If you've heard of Electric Guest, it's likely because of the person who produced their debut album, Mondo: a little someone known as Brian Burton, aka Danger Mouse. (He even wrote an essay on his website about why he chose to work with them.) Working with a producer who's handled Beck and the Black Keys, not to mention the success of his own projects like Gnarls Barkley and Broken Bells, will get you a lot of attention, including getting on MTV’s list of Artists To Watch in 2012 and having a write-up about your debut album on Rolling Stone's website. An unknown band garnering that much attention can lead to some serious music blog backlash (see: Lana Del Rey), some of which has already been directed at the band. So who is Electric Guest?
Well, primarily, Electric Guest is Asa Taccone (vocals, instrumentals) and Matthew Compton (drums). Asa's brother is Jorma Taccone, a member of the comedy troupe the Lonely Island. Matt has been in a number of musical projects over the years, playing drums in Engine Down, Cursive, and Glös, as well as writing the score for MacGruber, the movie based on the Saturday Night Live sketch. For touring purposes, they've been joined by brothers Todd (bass) and Tory Dahlhoff (keyboard). I spoke to Asa and Matt via phone from a tour stop in Chicago.
215 Magazine: Having this be your first band experience, Asa, how is it? From what I've observed, things are kind of blowing up for this being your first band.
Asa Taccone: Yeah, you know it's kind of … everything. It's kind of frightening at times. Actually, it's frightening pretty much every night. Each day there's something that I've never done before. So it's convincing myself that I can actually do this. But I feel super-lucky to have Matt here – and also the other guys, Todd and Tory – they're so on point. I really just have to worry about myself, for the most part. Everybody just does their thing.
215: I hear a 60s/70s R&B/soul vibe to the album. Is that what influenced you in making this record? Or was there more recent music that you were inspired by?
AT: I think, more than the music of that period – from the 60s and 70s – we were more interested in the way they recorded then. And so is Brian [Burton]. I'm kind of a nerd about collecting old organs and synths from the 60s and 70s. Brian is a real fan of that stuff, as well. We used a lot of older instruments. And the way we recorded, as well. I don't think there's one single thing out of a computer on the album. All of it is external gear and weird older instruments. I never thought about what this was until we were done, and then all of a sudden we were doing interviews, and you realize, "oh shit, what does this sounds like?" It just wasn't thought of.
215: You seem to be getting a lot of attention for having your debut album produced by Danger Mouse. Do you see that as a blessing or a curse? Would you rather the focus be on the music, as opposed to who produced it?
AT: I think we're really happy. When it came to the credits, I think he thought, "I don’t want to overshadow anything. Do you want me to put my name on it?" I think he added a lot to the record, and it would be disingenuous not to [have his name on it]. At the end of the day, I'm hoping that the music will be what … I mean, if the record ended up being total bullshit, I don't think a name is going to carry a bad record.
215: What was it like working with Danger Mouse, and how was that different from working with other producers?
Matt Compton: Well, with other producers I've worked with in the past, I was only doing drums. When Engine Down was breaking up, I was starting to do a lot more of my own music: playing more guitar and more bass. I moved to California after Engine Down broke up and started doing a lot of different stuff. Part of the attraction when I first started working with Asa was that I wasn't just playing drums. I've always wanted to do that.
Working with Brian is cool because I like working really fast. He was always constantly saying, "let's try this … let's try this". It was just really exciting to be in that environment. He's always open to your ideas.
AT: I haven't really worked with anybody else. I think he has a lot of patience to finish projects. He'll just gently guide you. I think it's a rather amazing gift.
215: Matt, how do you think fans of your work with Engine Down and Cursive will respond to Electric Guest's sound, because of the differences?
MC: I never thought about it, actually. One thing that I have thought about is that I've always wanted to play drums in a band that sounds like Electric Guest. Not just the drums, but the whole sound. It is a different genre. But it's still indie. I'm always interested in branching out and doing more. I think it is an evolution. But, even Cursive had quote-unquote "different beats" that you would hear, that the music would be structured around.
215: Matt, you've been involved with bands with a variety of sounds: Engine Down, Cursive, Glos, even your solo rap songs. Do you consciously decide what style of music you're going to tackle next, or is it a more organic process?
MC: It's extremely organic. My musical taste has been broadened super-widely. It's just whatever is going on at the time. Actually, in the last six months I've been listening to more contemporary, newer bands. For each project, it's where I am at the time. It's always good to expand yourself.
Electric Guest plays tonight, Friday May 4, at Kung Fu Necktie.
Photos by Noah Abrams