By Laura Studarus; photo by Emma Le Doyen on May 9, 2012
Electric Guest has produced a song for Charlotte Gainsbourg, composed the music for the Saturday Night Live/Lonely Island digital short “Dick in a Box” and worked with one of the most sought-after producers of our time. But the Los Angeles duo’s success all started with a donut. Well, sort of.
“There was this donut shop by my house that I would hang out at,” says Electric Guest leadman Asa Taccone of his band’s name, the origins of which stretch back to his teenage years in Berkeley, California. “There was this weird, older woman that worked there. Me and her would get into these weird, metaphysical conversations. One of the last times I saw her, she stopped me and said, ‘I want you to remember something, that you are an electric guest of the universe.’”
Suitably christened but unsatisfied with the music scene in Northern California, Taccone headed to Los Angeles shortly after, where he met Virginia native and drummer Matthew Compton. It was instant musical kismet—as proved by Compton’s willingness to battle the traffic snarl between his West Hollywood home and the eastern Eagle Rock area where Taccone lived. “I feel like we hit it off as really good friends, too,” Compton offers. “It was different music than what I was used to playing, but it felt really comfortable and nice. It was a good fit.”
The springy blend of R&B vocals and 1960s guitar-pop refrains would go on to form the duo’s EP Mondo, released early last year. However, the band members balk at too rigid a discussion concerning genre-labeling. “People get it wrong,” notes Compton. “People will definitely categorize stuff, but it’s what they equate the music with, as opposed to the person who made it.”
Taccone interjects, addressing his bandmate. “I always liked the fact that even if I was doing something, even if the song had what someone would think of as ‘soul,’ or ‘R&B,’ the way that [Compton] played never leaned toward that,” he says, gratefully. “A lot of people think of it as ‘pick a genre,’ and I always hated that kind of shit.”
The lines surrounding their music are blurred even further, classifying elements smeared into an Impressionist glow by the hypnotic repletion of “Troubleman,” the Marvin Gaye–posturing of “Under the Gun” or the bubbly pop of “Waves”—all augmented by an effortless blend of strummed guitars, live percussion and old-school electronic embellishments. But Taccone and Compton didn’t get there alone. To combine their disparate influences—born of youths spent, respectively, indulging in underground hip-hop and rocking out to Archers of Loaf—the band needed a producer equally adept at obscuring genre lines. They settled on Brian Burton—better known as Danger Mouse.
Scoring such an icon—who has worked with the likes of The Black Keys, Beck and Jack White—as the producer of a debut album seems like a near-impossible get. However, the seeds for Electric Guest’s collaboration with Burton were sown long before Taccone and Compton set foot in Los Angeles, extending back to a time before Burton went “Crazy” or was considered an A-list producer. Taccone explains: “I would always call my [older] brother [The Lonely Island member Jorma Taccone], who was living in L.A. at the time, and I would play him little songs that I had made. One day, I played him some track I was working on and he put Brian on the phone.” Impressed, Burton continued to encourage the younger Taccone, officially coming on as a producer and squeezing the fledgling duo in among higher-profile gigs—an act of scheduling that stretched production out over five years.
So was it difficult to hand over control to a producer, even after establishing a long-term relationship? “Hell yeah!” admits Taccone with a laugh.
He recalls the day Burton confronted him in the studio about his possessive behavior, first sending the audio engineers out for coffee. “It was just Brian sitting there,” says Taccone, deepening his voice for effect. “He was like, ‘Sit down. We need to have a talk…you need to let us both work on this.’ We argued a bunch, for sure, but we’re super-close friends. He’s as good as they say he is!”
No longer reduced to white-knuckling it through recording sessions, Taccone, Compton and Burton slowly sculpted the band’s debut full-length, also titled Mondo. Burton’s soulful, rock-meets-R&B swagger particularly shines through on “This Head I Hold,” which the band had previously conceived as a more acoustic-leaning track.
So what does the future hold for Electric Guest? It doesn’t take donut shop prognostication to foresee more genre-busting moves from the duo. Compton, who has been experimenting with string compositions, predicts their sound will be stretched even further next time out. “It would be a weird sound that you’ve never heard of versus something familiar,” he says, enthusiastically. “I think that’s the [lesson] to take from all of this.”
The universe thanks you. F
3 albums that inspired Electric Guest to make music
Sonically, it’s unique. It’s just different. I think that’s one of the hardest things to do.
There’s this track called “The Old Man’s Back Again.” It has the tightest bass line.
Every human on Earth would say it, but it’s true. MATTHEW COMPTON
This article is from FILTER Issue 47