For about 25 years now, Rob Garza has been keeping really busy. Most know the name in association with the Washington D.C. based band Thievery Corporation, who've grown a strong following over the years while experimenting with a unique balance of electronic production and live instruments.
They got their start in the mid 90's, and have never looked back with seven studio albums and multiple live releases under their belt. They've toured the world and back again, and continue to be pioneers of their craft. For many this would be more than a lifetime of achievements. For Rob Garza though, this is just the beginning.
His immersion into the worlds of techno, house, and disco have been gaining him more attention these days, but what many don't know is that he's been dabbling in that field since 1990. Then there's his love for the process of distilling mezcal, a more recent passion that's led him on countless journeys to Mexico. Then there's UR Art, a daytime festival that occurs a few times each summer with roots in the Los Angeles area and has been branching out from there.
He's also a father, and continues to pursue his passions and feel blessed for his ability to spread music and good vibes across the globe. We got the chance to speak with him recently at the first UR Art of the season at Bergamot Station where he was both performing and helping host, and touched on his recent projects including a little taste of what upcoming Thievery Corporation will sound like.
Read below, and learn more about the man behind the timeless sound. His new single "Your Calling" is also being officially released on June 16th along with a B-Side and two remixes, so stream that below and hear more about the song near the end of the interview. You can also attend round two of UR Art this Sunday in Santa Monica, so head to Resident Advisor for more information and tickets.
Congratulations on year two of UR Art. Was what the initial seed of inspiration that started this event?
We were actually in San Francisco at a Dim Sum restaurant. It was me, Philipp (M.A.N.D.Y.), and John (John Wander), and John had done some parties here are at Bergamot Station and he knew the owner. He was like "We should do an event," and both me and John have 4-year-old sons and we wanted to do something for people that are older, but they want to come out and do stuff with their kids.
Create an environment that's more like a daytime fun setting where there's art going on, it's focused on sustainability and being solar powered. Having great DJs. We just had this concept and it was born out of that. Trying to create something that wasn't just all about nightlife and being in clubs.
With so many festivals rising up these days, how important was it to go beyond the music for you guys?
It just adds extra dimensions to the whole thing. Especially having the whole artistic side, to see people actually painting while music is going on and having things for children to do. It takes it a step beyond watching a bunch of DJs during the day.
Image Via UR Art Facebook
How do you see UR Art expanding over the years?
Right now we're very happy. We're very interested in kind of creating a nice community, a nice vibe, a nice buzz. We are talking about maybe doing some other events. We did a UR Art in Playa Del Carmen. Not for BPM Festival but around that time. We're going do be doing one in San Francisco and maybe one in Mexico City.
You mentioned "Blue Agave Fields" being inspired by a mezcal excursion through Oaxaca. Can you tell me more about that experience?
Actually those lyrics came a long time ago just driving through that region of Mexico. Actually looking at the sunset with these blue agave fields. I have some partners in Mexico and we created a brand of mezcal, so I spend a lot more time going back to Oaxaca. This song kind of evolved off of that theme of blue agave fields, and mezcal is now a part of my life and what my partners do.
Has that influence of mezcal changed the way you make music?
It hasn't really changed so much the way I do music, but it is a beautiful process because it's very artisanal. The process is a tradition that goes back generations. To watch an old maestro make mezcal, because it takes like nine years for the plant to grow. The bulbs, the parts underground, are put in a fiery pit and then taken out and mashed. It's cool to just watch the whole thing, because you really get a sense of the word "spirit." It's like this living organism that comes through the drink.
How did you initially get involved with distilling mezcal?
Me and my partners have some clubs down in Playa Del Carmen, and we met somebody from this group called Danzantes. They are a famous mezcal brand, and they introduced us to some maestros in the fields. We found one, and we wanted to have something for our bar and we just really got into it.
We established a relationship with him, his kids were getting ready to move to the US to find work, but once we started this brand his children came back and now they're working. It's kind of like this very cool thing where it is about the communities down there and the indigenous process.
