Having always counted Jamaican music as one of their many influences, Thievery Corporation decided to fully immerse themselves in the country by traveling there to record. With Port Antonio as their temporary home, they started each day at the beach before heading into Geejam Studios in San San. The resulting sessions were the basis for their new album, “The Temple of I & I.”
Founded by Rob Garza and Eric Hilton, Thievery Corporation have been releasing music since 1996. They bring electronic elements together with contributions from a variety of musicians and vocalists. Stylistically, Thievery Corporation are known for seamlessly mixing genres; in addition to Jamaican reggae and dub, their work has featured influences of Indian, Brazilian and Middle Eastern music, hip hop, and more.
In a phone interview, Garza discussed the making of “The Temple of I & I ” and future Thievery Corporation plans.
What made you record “The Temple of I and I” in Jamaica?
“I think that from the beginning, Reggae and dub have always been a big influence on what we do. If you go back to the first album, there were a lot of dubby tracks on that. The last record was very inspired by our Brazilian influences, so with this record, we thought we’d go to Jamaica and explore the music and do a record heavily built on that sound. We went down there for a few weeks and locked ourselves in a studio from the afternoon to the late evening. In the early morning, we’d go to the beach, which we could see from the studio.”
Did you work with any local musicians there?
“We actually worked more with our rhythm section on this. It was the first time we did tracking in the more traditional sense. Usually, we’d record in Washington DC and it was me and Eric messing around, picking up different instruments, playing samples, and bringing in horn players and various instrumentalists. But this time, it was more like we had the sketches and ideas for songs and wanted to go hash them out with the rhythm section from our touring band. It was a pretty unforgettable trip.”
After the Jamaica sessions, what was the process to complete the album?
“We had these things and sat with them for a while, and we went through a lot of material and really thought about which ones we’d like to develop more. I live in San Francisco, and Eric lives in DC, so we’d make time throughout the year to spend picking apart the songs, developing them, coming up with ideas for vocalists, bringing in singers, doing overdubs, adding keyboards and trippy elements. That was over the course of about another year and a half.”
Do you collaborate long distance using file-sharing, or do you do everything when you are in the same location?
“We really make a point of getting together and blocking out time. We have a studio in DC, so I’ll go there for weeks at a time and get into being in the same room. The file-sharing works well sometimes, but there is nothing like having all the instruments at your disposal and being able to create when you’re both feeling in a creative mindset.”
Since the last Thievery Corporation album, you’ve also put out a solo EP. Was that done while you were working on Thievery Corporation music, or were you taking a break from the project?
“I’m always working on music. There’s always Thievery stuff that exists, and I’m working on it. And, I also have a real love for more electronic sounds and sort of modern things as well. I love just creating in general.”
When making albums these days, do you think about how listening habits have changed over the years and consider how it will ultimately be heard?
“I think about it a lot, because there’s a part of me that says, ‘Why even make an album?’ Many people just go on Spotify and listen to the most popular tracks that everyone else listens to. The younger generation isn’t used to consuming music that way [as albums]. I love to listen to a whole album of an artist who I love, but there are a lot of people who don’t. I do wonder how many people will actually listen to the whole thing. Maybe that’s one of the positive things about the vinyl resurgence, people putting on an LP and listening to a whole side of a record. For me, that’s how I grew up, and it’s how Eric grew up. “
How has the evolution of musical technology affected how you work?
“It’s made recording easier, which is a great thing. It’s very liberating to be able to turn on your computer to make and record music. Back in the day, I had an MPC 3000 and Eric had an ASR-10, and we’d have to load in like 10 floppy disks each to get all the samples and everything. I embrace technology, and I think Eric does as well. But there is also an appreciation of the old ways of recording, with tape, old analog gear, synths and things like that.”
Do you feel that digital tools give too much control and make it difficult to know when to stop working on a song?
“I think that’s a great point. In the digital realm, nothing is ever really finished. You can always go and edit it in a way that you couldn’t if you were putting it down to 2-inch tape and that was the only performance you had. You can go down the rabbit hole of trying to tweak things, never knowing when something is really finished. That’s one of the things that makes mine and Eric’s relationship work; we kind of know when we’re both done. It’s a very intuitive feeling, but I know a lot of artists who have thousands of sketches of their masterpiece on their hard drive somewhere, but they never really know when they are done. That can be a creative trap.”
You mentioned some of the gear you worked with in the early years. Do you feel that their limitations played a role in shaping the resulting music?
“Working with the MPC 3000 back in the day, there’s something about the low bit sample rate that actually makes the samples sound really crunchy and good. It makes the beats sound thicker. Also, just programming on that thing, looking into a little screen and trying to do all this sequencing and sampling … things would just kind of come off track, and totally be mistakes in terms of arrangements and things, but we’d think, ‘That actually sounds really cool!’ There was more opportunity for those kinds of happy accidents to happen.”
Are you planning on touring in support of the new album?
“Yeah, we’re going to be touring Europe in February and March, which will be our first time doing a multi-city tour in Europe in a while. We’ve done a lot of festivals, but it will be nice to go and play clubs and things like that. And then for summertime, we’re starting to figure out our festival schedule for the States and Europe. And then in the fall and winter, we’ll be doing a lot of touring stateside.”
What can audiences expect from the shows?
“We’re going to have some new singers who we haven’t had before, and we might change it up since we have a whole new set of songs that we’re bringing. I think there are going to be some stage, set, and personnel changes. Some songs might be more minimal, and others might have a more traditional Thievery sort of thing.”