Thievery Corp's Rob Garza on His U.S.-Bound Mezcal Brand & 'Vibrant' Club Scene in Mexico

Rob Garza’s artisanal mezcal brand Papadiablo is produced in the countryside in Oaxaca, Mexico. Garza, best known as one half of Thievery Corporation, is a frequent visitor to the area, where a mezcal maestro called Don Beto distils small batches of the infamous liquor made from agave over a wood fire. Traveling in Oaxaca, and watching the traditional mezcal-making process, inspired Garza to compose “Blue Agave Fields,” included on his new solo EP, Palace of Mirrors

“The song started out as an acoustic track that I wrote back a few years ago when I was traveling in that region,” Garza recalls. “During another visit, I had the idea to take it and make it into more of an electronic song.”

Garza is an entrepreneur as well as an internationally recognized electronic musician. With his partners in a different corporation, Grupo Santanera, he originally commissioned a boutique mezcal for one of their clubs in Mexico’s Mayan Riviera before creating a commercial brand. The spirits award-winning Papadiablo, currently sold in Mexico and Europe, has just been approved by the FDA and is bound for U.S. liquor store shelves by the end of the year.

“My mother’s from Mexico so I’ve spent a lot of time there,” says Garza, who formed Thievery Corporation with Eric Hilton in Washington, D.C. and currently lives with his family in San Francisco. “Probably 1989 was the first time that I went down to Tulum and the whole Riviera Maya. I fell in love with it back then, and around 2000 I went back and fell in love with the place again, and started working on some projects with my partners. We started opening up clubs and restaurants, bars and discos.”

Their initiative pre-dated the BPM Festival, which has brought Playa del Carmen fame as a hot spot for DJs.

“We help each other out,” saysa Garza of BPM’s organizers. “We’ve fostered this place where electronic music can thrive in North America,”

He describes the Riviera Maya as a center of “a lot of great parties, and a lot of great talent and music,” where locals come together with both Mexican and international visitors in the warm winter months at clubs like his beach dance spot Canibal Royale. 

“I think Mexico in general is very exciting artistically at the moment,” Garza says. “Within the arts and music community there is that community that exists outside of the mainstream sort of Americanized pop culture…In some ways I think it’s more interesting and vibrant than a lot of things happening in the United States.”

Garza notes that the much-publicized violence in Mexico has not affected that scene or his business.

“I have yet to hear any deep house narco-corrido,” he says wryly, before turning more serious. “Fortunately the Riviera Maya area has been immune compared to other parts of Mexico, and that may be a result of the heavy tourism industry that exists there.”

Garza's solo release came out in March on the artist’s new label Magnetic Moon.

“It started for releasing my own music but people have been calling me up and sending me tracks and some of it is pretty good,” says Garza. “So I’m probably it will turn into a full- fledged label and I’ll be releasing other people’s material as well.”

Garza has recently been in Jamaica, recording material for Thievery Corporation’s upcoming studio album -- the duo’s eighth -- and will be touring through the spring/summer festival season both with Thievery and as a solo performer.

“I'm busy on all fronts,” he confirms.