Rob Garza of Thievery Corporation embraces his early pop influences with new solo album, “Daydream Accelerator”

When Thievery Corporation‘s Rob Garza started writing what would become his new solo album, Daydream Accelerator, he found that his early pop influences were making their way into the music. Embracing that direction, he collaborated with several artists to create an indie-pop album that maintains the sonic experimentation of Thievery Corporation but with more of an obviously electronic sound. Released under the name Garza, the album comes out August 27 on Magnetic Moon Records. In the following interview, Rob discusses the inspirations and making of Daydream Accelerator.

What made you do a solo album at this point in time?

Rob Garza: Well, I started doing an EP a while back, between 2019 and 2020. The project started off when a publisher asked me to start writing for some other people. And then I started writing these songs that were a little bit more pop. But when I say pop, in my mind, it’s kind of like going back to my influences—things like Talking Heads or The Cars or Blondie and things like that. So the songs had a little bit more of an optimistic, youthful sort of stride to them. And I found that very interesting. I’m like, “well, who’s this person writing this music?” So I decided to just kind of venture on this journey, creating a different style of music with different artists. A lot of them were younger, in their early to mid-twenties, and just collaborating with people that I usually wouldn’t have thought to when I was doing Thievery—working with different styles and things like that. And I wanted to make it a little bit more like electronic, have that sort of bent because I feel like with Thievery, we have a very sort of rootsy feel, with a lot of our influences from Brazil and Jamaica and Indian music and things like that. So I wanted to touch on a little bit of what I think is pop, not necessarily what’s mainstream pop music these days.

What were some of the first songs you did for this album, and how did they set the direction?

Rob Garza: There were different tracks that I did. One of them was called “Summer is Ours,” and that has sort of a very anthemic sort of rock thing going on. A lot of it was just playing around. The way that I create a lot of time is by just messing around. I pull up some synthesizers or different instruments, like guitars and keyboards and things like that, and just start playing around and the songs just kind of happen and start to evolve. I’ll just have lots of sketches on my MacBook. A bunch of the songs started before the pandemic and then I really got into writing them during the pandemic. And it was interesting, a song like “Summer is Ours” was really about kind of what it would feel like to come out of a lockdown at that time, because we were just trying to imagine it. I worked with Enemy Planes, an artist out of Minneapolis. I remember just kind of sitting around here in San Francisco, and it’s pretty quiet, and we’re just like, summer is ours, let’s throw it away. And just kind of having this nihilistic attitude towards what that time would be like.

You said that songs would come about just by playing around with the synthesizers and instruments. Did this process ever inspire you to revisit songs you’d already done, perhaps with new ideas?

Rob Garza: I feel like there’s a lot of ideas kind of being developed at the same time. So during that creative part of the process, there’s all these songs sort of happening and developing, giving you the theme and the kind of overall mood of the album that I was trying to create. And then, it’d be like, okay, I want to finish this song and then get to the next and then get to the next. But during that sort of incubation process, there’s a lot of different ideas brewing and on the fire.

How did the vocal collaborations tend to come about? Would you have a completed track with the particular type of vocal in mind? Did you write for particular vocalists who you wanted to work with?

Rob Garza: Each song has its own sort of characteristics and things like that. So a song that I did, “Something That’s Different,” was with this young singer named EMELINE, who is really lovely and talented. That one sort of really came together in sort of a pop sense. Then this other song that I had, “Summer is Ours,” is more of a rock thing so it made sense to look for somebody within that realm stylistically. So Casey, who I met probably about a year and a half ago, we toured together, he just seemed like the right person for that song. And then there’s another song called “Letting Go,” which has a friend Stee Downes, he’s from Dublin, Ireland. Some of these songs I just sit with and live with for a while, once I have them in a good place without vocals and things like that.

And then I was thinking like, you know, Stee would sound really great on this track. So I sent it to him. In Ireland, they were really locked down at that time. They were really just panicked and couldn’t get out and things like that. We’d be just on Zoom, going back and forth, and he’d be sending me ideas. So that one worked great. Then there’s another song called “Swim to Shore” with, uh, this artist Fare. He’s somebody I worked with before, like two EPs ago. He was in San Francisco visiting his parents. So I’m like, “why don’t you come down to my place?” I had some music and we just bought a six-pack of beer and just started writing.

