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Holy Ghost! On What "Do This" Is Really About & Why They Feel So Good About 'Work'

Holy Ghost!

Courtesy of Corona Capital 

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Holy Ghost! On What "Do This" Is Really About & Why They Feel So Good About 'Work'

Before the synthpop duo's latest record comes out in June, they sit down with the Recording Academy to talk about everything leading up to the album

GRAMMYs/May 16, 2019 - 01:21 am

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 fkin' 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 st 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.

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Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

Rotimi

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Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

The Nigerian-American singer and actor sat down with the Recording Academy to talk about what inspired his latest album, 'Walk With Me'

GRAMMYs/Jul 8, 2019 - 10:04 pm

In 2015, Rotimi stepped into the New Orleans Superdome for the first time to experience the magic of ESSENCE Fest. Four years later, in 2019, the "Love Riddim" singer returned to the celebration as a performer, something he said was spoken into existence.

"Last year me and my manager had a conversation and I said, 'Listen, I'm going to be on the [ESSENCE] mainstage this year. 365 days later, we did it," Rotimi told the Recording Academy at the 25th annual ESSENCE Fest.

Rotimi, also an actor on Starz' "Power," has evolved since his last album, 2017's Jeep Music, Vol.1. The singer said he really hit home with its follow-up, the recently released Walk With Me, a project he worked hard for, putting in hours in the studio after filming on set.

"Walk With Me is the first time I actually felt like I was giving myself as an artist, and personally I feel like with everything else I have going on I wanted to show people that this is really what I do," he said. "I wanted people to understand who Rotimi is, who Rotimi was before, who I want to be and just understand my growth and the journey and my passion for what I do."

Part of why the album felt like such a representation of him is because it embodies beats of his African roots, something he said was very present growing up Nigerian-American. 

"I grew up with a lot of Fela Kuti and I grew up with Bob Marley," he said of his musical roots. "But I also grew up with Carl Thomas and Genuine and Usher, so there was a genuine mixture of who I am and what I've grown up to listen to. The actual Walk With Me project was a mixture of influences of Akon and Craig David."

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Wilco Announce Sky Blue Sky Fest To Take Place In Mexico
Wilco

Photo: Steve Granitz/WireImage.com

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Wilco Announce Sky Blue Sky Fest To Take Place In Mexico

"12 years ago on this very day @wilco released their sixth studio album, 'Sky Blue Sky.' Fast forward a decade and change as the band turns towards an exciting new adventure," a post on Instagram said

GRAMMYs/May 16, 2019 - 04:26 am

Alt-rock greats Wilco have announced a new destination music festival named after their sixth studio album, Sky Blue Sky.

The Sky Blue Sky fest will take place in Mexico's Hard Rock Hotel in the Riviera Maya Jan. 18–22, 2020. The lineup will include sets from Wilco, Jeff Tweedy, a solo Courtney Barnett, Sharon Van Etten, Kamasi Washington, Yo La Tengo and more.   

Wilco said they will only play three of the four nights in a post on Instagram.

"12 years ago on this very day @wilco released their sixth studio album, Sky Blue Sky. Fast forward a decade and change as the band turns towards an exciting new adventure. We proudly present Wilco's Sky Blue Sky, an intimate concert vacation in Riviera Maya, Mexico!" the band said in the post. 

All-inclusive tickets will be available May 22 at 12 p.m. ET. For more information, visit the Sky Blue Sky website.  

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Quarantine Diaries: Joan As Police Woman Is Bike Riding, Book Reading & Strumming D'Angelo

Joan as Police Woman

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Quarantine Diaries: Joan As Police Woman Is Bike Riding, Book Reading & Strumming D'Angelo

As the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic continues to rock the music industry, the Recording Academy reached out to a few musicians to see how they were spending their days indoors

GRAMMYs/Apr 7, 2020 - 07:21 pm

As the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic continues to rock the music industry, the Recording Academy reached out to a few musicians to see how they were spending their days indoors. Today, singer/songwriter Joan Wasser of Joan as Police Woman, whose forthcoming covers album, COVER TWO, includes tracks by The Strokes, Prince, Talk Talk, and more, shares her Quarantine Diary.

Thursday, April 2

[10 a.m.-12 p.m.] Went to bed at 4 a.m. last night after getting drawn into working on a song. Put on the kettle to make hot coffee while enjoying an iced coffee I made the day before. Double coffee is my jam. Read the news, which does not do much for my mood. Catch up with a few friends, which does a lot of good for my mood. Glad it goes in this order.

[12 p.m.-2 p.m.] Make steel cut oats with blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, fresh ginger, fresh turmeric, a sprinkling of cinnamon and cardamom, and of course, coconut butter to melt on top. If you’re not into coconut butter (sometimes marketed as coconut "manna"), I’d suggest just going for it and getting it (or ordering it) and putting it on your sweet potatoes, your oats, anywhere you’d put butter. I’m not vegan but I do enjoy hearing the tiny scream uttered by a strawberry as I cut into it. 

Contemplate some yoga. Contamplate meditating. Do neither. Resume work on the song I want to finish and send today. I have a home studio and I spend a lot of my time working on music here. The song is a collboration sent to me from Rodrigo D’Erasmo in Milano that will benefit the folks who work behind the scenes in the music touring system in Italy. 

