Interviu si articol realizate de Alex Rosu pentru Feeder.ro
Eric Hilton and Rob Garza formed, in the summer of 1995, Thievery Corporation. The two met at Eighteenth Street Lounge, co-owned by Eric Hilton. Their debut LP, Sounds from the Thievery Hi-Fi, demonstrated the duo’s eclectic musical taste, and sounds as fresh today as it did when it originally came out. They created their own record label, Eighteenth Street Lounge, to publish their music, and every album they’ve every made has been published there.
In preparation for the Thievery Corporation concert in Bucharest, on October 15th, Feeder.ro caught up with Eric Hilton in DC, for a chill-out conversation. Talking to Eric over the telephone is a wonderful experience; he comes across as a relaxed, down to earth guy that’s very happy with what he does.
Very little is known of the two before they formed “Thievery Corporation”, so we wanted to find out more:
Eric Hilton: We grew up in suburban DC, and there’s not that much to do here.. I mean, we used to hang out in parking lots and stuff like that.. trading records.. stealing instruments… we actually had a bit of trouble with the law, Rob got arrested once.
Feeder.ro: Is that where the name Thievery Corporation came from, then?
Eric Hilton: No, no [laughs]. Actually, Rob was recording a techno project, the label was called Juju Thievery Corporation, and so when we started recording music together, and we had some songs, we needed a name, and I told him that I always liked the name “Thievery Corporation”, if we could just drop the Juju part. I thought it was a great name, and it suited the music that we were doing, ‘cause we were, at that time, using a lot of sampling, and we were kind of inspired by other music from the past, which we still are..
Feeder.ro: So, you mean the name itself is not a critique of corporate greed? Come on, i’m disappointed..
Eric Hilton: Well, we like to think of it as that as well, but we feel like we have our own corporation – that’s sort of like Radio Retaliation, right? We have our own radio station, our own musical culture that exists outside this corporate realm.. you know, we never signed with a major label, and never would.
Feeder.ro: Speaking of Radio Retaliation – are you excited about this new album?
Eric Hilton: Oh, very, yeah; actually, I’m trying not even to think of it because I like it so much that I try not to get too excited. It is just another record for us, I can’t wait to record the new one for two years from now, but I think this one is clearly our best record.. for us it is.
Feeder.ro: Who are you working with on this album?
Eric Hilton: Femi Kuti, Anushka Shankar, Seu Jorge, Notch, Lou Lou, Zee, Verny Varela, a new singer, Jana, from Slovakia, a bunch of different people..
Feeder.ro: Yeah, it sounds like it’s all different styles and sounds; how do you manage to put all those things together in tracks that, all modesty aside, sound brilliant?
Eric Hilton: Thank you; it’s not hard to make the songs, because those are just styles of music that we’re big fans of, if it’s dancehall, or afrobeat, or psychedelic indian rock or whatever, but when you have to format them in an album form then it’s a little difficult sometimes; but it’s like making a DJ set, you just kind of play one and see how the next one slows and pretty soon you’re 1 through 15, you’re done.
Feeder.ro: What kind of music do you guys listen to, then? I’m curious to know what makes up your “audio environment”?
Eric Hilton: Pretty broad, I’m sure everybody’s is probably fairly broad; one minute I’ll listen to rock, and next minute I’ll listen to old reggae or some sort of northern soul song, rock.. everything, Indian music, Bollywood..
Feeder.ro: Bollywood! That’s funky!
Eric Hilton: Some Bollywood tunes are really cool.
Feeder.ro: I never sat through a Thievery Corporation live concert.. what’s different between the studio version of the tracks and the live version?
Eric Hilton: There is a big difference, actually; I think the live tend to have more energy; you’re in a live setting, and people are expecting a party; they’ve come with a lot of energy, you feed off them and you have to give that back to them; we have horn sections, two percussion players, about six singers…
Feeder.ro: That sounds like a party to me!
Eric Hilton: Yeah, yeah, we travel with 16 musicians.. There’s a lot of us.
Feeder.ro: I wanna talk a bit about ESL. How is it like to own a record label? Do you guys have large leather chairs, a huge boardroom and all that?
