On a blistering late summer night in Dallas, the funk band Electric Tongues has taken refuge in a Starbucks, sipping drinks that foretell the onslaught of seasonal marketing.
“These are pumpkin spiced lattes, man,” guitarist Max Ogden says. “You already know.”
At this, producer and new Tongues member Sean Dream laughs. His laugh is controlled chaos; it reverberates throughout his body, causing his curly, blond-streaked hair to tremble. But Dream contains his chuckle, fearful of bothering his fellow coffee house patrons. He does not partake in the pumpkin-flavored beverages, and singer Judas James — born Phillip James — is quick to distance himself from the drink choice.
The three men launch into a hearty, unified chuckle, the kind of laugh you might hear from old college friends sharing an inside joke. For each of them, this coffee run marks the end of a long day spent working day jobs so they can pay the bills and do what they love: make music as the retro funk trio Electric Tongues. Fresh off the release of the song and video “Time Machine,” the unlikely combination of two indie rockers and a DJ-turned-designer have united to make music that makes you want to dance.
“At the end of the day, we want to make hits,” Ogden says. “Who doesn’t?”
Electric Tongues was originally The Deadbeats, a pair of gloomy rockers who realized that their band name was far too common.
“There were like 17 or 18 Deadbeats out there,” James says. “And we weren’t invested in the name enough to try to be the only Deadbeats out there.”
That is a recurring theme for James and Ogden. Both men, who are 26, have seen their fair share of lackluster bands.
“It’s all ups and downs when you’re trying to do something creative,” James says. “You have to deal with the fact that sometimes things won’t work out for a long time.”
The Electric Tongues singer has a high-pitched stage voice and bombastic vocal power, but off stage, he is soft-spoken. James relies on his hands to emphasize points, causing his dangling earring to shake wildly as he talks about his often chaotic past. For him, “ups and downs” meant bouncing around Austin for two years in search of a band. When that failed, he returned to his hometown of Dallas and tried to go solo. Then he met Ogden, a guitarist who had recently taken a two-year break from music.
“Sometimes you feel helpless,” Ogden says. “And then you find your people.”
Both Ogden and his frontman speak about their past with a strange brand of reverence, happy to be done with it yet grateful for the struggle that got them here. The singer speaks in hushed tones; the guitarist is blunt.
“I’ve been in a lot of bands that didn’t work out,” Ogden says. “With Judas, it clicked.”
He and James wrote and recorded indie rock songs together for a year, gradually embracing a lighter sound. When their song “Finsta” landed on KXT 91.7 in 2018, Dallas was introduced to a duo that merged moody indie rock with shades of pop. But their metamorphosis into the funk sonics of Electric Tongues was incomplete until they connected with Dream, Ogden’s childhood friend and a multi-hyphenate creative who designs clothes and produces records. They sent Dream a record, a cut of a new song called “Time Machine,” and the producer returned a record that transported James and Ogden to their childhoods.
“It was funky, it was groovy, and it was like the stuff we loved vibing to as kids,” James says.
While James and Ogden both grew up loving the Bee Gees, they had gravitated toward a style rife with melancholy and low on dance-ready riffs. Dream changed that with his touches to “Time Machine,” and in turn, Ogden and James invited him to join the band.
“I know what people like to dance to,” the DJ says. “So every time I sit down, I’m thinking, ‘OK, what are the people gonna want to hear?’ When I heard Max and Judas, I could see people vibing to it. I just gave it a little extra something.”
Dream had also experienced the tumult that comes with trying to become a full-time musician, and he jumped at the opportunity to join a group he deems “serious.”
“Some people are in it for clout, or the money, or the girls," he says. "But I do this because I want to make hits that people can get down to. I saw that they did, too.”
With Dream’s help, the band cut and released “Time Machine,” a fun and retro funk track that bears no semblance of gloom, doom or indie rock. It sounds like something you might hear from PREP, a London-based pop quartet that is also a smorgasbord of DJs and songwriters. According to Dream, “Time Machine” is the kind of stuff his friends and his mom love.
“My mom is obsessed,” he says. “She’s probably responsible for half of those video views.”
In the video, James and Ogden wear glittery sequin jackets and strut across a talent show stage they share with a revolving door of happy-go-lucky dancers decked in throwback garb. If you look closely, you can see Ogden boasting a beatific smile as he struts and strums.
“This is the most fun I’ve had making music,” he says. “It’s just fun, man.”
Watch "Time Machine" below:
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