Fans of downtempo electronica, dub, and trip-hop will be no strangers to Rob Garza’s productions. The US artist, hailing from Washington, DC, is widely known for his work with Thievery Corporation, formed in 1995 and today one of America’s most forward-thinking, politically conscious, and acclaimed duos. Over the course of 25 years, Garza and partner Eric Hilton have amassed an expansive discography featuring Grammy-nominated albums, as well as numerous remixes and EPs, much of it through their own Eighteenth Street Lounge Music label.
Garza’s new project – GARZA – brings together a diverse collective of musicians, producers, visual artists, and videographers. The multidimensional output of this meeting of the minds is an aesthetic that’s different to his previous work, combining esoteric electronica and a pop sensibility, harking back to Garza’s love of ‘80s electronic music and indie synth-pop. GARZA’s first EP, ‘Where the Moon Hides,’ was released in November 2019 and features vocalists Seann Bowe and Emeline.
Included on the release was “Floating Through My Bones,” and as part of this month’s XLR8R+ package, Garza is releasing an exclusive remix of the track. We caught up with him to take a deep dive into the production methods, creative processes, and inspiration behind it – and he’s shared an Ableton Live Set download so you can see exactly what he did.
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Please note: this Live Set and included samples are for educational use only and cannot be used for any commercial purposes.
Rob, thank you for talking to us about your project. What’s the story behind this particular track?
This is a remix of a song I have on my first EP for the GARZA project. I made this with a talented singer and writer named Seann Bowe. I wanted this remix to have an old school, downtempo, and breaks kind of vibe. There’s a lot of sweeping pads and things like that.
You are working entirely in Live’s Arrangement View on this project. Do you ever work in the Session View?
Sometimes I do both. It depends. If I’m sitting on an airplane I may work in the Session View, but a lot of the time I find I can keep moving in a certain way by working in the Arrangement View. So I tend to gravitate towards doing it this way.
Track one in your project features a drum group. If we open that up then we see a break drum loop, a shaker, and some percussion hits and snaps. Was the main drum break a sample, or did you record it yourself?
For this, I used an Abbey Road kit inside of Native Instruments Maschine. I started working with different sounds, rhythms, and adding things myself. I then rendered that down to audio. I then added some different shakers, as I love the movement they give. The shaker in this track is probably taken off an old sample CD from the ‘90s. It’s likely to be on loads of records I’ve either done myself or with my partner Eric [Hilton] as Thievery Corporation.
You have some percussion hits going through a ‘70s Keyboard Delay effect rack, which contains Live’s Delay and Frequency Shifter devices. You’ve used this rack in other parts of the song, too. Is this a favorite of yours?
Yes, I really like the effect of this rack. It gives this lush, swimming-in-delay kind of feeling, and it helps to glue a lot of things together.
Are you looking for anything specific when adjusting the parameters across the Delay and Frequency Shifter devices in this rack?
I tend to twiddle some knobs and get it to a point where, if it sounds good, it is good; it’s like jazz musician Duke Ellington’s philosophy. I try not to get into a “splitting the atom” type of mentality with this kind of thing. I find this can hinder me from being as creative as I want to be.
You introduce some snaps at certain points in the drum arrangement. What is the thinking there?
This adds some randomness to the drum track and mixes things up a little bit, so as not to become too repetitive. A lot of times there’s no rhyme or reason to me having done these things; it’s more about intuition, I think.
Track six uses Live’s Hip-Hop Bass Instrument Rack. This rack hosts Operator, a synthesizer designed for combining classic analog sounds and frequency modulation. The synth’s signal then passes through Live’s EQ, Multiband Dynamics, and Saturator devices. Where did your inspiration come from when writing this bassline?
It’s like a dub meets downtempo, ‘Café del Mar’ type of sound. It really grounds things. This track is quite spacey, there’s a lot of delays and things like that, so I wanted a bass that is low but also quite soothing as well. This particular bass sound seemed to capture that.
On tracks seven and eight, you’ve introduced some chord stabs at bar 38. Where did these sounds originate?
I like the idea of randomness and sometimes I just scroll through the different sounds in the browser and play different chords until I hit upon something interesting. I don’t have any big issues using preset sounds, but I will often use effects to make them different. If you listen to a lot of old Thievery Corporation records, the bass sound might come from a standard preset on a Yamaha tone generator or something like that. On its own, it might sound generic but if you put other things around it, then it works. That’s what it’s about for me.
Track nine’s synth melody uses the Canadian Boards Instrument Rack in Live 10 Suite. This Rack hosts an instance of Analog, an instrument that emulates the circuitry of vintage analog synthesizers. Analog’s signal then passes through a series of Live’s effect devices including EQ 8, Redux, Chorus, and Phaser. The melody’s timbre seems to fit organically in the mix. Is there anything you can tell us about it?
