Thieves Like Us: Eric Hilton Makes Miami Bounce

The cat’s co-head of one of the coolest – and coolest named – collectives in the music biz. He co-owns one of the hippest joints in our nation’s capital, the Eighteenth Street Lounge, where his band and label were birthed. He’s mined some of the most sublime strains in the history of sound, and he’s done so accompanied by some of the most sublime singers and soundslingers ever to make a racket. His name is Eric Hilton, and along with Rob Garza, he is Thievery Corporation. And he just made Miami stir.

It all began on Monday night when Hilton and his merry band of music-makers occupied the lobby of the fabled Eden Roc Renaissance. The Roc has undergone a bit of a resurgence of late, what with the new 1500º eatery and Peter Tunney‘s image-racked entranceway. There may be no inn more deserving of the uptick in uproariousness. After all, when Lapidus first built the place back in 1956, it caused a bit of a scandal with its ‘bleau neighbor to the south, so it’s only fitting the venue continue the tradition. Besides, this is where Lucy and Ricky stayed when they made their way to Miami Beach, and you don’t get more fabled than that.

Coming along to fast-forward us to the present was Thievery Corporation, who shook the opulent lobby from proverbial floor to ceiling. Was it a little odd to see hula-hooping chicks spiral out of self-control in a place better known for swank and circumstance? You betcha. But odd is what we do best.

Adjourning to the patio where the beat became but a throb, Hilton and I charged into a chat befitting his status as world-wide ambassador to groove. We spoke of Thievery’s current tour supporting Massive Attack (“there’s a big crowd and they’re loving it”) and the band’s latest LP, It Takes a Thief. And though Hilton didn’t yet know about the old same-named television show starring Robert Wagner, after I told him about the series, he was “intrigued” and vowed “to check it out.”

Hilton and I also touched upon some of the storied figures he and Thievery have encountered over the years, such as Brazilian legend Caetano Veloso (“He took us through the favelas in Rio;” where he’s like a “total God.” “He has that je ne sais quoi“), as well as former Beatle Paul McCartney, for whom Thievery opened a few years ago.

“That got blown a little outta proportion,” said Hilton. “Basically, McCartney makes electronic music, he knew about Thievery, and he said ‘I want them to be the DC DJ opener,’ which was awesome. He paid us a decent amount of money, and we got to hang out with him a few hours during soundcheck, which was the coolest. He’s a gent, and a really impressive musician.”

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Then there’s French singer (and one-time label-mate of mine) Isabelle Antena, whose track “Nothing to Lose” appeared on Thievery’s 2006 remix album, Versions.

“I’ve been a fan of Isabelle since her first record, Camino del Sol. I love her so much. And actually we have a new record coming up that has two songs with her on it. She’s a close personal friend of mine — a lovely woman.”

That “next record is called Saudade,” he continued, “which is a Brazilian saying that means ‘contented melancholy.’ It’s super easy listening, a mix of Brazilian and French — more of a jazz record really.”

We spoke of Thievery’s history (“we’re closing in on 15 years now”), and their road-worthiness (“we do about 40-50 dates a year, and they’re definitely far-flung”), and, noting the beautiful disparity in his the music he makes, I suggest that Thievery could be the official soundtrack for Madagascar, since that African island nation reportedly has the most diverse plant and animal life on the planet. (“I love it!”)

To close I asked Hilton about his movie, Babylon Central, which came out in July and which I, sad to say, had only just learned about.

“I wrote, directed, wardrobed, everything,” he tells me. “It was insane. We did it in 2006, with all amateur actors from our neighborhood, and it was a blast.”

What’s the big idea behind it anyway?

“The movie is about many things, but it’s mostly about trying to survive in your own independent way, and not lose yourself to culture, to corporatism, to what’s expected of you. It’s about people trying to carve out their own path in life and do something that’s true to their hearts.”

The next night, at the foot of Bayfront Park’s stage, with thousands upon thousands of thieving souls behind me, I again got to witness just what Hilton meant about carving one’s own path. It’s a path that has kept him and Thievery Corporation in good stead for a good long time. And it’s a cinch it’ll continue to do so for many a year to come.

Photo Credit: Jeffrey Delannoy