California-based trio Electric Lecture are set to release their self-titled album on October 14th, 2022, and have been steadily releasing singles and videos with high entertainment value, including their latest, “A Winner”. Humor plays a significant role in their music, but there’s also a questioning tone regarding the realities of modern human life that pairs well with the upbeat sounds that they are committed to creating. Steeped in classic Rock and combining a wealth of musical interests and influences, Electric Lecture also tends to songwrite and record in a very “open” way, sharing ideas and allow sound directions to suggest themselves.
The background that all three members bring to this mix also plays a major role in the outcome. Anthony “Ajax” J. Resta has been a music Producer with a track record that pretty much defines gravitas for over 30 years and currently runs his own studio in Laurel Canyon. To name only a few, he has worked with Elton John, Duran Duran, Collective Soul, and Megadeth. Greg Ansin is a film Producer and editor often working in horror, known for Infinite Santa 8000 (2013), Drive-in Horrorshow (2009) and Welcome to the Dream Machine (2019), but he’s also been working musically with Resta since the 90s. Bronson Taalbi is one half of The Taalbi Brothers, a flamenco guitar inspired duo’s whose can be heard in TV shows such as Breaking Bad and Dancing with the Stars. When you put this group together their contributions make for very thoughtful, irreverent, and deeply vibey music.
I spoke with Anthony J. Resta and Greg Ansin about the group’s songwriting and how their methods construct Electric Lecture’s mood and sound.
Hannah Means-Shannon: Anthony, you bring a ton of experience to this project. That’s an understatement.
Anthony “Ajax” J. Resta: I’ve been a record Producer full-time since around 1991 or 1992. I’ve been doing this forever.
HMS: That’s a lot that you’ve survived in terms of the music industry.
AJR: It’s a miracle because I’ve been through so many different phases. I’m constantly having to reinvent myself about every five years. We have a world-class facility in Laurel Canyon only one and a half miles away from Sunset Boulevard. The legacy is keeping the Laurel Canyon history alive. I’ve got amazing talent coming to me from all over. It’s wonderful. I do a lot of stuff there for film and TV as well, but I like making records better than anything else, and Rock ‘n Roll is my foundation. That’s my passion. I grew up listening to Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, but also Neil Young, Tom Petty, XTC, and British bands. You can hear that in Electric Lecture, I’m sure.
HMS: Yes, I think I can. Is everyone in the group bringing in different elements?
AJR: Yes, but everyone has similar tastes, which is why it works so well.
HMS: Did you write your own music also before Electric Lecture came to be?
AJR: I’ve always written music and I started off in performance art. I’d have crazy soundscapes over beat poetry. I grew up listening to Beat poets. I’d scream at the crowd. It was quite a thing. That’s how I ended up hooking up with Duran Duran. They actually ended up hearing an album of mind, which was far-out. You should know that Greg actually played guitar on some of my performance art stuff, way back in 1991. That’s how far back we go.
HMS: That’s crazy! I love that.
Greg Ansin: That dates back to our time up in the little studio in Groton [Massachusetts].
AJR: I’m originally from Canada, we both have lived in Massachusetts, and now we both live in California.
HMS: Since you two worked on the performance art stuff that long ago, it sounds like your way of thinking has always been experimental.
AJR: We’ve morphed into more commercial songwriting, but we’ve never let that get in the way of artistic vision.
GA: When we first met, I played in a band that Anthony Produced and the way that you made music then was such a different process than the way that you make music now that it’s comparing apples to oranges. It’s really amazing the tools that in our hands now to be experimental. Back then, we only had a few little tools and we had to play everything ourselves!
HMS: Did you talk about that kind of thing on the podcast that you did over the winter, “Making of a Song”?
GA: I recorded hours of us writing songs, and I dove into that, talking about how we put songs together. I had the idea of showing people how we write a song since, realistically, songwriting is just about keeping at it, like any art. Anthony and Bronson are very open and it’s not hard to get started.
AJR: They go through a metamorphosis every time. Sometimes the initial DNA of a song, the part of it that makes it what it is, can be a big force in a song, but other times it really morphs. There’s no rhyme or reason to it, it’s like finger-painting.
GA: I was thinking about this, Anthony. Until I came out here and worked with you, when I was with my old group, I never wrote words. I never sang. But you and Bronson are very open. With this group, we don’t really have a plan for it, other than getting together once a week and building something. It’s a creative avenue. Anthony does a lot of scoring, and I Produce films, so this works really well alongside the other stuff we do.
HMS: It sounds like the opposite of a songwriting approach where only one member of the band composes a demo of all the parts, brings it in to the group, people learn their parts, and then they all record. It sounds like you all are writing together.
AJR: There’s also things like Dropbox where you can share files and new ideas. Then someone can say, “Oh wow, these two really sound like they could turn into Electric Lecture songs! Let’s start with these!” That’s our starting point. We’re not short on ideas.
GA: Me and Bronson really push the ship, and now I have a space where I’m really close to Anthony and we have a nicer space. He can pop in for twenty minutes, even, when we’re working on something. I push Bronson a lot as a Producer because we both need feedback. If you write a guitar part, and someone else says, “That sucks!” or “That’s great!”, it’s a lot better feedback than just working by yourself. Sometimes when I’m playing, Anthony will just say, “What’s that?” And I don’t know, but he says, “Let’s write on that.” He hears something over that, and that’s how songs together. I think everyone in the group is open like that.
HMS: Was there a weird conversation one day where you said to each other, “Let’s start trying to write songs together.”? Or was there already material that you each brought in to share?
