Interview: Thievery Corporation’s Rob Garza gets optimistic with his new solo project

Rob Garza, Thievery Corporation

Rob Garza of Thievery Corporation. Courtesy: Andrzej Liguz.

Rob Garza zigged when the rest of the music industry zagged.

In this era of political chaos and unrest most musicians can’t stay away from reflecting on the moment. Even mass-market pop musicians like Taylor Swift, who traditionally stay neutral, are taking a stand on issues. But while Garza’s electronica duo Thievery Corporation spent 25 years being dark and political, his new solo work is going the other way.

“Thievery Corporation, there’s a lot of minor chords and a lot of lyrics that are socially and politically conscious,” he said in a recent call. “This kinda had this different vibe than anything I’ve done before. It’s a little more optimistic, a little more youthful than the typical thing I’ve been doing.”

It began when Garza was trying to write music for pop artists—whom he declined to identify—and having limited success because what he was writing wasn’t poppy enough. Regardless, it introduced him to younger people and newer sounds that began to influence the music he was writing for himself. And that new sound led him to new themes.

Even with a clear progression, it still may be surprising to some that half the group behind “The Richest Man in Babylon” and “Warning Shots” is making a turn toward the lighter end of the musical spectrum, especially now, of all times.

“When creating this music, I’m like, ‘where is this coming from?’ Because I actually feel quite angry about what’s happening in the world. But I guess that’s the thing with music and art; sometimes it brings out these parts of you that you didn’t know were there,” he said.

“As Thievery we’ve been beating that drum for a long time,” he said. “We threw a protest in front of the White House against the Iraq War. We’ve been talking about these things for a long time and now other people are beating that drum too, so now there’s the space to step away from it for a second.”

For now, the space he’s stepping into is synth-pop. His first five-song EP, Where the Moon Hides, came out in November. Another one is planned for April. Releasing bits and pieces of music over time rather than saving it all for one full-length album is a bit of an adjustment for someone who’s been at it for a quarter of a century, but Garza doesn’t mind the change at all.

“I actually enjoy doing it like this,” he said. “It’s kinda a way to rethink putting out music, spacing it out like this. I already have most of the music for the next EP and I think it’s kinda cool to parcel it out. Let people consume it like tapas rather than this full four-course meal.”

To that end, he’s not strictly thinking of it as a collection of short albums. By his estimation, 65 to 75 percent of the songs on Where the Moon Hides and its follow-up were newly written and recorded, which keeps them fresh. The rest were either shuffled around or omitted because there wasn’t a place for them to logically fit—yet. Those outliers may just be released as singles, something this new normal not only allows but encourages.

“I don’t know what the plan is beyond this next EP,” he said. “I’m just having fun with the whole process.”

Of course, even though he plans to spend this year working on more solo material, Thievery Corporation won’t be lying dormant. He and partner Eric Hilton have music in the works and more drums to beat.

“Thievery has a symphonic record coming out, and we’ll be releasing some rarities and remixes later in 2020 or early 2021—then get back in the studio,” he said.

“To me, Thievery Corporation is the big blockbuster film that does well because it’s been around for 25 years and [I] know what to expect. Doing these other projects is like an artistic outlet [to] explore different musical avenues. But we’ll be back.”

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