Did mezcal and the trip to Oaxaca have any influence on the video for "Blue Agave Fields?"
Actually no. That video was made over a year ago. I had this song, and I have a friend named Ivan Landau, the director, and we would just hangout at this mezcal galleria in San Francisco called Mosto. I like what he does as a director, and I was like "I have this song we should just make something trippy for the hell of it. I don't know if I'm going to release this but let's just make art for the hell of it." So that was really just born out of that.
Thievery Corporation has always had an electronic influence, but how did you get involved with genres like techno, house, and disco?
The first records that I put out back in 1990, 1991 were techno records. I started off doing electronic music when I was 14-years-old, so I've always approached production from being an electronic artist first. By the time I met Eric (Hilton), we were both inspired by different forms of music. Dub, jazz, music from India, Brazil. We always wanted to find a way to take all these different forms of music and make them sound more modern.
This was back in the mid 90's, and as we grew and started getting more offers to be a band, we started grabbing friends from bars to come and play with us. There would be a singer in a bar and we would be like "Hey why don't you come into the studio and jam with us?"
Or there would be a conga player or bassist, and before you knew it we just had this band and we were touring around the world and there were about 13 people on stage. As time has gone on, we've become more organic and not as electronic, but my roots go back to electronic music.
Is there a separation between your approach to both projects, or is there some crossover?
For me they don't have to be separate. For me music is just music. It's what you love. Thievery definitely has its own sound and fingerprint, so there's certain types of styles and songs that go along with that. But in terms of creating, sometimes I create a song on an acoustic guitar and sometimes I do something in Ableton. It's just always kind of creating, but just certain things fit with certain songs.
Photo Credit: Mikala Taylor
Can you speak at all yet on the direction or influence of the upcoming Thievery album?
Well this is really influenced by our love of Jamaican dub music. We went down to Jamaica in February and tracked down there at a studio called Geejam, which is in Port Antonio. It's this very beautiful city on the North East side of Jamaica. We just hung out down there and went to the beach in the mornings. Stayed in the studio like 12 hours a day just tracking songs.
Now we're in the process of what we call dressing them up, in terms of getting all the electronic elements, developing the arrangements, and now we're starting to think about different singers for particular tracks. Hopefully we should have it out early 2016.
You mentioned this will be your fifth year at Burning Man. How has that influenced everything you've done over the years?
It definitely has. A) as an individual and B) as an artist. I moved to San Francisco about 5 or 6 years ago, and before that I didn't eve know what Burning Man was. Going out there and just being inspired by art and creativity and the sense of open mindedness. You really feel it out there that people aren't just about one particular style of music, but you can really hear all different types of sounds, especially in the electronic realm. It really just inspires imagination in general and that urge to create.
Image Via UR Art Facebook
Has Burning Man in any way influenced what you are doing with UR Art, and are there any other events you are looking forward to this summer?
It is kind of symbiotic music and art and culture, because there are a lot of people here that go to Burning Man. Because of that sort of community, it fosters the ability to create events like this. I'm definitely looking forward to more UR Art, What The Festival, of course Burning Man, I always love Red Rocks. It's just one of my favorite venues in the country. I'm just happy to be able to travel and make a living doing what I love. It's all good.
Back to the music, can you tell me how the Palace Of Mirrors release came about?
I was traveling through India doing some DJ dates, and talking to a buddy of mine from Bombay Dub Orchestra. He introduced me virtually to a singer named Vasuda Sharma, and we started sending this song back and forth. It's this track called "Re Mana." She's just an amazing vocalist. Very inspiring. Then I called up Psychemagik. I really admire their work. Also fellow Washingtonians Nadastrom, they did a remix. It was more slow and deep house. I was really psyched about the remix they did.
Then there was a few other tracks on the release. I have this label called Magnetic Moon. Right now we have a bunch of releases that we are gearing up to come out this next year. I'm also putting out a track with a guy that I did with Vancouver named Neighbour. We did a collaboration with Stee Downes. He's a great singer. We did a track called "Your Calling." Really excited about that one.