Interview with Thievery Corporation’s Rob Garza on His Recent New Solo EP
San Francisco resident musician Rob Garza of electronic duo Thievery Corporation released his debut solo EP late last month as Garza titled, Where the Moon Hides, on his own Magnetic Moon label. His new material blurs the lines between pop familiarity and chill, electronic esoterica. The songs are hightlighted by the ethereal vocals of Seann Bowe and EMELINE. He plans to embark on a U.S. tour as a solo act with a full ensemble in 2020, but tonight Garza plays the Fox Theatre in Oakland with Thievery Corporation.
After twenty years of Thievery Corporation, Garza is redrawing his musical boundaries and stretching into areas with newfound freedom. To learn more about about the new record, we spoke to Garza, before he hits the road in 2020, asking him about recent inspirations, future plans, and some of his favorite local spots.
How did you decide to start this solo project?
Originally I was down in LA having a meeting with my publisher, Kobalt. They asked if I was interested in writing for other artists. I started making music for artists and other performers. It was interesting working with some of these people because they had never heard of Thievery Corporation. They just wanted the nice Ariana Grande and they weren’t interested in doing anything that wasn’t pure pop. I was more interested in indie-electronic. They weren’t too keen on it. I had all these songs and started collaborating with other songwriters, producers, and engineers, and it started opening these ideas up. This project really started to take on its own form.
It’s interesting because a lot of Thiervery’s music has always been socially conscious and political. We tend to write in a certain way. These songs had this very youthful optimism and is a lot more modern and electronic than the stuff I usually write.
What inspired this new material?
A lot of people I’m working with are young. There are two producer engineers that I work with. They are an artist called SMLE. I have a room and I’m living in this group house in LA. I’m hearing a lot more modern sounds. There’s a studio there. I’m kind of going back to immersing myself and living in this environment while I’m there just working on music nonstop.
I think because in the case of Seann Bowe and EMELINE, I think Sean is about 25 and Emmaline I think just turned 21 this year. I’m working on lyrics with them. Their view of life is a bit different than mine. They’re going into the music world and they’re very excited. Sometimes with Thievery, we talk about things like “The Richest Man in Babylon” or “Amerimacka”, and some of the songs have protest elements. In a way, to do this sort of indie electronic synth-driven tracks, was a way of stepping out of my comfort zone than I’m used to traditionally working in.
How did you decide on Seann and EMELINE for vocal support?
I met them through the SMLE guys. I had this Bossanova track, it’s called “Deep Blue”. I originally had in mind working with a traditional Brazilian singer kind of like what Thievery does. We have this guy Seann and he has been virtually nominated for a Grammy. He wrote a song last year for Weezer. He’s a professional songwriter and a very talented vocalist. These guys were like let him sing on this track. I was like yeah, I was thinking someone more traditionally Brazilian. He comes into the studio and lays down a totally different style of vocal than I would have expected. This little pop, R&B quality to it. He did this talk-singing and got great melodies on the first take. He didn’t even want to hear the song before singing. He just wanted to hear it and started coming up with some vocal hooks right there. It was pretty exciting.
With EMELINE, she came into the studio and was there with a friend of hers. His name was Rob and was in this band Time Flies. I had this sketch I was working on with the SMLE guys and we all started writing lyrics together. For example Where the Moon Hides. The song just came and all of us just throwing around these ideas. It’s really fun to write and create that way.
Where does Shenova contribute vocals on the EP?
She did some background vocals on a track called “Unredeemable You”. She’s very talented.
I was on Instagram. I check out these different artists. She does these very different surreal trippy art collage sort of things. Playing around with all sorts of wild imagery. I really like it. that might be a cool direction to visually represent the songs. My manager reached out to her and I asked where does she live. She lives in Serbia. I’m going to be in Serbia next week. I was traveling with Thievery. I sat down for coffee. She’s a really talented and nice person. It was cool to connect with her and she’s a big fan of Thievery Corporation as well. I let her listen to some of the music and she was really excited to be a part of it.
Do you have plans for more solo music?
Probably more coming in April. I’m wrapping up the second EP now. I’ll probably put into a double piece of vinyl. I’ve also just been thinking about how to release music because Thievery we’ve always released music as albums. This is our musical statement work were trying to express. The way people listen to music nowadays, people gravitate toward one song and nobody really puts on an LP or a CD. They go to Spotify or Apple Music and look for top songs and that’s the way people listen. I’m trying to put it out in smaller chunks and focus on different tracks at a particular time and people can digest it that way rather than throwing a whole album at them and a lot of the content gets lost.
How do you plan to fill a set when you tour?
We’ll play some new material from the Spring EP. I also have another EP called Dissolve. I’m going to be playing music off that as well. I’m going to throw in some sort of reimagined Thievery songs as well. It will be more in this sort of style. Not listening to songs in the traditional Thievery way, and then there might be a cover or two in there as well.
How come you don’t have any San Francisco solo show dates yet?
I think we’re gearing up to do the West Coast in the Spring. Going out, getting our feet wet. Getting this thing ramped up in the springtime to do West Coast.
How long have you lived in San Francisco and where are some of your favorite places to relax?
I’ve been here now for 10 years. I have a nine-year-old here. Usually, when I’m in the city, I usually have a lot of time with him. He’s pretty busy with music and school. I just love being here in general. Love walking around. I’m over here in the Russian Hill Area. I like to go down by the water a lot. Get out to Napa or Muir Woods.
What would be some of your dream venues in SF to perform this new material?
We’ve played all of them. I would hate to choose. Ultimately, one of my favorite venues in the country, I love to play at the Greek over in Berkeley. That would be a ways though.