Troublemen: An Interview with Electric Guest
A happenstance acquisition of Danger Mouse's bedroom has lead the Electric Guest to achieve national acclaim, a Danger Mouse-produced album, and a dynamic new sound that people are swooning over. The duo sits down with PopMatters to tell us all about it ...
Everything seems to have been a brush with destiny for Electric Guest, a new band out of Los Angeles. Electric Guest is comprised of multi-instrumentalists Asa Taccone and Matthew Compton. The two met while living in a Mt. Washington house that has accommodated many musicians, including Brian Burton (aka Danger Mouse). The two began writing and collaborating together on songs that now make up their debut album, Mondo. Seemingly, it's fate that Taccone acquired Danger Mouse's bedroom, formed a friendship with him, and now Danger Mouse has produced the band's album.
When Taccone was kicked out of high-school in Berkeley, he started hanging out at a local donut shop where he met an interesting older woman. She deemed him "an electric guest of the universe", then, and now this new duo seems to be a guest looking for their place in the sonic universe.
Without having yet released their debut, Electric Guest have been touring in Europe and are playing music festivals such SXSW and Sasquatch. Their snowball toward fame began when L.A.'s KCRW aired the band's epic nine-minute song "Troubleman". Electric Guest offer up exhilarating pop-songs, reclaiming a '70s Motown influence and charged with Taccone's electrifying falsettos.
PopMatters caught up with Electric Guest's Asa Taccone and Matthew Compton to talk about the creative process of their songs, their musical influences, and what it's been like living out this fast-paced dream.
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Who would you say your influences are musically?
Matthew: I think that Asa and I come from a lot of different places; I don't think there is necessarily one particular musician that we're both influenced by. I grew up listening to a lot of indie rock, and I think that kind of influenced me when I was young, and now I listen to a lot of scores and different stuff.
Asa: I grew up on a lot hip hop and old soul, but then I got into a lot of folk and just songwriting, that standard singer-songwriter stuff. I think we've been told that we pull from a lot of different places ... probably subconsciously. I don't think we ever had it in our minds to copy from any certain genres, in any obvious way ... it just kind of was or it wasn't.
"This Head I Hold" seems like a personal song, do you mind explaining what inspired it?
Asa: Yeah, I think that all the songs are really personal things from my life. "This Head I Hold" is kind of open ended in terms of what you can take away from it, but for me I like to think of it as kind of this constant reminder that you don't have to follow in the steps of whatever kind of culture you're apart of or whatever your society says you should or shouldn't do ... because for me, I think we're kind of in a time where, like culturally we could break some of the patterns that we're stuck in. That's kind of what it's about for me ... even though it's kind of a super poppy song.
Yeah, I was going to say that like the instrumentation is more upbeat and the lyrics seem more confessional, kind of like Blind Melon's "No Rain". Is that something you set out to do, or is that something that happened in the recording process?
Asa: No, I think it just happened naturally. I think that I tend to ... well, I think there are a lot of songs like that on the album ... that are kind of upbeat, or light melodies and then the lyrics are more introverted almost.
Looking at "American Daydream", to me this song seems to make some social commentary. Were there any particular events that inspired this song?
Asa: Yeah, I think it's just like living in Los Angeles, you know, the kind of soul-ship you find yourself in, just kind of navigating this city in particular. This definitely came off of a lot of LA nights, just kind of trying to find my way in this city.
There's a refrain: "We keep going, don't stop running / they keep selling; we don't want it". Do you mind explaining what "it" is?
Asa: [laughs] I think I wanted it to be broad, more of an all encompassing thing. Anyway, I think with that song, the "it" probably just refers to ... you know, that I feel like a lot of people in my generation are tired of being inundated with how they should think and feel. So the "it" is this all-encompassing idea of some sense of being sold something that maybe isn't necessary to the extent of happiness. I don't usually like to spell lyrics out to people, just because it's cool to have people come up with whatever they want. I feel like somebody's interpretation could often be better than my own.
Going on to "Troubleman" and kind of back to the Motown influence; I know that Marvin Gaye has a song called "Trouble Man", was there any kind of influence there?
Asa: No, no. Not at all. That was my only worry with that song, was that the Marvin Gaye song was so fucking great. But yeah, there was no influence or anything.
When I first listened to this song I thought it was kind of risky that it was so long. You have two songs that are under three minutes, and then this kind of epic song that's nearly nine minutes long. Why did you decide to include a longer song?
