Since securing posterity in the seminal band Thievery Corporation, Rob Garza has been flitting between worlds. He doesn’t just do music and tour anymore, he owns clubs in Mexico, started a mezcal company (PapaDiablo) and continues his role as one of the coolest dad’s on the planet to his four-year old son.
But burgeoning creativity is in the man’s blood. With fellow Thievery founder Eric Hilton taking a break, Garza has graced us with the short but sweet Palace of Mirrors EP. The psychedelic deep house exploration couldn’t have come at a better time. With the genre gaining more traction than ever, Garza continues to show a keen ear for opportunity and persistence. With over two decades of recorded output, and touring the world several times over, Garza shows no signs of stopping. We spoke to him about how the music industry has changed, the differences between touring solo and with a band and recording the new Thievery Corporation record in Jamaica.
Interview by Ziv Biton
GG: You got your start in DC. Looking back, what was that like?
RG: When I look back at my time in DC it was very vibrant. There was a great hardcore scene when I was growing up. I think it was very inspiring to Eric [Hilton] and myself. It always showed us that we could do it ourselves, that we could make a career doing music.
It was an exciting place to be at the time. We weren’t part of a huge musical hub like New York or Los Angeles. We had our own space to create our own sound. We weren’t so aware of all the things that were trendy or happening. Inside of our little bubble, we were able to come up with Thievery’s own sound and style.
GG: You mention believing you could make a career in music. Thievery’s first record came out in 1997. Does making a career in music seem as feasible as it used to?
RG: I think it is a lot harder to make a career in music now, especially if you are just coming up. There are a lot of reasons. Obviously, the value of recorded music is a lot less. I mean, when you get a royalty statement now it’s like, point zero zero zero zero zero something of a percent [laughs].
Y’know, people consume music in such different ways. And there is so much available, so much music vying for your attention, all the time, that it gets hard to cut through all the noise.
Artists and musicians have to do things today that we just didn’t have to do when we started. I mean, back then you just made a good record, got a good distributor and they got it out. People actually bought the CDs.
These days it isn’t enough; you have to be doing social media, Instagram, Facebook, Soundcloud, this and that, working on all these different facets of building a career. It used to be expected that people didn’t know much about you. Artists were a little more aloof. Now people have to be tweeting and…
GG: The transparency must get exhausting
RG: I think so, yea. [Laughs] I actually liked it more back then. You could just concentrate on music. People just appreciated it in a different way. There is so much access to everything that you want, whenever you want, that it’s bound to cheapen it in a way.
GG: Do you feel that services like Spotify and Tidal are to blame for that?
RG: I wouldn’t say it is one particular company. It’s just sort of inevitable. With technology on so many different levels, you see it with news media and movies. It is what it is.
GG: Have you heard of Tidal at all?
RG: I have, but I’m not too familiar with it. But, I think anything that is more supportive of artists, any service that is more artist-centric, I am super supportive of that. But, I really don’t know too much about it.
I just sort of know what everyone has been saying about it. That it came off as a bit pretentious and all that. But, I don’t know enough about it. Does anyone? Have you tried it?
GG: Yea, I did the month free subscription with the FLAC quality. It’s good, but $25/month just seems like a lot for me… But, you’re right most people know what they know from the headlines.
RG: I haven’t even checked it out.
GG: Well, you’ve been busy recording the new Thievery record?
RG: Yup, we’ve been in Port Antonio, Jamaica recording new music. Hopefully we’ll have something ready by the end of this year or early 2016. Dub music is one of our foundations, so this record is very dub.
Eric was down [in Jamaica] visiting and he found this place with a studio. So he called me up and was like, ‘how do you feel about coming down and making a record. You can stay here and they have a studio, we can just kick it and get in the vibe.’ And, I mean, you don’t have to ask me twice!
We went down there with our rhythm section and over the course of 10 days just laid down a bunch of tracks. We’ll probably be heading back there pretty soon and focusing on the electronic elements and figuring that out.
GG: Thievery has always been great at finding vocal talent and different collaborations. Are there any new artists you’re excited to work with?
RG: We’re at the second step now, sifting through all the material. After that we start looking for singers. We have some people in mind, but I don’t want to jinx it. [Laughs]
GG: What was the impetus for the Palace of Mirrors release?
RG: I’ve been DJing a lot lately and I’m always doing music in general. I had these tracks I was working on and just wanted to release them. It felt more indicative of my style right now.
GG: I’m sure touring solo has been different…
RG: It’s a lot different. Traveling with a band like that, you have 20 people in your entourage, you sort of get into, what we call, a ‘tour bubble.’ In a way you are separated from reality. It’s fun, but it is very different from DJing.
When I tour like this, it’s just me. Y’know I can hang out with people, other DJs, promoters. It feels like Tour Lite.
GG: I’ve read in several places that you’re a big Burning Man fan. How many years have you gone?
RG: This will be my 5th year coming up. I went the first time on a total whim. [Thievery] was touring at the time, we had played a show in San Diego, and someone had an extra ticket and I decided at the last minute. We went to a surplus store and grabbed some gear and just headed out to the desert. I thought it was one of the most amazing things I’d ever been to in my life.
RG: They have that term Radical Self-Expression? That creative element, that anything is possible creatively, is so refreshing. It feels that in our society creativity gets very stifled, or there are a lot of rules to it. Out there, it’s just great to see this chaotic creative energy.
GG: Any other festivals you think compare?
RG: There are a lot of great festivals. Y’know Glastonbury is amazing. Exit Festival in Serbia is great too. There are so many these days. It’s hard to choose from.
GG: It reminds me of what you mentioned before, about streaming music and having a mass of options. It feels like all these festivals are popping up in response to that.
RG: Yea, there is a huge festival-ization going on. I think it is very cool. You would see it a lot in Europe back in the day. A lot of towns and cities having their own festivals and now it’s happening a lot here, throughout the country.
GG: Why do you think that is?
RG: I think people are a lot more experienced with festivals. A lot of people in different regions are like, ‘hey we can throw our own.’ Than again, people just love getting together and listening to music. It’s probably as simple as that.
Watch Rob Garza’s new video for “Blue Agave Fields” Check out the full remix EP here
Rob Garza Tour Dates:
May 16th: Cielo, NYC
May 17th: U.R. ART, LA
May 29th: The Fox – Vancouver, Canada
May 30th: The Bridge Lounge – Courtnay, Canada
May 31st: Distrikt – Victoria, Canada
Thievery Corporation, Fitz & the Tantrums and AM & Shawn Lee at the Greek Theatre – Photos (Sept. 9, 2011)
Recommended: Fool’s Gold New Album “Flying Lessons” & Interview with Luke Top
How subscription service Jukely can start the live music revolution