And Calica, a young singer from Miami, has a song called “Can’t Kill Me,” and that also features a collaboration with this techno artist, these guys named Walker and Royce. They do some great tracks for the floor. And so I was talking to those guys, and they’re like, “let’s do something together.” And they’re like, “do you have anything that’s close to being finished?” And I’m like, “yeah, this song.” And they’re like, “send it to us and let us just play around with it a little bit.” So the creative process was different. With Thievery, it’s me and Eric and we’re doing the majority of the songwriting. With this one, I’d open up things a little bit here and there. So it felt liberating.

Does the final album represent pretty much all of the material you were working on at the time? Or did you establish the overall shape and then perhaps discard some stuff that didn’t fit in?

Rob Garza: A couple of things didn’t fit in in the end. But it captures the overall feeling and mood of what I was trying to say on this album. And there are still some other parts left for the next part of the journey. Sometimes it’s nice to, when you finish an album, have something that is sort of like a small idea of what might be to come.

Do you feel that the pandemic and lockdown affected you much as a musician? Do you think it made you spend more time on things?

Rob Garza: I think that first of all, with Thievery, we do a lot of touring. So, this was the first time in decades that I haven’t toured. I have an 11-year-old son. I spent a lot of time with him and it was nice to be home and build routines. I write a lot on airplanes anyways; I have my Macbook and I’m just always kind of coming up with sketches and ideas. So they tend to happen like just sort of sporadically during different times of the day and things like that. During lockdown, I had a lot of time to just kind of build routines and settle into a normal life. I haven’t really had one of those in 25 years or something.

That was a lot of fun. I was just very project-oriented. With this album, I was just constantly working on the songs and things like that. But, there are other different phases during the creative process, like before the pandemic where, I might have thought, ‘oh, I’m going to spend two or three hours a day just working on music’ or just carve out time and do it like that. But this time around, I was like, ‘okay, this is a song I need to be wrapping up now. And tomorrow we’re going to be focusing on this.’ It was a time to be introspective and really kind of think about where I’m at in the world, what’s happening, and trying to express that in a way.

Do you think the experience making this album will have any impact on your approach to Thievery Cooperation?

Rob Garza: Yeah. I’m always kind of taking in different ideas and, you know, especially working with younger artists, I feel like there are a lot of sounds that I’m kind of unaware of. There are just things on the sonic pallet, that weren’t there before and things that I’d really like to bring a little bit more of that into Thievery. How I’ll do it remains to be seen.

Is there anything specific you could mention?

Rob Garza: I feel like with Thievery, it’s kind of like a blockbuster film in the sense that we’ve been doing it so long and people know what to expect sonically. I’m thinking about it; it’s just kind of more synth and texture. And I would also maybe bring in some of these younger artists. Not necessarily the ones on my album, but I’ve been introduced to a different pool of talented young people who I’d like to work with on some Thievery stuff in the future.

Do you plan on touring this project again in the future?

Rob Garza: We’re looking at doing some more shows. Thievery is in high demand. People haven’t seen it recently because of the pandemic. But what’s interesting is, during 2019, in the summer, me and Eric decided for the first time in our history to take a year off from touring and doing anything Thievery. We took 2020 off and so we never had to cancel one gig. People were like, are you a Mason? Are you part of the Illuminati or something?

Have you thought at all about how you would tour this album? For example, what vocalists you would like bring along or the instrumentation?

Rob Garza: Yes. That’s one thing that I’m looking at now, as we’re putting together some showcases and concerts and things like that. It would be a band. We have a drummer, a guitarist, and I’d like to bring three or four singers. We’ve done some things with strings in the past too, which I would love to do if the opportunity presents itself and it’s the right environment. That, for me, is really compelling.I love working with orchestras and things like that. We did a project with Mason Bates. He’s a great conductor and composer and works with orchestras here in San Francisco and at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC. I really love bringing strings into the mix. I would love to do more of that. But in a way, it’s kind of like using some ideas from Thievery in that we would have multiple singers sort of coming in for different songs. For me, that keeps it fresh and interesting.

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