Interview: Electric Guest hits the reset button

Electric Guest, Asa Taccone, Matthew Cornbread Compton, Matthew Compton

Matthew “Cornbread” Compton was preparing to hop on a call with a reporter when his phone buzzed. Checking a text message from his Electric Guest bandmate, Asa Taccone, he learned that Taccone wouldn’t be unable to make the interview because he was just involved in a car crash.

Electric Guest at Outside Lands Music Festival
3:40 p.m., Twin Peaks stage
Golden Gate Park
Tickets: $150-$400.

Compton recalls the story midway through this call, from his house in Los Angeles, after his phone began to buzz again. Taccone wanted to make sure the reporter knew he had a good reason to skip the call. Luckily, the crash was just a fender bender. Taccone is OK, and no one should worry about Electric Guest missing Outside Lands this weekend, the duo’s second appearance at the festival in Golden Gate Park.

“Both Asa and I agree that it’s the best one,” Compton says.

Having played many destination festivals five years ago while promoting their debut record, Electric Guest decided Outside Lands was the best run, offered the best atmosphere, and was the most centrally located to an urban center. It didn’t hurt that Taccone, brother of Jorma Taccone of The Lonely Island fame, is from the Bay Area.

Electric Guest finally has a new album to promote. Plural was released earlier this year after the duo’s long absence that left some fans wondering whether they were one-and-done.

Compton and Taccone met in 2011 after the latter began renting a room in an artists’ home that Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton previously called home. They began to work together, and after Danger Mouse heard some demos, he offered to produce a record. They released their debut LP, Mondo, the following spring. Influenced by ‘70s and ‘80s soul and funk, as well as modern pop and electronic music, they quickly gained attention from fans and critics alike.

A year and a half ago, Electric Guest completed a follow-up record that was much more somber and dark than the poppy debut. Taccone, the primary lyricist, was in a bad place in his life at the time, which influenced the direction of the songs

“He was going through some legal things that were not very pleasing,” Compton says. “I can’t legally talk about it. … But, in general, I mean it was just a real sad time.”

When they played the record for friends, and later to record label executives, however, it was suggested that the songs were too dark. The label execs, in particular, suggested the two go back and “write some more.” Of Plural’s 11 songs, only two survived from that original collection: “Zero” and “Glorious Warrior.”

“I feel like at some point we’ll do something with those songs,” Compton says. “They’ll see the light of day at some point. They just need to be reworked.”

So Taccone concentrated on writing new songs while Compton worked on scoring Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, a film starring Jorma Taccone and their friend Andy Samberg. Then Compton toured with Devendra Banhart and Rodrigo Amarante. After Asa Taccone had several songs sketched out, the two met to continue working. The first track they completed was “Dear To Me,” a love song with a syncopated rhythm, smooth melody and falsetto chorus.

“That one just felt like the proper direction,” Compton says. “Something just clicked with it, and we just kind of kept writing, and then eventually came up with the record that is out now.”

The song reminded the duo how to have fun with music, and that they wanted to make their listeners dance. It’s one of Compton’s favorite songs that he has written to date. It embodied what he loved about the songs with which he grew up. On the record, the song featured Haim singing back-up vocals. Youngest sister Alana lives down the street from Taccone’s house, and the groups were friends. The sisters actually also sang on Electric Guest’s debut LP. That was before Haim released a record of its own.

Taccone was working on “Dear To Me” one day and decided to call up Alana Haim to see if she wanted to sing some vocals into a mic at his house.

Other songs were written differently. “See the Light” came together after Taccone added percussion and a vocal melody to a sample of his voice the two hadn’t known what to do with. Once the bones were in place, Compton added the instrumentation.

Taccone had shared the song “Zero,” one of the holdouts from Electric Guest’s original recordings, with Samberg and his wife, Joanna Newsom, as part of a playlist for their honeymoon. Newsom loved it so much that she volunteered to record some harp parts on the track.

While Electric Guest kept the song, it was turned into a more upbeat track than its original incarnation. Coming off of the less-than-stellar reaction to their earlier material, Compton and Taccone struggled with faith in their abilities to recreate the magic of their debut.

“I think that any artist has crippling self doubt all the time,” Compton says. “It’s something that I don’t think that I’ll ever get over.

Even now, seven months since the release of Plural, during a month-long break from music, he has bouts of worry that could be panic attacks.

“I just feel like you don’t ever know if people are gonna pay attention to you or if they’re gonna care,” he says. “But, honestly, I think you have to skip past it. … I’m gonna do something that I think is cool, and if people don’t like it now maybe they’ll like it after I’m dead.”

Even if their music failed to reach listeners or make them money, he and Taccone would still be making it, Compton asserts. He cites an article he read about Little Dragon, where the band members talked how even when they write catchy, radio-friendly tunes, they maintain their own sound and refuse to sell out to popular opinion.

“It’s hard work,” Compton says. “Sometimes you might not be successful.”

So far, the reaction to Plural has been positive. Compton and Taccone have themselves to thank for that. While Danger Mouse produced their debut, his involvement this time around was limited to general feedback.

“We just kind of wanted to do our own thing … to see what the sound was that we wanted,” Compton says. Taccone wrote most of the lyrics, while Compton wrote many of the guitar, bass and keyboard parts. Taccone handled the technical side of the production.

The result was an album about dualities: about an individual having opposing reactions to another, or the difference in personalities people can have between their public and private lives.

“It kind of felt like we were starting over when we first started to play shows again and having our presence,” Compton says. “I know that we took a very long time in between the records, and we don’t plan on doing that again.”

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