Danger Mouse is typically a very reserved and private guy, but he has nonetheless posted a very heartfelt message to his fans on his website explaining how he came to collaborate with the duo Electric Guest on their debut album, Mondo. Basically, the producer heard demos made by a friend’s little brother, which led to him eventually hearing later demos that totally blew him away. You can read the full essay by Danger Mouse below, and listen to “This Head I Hold,” a highlight from the Electric Guest album, below.
Back in 2004 in LA a friend of mine asked if I’d give him my honest opinion of the music his little brother in Berkley, CA was making. He played me some instrumental tracks from a cd and I liked some of what I heard. I told him I thought it was good and that his brother should keep on working at it, there was something worth putting some work into and that he would surely get better. Eventually he asked me to talk to him on the phone and maybe give him some pointers or something. I did so and told him I’d listen to any new stuff he did. I guess there wasn’t much else I could really do. I was on an indie label myself and even though I’d just done the Grey album, that didn’t exactly pay me anything.
He sent me a few more CDs filled with instrumental tracks over the next year and they were getting better and better. I would send him a note or talk to him briefly about the music on the CDs that I liked. Eventually a year or so later, I was moving out of the house I shared with another musician and my friend’s brother was looking to move to LA. Since me and my roommate had built a little home studio in the house, I figured my room would be perfect for my friend’s brother, whom I still hadn’t actually met yet. I offered him my little bedroom because it was the cheapest room in the house and when he decided to take it. After moving all of my stuff out I eventually met my friend’s brother Asa.
I didn’t really get to hang out with Asa very much or anything at first, but we would still run into each other from time to time and he would always have some new music he was making that he was excited about. And each time he played me stuff, I’d start to really think more and more that not only was he doing better and more interesting music than he probably even knew himself, but that I was being influenced by what he was playing me too. The thing is that he seemed to really love popular music, but somehow in his attempt to make his own music, some very odd and beautiful things were happening.
I never really asked him what his aspirations were, instead we just played each other music we were both working on and hoped the other would react excitedly when one of us played something special. I remember one time we were sitting in a car and playing music back and forth when he played a bunch of new instrumentals that were all over the place and knowing that he thought it was perfectly normal music. It wasn’t. I decided not to even play the stuff I was working on for him because I myself hadn’t really pushed hard enough in some of the stuff I was doing. The next time I saw him I was hoping to one up him and I played him some of what I thought was my more adventurous stuff that would eventually be on the first Gnarls Barkley album. He was one of the few people I thought would really get it and sure enough he did.
Around that time, Asa told me he had another new roommate, someone called Cornbread, who had moved into the house with him and some of the other musicians already living there. He said he was a great drummer and instrumentalist and that he’d been getting him to play on some of his demos. I hadn’t really heard anything new from Asa in a while so I’d been pushing him to hear more stuff. He told me he wasn’t really comfortable playing me what he’d been doing yet because he wasn’t really sure about it. Eventually he said that he’d written a couple of songs that he thought maybe a girl could sing, so I sat down to listen. I heard the sound of a twinkling piano intro and then a huge drum roll and then the demo of “This Head I Hold” began. In came the vocals and I immediately asked him who the singer was. He said it was him, he’d never really recorded himself singing, but gave it a try. The demo was him singing scratch vocals into a dictaphone and it sounded amazing. He was very shy about it and was very surprised that I liked it so much. I was really blown away and was adamant that he’d better not give the songs away to someone else. He had to sing himself. So he did, and all of his demo recordings after that point had vocals on them. When he played me the demo of the song “American Daydream” he did with Cornbread (sounding pretty much as it sounds now) I was completely hooked, it was just so damn effortless. I played the demos over and over for more than a year and pushed him to do his own album.
Over the years I’ve listened to albums by the Shins, Sparklehorse, Cee-lo, the Black Keys and many others and jumped at the chances I had to work with and learn from them when I could. So after years of listening to and being influenced by what Asa was doing, I jumped at the chance to work with him when he decided to put an album together. He’d recorded lots of music himself, much of it with Cornbread helping out with some of the instrumentation and I thought I could maybe help out some way. It was not an easy album to make however. Asa seemed to be struggling with his transition to LA from the Bay Area. He was almost broke and we knew the album we were making wouldn’t really fit into what was popular or indie or whatever. I played early demos for all the labels I’d been working with and none of them wanted to sign it, so we didn’t really know what was going to happen if and when the album was finished. But we went ahead and recorded in my small studio, a converted lawyers office with a bunch of keyboards and a small mixing desk. So from around 2009-2011 Asa would come in with song ideas, many times with instrumentation he’d already started on in his bedroom, and then Cornbread would come join in the studio to help flesh things out. They worked really well together and the album sound started to really take shape.
After the album was done, I got a phone call from Asa. He was panicking and he told me that he couldn’t do the whole thing. Singing was one thing, but he didn’t think he could really perform. I could relate, I loved making music, but never wanted to be a performer either. After talking him off the ledge he put together a great live band with Cornbread and two brothers named Todd and Tory. He was looking for a band name and told me a story about an old new age woman he met at a donut shop while in high school. He said she told him that he was an electric guest from another planet or something like that. So he had his band name there, Electric Guest. Now the real work starts…
– Danger Mouse