I have been a fan of Matthew Compton for probably fourteen years now. (When I first knew him, and until recently, I knew him as “Cornbread”, but he now goes by Matthew.) I saw his band Engine Down play house shows when I was first at James Madison University, and from the first time seeing them, his hypnotic and powerful drumming captivated me and really stood out. In subsequent years I got to know and became friends (and housemates for a couple years) with Matthew, and my admiration has only ever grown. He’s a creative force to be reckoned with, and has always had this amazing drive and ambition, with whatever he’s doing , but especially music. On top of that, he has a super, ever-present sense of humor. It’s hard to interact with him and not laugh.
So…I reconnected with Matthew about a year ago, after losing touch for some time. He was living in LA, and told me he was working on a new project, a band called Electric Guest, with a musician friend named Asa Taccone. Singer Asa Taccone is a driven creative force as well- his musical accomplishments include writing for TV (see: Family Guy episode “Hot Tub of Love”) and contributing/collaborating with comedy group The Lonely Island (of which his brother Jorma is a member.) Asa wrote the hilarious holiday classic “Dick In a Box“, performed by Justin Timberlake and Andy Samberg on SNL. Last summer the band only had a couple songs up on a bandcamp website for public ears, but upon first listen I loved it. It is a far cry from the brooding, post-hardcore Engine Down music. Electric Guest’s songs are soul-tinged, sunny, groovy, lighter, but inspired.
Since then the duo has been on fire- they played some super shows at last fall’s CMJ, have been touring the US and Europe, have a full-length album that came out last week, produced by Danger Mouse (a long-time friend of Taccone’s), stormed SXSW, and are charging full-steam ahead into the summer touring and gearing up for festival season. They’ll be making a stop in DC on Saturday, May 5th at the Rock and Roll Hotel. Amidst their super-busy tour schedule they were kind enough to answer a few questions for the We Love DC readers.
Alexia Kauffman: Growing up, what were some formative artists or albums for you?
Matthew Compton: Blonde Redhead- Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons. This band always makes interesting creative choices and pulls off so much for just being a three piece. One of the best live band’s shows I’ve ever seen. And Serge Gainsbourg – Vu De L’extérieur. (He’s) an amazing musician, who composed for many genres. I admire his versatility.
Asa Taccone: I liked a lot of hip hop when I was younger. Souls Of Mischief’s 93′ ‘Til Infinity was a great album. There was a big rap scene in the Bay Area when I was growing up, so I listened to a lot of E-40, Mac Dre, etc. I don’t know why I just said “etc” like most people would know who those artists are.
Alexia: How did you start playing music?
Matthew: I started playing drums because my best friend growing up played guitar. We wanted to be in a band together and I had just seen a guy I know play drums in our junior high talent show. It blew me away so that was the instrument I picked. After that I became pretty obsessed with it.
Asa: I sung in choir at my elementary school and played the trumpet. I mostly sung during religious holidays, but the choir director was cool and let us have a little bongo section so you could sing and play the drums.
Alexia: How did you and Matthew meet, and how did you start playing music together?
Asa: We met in a big house in L.A. where I was living at the time. Matthew was coming over to play drums for this guy that lived downstairs, and I heard him play and asked him to play on some of my stuff. He ended up playing on a ton of tracks over the year, and we got to be close friends. We work really well together, which isn’t always a given with people.
Alexia: What was it like working with Danger Mouse?
Asa: Terrible. We paid over 70 thousand dollars to have him help produce the record, and half the time we was so drunk he could barely open his eyes enough to give direction. No, it was great. He’s quite a talent, that fellow. By the time we got into the studio it had been years since we’d known each other so it was super comfortable.
Alexia: Was it challenging translating the recorded music into a live show?
Matthew: Our live show has its own feel for sure. We spent about a year rehearsing and trying to figure out what needed to stay/go to make everything work. Honestly it probably took that long because we are both perfectionists. In general the songs were written with the idea that they could be played on a single instrument and still translate. We have two other people that play with us that are incredible.
Alexia: I know you’ve been in the music business for a long time, but as far as Electric Guest goes, it seems like things are moving super fast! Last summer you just had a bandcamp page with 2 songs on it, and now you have an EP out, this album (produced by Danger Mouse) that just came out, you’ve played CMJ, South by Southwest, toured all over the US and Europe, and are playing some big festivals this summer, including Sasquatch in Washington State and Outside Lands in San Francisco. How did this huge momentum get going?
Matthew: It may seem fast to people that have just started listening to us, but this album has been 5 years in the making. It’s been over a year now of just playing in LA. Since the album has been released things have progressed fast, and we are very excited to see where it goes!
Alexia: You all have been touring a ton- how is that going? Any favorite moments on tour?
Matthew: Any time our sound guy/tour manager Jon Gilbert speaks it’s golden. Some of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever heard, such a great guy and he works his ass off.
Asa: Someone tried to slip ecstasy into my month at our show in Chicago. It wasn’t my favorite moment but it was interesting. When I asked her what was going on she said, “It’s just ecstasy.”
Alexia: Holy Crap! So who are you listening to these days?
Matthew: I really like this band TOPS from Montreal. Also the song “Black Rabbit” by PUJOL. We played a Third Man Records party at SXSW with them and I caught his set- catchy song. Also just started going through old Labi Siffre albums- he’s an amazing songwriter and voice.
Rock & Roll Hotel/Saturday, May 5
doors: 7pm/show: 8pm