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Co-writing and co-producing a Grammy Award-winning international hit is usually enough to make an artist’s ego visible from space. But for Asa Taccone of Electric Guest, working on Portugal. The Man’s inescapable, Grammy-winning 2017 track “Feel It Still”, as well as contributing a track to Carly Rae Jepsen’s Dedicated, was more humbling than ego-boosting.
“When you work with other artists and performers, you get to see yourself,” says the singer-songwriter, as his Electric Guest compadre and multi-instrumentalist Matthew Compton nods in agreement. “But you also get to have these intimate conversations with bands on their second or third albums, and you realize it’s not fun anymore. It’s hella stressful, and you find yourself over intellectualizing the process. I realized it was exactly the sort of thing I do.”
The question was, how to make sure it didn’t happen to Electric Guest. Their third album is the emphatic answer. KIN is not just another collection of songs for Electric Guest. It’s an overdue statement of identity. “We came up in the early 2010s when indie bands were where it was at,” remembers Asa. "We got lumped into that, but it was never really the right fit, so it’s been a gradual shift away from that. I think of us as more a pop duo.”
Forget what you read in a blog from 2012 and ignore what the “You Might Also Like” algorithms suggest. Electric Guest are proudly, defiantly, more Wham! than Weezer. From top to bottom, KIN feels like a warm, familiar haven, but scratch the surface, and you’ll find Electric Guest have hidden some lyrical weight underneath the positive vibes.
“I wanted to make straight up, unapologetic pop,” says Asa. “I didn’t want to make a record that was angsty or artsy, but I also didn’t want to make pop that was void of sentiment either.”
Opening track “Dollar” exemplifies how Electric Guest weave those threads together. Brimming with sunshine soul grooves topped with Asa’s sublime falsetto, it’s a seductive first listen and one that instantly shows Electric Guest’s musical ambition. But there’s a subtle social critique melded into that unforgettable melody.
“At a certain point, the arts became about exclusivity and wealth,” says Asa. “Instead of hearing a song and breathing a sigh of relief, now it’s like ‘damn, I don’t have a girl like that, I don’t have a car like that.’ When you watch these videos, I think it actually ends up stressing people out rather than lifting them up. So I was trying to get away from that with ‘Dollar.’”
“That song definitely checks a lot of boxes for us,” notes Matthew with obvious pride.
“I Got the Money” continues that theme of checked aspirations (“Keep that money for yourself/I don’t need that type of wealth”) and while “1 4 Me” is the kind of top-down jam you want to hear while riding shotgun with your life-partner, it also hides an added layer for those who want to find it. “I don’t even believe in a Christian god, but it’s about having faith… faith in something bigger than yourself,” says Asa.
The songs that make up KIN were mostly written at Asa’s home in Los Angeles home and if the album sounds like summer in the city, that’s because it was. “I don’t have air conditioning,” he says. “I have a little thermometer in my studio which often reads over 100 degrees and a few times hit almost 120 because of all the old musical equipment. I would usually keep a cold bath and intermittently jump in a few times a day.”
Opting to work with friends as opposed to big name producers, Asa and Matthew returned to their previous collaborator Lars Stalfors, who mixed and co-produced in his North Hollywood studio. But the real test came back in Asa’s home, where the boys would crowd test the material during parties and barbecues attended by their nearest and dearest, including members of Haim, Sir Sly, HEALTH, and others in the stylistically disparate Los Angeles musical community.
“That was the tipping point,” adds Asa of the family atmosphere that birthed KIN. “I have a tendency to second guess everything I write, but it was during these moments of watching our friends dancing and enjoying the songs that I reconsidered.”
The good times need good time music. But the not-so good-times need it even more. 2019 has very little chill. Information, opinions, stimulus, are all exhaustingly constant. Both Asa and Matthew felt the need for some kind of respite from the confusion, so they made their own, and gravitated towards others that were seeking the same.
But Electric Guest have attracted followers from the start. After Asa and Matthew’s initial collaborations as roommates, the two formed the group in 2011 and worked their way towards success with the tuneful touch of their 2012 debut album Mondo (co-produced by close friend and mentor Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton) and the laid-back funk of single “This Head I Hold.” But they soon began to suffer a minor case of the second album syndrome. An initial set of songs was scrapped, and the full follow-up Plural didn’t arrive until 2017.
Asa’s drive to create goes far beyond his group. Over the years, he has contributed musical pieces to TV shows including Saturday Night Live, The Simpsons, American Dad. Aside from working with Jepsen and Portugal. The Man, he also landed credits on Anime’s “Campfire” and Melvv’s “Anything Else.” Asa and Matthew also teamed up to help Cold War Kids pen a number of tracks, including their 2019 comeback single “Complainer.” In the last decade, you’ve heard something by the members of Electric Guest -- whether you know it, or not. Matthew also co-wrote “Feels Right,” the group’s collaboration with Carly Rae Jepsen.
But after enjoying the success of their hit-making magic, Asa and Matthew have reconvened for their main gig with some firm ideas. “We both love early 2000s pop music, and the way those songs sound,” adds Asa, referring to the genre-agnostic TRL-era that incorporated everything from Lenny Kravitz to Justin Timberlake. “We wanted to do something with that energy but put our own spin on it. I wanted to be nostalgic without being retro.”
