The process of sampling and remixing has long been a topic of debate among dedicated audiophiles. It's a question of whether sampling and/or remixing is an art form, or just artfully disguised theft.
So you gotta wonder if a band that named itself Thievery Corporation is admitting to its pilfering with a certain sense of braggadocio. In much the same way rappers retook ownership of the word "nigga," perhaps Thievery Corp. adopted the name as if to say, "That's right, nigga, we're stealing the music. Watcha gonna do about it?!"
Their latest album, Versions, is made up almost entirely of songs that are stolen-er, remixed-from other artists. Songs such as, "This is Not a Love Song" by Nouvelle Vague, "Lemon Tree" by Herb Alpert, "Dirty Little Secret" by Sarah McLachlan, "Strange Days" by The Doors and "Beloved" by Anoushka Shankar have all been appropriated by the Corp.
"These are remixes we've been doing over the past few years and they just sort of collected in the corner," says Rob Garza, one half of the Thievery duo. He and his partner Eric Hilton have been working together for more than a decade at their studio in Washington, D.C. In a sentence, Thievery is an electronica outfit that infuses all the electronica-related elements (such as trance, ambient, dub-groove, techno, trip-hop and acid jazz) into their remixes.
CityBeat: Explain how it works in the world of remix albums. Are you getting permission to use these tunes? How do you decide what songs you are going to tackle?
Rob Garza: Usually, they contact us. For instance, somebody like Sarah McLachlan will commission us to do a remix. She'll send us multiple tracks. Then we'll listen through and pick out the parts that appeal to us. Then we'll strip down elements, create our own beats and start adding layers of different sounds to try and give it a feeling the original version didn't have.
Why do these artists even want remixes?
A lot of times it can be for artistic reasons. For some record labels, it's about marketing and reaching a new audience. Take the Herb Alpert song for instance. "Lemon Tree" was originally recorded in the late-'60s and had a certain sound to it. Herb Alpert wanted a remix because he wants to incorporate his sounds with something a bit more modern.
Do you have to pay to use the songs on the CD?
Yeah, because, in the end, they own the song.... However, with some of the artists we worked out a trade agreement. For instance, when they asked us to remix the song originally, we told them that we would do it for a lot less than what we normally charge and, in return, they would let us use it on a compilation remix album such as Versions.
So it's definitely not stealing. Why then did you name yourself Thievery Corporation?
The name Thievery Corporation could be so many things. It doesn't necessarily have to do with sampling. When we started, we used to be more sample-heavy. But there were too many issues of having to deal with copyrights... so we began recording with live instruments, and picking up instruments ourselves, and putting them into the computer and making it more about a live, warm, organic sound-within the electronic sound as well. I think the name is just something that makes people wonder about it a little bit.
So what's your take on the whole "sampling is theft" debate?
I think it's hard to make a clear line as to what is art and what is stealing. The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, in a way, stole from American black blues artists. It's a fuzzy line, and with the artists of today, you don't know where art ends and stealing begins, and that's what makes it exciting.
What can we expect to see at the show?
It's a big show-not just two guys on stage spinning records. We have about six vocalists, a sitar player, guitar player, bass player, two percussionists, horn section, myself and Eric. It's not something you usually see in the electronic community-largely because it's a very expensive thing to do. But we get a lot of well-paying gigs, so we try to bring in a bunch of people and make it the kind of show we would want to see ourselves.
Thievery Corporation play at 4th & B on July 21 and 22. Doors open at 8 p.m. $35-$38. 619-231-4343. www.thieverycorporation.com.