Courtesy of Corona Capital
Holy Ghost! On What "Do This" Is Really About & Why They Feel So Good About 'Work'
Synthpop duo Holy Ghost!, comprising Nick Millhiser and Alex Frankel, are on the heels of releasing their first album in roughly six years, Work, and this time they're determined to stick to their guns.
"I feel more simultaneously less worried about what other people think about it," Millhiser told the Recording Academy. "But of course, you're in a band, you want people to like it."
The New Yorkers, whose last album was 2013's Dynamics and have remixed the likes of Phoenix, Cut Copy and Moby, have released a series of scintillating singles from Work (out on June 21), "Do This," "Escape To Los Angeles" and "Anxious."
The Recording Academy sat down with the duo at Corona Capital in Guadalajara, Mexico to talk about what their single "Do This" is really about, how they've grown since their last album, audience reception, what artist they'd like to remix and more.
Hey guys, how does it feel to be in Mexico?
Alex Frankel: Fantastic. We love being here, we don't get to come here often enough.
Tell me about the vibe you get from the Mexican audience on stage.
Frankel: Amazing, we've always had great shows in Mexico, we haven't played here in a while.
Nick Millhiser: When was the last time we played here?
Frankel: I'm not sure, but it's been a long time.
Millhiser: Four years ago?
Frankel: We've always thought about like, New York, Los Angeles, and Mexico as kind of the places that we feel most at home at, that make up the core of the audience for us. It's great to be back here.
What about Mexico makes you feel at home?
Millhiser: It's a hard question to answer.
Frankel: Everyone's always been really nice, I know that sounds like a simple answer, but everyone's always been really interested in what we do because we do something kind of unusual as an electronic band ... It's been a great experience.
Millhiser: Just as people, like Alex and I both come here for vacation, I have friends here.
Frankel: On our own free will.
Millhiser: I come here with my family once a year, but as a band—I know every band says that any city that they're in is their favorite city to play. But we've only played Mexico City and Guadalajara, and it's almost surprising how good the reception is, it's not like anywhere else. I think we mostly play in America, I don't know if American audiences are a little cynical or something but in America it always feels like shows are a bit of—you spend the first 10 or 15 minutes trying to like get them on your team or something. Whereas like, every time we've played in Mexico it's like, the second we make noise they're like "aah." It just feels like everybody's rooting for you and they're happy to have people.
I don't know, maybe in New York or L.A. they're spoiled because every band plays there all the time. For us, we've played in New York probably five times in the time that's lapsed since we were last here. So maybe there's something to the fact that people are receptive to bands just because it's harder for them to come here, so they don't come here as often.
You're the second band I've spoken to who made that observation about American audiences.
Frankel: To me, "you just have to win them over" is the default setting for American audiences. And honestly, for most of the world. It's despite the fact that they spent their money to go there, they wanted to see you play, everybody kinda starts like, "prove to me that this is good." And maybe it takes like one song, two songs to get there, but even today as a festival is an unusual experience as a band. You know, it always takes you a second, a minute to find your bearings as a band. Just like the second when we just started making noise when we were sound-checking, like people were making song requests and stuff. It's great, it's really nice.
So you're releasing your first album in six years, is that right?
Millhiser: It's coming out in June.
Frankel: Has it been six years?
Millhiser: It's five and a half, but who's counting?
Frankel: Six years! 2013 to '19.
What can you tell us about it?
Millhiser: It's done, which is nice. It's the first music in six years. No, I think we're really proud of it, it's not like we spent six years making it. We toured a lot off the last record and we put out an EP in between, but I don't know. I think we both feel probably better about this record than any of the other ones. Very excited to start playing it live.
What about this new record do you feel better about?
Millhiser: I think on the first two records I was always like, especially on the first record where we'd never done anything, Alex and I essentially gave up on being professional musicians when we were 22 and then when we released "Hold On." People really liked it, so it was like I was always kind of like surprised that as many people liked it with "Hold On," or remixes we were doing. I think the way I thought about it was like, "Well, if I like this and I'm proud of it there's probably another group of people that will as well. My taste isn't so weird."
I think my taste is kind of in line with other people but how many people that is, I have no idea. I think that was the way we thought about the first two records, was like, I think we think some people will like this, but how many? I don't know. Whereas like, this one feels more like I don't know, it's hard to explain. I feel more simultaneously less worried about what other people think about it. But of course, you're in a band, you want people to like it, that's the idea. Just more confident that like, it's just gonna be what it's gonna be, and hopefully it reaches more people than you did the last time, but you never know.
Tell me about "Do This." What was the influence behind it?
Millhiser: Alex started that, that was actually one of the quicker songs on the record to finish. Honestly on every album, like every album has been ... almost every song is really difficult and then maybe one or two songs at the end are really fast, and "Do This" was one of the songs.
Frankel: There's like the 10-minute songs and then the 10-month songs. That's a ten-minute song.
We do this: sit at the piano, write the song and then you just work backward, which sometimes can be hard, but in this case, it was a pretty easy one for us. I don't know. I think people think that song is a date, about like a girl or a relationship but I think it's more about just like, a lot of times you know, people are like "Why are you taking so long?" for us. "Why do you take so long, why do you care so much about the sound, why do you tour the way you do, why do you insist on playing with a live band? Why don't you just DJ, you could make more money, blah blah blah." We kind of stick to our guns to some extent. Like we really like and enjoy the process of making music in a very personal, unique way that's not in a computer.
Is there an artist that you'd like to remix that you haven't yet?
Millhiser: A lot, I think. It's always hard I think because you don't want to touch ... you want to say "oh, Depeche Mode, or f**kin' The Talking Heads, or whatever, Pharrell," but you don't wanna touch anything that's already perfect so it's kind of a tricky one.
Frankel: That's always the hardest. I think honestly the remixes that we've been most proud of doing were not necessarily songs that we heard and we were like, "Oh my god, this song is amazing."
Millhiser: And sometimes that makes it harder. When a song is really perfect already you're kind of like, "Why would I touch this? Why would I change anything?" Whereas, I feel like there have been things here and there that I've heard, I can't think of them off the top of my head, where I was like, "I would really like to do a remix of that." Maybe this sounds arrogant, but there are seldom things that you ... to me, I'll remix s**t in some way like, improve or like embellish on like the original? So like remixing something that you already love is really tough. Whereas like the easiest things to remix are the things that you hear and you're like, "I think they could've done this differently, I wish it went like this." Where it's like, you can already hear things that you would just do differently.
But I would love to remix this Stevie Nicks song, that's always the first thing I think of, but I wouldn't. All of my favorite Stevie Nicks songs are perfect.