JamFeed Interview: Thievery Corporation’s Rob Garza

Photo Credit: Andrzej Liguz/moreimages.net.

As far as electronic music goes, Rob Garza and Eric Hilton of Thievery Corporation have already etched out their place in the history books. Use whatever cliched phrase for prolonged accomplishment and achievement that you want. Canonized. Gold-standard. The “bar.” Thievery is all of these things and more.

The Washington, D.C. based DJ collective is celebrating 20 years in the game this year, and do not appear to be slowing down any time soon. 2014’s Saudade marked Rob and Eric’s ninth studio album together, with at least twice as many compilation albums to their name. Like the rest of Thievery Corporation’s catalog, Saudade does a remarkable job of — for lack of a better word — incorporating the worldly sounds that inspire them into their music in order to create something fully unique. In this case, Saudade is a return to some of their bossa nova inspired roots.

JamFeed CEO Cameron Gibson was able to sit down with Thievery Corporation’s Rob Garza last month, right before he went on stage for a solo DJ set at The 1up in Denver.

Rob touched on everything from not forcing music onto his son, to Thievery’s original influences, to their current influences, to beginning to record their upcoming album in Jamaica (I told you they weren’t slowing down), and more.

Rob Garza performing at The 1up in Denver on April 4th.


Thievery Corporation is a group out of D.C. Are you born and raised in D.C.?

I was born outside of Chicago but grew up around D.C. I was there most of my life, I live in San Francisco now. D.C. was very inspirational because of the whole punk scene going on, the Dischord record label, the indie bands coming out of there. It’s where I met Eric and where we started Thievery Corporation.

You have a kid now, congratulations!

Yes, a four-year-old son.

Is he getting into the music scene?

I don’t know about the music “scene,” but he’s definitely getting into music. I try not to force anything on him, I just let him experience music as he feels comfortable. I’ve seen a lot of kids whose parents try to make them do music and then they wind up wanting to have nothing to do with music. I’d rather have my son come to it on his own.

How did you come to it on your own?

My family moved to Connecticut for two years, so I went up there and they had an electronic music fest, one of the only ones in the country. This is 1984. I was working with drum machines, analog synthesizers, step sequencers, things like that… old school stuff.

So what brought you back to the solo DJ scene?

I started out making techno records before Thievery. This is like, 1991. I had a record label called Juju Thievery Corporation. We were about 19, 20 years old making techno records. And then with Thievery we started incorporating organic forms of music with electronic and then over the years it’s just become a lot more organic. But electronic music is part of my roots… Well, it is my roots.

So I was living in San Francisco and people were just asking me more and more to DJ. And I also have a bunch of clubs in Mexico, so we had a lot of DJs coming through our clubs, the BPM Festival, you know, people were asking me to do remixes a lot, asking me to DJ, so I started doing it and found that I really enjoyed it. It’s a way to be excited about modern music again and to travel.

Do you do solo stuff while you’re on tour with Thievery?

Sometimes I’ll do some after parties, things like that. Or I might do a gig if we’re in a town for a couple days.

How do you feel about Austin, TX?

I love Austin! It’s always been one of our favorite cities as a band. We definitely have a special connection. But Colorado has kind of become our second home…

Where do y’all get the most response from outside of the U.S.?

Probably Athens, Greece. People love us out there. Same with Lisbon, Portugal.

I know that Thievery incorporates lots of worldly sounds and uses lots of different languages. How many languages do you actually speak?

I speak English, some Spanish, and music, my third and most universal language! I’ve been able to connect with people from all sorts of cultures and societies through music.

Is there any place that stood out to you outside of the U.S.?

I definitely want to spend more time in Asia. Hong Kong, Thailand, Bali, Japan… I’ve never been to Vietnam so I’d love to go there as well. That whole region is just fascinating. I really enjoy traveling and exploring.

Could you speak on your influences a little bit? Who inspired you?

