How Electric Guest Embraced Pop and Made Their New Album 'Kin,' A Love Letter to Chosen Family

Jessica Xie
Electric Guest photographed on Sept. 19, 2019 in New York.

The duo also opens up about how Carly Rae Jepsen helped inspire their new sound.

Electric Guest are ready to reintroduce themselves to the pop music world. After two full-length albums of expertly-crafted indie pop, the Los Angeles-based band -- made up of vocalist Asa Taccone and multi-instrumentalist Matthew “Cornbread” Compton -- are preparing to dive headfirst into the mainstream with the arrival of their third album, Kin.

The night before our interview, the guys held their first official listening party for the album at Manhattan ping-pong bar SPIN, where Taccone had hinted that Kin (due Friday, Oct. 18 via Atlantic Records) would signal a “left turn” for the band, into a more pop-driven sound. Now, high above Times Square in the Billboard offices, he’s eager to explain that shift -- though not until he’s finished toying with the room’s sound system. 

“It was never me, that’s for sure,” he says of the indie scene he was ushered into by longtime mentor Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton during the band’s early days, all while fiddling with volume knobs on the conference room’s built-in stereo. “I grew up on a lot of Bay Area rap. Sadly I didn't know anything else for a lot of years, kind of until I met Brian. And so I think I'm glad he put me up onto music as a bigger idea and different genres. He expanded my horizons.”

Giving up on the background music, Taccone turns to join his bandmate at the floor-to-ceiling windows. At first glance, the duo appear to be a bit of an odd couple -- Compton stands a full head above Taccone’s tiny, wiry frame -- but it quickly becomes apparent that the two musicians balance each other out. While Taccone is animated and fast-talking, his eyes shining with excitement as he launches into story after story, Compton is quieter and more reserved, often jumping in from the sidelines to distill his partner’s anecdotes down to a single, succinct truth.

Taconne describes Kin as “an ode to early 2000s-pop/R&B,” citing The Neptunes as a primary inspiration along with the likes of Justified-era Justin Timberlake, early Tamia and Tevin Campbell as vocal references. And while the album is packed with sunny melodies and saccharine lyrics, both bandmates insist a deeper message is imbued throughout the new music.

“We’re just trying to bring that joy, you know?” Taccone asks earnestly. “It's fucking hard right now, it's a difficult time in the States. [It’s] pretty uncomfortable out here and so it's this question: is there room for this? You know what I mean? Is there room for a lighter album? And I came to the conclusion that it was desperately necessary. Without hopefully making it so thin that it's just some vapid bullshit. That was the challenge. How do you navigate putting some substance in there and saying something with having it being really pop?”

The answer to that challenge came in the form of chosen family -- a theme that courses through the LP’s veins, from its tribally-minded title to the inclusion found in the lyrics and visuals behind all 11 of its songs. The duo would also invite pals from Haim and Sir Sly to hear material during barbecues, testing out songs as they crafted Kin.

And nowhere is that familial vibe more apparent than in the video for lead single “Dollar,” which was filmed in Taccone’s native northern California. 

“That was the whole thing -- that's my family in the Bay Area,” he said of the visual, which was directed by his elder brother Jorma Taccone (former Saturday Night Live star and one-third of The Lonely Island). “All those kids are like my oldest friends. Everyone around us was like my childhood friend, I went to elementary school with that person, that's my sister, that's my mom.”

Elsewhere on the record, both the younger Taccone and Compton cite album track “1 4 Me” as an example of the straightforward pop sensibilities that were always lurking beneath the surface of their sound. “It's a song I feel like we both wanted to write for a very long time,” Compton says of the tune, in which Taccone ditches his trademark upper register for a funky bass line and zig-zagging orchestral section. “And it was very gratifying. We got to do things that we've wanted to do for a long time, like a string arrangement or a brass part and just the certain vibe of the song. We got to finally do it, and it was very satisfying.”

In a way, the band has already been primed for their move into the mainstream pop arena. Earlier this spring, Electric Guest served as the sole guest feature on Carly Rae Jepsen’s Dedicated, with Taccone’s smooth falsetto delivering the hook on album cut “Feels Right” in what was originally a scratch vocal that the Canadian pop star decided to keep in the final cut. (The guys also share a co-writing credit on the song.)

The opportunity to work with the Jepsen, whom Taccone describes as “hella gifted” while Compton calls the pop star “a natural leader,” introduced the band to an entirely new audience of pure pop fans and allowed them the freedom to fully embrace the guileless idealism of the genre.

“Being in her world for a second -- we did some shows together, -- and it was, like, so fun,” Taccone says. “There is something to just a fun pop show. There's almost an innocence there that doesn't exist as much...I feel like the old school pop star, the Britneys of the world, the *NSYNCs, it's still there but it's harder to find.”

Ultimately, the bandmates are aiming for their latest collection of songs to bring a bit of that innocence and innate goodness back into the fractious and ever-darkening modern climate.

“It's so clear to me that we, in my opinion, are off the mark culturally right now,” Taccone concludes. “I just feel like our value system is focused on the wrong shit. And people feel it. We're carrying the weight of the zeitgeist of our cultural times right now. And I feel like everyone just deeply needs to be able to…”

“...Rest and relax and enjoy art,” Compton chimes in, finishing his bandmate’s thought. “We’re burning out.”

“Totally,” adds Taccone. “The world needs that kind of pop music again.”

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