Eric Hilton is on a long walk in D.C. Walking helps him stay centered during the current state of affairs. “It’s an excellent time to escape into the your own creativity if you can,” says Hilton. “I know it’s one of the things that kept me sane along the way.” Just a few weeks earlier, Hilton, co-founder, and one half of the electronic duo Thievery Corporation, was centering himself around new music, releasing Infinite Everywhere, his first solo album after more than 25 years with the band.
Recorded during the late fall and early winter of 2019, Infinite Everywhere is one of two or three solo albums Hilton is planning to release in 2020. Fused by a backlog of song fragments, ideas, and finished tracks—several initially reserved for Thievery—and some new, Infinite Everywhere was weaved together at Hilton’s Winter Palace home studio in D.C. and is the beginning of what he says is the next 25 years of his career.
“I was really debating which album I would release first, and I chose Infinite Everywhere, because I figured it was an easier digest for fans of Thievery and stuff that I had been doing,” says Hilton. “The next record has a lot of the Thievery fingerprint on it, but it’s more of a soundtrack, so it has an easy listening, Bossa, and world music kind of vibe.”
Since 2005, Hilton says working with Thievery Corporation has been a predominantly split process with co-founder Rob Garza and he working mostly separately, then coming together to decide which cuts to finish. “We’re very close personally, but we like very different things,” says Hilton. “Rob really loves the road and the live band aspect of Thievery, and I really love the music making, so after 25 years, I just thought, ‘I’m just gonna do this by myself for awhile and enjoy making music with no one else’s opinion.’ No offense to Rob or anybody, but I just want to trust myself and do my own thing.” He adds,” Frankly, I think I’ll probably do this for forever.”
Worn out from what felt like a factory-like manufacture of music at times, exploring solo material was a natural progression for Hilton. “I was a bit fatigued making music that would fit into a live show or music by committee,” says Hilton. On Thievery’s most recent release, 2018’s Treasures From the Temple, Hilton worked with studio musicians doing jam sessions at their Montserrat House [Studio], then passed all of the components to their engineer. “Even though some really good songs came out of that… again, it’s sort of music-making by committee,” says Hilton. “It’s fun, but that’s not really what I want to do. I like being in solitude and just sitting there writing. It’s a lot more meditative that way.”
Infinite Everywhere encapsulates Hilton’s musical meditations. Textured in trance-like motions, Infinite Everywhere effortlessly moves through different times and space. It’s a resplendent collection of sexy lounge-induced jazzy trip-hop, elegantly unfurled around nuanced arrangements from the steady beat of the opening title track through the sultry glide of “More Beautiful Things,” which opens on a very “educational” oration on the euphoria of an acid trip.
Written by longtime collaborator, Puma Ptah, vocalist for reggae band The Archives, who have toured with Thievery Corporation throughout the years, “This Strange Daze” is a downtempo deep dive into paranoia and mental health. Pacified in chill electro-reggae beats, it mellowly coasts through chorus Give me some time to find out where I’m going, while I drift into the strange daze. “I wrote the music but felt a vocal would take it a bit further,” says Hilton of the only Infinite track with lyrics. “I called Puma, and he wrote this beautiful track about anxiety, worry, and his experience with it. I love his lyrics, and his performance is incredible.”
More contemplative trips are cut in “Expert Dream,” which pensively moves along droplet beats to a horn- and drum-driven “Continuum,” while “The Grand Beauty” wraps up Hilton’s curation in an exotic and mesmerizing composition. Originally written around 11 years ago with Thievery in mind, Hilton previously recorded Argentinian singer Natalia Clavier, a longtime featured vocalist on Thievery albums like Saudade and the two Temple albums, her wispy vocals sweeping throughout the track’s atmospheric space.
“When I was working on this, it was ambient but didn’t have any beats or anything,” says Hilton. “I wanted something like operatic Indian singing, and she [Clavier] immediately cut it, and it was beautiful. I found it in my hard drive and just started developing the track more keeping her original vocal. I finished it, then I sent to her and I said, ‘I think you’re on my album, if you want to be.’ She was very excited.”
Infinite Everywhere is infinitely Eric Hilton. Mostly instrumental with the exception of vocals on “This Strange Daze” and closer “Grand Beauty,” Infinite Everywhere was also a step outside of Hilton’s comfort zone. As he pieced together each track late at night on keyboard, Hilton plays nearly every instrument—with a little help from his friends guitarists Mateo Monk and Josh Miller and engineer Igor Garnier, a classically trained pianist.
“I’m glad that it hits people that way, because I just love making instrumental music, because I feel like if it can move you and give you that feeling that music does without a message, to me it’s just the be all, end all of music making. I just love that.”
Overall, Infinite Everywhere is a creative release for Hilton. “There’s less structure to the music, which is also really liberating,” he says. “I just want to distill my music career down to making music, because that’s what it’s about.”
Regrouping with Ptah, Hilton recently co-produced The Archives’ Carry Me Home: A Reggae Tribute to Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson. Produced along with The Archives keyboardist Darryl “Trane” Burke and longtime Thievery engineer Gianmaria Conti, the album features Scott-Heron’s longtime collaborator Brian Jackson and, says Hilton, sounds like a fusion of future, space-age jazz.
“It sounds like it was made in the future, or in the ’70s,” says Hilton of the album, featuring contributions Jackson. “It’s a very trippy, groovy record. I have a feeling it’s going to shake things up in the jazz world. He’s [Jackson] in his sixties but doing this very progressive, electronic sounding thing. It’s a powerful record.”
There’s more solo material for years to come, says Hilton, whose second album, Impossible Silence, is set for a late October release. Hilton is also still busy running several restaurants and bars, along with his brother Ian, around D.C. and Virginia. “I’ve never quit my day job,” laughs Hilton, who has been in the hospitality business since Thievery Corporation’s inception 1995 when he opened his first venue D.C.’s Eighteenth Street Lounge (also the namesake of the TC’s own label since ’96), which recently shut its doors following the pandemic lockdown. “I’ve always done music and restaurants and bars.”
As for Thievery Corporation, maybe it’s the end of an era—or not. “I don’t know that there will be another Thievery record, especially if I’m doing solo work, but you never know,” says Hilton. “I like to think that we’re just taking a couple of years off.”
In its tranquil state, Infinite Everywhere’s pre-dated the current world issues, and while its not prophetic, nor filled in protest, it does offer some enlightened reverie. “Personally, I’m just in the mood for more universal vibrations,” says Hilton, “but maybe that will change.”
Hilton adds, “I generally don’t see the darker side of things. I see the more beautiful side. There is this nagging, lingering and ever-present mood right now where everything is supposedly so horrible, but everything isn’t horrible. I’m walking down a beautiful street right now. It’s a sunny day, and I’m alive so things are not horrible.”