Back on the radar for the first time since their debut album release, LA musical duo ELECTRIC GUEST is breaking their silence with Plural, their most confident, self-realized collection of songs yet. They’ve been wowing the likes of FADER, Stereogum, Vice, and Billboard with their new single “Dear To Me” which landed #1 on KCRW listener charts last month. We caught up with frontman Asa Taccone to get his take on touring again, maintaining authenticity as a performer and the backstory of their hit single, all told in his refreshingly relatable style. // AT – Asa Taccone
It has been 5 years since you have released your last album, Mondo; how does it feel to be touring again?
AT – Oh, I hated it! I swear, I spent the first four weeks, not in tears like last time we toured, last time I was in tears, but on the verge of tears damn near every day, ‘cause I’m really an introvert, even though I have a part of me that’s really obnoxious and extroverted and I like a certain level of attention. Also, I’m super conflicted, cause you’re right, it’s been five years, three since we’ve actually toured and I spent those years working but I was also in my pajamas in my house writing music. It was such a hibernation phase and then when you go on tour, it’s such a different thing. You get shot out of a canon and every night you’re at a club, lights are on you and you’re on some raised stage and hella people are screaming at you. It’s a lovely thing, but I’m partially not that person who thrives on that. I notice that when I get back into this mode of performing, initially it is hella terrifying and I’m a control freak, so I want everything to go in a certain way, and that’s not touring: everything is out of your control. How much you sleep, how sound check goes, if someone gets sick in your band, if you have a twelve hour drive– the States are hard to play because you have really long drives– all of that is really out of your control and I think for a control freak like me it’s incredibly difficult. After about four weeks, something kind of snapped in my mind and I was like, “I can do this, I think I can maybe pull this off,” and then it started to be hella joyful. It’s a balancing act, for me.
I can certainly relate to that sentiment, being an introvert in the arts! And it’s interesting, because we don’t normally see any other side of performers besides when they are performing besides this stage presence. What is your take on extroversion and introversion, specifically as a performer?
AT – Culturally, we reward extroverted behavior. Literally, if a child is introverted, we think something is wrong. It’s funny, on tour I was reading the Cormac McCarthy book, All the Pretty Horses, it’s about these two kids from Texas, a coming of age story. In the beginning of the book they’re hitchhiking, and one of the kids gets picked up by this guy, and you follow their conversation back and forth. And after two hours, the guy says to him, “You don’t speak much, you’ve only said to me a handful of sentences in this car. That is an admirable trait, I can tell you’re a good man.” And I thought, historically, the idea of being an extrovert in America was for the most part to be a negative thing. If you had the gift of gab, if you were some talker, people assume you’re a f*cking salesman. This idea of being hella charismatic and charming wasn’t celebrated until later. Now in the mode of selling ourselves in every goddamn moment! And people can’t even handle silence, they think it’s awkward and weird. I think for all of us, the majority of the population who aren’t primarily motivated by the energy of other people and extroverted situations, I think we experience a certain grappling with the parts of ourselves that need quiet, need time to be alone, that exist in addition to other parts that thrive on external energy. It’s an interesting balance.
That would be difficult to manage as a musician, because your job is to entertain others, to put on a show!
AT – Oh yeah! That’s the extreme of this situation. If you’re upset, if you’re having an off day, whatever the hell is going on in your life, what do you do when it’s time to sing some joyful song? And actually, I found it to be strangely good for a person like me. Each show, luckily, I was able to find the joy and it ended up being a really good release. The only thing I have been trying to do this tour is try to keep it real. If I’m feeling extra introverted or upset, I try to make some sort of acknowledgement on stage. Because culturally I feel like people are feeling it to and everywhere we go, they’ve been open with the cultural climate and the way they feel. So that has been a big release for me and for a lot of our audiences.
In the time that the public didn’t see new music from you, what were you guys up to?
AT – We wrote a lot of music for ourselves. You know, we’re not a big band so we have jobs and sh*t, so we still were hustling in that way. But we wrote a whole other album for Electric Guest. For a huge part of that five year period, I was in a really dark time and I ended up writing a bunch of songs that were much darker, much slower, more somber. When I turned them into the record label a year and a half ago as my finished album they were like, “Whoa, whoa, I thought Electric Guest was this upbeat group.” I mean from “This Head I Hold,” to some of the songs I was playing, it was just a left turn for them. And at first, I was like, “F*ck that! F*ck the record label, I’m going to do what I want, this is the whole point of the arts!” I was just complaining, “This is why the arts suck, there are limitations imposed by those who are making it into commerce, etc.” I was just on my boring, cliche artist rant. And then I played it for some friends, and they told me that some of it was cool, but I should keep writing. And then one of the first things written after that was “Dear To Me,” and that was way better! Naturally, I was coming out of a dark period of time, into a more light place and so this album poured out in a year and a half that in a nice way, wasn’t over thought. I mean, I put hella care, hella time into it and hella love, but think there’s this trope of artists overthinking sh*t and I fell into that so deeply on that first incarnation of the album and I was so in my head, and trying to twiddle with it thinking that if I just tweak this one sound for four days to get it right… But then I was just like, “No, the song is either there or not.”
