If you listen to NPR's newsmagazines, short bits of instrumental music often provide the connective tissue linking one story to the next. We call them buttons or breaks or deadrolls, and each is chosen by the show's director that day. Sometimes the selections make a sly reference to the story they follow — say, a snippet of "Baby Elephant Walk" after a story about elephants — but more often they're there to capture, enhance or brighten the mood while helping the listener differentiate between news pieces.
Monika Evstatieva, who directs All Things Considered, says these bits of interstitial music often take on different forms. In all, she says she spends two or three hours a day getting the music just right.
"We call it collectively bumper music, but actually it is 18 to 22 different songs a day," she says. "Some of it you hear at the end of each segment; we call those deadrolls. Some of it gets covered up by our member stations when they run local coverage; we call those breaks. And some are those tiny, tiny snippets you hear in between stories; those are called buttons. I have to pick eight breaks, 10 deadrolls and a couple of buttons for each day."
Near the end of 2012, All Things Considered experimented with having that music performed live by its first-ever house band: the surf-rock juggernaut Los Straitjackets. Known for their trademark Mexican wrestling masks, the group's members spent an entire day at NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C., then performed All Things Considered's interstitial music on the spot. Rarely has the news received such a lively soundtrack, and yet it took more than two years for the show to try it again.
On Friday, another band livens up a full episode of All Things Considered. Washington, D.C.'s Thievery Corporation, the duo of DJs Eric Hilton and Rob Garza, has spent 20 years weaving as many genres and languages as it can into its unpredictable, dub-influenced electronic sound. The result can be mellow and worldly, but also socially conscious, with an energy that makes it more than mere chill-out music.
"Their music matches really well with the format of the program," Evstatieva says. "It's a slightly melancholic lounge sound infused with world influences and the occasional bursts of happiness. So I'll put all my CDs down, and we will sit down and have them perform some of the best songs from their repertoire. I promise it will be a blast."
Return to this space for more from the band in the coming days.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
And we have special guests today - Thievery Corporation. They are our house band, which I don't get tired of saying. And they've been playing all the music that you're hearing today on the show. It's been happening live. And I'm joined here by Eric Hilton. He's the co-founder of Thievery Corporation. Eric, thanks so much for doing this.
ERIC HILTON: Oh, it's absolutely our pleasure - sorry.
CORNISH: No, no, you're here with a band, I should say - Thievery Corporation. People may know you as a kind of an electronic duo, but introduce us to your friends.
HILTON: Indeed. On guitar we have Robbie Myers. On bass we have Hash. And we have Jeff Franca on drums.
CORNISH: And this morning, you guys actually sat in on our news meeting, which was pretty fun because now I'm looking at the names of the songs, like "Web Of Deception," and I feel like you've sort of done a little matching to the news. What was that like?
HILTON: Well, we've done a lot of thinking, yeah. We're - I guess we're conspiracy theorists (laughter).
CORNISH: Now, what was it like, I guess, playing - you're not playing to an audience - right? You're kind of playing to - I don't know.
HILTON: We play for ourselves. I mean, we make our music for ourselves, and whatever we enjoy, we hope other people will enjoy. And that's just always the way we've done it.
CORNISH: Now, your most recent album, "Saudade," highlighted Brazilian rhythms, kind of like bossa nova. But you guys are known for really highlighting all kinds of cultures. Can you talk a little bit about some of the influences people hear in your music?
HILTON: Oh, we're influenced by reggae, Indian music, obviously, rock, psychedelic music, hip-hop. It just seemed kind of dull for me and Rob, my partner, to stick to one genre. You know, we are able to do a lot of different types of music, so...
CORNISH: So there's not just like a stray punk album in your past or something that we don't know about?
HILTON: Actually, we both grew up on punk rock, and that's where we came from.
CORNISH: Oh, right, here in Washington, D.C.
HILTON: Yeah, grew up on Dischord Records.
CORNISH: Now, you're actually going to play us out, and the song is called "Shaolin Satellite?"
HILTON: Yeah, that's one of the first songs we ever made. It's a little simple, but it's a classic trip-hop song.
CORNISH: All right. Well, let's hear it. Eric Hilton, co-founder of Thievery Corporation. Thank you. Thanks to the band.
HILTON: Thanks so much.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHAOLIN SATELLITE")
THIEVERY CORPORATION: (Singing) Get down, everybody. Get down, everybody. Get down, everybody. Get down, everybody. Get down, everybody. One, two, check-a, one, two. One, two, check-a, one, two. One, two, check-a, one, two. One, two, check-a, one, two. One, two, check-a, one, two. One, two, check-a, one, two. One, two, check-a, one, two. One, two, check-a, one, two. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.