Well, I was inspired by a lot of punk music back in the day. A lot of people during the late-80s and early-90s who experimented with electronic music like Renegade Soundwave, Big Beat Manifesto, My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult, all these different kinds of people. And then jazz, reggae, dub, Brazilian music, there’s so many influences. What really brought me and Eric together is our appreciation of lots of different types of sounds.

So how did you and Eric meet originally?

We met back in 1995. This May it’ll be 20 years. We were listening to a lot of music from Japan and things like that, guys who were experimenting with electronic and jazz. So we both had this mutual appreciation of all these different styles — jazz, bossa nova, dub, Indian sounds. We just started talking about all these styles of music that we love and trying to figure out if there was a way to incorporate them all into electronic music. So we decided to get our equipment together and see if we could get anything cool sounding.

I think you did a good job.

Yeah (laughs). The first couple days we came up with a few songs and it went from there.

So what inspires you at this point?

I think one of the interesting things about what’s happening today is that sound systems are so much better and the ability to express different frequencies and things like that… and electronic music to me is really exciting right now. So I feel like it’s a very interesting time musically. People could say a lot of negative things about “mainstream EDM” and everything, but people have always said bad things about mainstream culture in general (laughs). Every era had its mainstream, or “lame-stream.”

During the 80’s there was a lot of horrible music, but also cool stuff happening in the underground. Same thing with today. There’s lots of cheesy stuff, but there’s also some pretty cool stuff going on — you just have to dig.

Were you and Eric friends before Thievery? And how does your relationship go today with you doing independent stuff?

I would say we became friends at the time we started and as we kept going we became great friends. I think at the end of the day me and Eric have a mutual respect for each other and we admire each other as friends, as musicians, as artists. I think we both feel grateful that we can have a career that’s lasted 20 years.

Do you guys have anything special for year 20 coming up?

We just finished recording in Jamaica. We’re working on a new album, so hopefully it’ll be out by the end of the year or early next year.

Is that the first time y’all have recorded in Jamaica?

First time, yeah.

How was that?

Amazing. We’re super excited. We were down there for ten days. We still have some ways to go in the recording process.

After all of this time, did you ever see yourself getting back into independent music again?

Well, in a way I never felt like I left. We put all of our stuff out ourselves and have always done things independently. So I think the thing is that we’ve never really had any roles. When it comes to my own career I’ve never felt like I have any roles I have to abide by.

You guys have taken a lot of political stands in your music. How did that evolve?

Because we’re from Washington you had a lot of politically outspoken artists. But within the art scene, people like Fugazi, you know, any of that whole scene, they were always speaking on what’s happening in the world. And we were also influenced by people like Public Enemy and The Clash. And because we’re independent we never had to answer to a major record label, we could do what we wanted.

That freedom in your music and your musical choices really shows. How do you recommend that to young musicians going forward?

The first thing I would say is that it’s very difficult out there, so it’s hard to really think of it as a career [at first]. When we started Thievery we just did it as a hobby. We never had any idea that people would pay us to buy records or play concerts. So I think that kind of passion has to be the underlying thing — you would do it even if nobody bought it. That’s how much you love it.


Be sure to follow both Thievery Corporation and Rob Garza on JamFeed to stay up-to-date with all of their latest releases, tour announcements, and general news. Congratulations on 20 years, guys!

JamFeed Interview: Big Gigantic

Dominic Lalli of Big Gigantic at Euphoria Festival 2015. Photo Credit: Live Edits Lab.

It was about 6:00 pm on Sunday, April 12th. My JamFeed co-workers and I were at Carson Creek Ranch, located just outside of Austin, for Euphoria Festival 2015. We had been running around the entire weekend conducting interviews with Euphoria artists, catching as many shows as possible, charging our phones when we could, and trying diligently to stay dry and clean (the word ‘clean’ is a relative term in this case, to the point where I would have paid a large sum of money for the chance to ‘shower’ in the Colorado River for 20 seconds).

But I digress. For me, 6:00 pm on April 12th meant one thing and one thing only: my responsibilities for the weekend were over, and I had t-minus six hours until my 24th birthday.

