While recording Electric Guest's debut album Mondo, which comes out in April, singer Asa Taccone took several weeks off to recover from a bout of shingles. The condition had been brought on by the stress of finally recording his passion project, which included sifting through over 100 song ideas amassed during years of producing hits like “Dick In A Box” for his brother Jorma of The Lonely Island, with whom he grew up in the Bay Area along with members Andy Samberg and Akiva Schaffer.
Luckily, Taccone found salvation through bandmate Matt Compton and a longtime friend, producer Brian Burton, aka Danger Mouse. Taccone and Compton met while living in a house in Mt. Washington that played host to a revolving cast of musicians, including Burton, whose room Taccone took over. On Mondo — a soul-tinged pop project with hints of indie rock — Taccone sings in a falsetto so effortless that it sounds disembodied. Ahead of their residency at the Echo which begins tonight, Electric Guest talked to us about working with The Lonely Island and recording their debut with Danger Mouse.
Tell me about the house you were living in where you and Compton first met.
Taccone: Matt was friends with the kids that lived in the house, so after we met, I'd have him come over anytime I needed him to play bass or drums or whatever. It was kind of a disgusting house but every room had some cool shit in it and it was just kind of built for music. There was a studio in the basement and the whole house was set up weird. There was this crazy pink grand piano in the living room and organs everywhere. We did that for a while though and then he ended up moving in and we just played all the time.
Prior to moving to LA though, what type of projects or bands had you worked with?
Compton: I played everything, but the bands I always toured with I was on drums. I've worked in TV and stuff and written other things, where I would have to play everything though. So when I started playing with Asa, it was kind of the same thing. I would do bass, I would drums, guitar, whatever.
Taccone: It was like all hip-hop in the Bay, so that was mostly what I grew up on. I ended up working with friends and random Bay Area rappers, but I got so burnt out on it and started playing more stuff on my own. Inevitably I branched away from it, but you can still hear a lot of it in the drums. I still try to make things hit in a certain way to where people can still feel how much I like hip-hop.
Is that something you and Danger Mouse were able to bond over?
Taccone: Yeah, because I think we both have a similar history. He grew up on a lot of hip-hop too, even though he was a lot more open to different stuff growing up. He liked a lot of psychedelic '60s music and stuff. He and Matt exposed me to a lot of new stuff only in the last six years though. Hip-hop was hard for me to let go of.
How did you and Danger Mouse initially meet?
Taccone: He was sort of like my mentor for a while. I played him tracks for years and finally he was like you should do an album and we should do it together, but there was a chunk of years between us saying that and it actually happening. I met him maybe eight years ago. He was friends with my brother and I would just call my brother to play him my beats over the phone. One day he said, “Hold on. I want to play it for my friend,” and he put Brian on the phone.
And this was before the Grey Album, but he had still done stuff for Jemini
Gemini, this hip-hop group I was a fan of. And he just told me to keep sending him more stuff. So I kept up with him throughout the years and ended up moving in to his old room in that house in Mt. Washington, and then he suggested the album idea. We worked for years on it, like five and half years, and there are tons of songs that didn't get used, literally over a hundred.
I read in another interview that the name of the band came from an employee at Dunkin Donuts.
Taccone: I was at this academic camp for fuck-ups on the East Coast, basically trying to get my grades up, and they took us to this Dunkin Donuts on the outside of the school a couple times and there was this older woman that worked there who I just ended up getting in these weird New Age-y conversations with. I just remember one of the last things she told me before I left was, “You're an electric guest of the universe,” and I always remembered it. We actually struggled coming up with a band name, but then I told that story one night in New York and we decided on it.
So was the band something you had to put on the backburner when you started working with The Lonely Island?
Taccone: Not really. It was just something I did to get by and make money through those years where I was trying to do my own stuff. But I love working with my brother. He just directed our first official video for “American Daydream.”
What was it like growing up around Jorma and Andy Samberg?
Taccone: Him and my brother were always best friends. Andy and Akiva were just like older brothers to me. They were all a few years older than me, and it was just cool growing up in Berkeley. It was cool to see them do their thing and become like hometown heroes because Berkeley's hella small. Everybody kinda knows each other so that was kinda cool and it's just super fun working with family. I was never a part of it, but I ended up producing a lot of stuff for them over the years.
Compton: Yeah, we basically grinded non-stop in the studio for years. I mean, some of that SNL stuff we were starting at midnight and then ending at four in the morning, and then working on guitar stuff the next day. All that stuff happens like super fast.
Taccone: And honestly, most of it was so I could fund my own music. Like I made no money off of that shit. It's just an entirely different thing working with them. We haven't done it in a while, just because I've finally been able to work on my own stuff, but it's always been rad.
How was the experience of recording with Danger Mouse? Is he as reserved in the studio as he seems in person?
Compton: I loved it. Whenever I came in, I just felt like a really good energy and everyone was really excited. Everyone worked on the same page and worked really fast. It was very inviting. He's great at pushing things forward and also having his own vision. He talked extensively about it being our album, but he still had his own input as well.
Taccone: Me and him had been friends for years before that too, so it was just like going in with one of your homeboys and having fun. I was hella stressed out too. I damn near had a nervous breakdown. Like I got shingles. It was bad. We had to take a month and a half off. When it actually came time to do that shit, I just couldn't handle it. It was all totally from stress.
Compton: And we had to break just because Brian was busy too. He was constantly busy, which was good because we'd have time to sit down and reevaluate what were doing. It was all very natural. I felt like we all had the same goal in mind for what we wanted the album to sound like. We had the right people playing it in the way we wanted it to be played.
Taccone: It wasn't until the end of the process that I actually realized how talented he is. Because when you're in it, just creating, you're just in this flow, but when I stepped back I was just like damn. He just has this faith in the hypothetical. We would try something a million different ways and even though we couldn't get it to work, he would just know that there was another way to get it to work. I thought that was a really awesome quality to have.
I've talked with a lot of bands recently about how the internet has made it easier to put out something unique instead of trying to make just a hit record. Do you think you've benefited from that at all?
Taccone: I have mixed feelings about technology, but I think we have. The underdog is being championed and because of the internet, you get to hear all these kids across the country that you'd never have heard before.
Also, I think it's created this culture where it's so much about the individual as opposed to just the music. It's part of viral marketing and just selling you culture. Like when you see a Coke commercial and it's just a fuckin' party, and you'll see just a little Coke can at the bottom of the screen. I think almost the same thing has happened with artists, where there's so much focus on where you come from and what clique you're part of and what your story is. It creates this fickle market where kids are trying to be so gimmicky.
Electric Guest's Monday Night Residency at The Echo starts tonight, February 6, and their debut album Mondo is available April 24th on Downtown Records.