The DJs of Thievery Corporation Still Are Peerless Samplers

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See also: Q&A: Texas Hippie Coalition

Thievery Corporation brings its Outernational sound, as the band calls it, to McDowell Mountain Music Festival on Saturday, March 28, part of the three-day event with a lineup as diverse as the sheer versatility of one of its headlining acts.

So is Thievery Corporation a band or a collective?

"We've always considered ourselves not a traditional band," says Garza, 44. "First of all, we are more a production unit, me and Eric. We work with different musicians. We've been able to travel with different kinds of configurations."

The two jet-setting club DJ entrepreneurs met in 1995 at the now-infamous Eighteenth Street Lounge, in Washington's DuPont Circle, and immediately helped to make the club the CBGB of electronica and club dance culture and spawned a record label, ESL Music, shortly thereafter.

In 1984, his family moved from D.C. to Connecticut while Garza was a teen. But fate guided him back to the nation's capital and the electronica world in which he now thrives.

"I was working with analog synthesizers, first-step sequencers, reel-to-reel tape decks, drum machines, and samplers at 14 years old. So, I started playing with all of this equipment, and at the time I was really into punk rock like Black Flag and stuff coming out of D.C. [like Bad Brains and Minor Threat].

"You had this industrial and techno thing starting to happen, which had the aggression of punk but was electronic. On top of that, you had techno and house music, and then you also had hip-hop, which was really just coming to the mainstream. It was a very exciting time."

The inspired Garza dove head-first into piano lessons and learning classical and jazz music and music theory, to get to the root of music foundations. He began getting local cable-access gigs and began putting out his own vinyl techno music by 21. Four years later, he and Hilton would meet.

"Eric and I were very influenced by music from the 1960s. Sometimes, I think that music is influenced by the drugs that people take," Garza says. "You had this open-mindedness where you would have the Beatles going to India or Henry Mancini doing stuff with a sitar, jazz musicians doing rock. Everybody was kind of cross-pollinating and that was really at the heart of our inspiration."

For Thievery Corporation, everything has been possible, and last year, the TC collective paid homage to one of its members' earliest musical loves, bossa nova, on the 2014 release Saudade.

"A lot of it just happens randomly," Garza says about collaborating with such a diverse group of multinational and cultural talents. "People will just pop up in our world, and other times, if we do work with somebody, it's much easier these days to reach out through social media. You are probably just two degrees separate from just about anybody."

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Mark C. Horn
Contact: Mark C. Horn