All of JamFeed’s interviews had been conducted, my phone had been dead for the past day with no hope of charging it (and really, at that point, no urge to charge it), and we had two fresh cases of beer ready to go for Big Gigantic’s 9:00 pm show.

So despite being exhausted, I thought that I might as well get into “birthday turn up” mode. And then it happened.

JamFeed CEO Cameron Gibson, who had been messing around on his phone for the past couple minutes, looked up at me with a twinkle in his eyes. It was the same twinkle that James Harden gets after he barrels into a hopeless defender and draws contact, knowing that he’s going to the free throw line for the 46th time that game (well, it’s the twinkle that Harden would have if he wasn’t a soulless cyborg). It’s the same twinkle that the developers at Apple get after they create yet another product that is due to self-destruct after at most two years of use, knowing that our helpless consumer asses are getting strangled by their corporate leash yet again. Cameron had that twinkle.

“We got Big G at 7:30,” he said.

Oh, the irony. The JamFeed team is getting ready to down 60 beers in two hours in preparation for the Big Gigantic show, and now we get the chance to interview them. All of a sudden getting wasted for my birthday seemed very inconsequential. This is Big Gigantic, one of the best bands in the business.

For those who don’t know — which should be a small portion of music fans at this point — the duo based out of Boulder, Colorado has been puttin’ down the funk since 2008. They are one of the first groups to combine live instrumentation with electronic music in the right way, blending elements of hip-hop, funk, jazz, and soul to create a sound that makes for one of the best live music experiences one can expose themselves to. Their style is still getting heavily bitten to this day.

So with all of this on my mind, I placed my bucket hat over my head and passed out in my folding chair. When Cameron woke me up an hour later I was ready to rock. No excuses.

Cameron and I sat down with Dominic Lalli and Jeremy Salken, otherwise known as Big Gigantic, at 7:30, and needless to say, the following interview coupled with their subsequent 9:00 pm performance was the best birthday present that I could’ve ever asked for. Big G, if you are reading this, thank you guys.

Peep the below video of their Euphoria opener, the remix to Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ “Can’t Hold Us.”

The guys spoke candidly about their origins, the divvying up of responsibilities that makes their operation run so smoothly, the shows that put them on the national radar, their first hip-hop remix (hint: it’s a Pharcyde song), their legendary rain-soaked Austin City Limits performance last year, and much more. Enjoy.


So how long have you been working with Ben Baruch, your manager?

Dom: Almost since the beginning. About five years. We did about a year by ourselves.

Did y’all meet in Boulder?

Dom: Yeah, yeah, we were getting it started right when he moved to town. He moved from LA. He started taking over the Fox Theater booking and stuff. We were just all going out together because we love music, you know? We met at shows, we got some shows for ourselves, we would get happy hour, the three of us. And then I remember we had a conversation like, “maybe Ben should be our manager.”

Did he have ThisSongIsSick at that point? (editor’s note: the founder of the highly successful and influential electronic/hip-hop/indie/alternative blog ThisSongIsSick is actually Nick Guarino, not Ben Baruch)

Dom: Nope, but Nick was coming up too, man. He was our other homie. He was like, “yeah I run this blog, it’s kinda getting big.” I was like, “bro send me music so I can hear what’s up!” But anyways, we had a dinner with Ben one day and we asked him to be our manager. He said that he was thinking the same thing!

So it was pretty mutual?

Dom: Yeah, definitely.

So where are y’all from originally? Did you meet in Colorado?

Jeremy: Yup, met in Colorado. I’m from Virginia.

Dom: I’m from Vegas.

Awesome. Did you meet at the University of Colorado?

Dom: No, just kind of around town, you know.

Jeremy: We both played in different bands around town and the music community there is pretty small. We used to do gigs together, stuff like that.

Dom: We did wedding gigs and shit, jazz gigs, funk gigs, all kinds of shit.

Was it just y’all two from the very beginning?

Dom: Yup! (Jeremy nods approvingly) I was getting stuff together and thinking about concepts and I just decided that I want one other guy, you know, and it was just like, “yup, let’s keep it like that.”

