Asa Taccone needed to figure out who he was. After years of grinding towards a dream, the Electric Guest frontman and his musical partner, Matthew "Cornbread" Compton, finally achieved breakout success with their 2012 debut, 'Mondo.' Recorded with longtime friend and mentor Danger Mouse, the album was an unqualified success, but for all the benefits that came from working with a big-name producer, Taccone also learned that it could cast an unexpected shadow over the public's perceptions of you and what you're capable of independently. Rather than lose himself in the swirl of fame, Taccone wanted to make a statement, to define himself on his own terms, so he quietly recorded a left-turn of a follow-up album alone in his bedroom. It was a dark, somber reflection of the internal struggles he faced during a particularly difficult stretch of life. He pored over every detail, agonized over every sound and syllable, and then, when it was finished, he threw it away.
"It kind of broke me down mentally," reflects Taccone, "but the great thing about it was that it inspired me to get me back to what music used to be for me: intuitive, and not over-intellectualized. Once I scrapped that record, a completely different album emerged really quickly and naturally in its place that I love so much more."
Enter 'Plural,' a record that finds Taccone and Compton at the absolute top of their game, infusing their infectious electro-soul with an even more confident, adventurous spirit than 'Mondo' displayed. And that's really saying something, because 'Mondo' was a life-changer for the band. Rolling Stone called it "a Beck-ian journey into L.A. slacker soul, full of hooky neon jams," while Entertainment Weekly hailed its "winking falsetto and retro swagger," and The Guardian praised its "soulful, funked-up pop." Lead single "This Head I Hold" was featured in an NFL Super Bowl commercial, while other tunes turned up in soundtracks everywhere from Girls to Suits. MTV named Electric Guest an Artist To Watch, NME tagged them as a Band Of The Week, and they made the rounds at festivals from Bonnaroo to Outside Lands in addition to taking late night TV by storm with electrifying performances on Letterman, Fallon, Conan, and more.
When it came to record 'Plural,' Taccone forced himself to simplify and look for the joy in writing and recording that had inspired the band's debut.
"I just realized that working quickly and intuitively is part of the magic of making music," says Taccone. "I think a lot of music suffers when the 'smart' people get in the room and they feel like the process has to be this difficult thing. When you get into the studio with expectations, it wears down the levity and the fluidity that the natural process should have. And that's not to say there weren’t songs on this record that were puzzles we had to figure out, but music is supposed to be fun, and it was important for me to get back to that."
"I think we found that it's better to quickly record all of your initial ideas and then spend more time whittling them down to the most important components," adds Compton. "While we were making the new album I found myself being influenced by things that are very simple but rich in texture and still posses a very large emotional payoff."
Emotional payoffs are Electric Guest's specialty, and the freewheeling sense of looseness Taccone rediscovered resulted in several off-the-cuff collaborations, including impromptu appearances by Joanna Newsom and the Haim sisters. It also led to a new level of comfort both at the mixing board and behind the microphone.
"The last album had lot more falsetto vocals," says Taccone, "but on this one I decided I was going to sing in my chest voice and have the songs just come from a different place. I had to learn to be OK with the way my own actual voice sounds because that was part of making this music truly authentic."
The record opens with "Zero," a bouncing, piano-driven earworm that sets the stage for Electric Guest's off-kilter blend of electronic music, hip hop, r&b, and pop. It's a sonic mélange that sounds as if it's simultaneously from both the past and the future, and the band's recording environments often reflect that. "Dear To Me" (which features the Haim girls) layers up vintage synthesizers from the 70's and 80's into an irresistible, analog toe-tapper, while the dance-floor-ready "Back and Forth" was recorded in a 14-hour marathon fueled by Taccone's first experience with pure crystal MDMA in the studio, and "Glorious Warrior" is built on top of an iPhone simulating a drum machine.
"I think we tried to create a different palette of sounds and styles than what you heard on 'Mondo,' says Compton. "Most of the sounds we ended up liking this time were more modern and less retro. Music has changed quite a bit since our last album came out, and I think we embraced that rather than shy away from it."
Lyrically, the album tackles difficult times with a resilient, determined optimism, an attitude forged in the fires of adversity for Taccone. "I"ve seen the light in you before / I'll see the light again" he sings on "See The Light," while "Over" and "My Omen" dig down deep within to find the strength to carry on. The slow-burning "Hold On" came out of writing sessions for the French artist Charlotte Gainsbourg, and "Oh Devil," which draws influence from Latin and Caribbean sounds, was born on a trip to Mexico.
"I was in Baja on the beach and a man in a homemade airplane landed about a hundred yards from me," says Taccone. " I offered him $40 to take me on a ride over the ocean, and when he agreed, he smiled wide, revealing a single gold tooth. We flew over the coastline for about 15 minutes, and later that night, I bought a candle with a depiction of the patron saint of death and spent a long time just looking at it. At that time, I was making a lot of mistakes in my life, and the song is about having to make peace with your devil because he’s always going to resurface at some point."
Taccone's faced down his devil, and he emerges on 'Plural' so much stronger for having done it. By searching deep within his soul, he found the courage to begin again, to throw off the shackles of overthinking and second-guessing and to tap into the truest part of his self, pure and unfiltered. He wrote these songs in an effort to figure out who he was. With an album this good, it won't be long before the rest of the world figures out who Electric Guest is, too.
Upcoming LA shows:
December 12th - Royce Hall (opening for Portugal. The Man)
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Stream or download "Oh Devil" Now:
To learn more about Electric Guest visit electricguestmusic.com... And make sure you're listening to ALT 98.7 to hear "Oh Devil" at 12:35p, 3:05p, 6:05p and 10:05p every day this week.