Most young musicians get nervous before they release their debut albums. Few of them get shingles. But Asa Taccone was struck down with the virus partway through recording Mondo, the first disc from his LA-based indie-pop duo Electric Guest. He reckons it was the pressure. “I went home to live with my parents, I was freaking out,” Taccone recalls. “The music was such an insular thing for so long, just me creating in my bedroom. I didn’t even realise I was going to have to perform these songs until eight months ago. I’d never been in a band, I’d never done anything like it – it scared the shit out of me.”
It turns out Taccone had little to be scared of – no surprise if you’ve kept abreast of indie music happenings this year. Mondo was released internationally in April and quickly made so So-Cal-style waves: “perfect, sun-soaked pop” quoth music site Beats Per Minute. South by Southwest attendees talked in slurry post-gig superlatives about their slots at the industry conference-cum-festival. And Electric Guest’s key-driven, percussive and swing-y first single, ‘This Head I Hold’, latched itself onto the playlists of stations like Triple J and doesn’t look to be moving. With all that hot-right-now indie-pop buzz, a spot at Splendour was inevitable.
But the buzz around Guest was building even before Mondo’s discs were being pressed – news that Taccone was working with super producer Danger Mouse had caught industry ears (Danger Mouse, aka Brian Burton, is the fuzz-haired non-Cee Lo half of Gnarls Barkley and the producer behind the Black Keys, Norah Jones’ new album, the Gorillaz and the forthcoming effort from a little band called U2). Taccone met Mouse through his older brother, Jorma Taccone, who’s part of Andy Samberg’s sketch comedy troupe Lonely Island. (Incidentally, Asa wrote some of the music for Lonely Island’s viral Samberg-Timberlake duet, ‘Dick in a Box’.)
In an online essay published on his website around the time of Mondo’s release, Mouse wrote: “…each time he played me stuff, I'd start to really think more and more that not only was he doing better and more interesting music than he probably even knew … but that I was being influenced by what he was playing me too.”
The producer first listened to Taccone’s music in 2004; it took years before they started seriously recording the songs he was writing in his bedroom. And it was only then that Taccone realised just how high-profile a catch he’d landed for a producer. “Brian was just a friend – I hadn’t really experienced any of his lifestyle.” As he stepped into the studio and saw Danger Mouse in action, and realized just how ‘big’ a name and talent he was. He remembers, “I just freaked out.” And then he got shingles.
Taccone met the other half of Electric Guest, Matt ‘Cornbread’ Compton, when he was living in the LA sharehouse Danger Mouse had once called home. Taccone calls the place “fucking disgusting” – all male musos in the one house – but credits it with part of his musical development. “There was this massive living room where these huge organs lined the walls and a pepto bismal piano that this girl from Leslie and the Badgers had left. It just ended up being this place you could play music like 24 hours a day, and that’s all I did.” He spied Cornbread playing drums in the house’s basement studio on another musician’s track, asked him to jam and eventually to record. (Don’t bother asking about ‘Cornbread'; if there’s a story there, no one remembers it.)
The music they make might best be described as smart and sunny pop: catchy, light, but with an experimental bent – witness the staccato blurts of keys that drive album opener ‘Holes’. Comparisons to groups like MGMT and Passion Pit are not unfounded, but what stands out is Taccone’s high, raw and full vocal. Still, Taccone enjoys being held in that esteem, and the singer is happy to be a part of a new pop movement. “I bought this record of a Canadian band called Tops recently, and while it’s not pop in the same sense as our record, it’s yet another band doing what I call ‘popular music’ completely on their own terms. It’s bringing back meat and bones to what’s been, in my opinion, a really vapid fad thing for the last ten years. You know, pop doesn’t need to be a bad word at all.”
Now that the record’s out and Taccone’s touring the world – until recently, he says he had barely left California – has he shaken the nerves and overcome the doubt? “I always get nervous before a show but as we play I definitely loosen up,” he says. “Often times, when we’re playing, that’s when I feel I’m most freed-up as a person. It’s weird."