So we know that during live shows Dom is on the saxophone and alternates that with keys and the laptop, while Jeremy is on drums, but how does the beat-making process come about?

Dom: I make all the music. Our thing is very different but it works so well because Jeremy handles so much other stuff.

Jeremy: I do a lot of our business stuff.

Very interesting.

Dom: We’ve been playing for so long together and we have such a connection musically that it’s like, when I’m thinking about writing I’m thinking about us playing. You know what I mean? So even though Jeremy’s not writing, we know what the concept is that we’re going for so it’s really easy to write in a style that Jeremy’s about.

How would y’all describe that style?

Jeremy: It’s a lot of different stuff.

Dom: We never know how to classify it. Saxophone, drums, and bass is the style (laughs).

Where do your sax roots come from, Dom?

Dom: In school, I started in sixth grade.

Vegas just doesn’t seem like a sax place to me.

Dom: It was though! Back in the day my grandfather was a drummer, there was a lot of jazz stuff going on in Vegas, you know, like Frank Sinatra was playing with the Duke Ellington Orchestra and shit like that. So it was definitely poppin’ at a time. It’s not like that anymore, but I just stuck with it, man. I fell in love with it, ended up going to college and getting my masters and then I was touring with an afro-beat band for awhile. After that simmered down a little bit we started Big G.

Did you ever find it hard while you were in school to strike the balance between focusing on graduating and your music career simultaneously?

Dom: Well I didn’t really do anything until after school. When I was in school, I was in school, pretty much. There was a little bit of time to do local gigs and stuff, but I didn’t start really giggin’ a lot until after I graduated.

Do you guys remember the first show you played together where you really realized “this is what works?”

Jeremy: It’s always felt kinda natural from the beginning. The first show we played was with Murph, who used to be in Sound Tribe (STS9). We opened up for a side project that he had. It was sold out the first night, in Boulder, and the whole thing just kind of came together. It always felt like we were doing it for fun, but at the same time it was like, “wow, I think people are really going to like this.” It kept growing and because of the Murph connection, he had us open up for Sound Tribe and we gained a national fan base by doing after shows and bouncing around with them.

Dom: There were definitely a couple shows. Camp Bisco 2010…

Was it Red Rocks where it was you guys, Ghostland Observatory and STS9?

Dom: Yeah, we did one of those, that was years ago.

Jeremy: Dude, playing Red Rocks was… I don’t know if you guys have been there before but it’s just the most incredible place. That’s where you want to play wherever you live. It’s epic.

Dom: You’re immersed in nature and the way the crowd is set up, the way the bleachers go up and the stage is at the bottom, it’s different from every other venue. It really feels like people are on top of you like “aaaagghhhh!!”

Jeremy: All the energy rushes down.

Dom: It’s like you get vertigo for a second.

Big Gigantic tearing up the Red Rocks Amphitheater in 2012.

We know y’all are big hip-hop fans, as are we. Some of your best songs are remixes to “Get ‘Em High,” “Can I Get A,” “Black and Yellow,” etc. Do you remember the first hip-hop remix you did?

Dom: Damn, what was it? It was a Pharcyde song.

(they both pause to think)

Jeremy: Can’t keep runnin’ awayyyyyy…

Hell yeah! So y’all have a reputation for bringing crazy fucking weather to Austin. Are you gonna make it rain tonight?

Jeremy: I hope not.

The ACL performance in the rain last year was legendary. (Editor’s Note: I couldn’t find any YouTube footage of the performance, probably because any cameras would’ve been done for in the downpour)

Jeremy: We were soaking wet. Completely drenched. (Looks at Dom) I don’t know how your computer kept going! I was hitting drums and water was just splashing up in my face off the drums.

Dom: It was literally like getting sprayed in the face with a hose while performing.

Jeremy: We love coming down here as much as we can. We love Texas. Austin is like a Boulder sister city.

And everyone in Austin loves going up to Colorado as well.

Dom: For sure. Lots of homies down here, man.


Follow Big Gigantic on JamFeed to stay up-to-date with all of their latest releases, tour announcements, and news.