Asa: We never thought it would be a single. That was the first thing that they started playing on the radio out here, and we're kind of like, "Oh my god, they're playing like a fucking damn-near ten minute song". So I think we were both super surprised. We never envisioned that song being played on the radio. But yeah ... I think it's just another thing that came out like that. I always think of that song as two songs. Like there's a first act and then a second act. There's kind of at dead-center where it has a little break down, and a spooky organ comes in, and then there's the next part of the song. But yeah, we, just in the demos of that song ... there were three demos, it was initially three separate songs, and then Brian [Danger Mouse] realized that there was only like a two chord difference between the songs, and so he was like, "we could really combine these", so we just ended up combining it into this one piece.
I know I definitely heard a shift in the song lyrically as well. There's like a narrative of a female character in the first part of it, and then a narrative of a male character in the second part of it. Would you say that character is Troubleman?
Asa: Yes, I think of the guy being talked about as Troubleman. [laughs] Sorry, I'm so vague. I don't know, I just get weird about lyrics I guess.
As a writer myself, I'm always curious about the creative process of songwriting. How did you decide where "Troubleman" should end?
Asa: I don't know, it's weird because there's only one chorus in the latter half of the song. Like for what you would call the Troubleman section ... if like the first part was "She's got it bad for me" and the second part is Troubleman, there's only one chorus for the Troubleman section and then the latter half is just a guitar (that Matt played) doing the lead melody [hums the melody]. It just felt like ... well first of all, it's pretty hard to keep people's interests for that long, and so we were just constantly checking ourselves, like 'are we bored?' We were just listening to it and trying to see at what point the song lagged or didn't lag. And so at that point, instead of having another chorus, it just felt like it needed a non-lyric outro ... so it just kind of came naturally.
Your album Mondo comes out in April, and I'm curious about the other songs on the album. How do they compare to the three that you've already released?
Matthew: I feel like the album is pretty diverse.
Asa: Oh yeah.
Matthew: It's kind of hard to put the album into one certain genre. I mean, it wasn't something we were conscious of doing when we doing it, but we were happy with those ten songs, and those were the ones we ended up picking for the album. They're all pretty diverse.
Asa: I think those three are good examples of how the rest of the album sounds. Each song kind of sounds different. I'm like 'oh my god, we're so unique; we did this amazing thing,' but it just kind of happened like that sonically.
Danger Mouse helped you guys produce this album. Did working with Danger Mouse influence your sound in anyway?
Asa: Yeah, I think so because we recorded a chunk of it at his studio. So, I feel like all three of us have super similar tastes in terms of how we like instruments to sound. But I think that all the drums that Matt played on his kits ... he likes this super dry, dead 70s kind of drum, and that definitely shaped a lot of the record, I think.
Everyone: [laughs in unison]
Asa: Our interviews are just awkward, they just are. [laughs]
No, no. Not at all. [laughs] One of the most interesting things that I've heard about you guys is where you got the name Electric Guest. Asa, you used to talk to an older, kind of eccentric, lady who worked in a Dunkin' Donuts, and she said "You are an electric guest of the universe" ... I just love that, it's like straight out of a Walt Whitman poem or something ...
Asa: Oh, right on.
Why was Electric Guest a good name for you guys?
Asa: I still wonder sometimes if it is. I think it is. I like it more because of where it came from than the actual name itself ... but damn, put it in the context of likening it to a Walt Whitman poem makes it sound way cooler ... I like that. But I think of it in the terms of the story almost than the name ... of like where I think, in retrospect, that woman was coming from. And like just whatever I think it means to us ... we're just a new band trying to find our way in the big picture, I guess. But yeah, I think now I've grown to like it. At first I was pretty unsure about it actually, but then when I told that story one night, we ended up going with it.
I find it interesting that you all kind of came out by word-of-mouth and the quality of your music ... not really by social media marketing and such. Several music reviewers are kind of predicting you guys will be the next craze like Foster the People ... and you all are up for the MTV "Breaking Woodie Award" ... and you guys are playing some huge music festivals, SXSW and Sasquatch. How have you built a following up until this point?
Matthew: I think things have gone extremely fast ... honestly, I don't pay attention to how much we're doing [laughs]. I honestly don't even really know what we're doing.
Asa: I know, I know. [laughs]
Matthew: I just try to take it as it comes. Sometimes when you think about it, it can be exciting, sometimes when you think about it, it can give you a little bit of anxiety, just knowing how busy you're going to be. I have no idea how it spreads so fast, but I think when it started, we got a lot of attention here because they were playing "Troubleman" on KCRW and it is a long song, and that got a lot of attention. We've been working on the album for the past five years now, and for us it seems like it's been a very slow thing, but I guess once we got out into the public eye ... I don't know how it spread so fast, but it did, and we're excited about it. You know, I'm really excited to do all these festivals that we have coming up because I've never done anything that big before, and Asa hasn't either ... and it's going to be awesome. We'll see what happens.
Asa: You've got to come see us live.