Your single “Dear To Me” was the song that broke the silence, and you have said that it “came from the heart.” What is the heart behind that track in particular?
AT – I felt like on the first album, every video we made was a narrative, and I was playing some character. I was hella young and just agreeing with everything that people told me I was supposed to do. This time, I wanted a video that would say, “This is who we are,” this is what our tribe of people, where we’ve come from. And so that was the video! We just got all of our friends together, my mom and sister are in that video, I have a little shrine for my godfather who passed away. It was just this real simple idea, and I think it was emblematic of how this album was written. Initially it was written as a love song, about the point you to get in life when you’re not young anymore when you realize that you can love someone hella deep, even if your relationship is not permanent and doesn’t last. I was at a point in life when I was realizing the value of success in our world and in relationships it’s gaged by whether or not a couple stayed together forever and if they did that is considered “successful.” But people can come into your life and it can work or not and regardless, you can love them, they’re dear to you, even if you can’t surmount your issues or whatever the case may be.
This album was clearly a powerful one for you! Did an overarching message evolve for Plural?
AT – I think the overwhelming sentiment, the overwhelming theme for me was the question, can you come out of the dark? Yeah, you can and this is just what happens in life. There are these phases and a lot of the themes of the songs were about coming back into the light, coming into a different place after a harder time. And so, this album came out and it turned out way better than the original twelve songs. Two of those songs from that first incarnation made it on to what became Plural, which were the first two songs, “Zero” and “Glorious Warriors,” those were from the initial batch of songs. The other nine songs, those were newer ones from the last year.
Having gone through a period of depression and anxiety myself, I can relate to your creative process. We produce dark works during dark times, but this is such a critical part of going through this period, as it serves as such cathartic release.
AT – Oh yeah, it is totally part of it! You get this snapshot of America– and it’s not like it’s I can claim to have an all encompassing knowledge of the hearts and minds of Americans– but I see that people want to open up, everyone wants to talk about their lives, and they want to be able to take off the mask. They want to be able to show up and be themselves. That’s why people get into intimate relationships, that’s why they do everything, so they can have a place of rest, where they get to show up in an authentic way. I have this sense– and I’m sure I’m just projecting my own sh*t onto everyone else– but I’ve really felt that right now, everyone needs a place to be restful. People needed permission to be themselves, to be able to be both the light and the dark. The minute people truly have permission to be where they’re at, they are at rest. Instagram is full of people who are mid-jump on a trampoline, or f*cking perennially at brunch, showing how wonderful our lives are, but that’s just not how life is for any of us, even the people who are posting that sh*t. And I fall victim to that too! We didn’t have an instagram until maybe four months ago, and you really have to fight the impulse to post this sh*t that is the complete climax of your day in a way that is trying to make us all look perfect. It’s the same thing that I mentioned when we were talking about personality, we’re selling ourselves. I think that when you’re the person who has the strength to show up as who you really are, and show up unabashedly and unapologetically, owning that level of darkness in you– since you are a human being and you embrace it– I swear to god, it gives other people permission to do the same. And it’s hella cathartic; when you have the strength, you give your fellow man and woman that strength too. It sounds ridiculous, but it’s true, that in the last 5 years since our last album, the world has changed. Even Spotify wasn’t around, all of these music streaming platforms weren’t around, sh*t changed! And I’ve been learning how music is sold, how you get your music out to the world, it’s shifted because our world is changing so fast these days. It’s been an interesting experience of trying to figure out, how do I show up in as authentic of a way as I can in today’s climate. I don’t mean to get all high mighty, sharing my deep f*cking philosophy and sh*t, but I find that at each show, instead of negating the my emotions, I embrace it to use it in a way that feels authentic, and I find that when that happens, those are literally our best moments. And I felt like people there echoed that back to us. I feel like we were a way different band than who we were last time around and it feels good to embrace the incarnation.
What you’re bringing up here is something that we all live in, in the arts or otherwise; it truly is the universal human experience!
AT – It totally is! I’ve noticed that being on social media this time around, people buy into the illusion that performance creates so much more. People really forget that you’re just some f*cking guy! Just because you’re on this raised platform, you’re treated in a certain way and culturally we create this idea. I have really noticed this time around on tour that people believe in the illusion that’s created just because you’re raised on a platform. They raise you without even feeling you out! I could be a total a**hole! I have shifting things a little bit. This album has been such a different experience for me; I really wanted to see who I was without the masks.
Speaking of masks, your album art and title are quite powerful symbolically. What is the statement you’re making with these?
AT – The album’s symbolism is to call attention to this duality in self. There is the internal self that goes on no matter where you are in life, and the other side that we show to the world. When those two grow too fractured and dissimilar, it leads to all sorts of trouble and suffering for myself. I’ve found that the more that I’ve invested in the idea of myself for the world, the more that chasm between my internal and external self deepens. Initially, the name Plural was chosen to represent the duality within all of us. We choose how much we want to invest in each side. That relationship is the most important thing, I think.