Spend a day with Thievery Corporation’s Eric Hilton and Rob Garza and you might hear them make reference to David Cope, the university professor who studies music and artificial intelligence, or mention Garza’s travels to Sudan and Nepal, or explain why The Clash’s London Calling may just be the best-produced album in rock history. So it’s not surprising that Hilton and Garza’s thoughtful curiosity about the world finds its way into their sophisticated, impeccably crafted musical soundscapes that reflect not only their broad appreciation for diverse styles of music (everything from Brazilian bossa nova and Jamaican dub reggae to vintage film soundtracks and psychedelic space rock), but also their take on the complicated times in which we live.
Since banding together 16 years ago, these two independent thinkers have taken a DIY approach to their musical and cultural interests, which has led to the formation of their own record label, ESL Music, through which Thievery Corporation release recordings by a slew of international artists, such as Federico Aubele, Ursula 1000, and Thunderball, as well as their own recordings.
“We’re probably more radical in our political beliefs than most of the hardcore punk bands,” Hilton says, “but at the same time, we’re realistic about what we can actually do. We feel like our role is to be commentators.” Adds Garza: “The best thing we can do is try to open people’s minds.” For both Hilton and Garza, the seeds for their shared philosophy were sown while growing up near the nation’s capitol, which has spawned an abundance of progressive punk bands over the years, such as Bad Brains, Minor Threat, and Fugazi. “We’re influenced by that mentality, but the music doesn’t need to be about super aggressive guitars or hard-charging beats to convey that feeling,” Hilton says. “Sometimes you can just break things down and be more subtle.” Instead, the duo reveal their globally aware mindset by setting their lyrical diatribes to a lush mélange of international grooves, inviting vocalists and musicians from around the world, including Nigerian Afrobeat heir Femi Kuti, Persian singer Lou Lou, and Jamaican reggae toaster Sleepy Wonder, to appear on their recordings.