GA: The way this group actually started is that when I moved here, Anthony introduced me to The Hunnypot Podcast, which is held every other Monday night at The Mint. Anthony goes occasionally, but I’m a regular. I also know a bunch of Bronson’s brothers and had worked with them. When Bronson moved back here, he asked me if I knew of a rehearsal space. But I said no, that I’d never had any luck finding one. Then he called me like two days later and asked if I wanted to share one, and I said, “Sure!” We started doing one day of music a month, but now we’re way past that. Now we just bring up ideas and sometimes it’s just planting a seed and just doing it together.
AJR: That’s what I missed most during Covid because when I started off as a record Producer, in the early days, I was always in a practice room sweating with the guys, working out a kick drum pattern and working out the parts of a song, and that camaraderie brings something to the process. When everything is done virtually, it gets watered down sometimes, and you don’t capture as much emotional content. On some of these songs on the album, I was in the room with Bronson while he was singing, and I’d say, “How about we shorten that? Why don’t we leave a space here?” We’d all just bounce ideas off of each other in real time and to me, that’s the most exciting process that yields the best results.
GA: On the later songs, since the album was done over a couple of years, the guys just came over and sang the backgrounds together, and the engineer didn’t even have to edit or autotune them. They were perfect because you guys were looking at each other.
AJR: That’s what I’m talking about.
GA: On the next record, we’re trying to get that element into the music, of being live but not sloppy. We want to get that Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin energy that you can’t get programming things in.
HMS: I saw that you’ve been releasing quite a few singles and videos over time, so there’s a lot for people to check out.
GA: Every song except for one is going to have a video. Anthony is really good with videos, but it takes so long to do them. Some are a little more Produced than others.
HMS: Videos are such a free-for-all these days that these seem very polished by comparison. They all have very different ideas to them, too. On “Reverse Evolution”, you all get to be puppets, for instance.
GA: The puppet video was really fun. Puppets are so hard to work with! So I did a lot of it in after effect.
HMS: What can you tell me about creating that song? In some ways it’s ambiguous, in some ways not.
GA: I think part of the thing with the group is that we want to write happy songs, but we also want to have a message sometimes. I ran into this making documentary films, that you can do the simplest things, and people get so upset, but if you do the same things in a fictional movie, people don’t care. I think, with the music, that’s part of it. We don’t want to be super-serious, and we always want to be positive, but we do want to trick people a little. “Reverse Evolution” came from me and Bronson talking about things and saying, “The ship is sinking.” And one of us said, “It’s freakin’ reverse evolution!” He was talking about the guys at the bar who really can’t make up their minds.
HMS: I think that’s a big part of the song, talking about this indecision about how to feel about the state of the world and the future.
GA: There’s this anxiety that there are really good people out there, but unless they are put in someone else’s situation, they don’t even think about the problems. It’s, “Don’t complain that you didn’t pay attention to the hole in the ship.” That’s kind of how I like to speak.
AJR: It’s a little like the movie, Idiocracy, if you really get into it. We don’t get that specific.
GA: I’d rather do this with funny songs, and if you get it, you get it, or you don’t. Sometimes build different meanings to songs, too.
AJR: I love the topic of lyrics and songs because it’s an age-old debate on misunderstood lyrics. It’s hilarious. To use the example of Collective Soul, since I’m made a lot of records with them, Ed [Roland] gets this prophetic reputation, like a guru, for his lyrics. But I’ve honestly seen him scribble stuff on a piece of paper ten minutes before he goes to sing it. It doesn’t really make a lot of sense, but that’s the beauty of poetry. It’s cool that it comes out and is all interpretation.
GA: Bronson is really good with melody, and sometimes he comes in with something new where the words fit beautifully. Some of the songs have taken almost no time to write. If there’s a space where we’re looking for a word, I think of something that I think is cheesy, but it turns out to be perfect. Sometimes it just feels meant to happen, and with this group, that’s part of the vibe.
AJR: Part of that comes from Greg being a Producer of films. He’s really spontaneous and in touch with what’s going on in a room. He Produced some songs for me on my solo record because I can’t finish songs on my own. I’ll do 800 versions of them and they’ll stay on my hard drive. Greg, in one day, will say, “What are you trying to say?” And then that’s it. Sometimes you need that person. I’ve been a Producer my whole life and I can’t Produce my own songs.
HMS: This is classic and I’ve heard it so many times. You’ve just got to have at least one outside perspective to help galvanize things. If you all were very controlling about the process of your songs, though, you’d have some very different songs, but you might have choked the life out of them.
AJR: That’s dead-on.
HMS: One of the songs that I feel like is happy and also has a happier sound is “What If?”, which gives a good idea of who you are, as a band. I saw an ad online recently, “Guess what? What if everything is going to be okay?” I think it speaks to our anxiety level.
GA: I think that song is a beautiful example of what Anthony was saying about not knowing how things are going to end up because he wrote the guitar riff five years ago. We sampled it and started to make a demo around it. The whole day that we were doing it, Anthony was using the phrase “my favorite conspiracy” and it took months, if not years, for us to craft that in. One day one of us just said, “What if it just all works out?” Then we knew, “There it is.” That’s part of how the songwriting comes up between the three of us. If you can get the idea of the melody, you can probably fit it in with what you’re trying to do.
AJR: That song can apply to so many things in your life, too. It could be you’re out late, and then you’re at work the next day with a hangover, thinking about how wonderful it was, but now you’re paying the price. It could apply to so many things besides conspiracies.
GA: We also thought about this song in terms of a relationship. What if it all works out and you actually get the person you’re after?
AJR: What if it’s happily ever after?
GA: Exactly, instead of being doom and gloom about things, what if it all works out?