I usually have a sense of the sounds I would like. In this case, I was going through some of the different synth keys in Live. I have used this particular sound before, so I had a feeling it might fit. The melody itself is just spontaneous inspiration. I find, if I just sit with the music and listen to it over and over, I eventually start to come up with these little ideas.
When jamming out these ideas, do you prefer to play keys or do you gravitate towards guitars or other instruments?
I play a little guitar, a little bass, some keyboards, and things like that. But I try not to limit myself. The only limit you really have making electronic music is your own imagination. If you can imagine things, you can create things. A lot of times for me, it’s about adding layers on top of layers. In this particular track, I tried not to go too crazy with adding 30 different layers of synths, but I do tend to do that in other projects!
You often use a “call and response” technique where your sounds play off of one another. In tracks 10 and 11, you have two organs with similar yet contrasting timbres. How do you go about finding sounds that work well together like this?
The first organ sound was made in u-he’s Diva synthesizer. Then I found the Organ5 Vibrato Instrument Rack inside of Live. I wanted to create this ethereal sound, which, when layered with pads, gives a super lush vibe. A lot of it is about relying on your ear when finding the right sounds to play off of each other.
Track 12 features some lush, wide pads that cut really well through the mix. What was your approach to making this sound?
These pads were from the Arturia Jupiter 8V software synth. With this mix, I really wanted to do something that harkens back to the old days, when Thievery Corporation first started. At the time, I was listening to artists that inspired me, like Kruder & Dorfmeister, Fila Brazillia, and people like that. I wanted to create that kind of atmosphere and I think those pads really take you back to that time.
In track 13, you’ve introduced a plucked guitar melody at bar 33. Here you have used the Guitar Palm Legacy Instrument Rack in Live 10 Suite which holds two instances of Tension, Live’s physical modelling string synthesizer, along with a chain of effect devices. You’ve then added some additional processing with Amazing Noise’s Max for Live device Outer Spaces and recorded the effect’s signal into Track 14. Can you tell us a bit about why you did that?
Yes, I really love that effect because it gives a different quality of reverb and space, which adds a really cool atmosphere on top of what you already have. It really is a go-to for me.
On track 15, you have this “Sweep Audio” sound. Can you tell us about this one?
I was actually in the back of a tour van when I was making this sound. I used Arturia’s Modular V soft synth.
So did you work a lot on this remix while on the road?
Yes, I did, in the back of a van, using headphones! I also love making music on airplanes and trains, especially when traveling in Europe. Watching things go by and that feeling of motion is inspiring to me. Specifically, in airplanes, I feel like they are one of the places I am not bothered or distracted as much. Time just goes by so fast, it’s almost meditative; I become very at one with creating music and the next thing I know, they’re tapping me and telling me to put up my seat for landing!
Track 18 features a group of vocal tracks that have been layered with different effects processing. Where does the vocal come from?
The vocal comes from the original song on the EP, and the singer is Seann Bowe. I took pieces of the chorus which I found most inspiring and created a kind of dub vibe with them. A lot of it is about washing things in delay. I also used the Beat Repeat device on the backing vocal. It gives a stuttering tremolo effect which, when layered with the washed-out delays and reverbs, creates a really nice juxtaposition.
On the master channel, you’ve created a bandpass effect in the introduction, using some frequency automation with Live’s EQ8 device. Finally, you’ve also rolled off some low frequencies, applied the glue compressor, and added some limiting. Do you generally do these finalizing processes in Live before sending it to a mastering engineer, or do you leave the master channel unprocessed?
I would use those for a reference master, so I can roughly define the realm of where I want the master to be. I would then take those devices off so that the engineer has some bandwidth and headroom with which to do their magic.
What’s next for the GARZA project, and what areas do you hope to explore in contrast to the work you’ve done with Thievery Corporation?
I’ve been doing music for 25 years with Thievery Corporation and that is still going strong. We have a record called ‘Symphonik’ coming out in April that we’ve made with an orchestra from Prague. The next GARZA EP comes out in May.
The GARZA project really harks back to my love of ‘80s electronic music and indie synth-pop, and the new EP is built around that. GARZA is a very collaborative experience. I am working with a lot of other young producers, singers, and songwriters. On some of the tracks, there might be up to five songwriters, whereas with Thievery Corporation it would only be me, Eric, and one other singer. The GARZA project has almost a tinge of what I would consider pop; the music has this youthful vibrancy. With Thievery Corporation we can sometimes get quite politically conscious which I love as well, but this project is just stretching out in a different direction. It has a little bit more of an electronic edge in a way, drawing on my childhood inspirations like Blondie and The Cars.
You can download GARZA’s "Floating Inside My Bones" (Floating Breaks Mix) now via XLR8R+ here. XLR8R+ is a monthly subscription service and music community delivering exclusive music and content every month.
A version of this article appeared on XLR8R+.