Eric Hilton: [laughs] No, our record label is in the basement of the house we record in, and it’s just a modest office with maybe four people and it’s just a nice company, where people can work and feel like it’s a fun working environment, I feel like we’ve achieved the dotcom work environment, but we’re not going out of business, thankfully. I mean.. people don’t have terrible work schedules and seem to enjoy what they’re doing, and we’re all good music lovers, so… it’s good, we’re not trying to conquer the world, and take over other labels.. we’re just trying to put out some decent music.
Feeder.ro: I understand Dischord is sort of your role model when it comes to record labels.
Eric Hilton: Definitely; they do the same thing we do: they have one house, they have a recording studio there and they run the label out of the house, and they do everything themselves, they have somebody who stuffs envelopes.. and sends out products and things.. they design their own t-shirts, or whatever they wanna do, and posters and…
Feeder.ro: It sounds like a very down-to-earth enterprise.
Eric Hilton: Yeah, it is, it’s like a little workshop, where people feel like they can do something instead of just move money around.
Feeder.ro: What are your criteria for signing on an artist?
Eric Hilton: Just something that we think is good is really the only criteria.. We’ve got, sometimes, just records in the mail, for instance Federico Aubele, artist from Argentina, just sent us a CD in the mail, and it had some really good potential, and.. that really ballooned into something, ‘cause he ended up coming to washington and we ended up producing a record; sometimes, another artist like Ursula 1000 or Chris Joss.. they produce all their music on their own and they’re just excellent producers and do great stuff.. same thing with Ocote Soul Sounds from Austin, Texas.. So anything that we find interesting. And we’re really not wedded to one particular genre, of course, we’re known as an electronic label but we’re open to all kinds of music.
Feeder.ro: That really sounds too good to be true..
Eric Hilton: Well, when you’re not trying to sign too many bands it’s easy.. we only have maybe ten artists at the most..
Feeder.ro: Reading a previous interview of yours, I sort of got the feeling that you guys are ok with file sharing, but then again you’re not ok with that.. and I’m asking this especially because in a country like Romania, it’s just so difficult to actually buy, legitimately, music, especially from independent labels. It’s so difficult to get anything from independent labels.. like Ninja Tune, or ESL, or Klein Records, or whatever.
Eric Hilton: That’s really surprising.. the iTunes model is so big in the US, and to me.. I really like iTunes for the convenience factor. If you’re just interested in an artist, and maybe just wanna buy two songs… it’s only 99 cents to buy a song, and that seems like kind of a fair price.. a dollar.. so, I’m surprised that there’s no iTunes Romania, I’m surprised that you don’t have some similar service everywhere.. I think the situation is quite simple: if people find it too expensive, then they’re gonna try and get it for free; but I think that people wanna give something to the artist, so that artists can continue to do what they do; I don’t think most people wanna just take things for free all the time, but if there’s no easy way to just give a reasonable amount to the artist then.. sure, go ahead and download for free.. I mean, for us .. maybe it hurts a little bit, but I think most people think that music artists are just like rolling in cash or something, and I guess some are.. like Jay-Z or..
Feeder.ro: I guess the bling of the industry…
Eric Hilton: Yeah, it’s kind of grotesque.. I think they do themselves a disservice, because the mainstream.. especially hip-hop, they try to portray themselves as having so much money, and then of course everyone will just get their music for free because…
Feeder.ro: Let’s change tracks a bit. Radio Retaliation’s press release says “There’s no excuse for not speaking out at this point, with the suspension of habeas corpus, outsourced torture, illegal wars of aggression, fuel, food, and economic crises.” “Habeas corpus”? I’m a political science major and I don’t talk like that…
Eric Hilton: That’s an important legal term, obviously latin words, but a legal term in US law, which just means you have the right to a fair trial and you can’t get arrested and thrown in jail without a trial, but now they’ve changed that law so that they can hold you as enemy combatant if they wish, you can get thrown in jail as a “terrorist”, and they can keep you in jail, I think, for 6 months to a year without a trial..
Feeder.ro: And then you just get sent to Guantanamo
Eric Hilton: Well, fortunately, they haven’t sent anybody from the US to Guantanamo, but who knows, if things get worse, maybe they will. There are countries changing to the worse right in front of our eyes and this war on terrorism is complete fiction, and I don’t believe there really is terrorism, neither does Rob, and it’s just all, basically, a scam to control people. And they’re doing a good job of it, because they have everybody hypnotized right now. If there was terrorism, there’d be a bus blowning up in DC today, but it doesn’t happen.
