With a career span longer than that of most politicians, it should be of no surprise to anyone that Thievery Corporation is back at it with a new album, Treasures from the Temple, set to drop on April 20th. That 4/20 release date is no accident, however. The chill electronic DC-based duo of Rob Garza and Eric Hilton recently decided to break into the cannabis industry, partnering with PAX for a limited-edition pen and developing a custom strain with Blue River Extracts named after their seminal single, “Lebanese Blonde.”
PRØHBTD chatted with Garza about how the group’s time in Jamaica inspired its two latest albums, how they’ve stayed so prolific, and what compelled Thievery Corporation to finally dive into the legal weed marketplace.
Since first breaking out in '95, your career has had incredible longevity. Why do you think you’ve lasted as long as you have without experiencing the same burnout as some of your contemporaries?
Well, there's a couple different aspects to that question I think. When you look at a lot of DJs, how much “work” are they doing up there anyways?
A lot of the EDM scene I see is like a gateway drug—[when] people get into it, they're young, they don't know too much about electronic music, and they go for this very obvious genre. After they get into that, their taste evolves. They're getting into more subtle forms of music. At that point, there's going to be bands like Thievery Corporation that've been making music for all this time, and you can go back and discover all the music that's been made for the past 20 years. From there, it's just like anything else. When they're kids, they might eat McDonald's or something, but nowadays, they prefer fine wines and good meals and healthy stuff. I think the very flashy EDM thing… it serves as a sort of [everyman]’s intro into something a lot deeper.
The new album, Treasures from the Temple, is a companion piece to your earlier record Temple of I & I. Did you always plan on making a two-part album?
I'd say it's a combination of the two—we were mixing and mastering Temple of I & I, and we realized we had all these songs that we wanted to release, but we didn't want to make a record of 30 songs or something. We had it in our minds that there would be this companion piece, and then, from there, we started writing a few more songs, and it just evolved. When we went into the studio in Jamaica, we didn't plan to make two records. I think once we were at the end of getting everything for Temple of I & I together, we realized that we had a lot of other material that we wanted to use at the base and create more and expand off of.
You’ve spent so many years in Jamaica, and you’re on record raving about the vast musical landscape of the country. Are there other sounds you want to tap into? Should we expect like a Thievery Corporation ska album at some point?
That would be great. (Laughs.) That would be fun. We don't have any of those plans. For me, I would love to go to Brazil next and make a record. That also has been a big influence on a lot of the music we've made throughout the years.
What parts of Jamaican culture grabbed you in particular?
We did go to this place that was really interesting. It's called Road Block. We have a song called “Road Block” in Temple of I & I. It was pretty wild because it's a straight-up Jamaican dancehall, but they play like… Taylor Swift. Like in the middle, you have this guy on stage shouting Jamaican patois over this really horrible sound system, and it was just like pop music in there. It was just so weird and bizarre. It's like, "What is going on here?"
Tell me about your process finding collaborators for these tracks. Are they exclusively friends and colleagues, or do you comb through SoundCloud to find gems?
There are some people now who are just part of the Thievery family—they're our go-tos. We've been working with Mr. Lif for a while now. Natalia Clavier. Raquel Jones was introduced to us by a guy who worked in the studio, Gee Jam. He introduced us to Raquel, and now she's been touring with us for the past year. That's been amazing. There's LouLou. Obviously Puma. We feel like we're really blessed to have a talented roster of great vocalists. From time to time, we'll work with some new and different people.
On that note, many of your songs feature vocals in so many different languages. Is there another language you find really beautiful that you haven’t yet incorporated into a song?
Interesting... yes, I'm trying to think because we've done Portuguese, Italian, French, Spanish, English, Hindi. We did Farsi. I think we have a lot covered.
Let's talk about what compelled you to finally get into the cannabis game.
It's something that we've watched happen in the United States. We definitely think that it's just something that should be legalized everywhere for recreational use. It's definitely something that we've stood behind. We had the opportunity to meet with the PAX guys and the Blue River guys. We jumped at the opportunity. We really like PAX as a company and what the Blue River guys are doing. It all fits together, especially with the song we had, “Lebanese Blonde,” which is a type of hash. All the planets lined up. We're excited about it.
I read the lyrics to “Lebanese Blonde” before this interview. Was this all just a two-decade long con to finally get your own strain of weed? Because those lyrics are a bit on the nose, if so.
I know. Who knew that would ever happen back when we were making the album?
Have you tried the original Lebanese Blonde hash strain?
Yes, it's really good. It happened when we started off making that song. Eric's partners were Afghani. They had this hash called Black Afghan. We were like, "Oh, that's a cool name. Black Afghan." Then, someone else who was in the studio, a girl from Lebanon, she was like, "Oh, is this a type of hash called Lebanese Blonde?" We were like, "That sounds even cooler as a title."
What Thievery Corporation album do you think pairs best with your own strain?
Wow. I might have to say I would like to listen to The Mirror Conspiracy on that, because it includes the song “Lebanese Blonde.” It's a great listening album. It's one of my favorites.
Live photo credit: John Shore.