Rob Garza and Eric Hilton couldn't have picked a more apt name than Thievery Corporation for their brand of beats and textured sounds lifted from an amalgam of sources. And lately, the rumblings have come not just on their records, but from their fans—the duo's success is a word-of-mouth, stealth operation in which one person whispers to another, "Yo, this is crazy, check it out."
Don't blink or you'll miss 'em: Eric Hilton (left) and Rob Garza.
ARO.space, Friday, July 23
Garza says many fans tell him that their first Thievery moment was shared with a friend—it's in this way that Thievery's sultry records pass from one ear to the next. That's how the band's debut long-player, Sounds from the Thievery Hi-Fi—a strictly independent release on Eighteenth Street Lounge and 4AD—reached the nearly impossible mark of 100,000 copies sold.
In the same quiet way, Hilton's club, also called Eighteenth Street Lounge, in indie-rock central, Washington DC, grew from a well-kept, if unintentional secret, into one of the city's favorite hangouts. "It was very intriguing because people would wander in with no advertising or signs and the whole place was grown by word of mouth," says Garza. "It's a very genuine place, because there's such different music. There's never a house night, never a drum and bass night—more often it's jazz, progressive music."
If Sounds from the Thievery Hi-Fi hasn't yet infiltrated your home, you can hear a sampling of Garza and Hilton's glossy touch as remixers on the recent compilation Abductions & Reconstructions, which features a wide palette of artists. The duo reworks Rockers Hi-Fi into a bassy-house act, administers a chill pill to Pizzicato 5, and shimmies and sways with Edson Cordeiro through "Ave Maria." Perhaps the record's most stunning deconstruction comes on David Byrne's "Dance of Vaseline"—the former Talking Head turns slick and sleek, a sexy demigod.
Thievery Corporation does wonders with remixes—especially considering the constraints of the form. "A lot of the times, with the remixes, it's about what they give you," Garza notes. "And sometimes they don't give you a whole lot. Those songs are really challenging—creatively and emotionally—because sometimes you feel like you're creating a new song for someone, and at the end you might not want to give it away."
"To be honest," he continues, "right now we're pretty busy doing remixes, and I just want to get back to making our own records."
For a walk through Thievery's many influences, there's the recently released DJ Kicks mix CD (Studio K7). All the pieces of the duo's sound—bossa nova, funk, jazz, hip-hop, and late '60s lounge music—come together here, from Les Baxter's "Tropicando" and DJ Cam's "Success" to the Karminsky Experience's "Exploration." For Thievery Corporation, at least, the parts are as great as the sum.
"It's funny—me and Eric don't really DJ so much anymore. We just sort of got thrown back into it because of DJ Kicks," says Garza. "There's very few electronic bands or electronic music that interests us. We're constantly around electronic music, and at the end of the day we want to hear more organic types of sounds."
This is a surprising admission from a duo that's joined Austrian dubmeisters Kruder and Dorfmeister as dance music's Most Wanted remixers. Yet while K and D revel in an atmospheric haze created by a cloud of blue smoke and green bud, Garza and Hilton squeeze out the jams by way of booze and bossa nova. There's more sex in the Thievery sound—which sometimes takes one day, sometimes one month, to create. Hilton and Garza will sit in their studio, conveniently linked to the Eighteenth Street Lounge, and wrap layers and textures, linking sounds to beats, and adding reverb, reverb, reverb. The end result is undeniably, unmistakably Thievery Corporation. The secret is out.