For perhaps the first time in his musical career, Rob Garza is stuck performing without electricity. It happens during the last song of his band Dust Galaxy’s hometown debut on a recent Wednesday night at the Hosiery’s gallery space. A few power chords into his seedy garage stomper, “Limitless,” the stage lights and projected swirls cut off, the amps go silent, and the keyboards fail.
There is just Garza in the dark holding a dead microphone. It might as well be a fish.
Garza looks down at the mass of wires and plugs and switches, his eyes following the feet and legs of the men who have jumped in to locate the problem. The packed crowd fidgets during the prolonged silence that follows, but then drummer Jerry Busher strikes up the song’s beat and guitarist James Canty turns to the dazed audience and begins to clap along, arms aloft. And finally, Garza starts to sing the song again, with all he’s got: “My love for you is limitless! More than there are whores in Los Angeles!” The crowd starts to dance, two kids hoist their lighters, and the inexperienced frontman struts unabashedly through his ode to desperate love.
At age 36, Garza has more than just fried wires to work out. The Dupont Circle resident might have found the one genre of music that won’t love him back. As one-half of Thievery Corporation, a hugely successful enterprise that produces expert global pop cocktails, Garza plays conductor onstage and in the studio, directing the musicians and coaxing the right sounds out of his sampler. This time, however, Garza isn’t working with otherworldy material but psych-rock—a genre that’s seemingly recycled every decade and that’s been the subject of countless books, boxed sets, and myths. With Dust Galaxy, Garza knows he may get tagged as a dilettante. “I kind of expect it,” he says before the Hosiery show. “That’s fine….If I didn’t believe in the songs, I wouldn’t do this.”
For the past two years, Garza has been working on Dust Galaxy, which he says allows him to focus on songs that don’t fit with Thievery’s style and sound. “The thing with these songs, they’re very personal songs. I just felt like I was the only person who could sing them,” he says. “With Thievery we’re always working with other vocalists. You’re writing with other people in mind all the time.”
Garza’s belief in his material sent him to London to record an album slated to be released next spring. For the album, he recruited members of Primal Scream and Cornershop to fill out the songs, which, like Thievery’s, recall a wide range of references and impeccable taste—from Love’s soulful psych to the Stones’ early ’70s country rock to the Happy Mondays’ drugged-out heyday. “It’s just part of the music I’ve been listening to since growing up,” he says of his heretofore obscured rock influences. “It’s something that’s really strong in my record collection.”
Garza is still an expert at arrangements. It was getting behind the glass and in front of the microphone that proved challenging. “It was scary,” Garza says. “It was kind of strange to go back there, to be on the other side.”
Stranger still is singing in front of people and knowing how to work the room without bumping into the flailing bass player next to you. For the 45 minutes leading up to Garza’s impromptu acoustic number, the singer and guitarist wobbled through textbook rocker moves, managing only stiff knee bends, off-rhythm fist shakes, and the ploy of turning your back to stare at the drummer. “I’m still getting comfortable,” Garza admits after the set.
Despite the fact that Dust Galaxy has been practicing for a few months—and recruited keyboard player Yoko K. just 10 days before the show—the band still flexed mightily through its modish jams. Canty’s high feverish trills, bassist Ashish Vyas’ nimble rhythms, and Yoko K.’s spacey sound collages proved perfect support. The members also know how to be supportive after a gig.
“I think Rob’s getting better and better,” Vyas says post-gig. When asked what Garza needs to work on, he says, “projection.”
Garza’s eyes light up at the word. He concurs: “Definitely, projection.” He goes on to explain that getting more shows under his belt will only help build his confidence in his latest musical endeavor.
“People thought I was crazy,” Garza says of his decision to go the rock route. “It’s nice to break your own molds in some kind of way.” —Jason Cherkis