Feeder.ro: When you say these things, a stencil that’s on the streets of Bucharest comes to my mind; it’s a picture of Osama Bin Laden, and underneath him there’s a text that reads “In God We Trust”…
Eric Hilton: It should say more like “In the Saudi Royal Family and in the CIA we trust”, because that’s who created this person, that’s who he worked.. that’s who, I believe, he works for; and it’s complete bullshit, he’s a CIA agent, his name is Tim Osman, that’s his CIA code name..
Feeder.ro: You’re really into this..
Eric Hilton: Oh yeah, why not? It’s really important; it’s more important than… you know, America’s next top model.
Feeder.ro: Clearly; so what turned you into such a global citizen?
Eric Hilton: Curiosity, and definitely traveling for Thievery Corporation; just seeing that there are so many nice parts of the world that here in the US everybody thinks they’re probably shit. One time we did a tour in Eastern Europe and unfortunately we didn’t go to Romania, but even we were kind of surprised of how nice certain cities were; Zagreb was cool, and Sofia and I’m sure Bucharest is gonna be really cool. And people in America think those places are shit, because they just don’t know. The irony is that most of the cities in the US are shit, so it’s really funny.. Everybody thinks here that they live in the greatest place in the world, but the world itself is a great place, and there are many great places.
Feeder.ro: Why do you feel artists have an obligation to speak up?
Eric Hilton: It’s more of a luxury that someone would actually listen to you. There really isn’t any difference from you and then the mad person on the street just sitting there with a sign saying “Wake up, wake up”; but people, for some reason, don’t listen to people like me and Rob. I think with that luxury.. it brings a responsibility. You might as well try to make a positive contribution rather than just go with the flow.
Feeder.ro: You have many songs that criticize or protest against the establishment. Is there a relationship between your music and politics?
Eric Hilton: Not necessarily politics per se, because when we think of politics, we think of politics as sort of like the political parties, like democrat and republican, and I think that all of these important things, really, are going beyond politics; they’re more like social matters. The same people who control the media, the government, large corporations, all of these very powerful people, they own both political parties in the US, the Democrats and the Republicans, so we’re kinda really just talking to power in general, and I guess you could say that’s political, but it’s just asking people to wake up and see what’s going on around them.. and not participate.. our whole thing is just.. we like to do our own thing, and try not to participate.. I mean, we’re not gonna do television commercials for McDonald’s or Pepsi or… and we also don’t buy those products… just try to think about where your money goes… None of us are perfect, but we try.
Feeder.ro: Speaking of McDonald’s, what about your recent UN involvement?
Eric Hilton: That’s an interesting scenario for us, because it’s both good and bad; I think that what the United Nations Food Program does is pretty simple.. they’re doing food drops for hungry people, but then you have other elements of the UN, like the IMF that are probably creating the conditions that make those people hungry, so… it’s like you’re participating with one part of the organization that seems to help, but the whole organization might not be helping, so it’s a little bit of a double edged sword for us, but we think the people working in the World Food Program have their hearts in the right place, so.. we do what we can.
Feeder.ro: Since you guys love conspiracy theories, what’s your hidden plan? Your hidden agenda?
Eric Hilton: The funny thing is we don’t have a hidden agenda. The term “conspiracy theory”, I think it’s interesting because it’s basically a smear term, to get you to stop thinking.. it’s like “Oh, you’re a conspiracy theorist”, in other words “Oh, you think differently than the official version”; but it’s not that. And we actually feel like we have a very open agenda, where we’re very clear about what we think and we actually think that we’re combatting the real conspiracy theory… The real conspiracy theory is to keep you playing Xbox, eating McDonald’s, driving your car, putting petrol in it and watching TV all day; that’s the conspiracy theory. We wanna see people dancing more, we wanna see them getting together, we wanna see them fucking more, we wanna see them do real human things.
Feeder.ro: What’s in store for your concert in Bucharest?
Eric Hilton: A long show; we’ve been doing an hour and a half shows, I think we can easily do two hours; I think people will be surprised with the energy of this show; some people will come and think that we’re like this chillout… and there will be some mellow songs, but the show gets to punk-rock, even, at some point.. yeah, it’s fun.
Thievery Corporation is performing live at Sala Palatului on October 15th, 2008, in Bucharest, Romania. More information about the show and tickets – here.