Twenty years since their debut album, Thievery Corporation still record in the same way: cooped up in a room with instruments and plenty of booze.
That said, Rob Garza and Eric Hilton — the production duo who began recording music together in the liquor stockroom at D.C.’s 18th Street Lounge in 1995 — have made lots of musical headway since the early days.
From Latin-inspired sounds to jazz to dub and trip-hop, they have made seven diverse, critically acclaimed studio albums. For just a moment before their next record, Garza and Hilton look back and celebrate their career with a 20th anniversary tour.
Finding the groove
Garza pinpoints their sophomore record, “The Mirror Conspiracy” (2000), as the turning point for the band. “At that moment … people were digging it all over the world, and there was this great momentum and energy that just kind of fueled us and inspired us into having a career that’s lasted 20 years,” he says.
And, of course, their defining trip-hop jam “Lebanese Blonde” is on that record. “We just really used the sitar for the first time. I think that that was really a moment — kind of making that song.”
Revisiting bossa nova
Over the following 14 years, Thievery Corporation made a name for themselves as a genre-melding, politically-charged electronica group. And then they then returned to their bossa nova roots on “Saudade,” the group’s 2014 effort.
“For me, [bossa nova is] one of my great loves in music,” explains Garza. “I just love so many Brazilian artists. There’s something very cinematic, and [there’s a] very nighttime quality to the music. Sort of an impressionistic vibe. It’s a very beautiful form.”
Coming in 2017: Jamaican vibes
For their next album, “The Temple of I and I” (out Feb. 10), Garza and Hilton brought a band down to Port Antonio, Jamaica, to channel sounds from the Caribbean.
Garza says the new record, which dives back into trip-hop, is “more energetic.” Considering their hectic daily routine during the two-week recording sessions, we’re not surprised.
“We’d hang out at the beach and get some sun and just kind of feel the vibe,” he says. “And then we’d kind of lock ourselves in the studio for about 12 hours and drink Jamaican rum and eat jerk chicken and just play music and maybe step out at night for a drink or two and then do it all again.”
A surprising live show
Thievery Corporation may be laid-back on their recordings — but don’t expect the same onstage. The performances feature at least a dozen musicians: sitar, bass, percussion, drums, guitar, a horn section and “about five or six singers,” according to Garza.
“Sometimes people think it’s going to be chill — you go there and by the time you leave … it’s a lot different from your expectations. People are pretty surprised in terms of the energy level.”