed to sounds and frequencies that nobody’s been able to listen to the way that we can today, thanks to modern sound technology. I understand why people love dubstep. Maybe if I was 15 years old and it was my first time going to festivals and hearing it, I’d be blown away, too.”
Thievery Coporation’s tour will be rolling across North America through the summer and into the fall. The jaunt will include stops at Floydfest 2014 in Floyd, VA, on July 25, the inaugural Believe in Music Festival in Cockeysville, MD, and a headlining date at one of New York’s latest outdoor venues, JBL Live at Pier 97, on August 15. See the band’s full itinerary here.