By Andrea Nazarian
Thievery Corporation hasn’t stopped grooving in 23 years. In 1995, Rob Garza and Eric Hilton bonded over their mutual love of bossa nova, jazz and dub and began producing sample-based electronic music in Washington, D.C. Since then, the duo has blossomed into an internationally acclaimed collective of musicians and vocalists, selling out shows around the world and headlining major music festivals.
Over two decades, Thievery Corporation has perfected its signature “outernational” sound – a psychedelic, contemporary riff on world music that never stops sounding fresh. Blending downtempo, acid jazz and trip-hop with vocals and rhythms from Jamaica, Brazil, the Middle East, Africa and India, the group’s impressive discography is full of decadent, sensuous tracks that drip like honey.
The band seamlessly weaves understated but powerful messages throughout their music as well. Progressive political lyrics denouncing police brutality, racism and oppressive trade policies are speckled throughout albums like Radio Retaliation and The Richest Man in Babylon, among others.
“When you listen to the music, it’s sort of like an onion where you peel back different layers and hear different messages. There are statements in there but they’re more subtle,” explains Garza over the phone from Chicago, where the band is playing a two-night stint at the House of Blues. “We’re not trying to tell people what to think, we’re just trying to make people think.”
Arguably the most impressive part of Thievery Corporation is the fact that they’ve remained independent for the entirety of their career, never signing to a major label and releasing exclusively under their own Eighteenth Street Lounge Music (ESL Music) label. Thievery’s consistent independence is a fierce testament to the band’s collaborative, intercontinental and passion-driven ethos.
The group is currently touring Treasures from the Temple, a follow-up LP to their acclaimed 2017 album, The Temple of I and I. Both releases were recorded at Jamaica’s Geejam studios on the scenic northeastern tip of the island. The Jamaican influence is strong on both albums, beautifully showcasing Thievery’s unique take on the island sound.
“We love the culture and people of Jamaica and a huge inspiration for us is the music,” says Garza. “Jamaican music has been a cornerstone of what we do. It has that dubby bass that lets us create a lot of our sonic trickery in terms of using delays and reverbs. The music creates a lot of space for different layers and sounds to be laid on top of it. It has similarities to Brazilian bossa nova in the sense that it creates space, and it gives us the opportunity to create unique textures over those deep basslines and grooves.”
With ten studio albums under their belt and no signs of slowing down, the outernational impact of Thievery Corporation looks like it will only grow stronger.
Thievery Corporation perform at the Commodore Ballroom on December 27