First things first: What exactly is an “Electric Guest?” A cyborg visitor? An online travel and lodging guide? A 1950s euphemism for sex toy? Given the retro-future vibe that runs throughout Electric Guest’s debut album, “Mondo”, any of those origins would make sense…
Electric Guest vocalist, writer and co-founder Asa Taccone explains the true life genesis of the band’s name: “When I got kicked out of high school in Berkeley, I started hanging out at a donut shop. An older woman who worked there was a weirdo like me, into a lot of new age-y, metaphysical shit and before I left she told me to always remember that I was ‘an electric guest of the universe.’ For some reason it stuck with me.”
Like the titular origin, the band and its music is a collection of people and memories Asa has picked up along the way during his long, circuitous journey towards completion of “Mondo”. This nomadic quality permeates every one of their songs, with their symphonic structures and unpredictable (yet never jarring) twists and turns.
Electric Guest is comprised of Asa Taccone, from Berkeley, California and Matthew Compton from Danville, Virginia. When they play live, they pick up three friends to fill out the complex instrumentation: Asa plays several instruments, Matthew nearly a dozen (including, to be fair, triangle and tambourine). Both began making music from a very young age, both initially self-taught. Matthew began on the drums, recalling life at 13, “I wanted to learn every metal album that I owned: Metallica, Metal Church, Testament. I eventually started taking lessons from this guy that worked in the lumber department of Lowes.” He quickly became adept on the drums and toured nationwide with various bands until he tired of the dirty gypsy lifestyle as a tour drummer, settling in Los Angeles to work on music for commercials and movies. Asa’s start was even less conventional, buying his first keyboard while still in elementary school for 10 dollars from the kid who lived down the street.
While studying in College Asa’s focus was always music. He maintained a strong relationship with his older brother who lived in Los Angeles, playing him his songs over the phone. His brother wanted a friend who worked in music to hear Asa’s material and placed him on the phone one day, facilitating Asa’s fortuitous first encounter with Brian Burton (better known as Danger Mouse of Gnarls Barkley, Broken Bells, Rome and producer of The Black Keys, Gorillaz, U2, Beck and others). Danger Mouse liked what he heard and asked Asa to keep sending him stuff. Asa of course obliged, the two gradually forging a strong working relationship. Then one day – June 10 of 2007 to be exact (Asa remembers “because it was the last episode of the Sopranos” which he thought was just OK), Danger Mouse suggested they make a record together.
Having moved to Los Angeles by then, Asa, as to be expected of an L.A.- based young artist, moved east into a large house with several other musicians (the exact number changing daily… but the guy who slept in the tent out back was a constant), providing him with expansive mental and physical space. He made music nonstop, writing over a hundred songs (like Tupac) in his three-year stay. It was also during this time that he met his musical counterpart, Matthew. The two instantly hit it off and musical collaboration came naturally. Together, with the help of Danger Mouse, they revisited and revised Asa’s many tracks, eventually whittling the number down to a realistic 10 songs that comprise Electric Guest’s debut album.
Lead single ‘This Head I Hold’ sets the tone of this eclectic album. The track’s rock meets RnB swagger beckons for the closest dance floor with effortless falsetto and funk beats leading the way. The groove of ‘Awake’ also signals an all in party, replete with a chorus of cool female vocals and a religiously catchy refrain. But dance floor hits aren’t what Electric Guest is exclusively about; the soulful vocals also have an innate ability to guide the listener through dreamy sonic odysseys, like the near-9-minute‘Troubleman’, the concerned plea of ‘Amber’ and sobering tones of ‘American Daydream.’
One journalist described their music as “a mutant-albeit somewhat cleaned up and electronic-60’s garage thing,” likening the sound to The Troggs, The Seeds, and The Zombies. Matthew admits that those bands were a great influence on him but their inspirations are impossible to nail down as they both appreciate every genre of music, both having worked for years on various projects. With such an eclectic mix of instruments and influences, it’s hard to put the sound of Electric Guest in a box, but Asa insists that it’s ultimately pop music, disclosing, “I have a sweet tooth for terrible music so I won’t even say what I’m influenced by.”