This time around, they had the benefit of experience, too. “It came easier this time because I think we remembered to have fun” adds Matthew. And if you don’t believe them, just ask their KIN.
Soleima has cast an enigmatic and hypnotic spell with the handful of tracks that she’s introduced over the course of the past year. ‘Breathe’, ‘Cracks’, ‘Wasted’ and ‘Once Was’ have presented an artist with a singular take on pop which is it once immediately engaging and fascinatingly off-kilter.
The Danish musician’s heady cocktail of pitch-shifted synths, R&B, future bass and an undercurrent of world music is already something quite apart from the pack, but her vocal – simultaneously otherworldly, childlike in its innocence and sweetly sensual – elevates her individualistic style to another level.
While her tracks are skewered heavily towards the kind of modernist pop in which easy genre classifications lie just out of reach, Soleima’s own story is similarly unconventional. Raised in Aarhus, a city on the Jutland peninsula, Soleima grew up in a family home soundtracked by classic soul and R&B, notably Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder and Otis Redding. Her subsequent gateway into the world of The Beatles came with ‘I’m Only Sleeping’, a song particularly notable for George Harrison’s pioneering reversed guitar solo.
So far, so normal? Pretty much. Yet that’s only a snippet of the tale. Soleima’s mother took her to an African dance camp which operated as a cultural exchange between Denmark and Sukumaland in Tanzania, and she soon became enamoured with their music – especially with their collection of traditional African drums such as the sikulu. As a young adult, she moved out to Sukumaland for two extended spells, and even organised a grant to allow some of their members to live and teach in Denmark. She subsequently earned a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology, did field work in Nepal and started to make a documentary about migration in Senegal.
She sounds like the type of person who’s eager to embrace an unusual opportunity?
“Yeah, I want to be open-minded like that,” she laughs. “I love other cultures and learning from other places, especially those that are very different from my part of the world.”
That open-mindedness informed Soleima’s first music project Flødeklinikken, a Danish-language hip-hop septet inspired by A Tribe Called Quest and the Wu-Tang Clan. Formed as teenagers, the collective released two albums with Soleima on keyboards and – when needed – on vocal hooks too.
“When you’ve been writing with so many people, you reach a stage where you want to fly out yourself,” she explains. The idea was to write for other artists, but the immediacy of her connection with producers Vera and Vasco convinced her to further “explore the universe” that her organically-infused electro-pop now inhibits. “People have difficulties defining our genre because their background is in rock music and I come from hip-hop and this African dance environment. But we’ve all been influenced by English artists like NAO and Jai Paul.”
The result is Soleima’s debut mini album ‘No.14’ which compiles her four recent tracks alongside three new productions in the shape of ‘Mascerade, ‘My Love’ and ‘This Life’. Soleima’s lyrics are dualist and border both hope and melancholy – “They deal with the ambiguity in wanting to run away and hide from the world, but at the same time feeling guilty because you have this opportunity when others don’t” – which is something that ‘Mascerade’ particularly reflects.
“Mascarade is about wanting to be something that you’re not - putting on a costume or disguise to be something else just for a little while,” she states. “I think many people can recognise this feeling of wanting to be in someone else’s shoes just for a night. But even though the theme of the song is escapism, it is also a song about believing in yourself and recognising that it is okay to be lost sometimes. You’ve just got to dust yourself off and keep on moving in the right direction.”
That stance is reflecting in the EP’s two other new recordings. ‘My Love’ can be interpreted as either a tale of unhealthy infatuation or a more universal feeling of “Why don’t you want me as much as I want you?” while the intricate layered vocals of ‘This Life’ conclude with an existential question in which privilege and inequality are contrasting and seemingly random experiences: “We deserve this life / Tell me is this true?”
The ‘No. 14’ title comes from a prosaic place, but it’s also one that presents an against-the-grain approach to the artistic process. Soleima’s journey towards completing this EP involved her saving a folder on her PC for each draft of its tracks, with ‘No. 14’ the version that she has finally shared.
“It shows that making music is a long process and I think it’s important to hold on to that,” she affirms. “In a world where music is moving so quickly, I really want to reclaim that process. As an artist you develop all the time, your style changes and your songs change. Right now it’s popular to be a conceptual artist who has everything completely developed before it’s presented to the world, but I think it’s really interesting to show the process down to the last detail.”
Each step of Soleima’s body of work has been accompanied by a stylised video which expands upon the narrative of the track. And her desire to interpret music in a visual sense is only going to become more vital, especially as she’s collaborating with ground-breaking visual arts team Dark Matters and references The Knife as an example of how she wants her future live show to unfold.
Ultimately Soleima’s unique trait is in united disparate styles – cutting-edge productions with an immediate pop core, and relatable lyrical themes which simultaneously explore societal issues and the very meaning of what it is to be human. “Political pop is quite unpopular,” she sighs, “but I think it’s important to bring it back somehow. The whole challenge is to present it in a way which connects with people.”
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