[2 p.m.-4 p.m.] I traded in a guitar for a baritone guitar right before all this craziness hit but hadn’t had the time to get it out until now. I put on some D’Angelo, plugged into my amp and played along as if I were in his band. Micahel Archer, If you’re reading this, I hope you are safe and sound and thank you immensely for all the music you've given us always. 

[4 p.m.-6 p.m.] Bike repair shops have been deemed "necessary," thank goodness, because biking is the primary way I get around and I need a small repair. I hit up my neighborhood shop and they get my bike in and out in 10 minutes, enough time to feel the sun for a moment. 

I ride fast and hard down to the water's edge and take in a view of the East River from Brooklyn. There are a few people out getting their de-stress walks but it is mostly deserted on the usually packed streets.

[6 p.m.-8 p.m.] Practice Bach piano invention no. 4 in Dm very, very, very slowly. I never studied piano but I’m trying to hone some skills. Realize I’m ravenous. Eat chicken stew with wild mushrooms I made in the slow cooker yesterday. It’s always better the second day.

[8 p.m.-10 p.m.] Get on a zoom chat with a bunch of women friends on both coasts. We basically shoot the sh*t and make each other laugh. 

Afterwards I still feel like I ate a school bus so I give into yoga. I feel great afterwards. This photo proves I have a foot. 

[10 p.m.-12 a.m.] Record a podcast for Stereo Embers in anticipation of my new release on May 1, a second record of covers, inventively named COVER TWO. Continue to work on music (it’s a theme).

[12 a.m.-2 p.m.] Tell myself I should think about bed. Ignore myself and confinue to work on music. 

[2 a.m.-4 a.m.] Force myself into bed where I have many books to choose from. This is what I’m reading presently, depending on my mood. Finally I listen to Nick Hakim’s new song, "Qadir," and am taken by its beauty and grace. Good night. 

If you wish to support our efforts to assist music professionals in need, learn more about the Recording Academy's and MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund.

If you are a member of the music industry in need of assistance, visit the MusiCares website

Report: Music & Culture Infrastructure Can Create Better "Future Cities"

Hero The Band perform at the Recording Academy Atlanta Chapter Annual Membership Celebration
Photo: Marcus Ingram/WireImage

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Report: Music & Culture Infrastructure Can Create Better "Future Cities"

How sound planning for a creative future in our urban areas makes all the difference for artists and musicians

GRAMMYs/Oct 24, 2019 - 01:27 am

The future, as they say, is now. And for music makers around the world, building a future for themselves often starts at home, in their local creative community and in the city where they live. While technology has expanded communication and made the world smaller, cities continue to grow, making planning for the future a critical cultural mission of the present.

To that end, a new report by global organization Sound Diplomacy titled "This Must Be The Place" examines, "The role of music and cultural infrastructure in creating better future cities for all of us." The 37-page deep dive into community planning and development highlights the importance of creative culture in what it calls "Future Cities."

"The government defines ‘Future Cities’ as 'a term used to imagine what cities themselves will be like," the report states, "how they will operate, what systems will orchestrate them and how they will relate to their stakeholders (citizens, governments, businesses, investors, and others),'"

According to the report, only three global cities or states currently have cultural infrastructure plans: London, Amsterdam and New South Wales. This fact may be surprising considering how city planning and sustainability have become part of the discussion on development of urban areas, where the UN estimates 68 percent of people will live by 2050.

"Our future places must look at music and culture ecologically. Much like the way a building is an ecosystem, so is a community of creators, makers, consumers and disseminators," the report says. "The manner in which we understand how to maintain a building is not translated to protecting, preserving and promoting music and culture in communities."

The comparison and interaction between the intangibility of culture and the presence of physical space is an ongoing theme throughout the report. For instance, one section of the report outlines how buildings can and should be designed to fit the cultural needs of the neighborhoods they populate, as too often, use of a commercial space is considered during the leasing process, not the construction process, leading to costly renovations.

"All future cities are creative cities. All future cities are music cities."

On the residential side, as cities grow denser, the need increases for thoughtful acoustic design and sufficient sound isolation. Future cities can and should be places where people congregate

"If we don’t design and build our future cities to facilitate and welcome music and experience, we lose what makes them worth living in."

For musicians and artists of all mediums, the answer to making—and keeping—their cities worth living in boils down to considering their needs, impact and value more carefully and sooner in the planning process.

"The report argues that property is no longer an asset business, but one built on facilitating platforms for congregation, community and cohesion," it says. "By using music and culture at the beginning of the development process and incorporating it across the value chain from bid to design, meanwhile to construction, activation to commercialisation, this thinking and practice will result in better places."

The report offers examples of how planners and leaders are handling this from around the world. For instance, the Mayor Of London Night Czar, who helps ensure safety and nighttime infrastructure for venues toward the Mayor's Vision for London as a 24-hour city. Stateside, Pittsburgh, Penn., also has a Night Mayor in place to support and inform the growth of its creative class.

Diversity, inclusion, health and well-being also factor into the reports comprehensive look at how music and culture are every bit as important as conventional business, ergonomic and environmental considerations in Future Cites. Using the Queensland Chamber of Arts and Culture as a reference, it declared, "A Chamber of Culture is as important as a Chamber of Commerce."

In the end, the report serves as a beacon of light for governments, organizations, businesses and individuals involved in planning and developing future cities. Its core principals lay out guideposts for building friendly places to music and culture and are backed with case studies and recommendations. But perhaps the key to this progress is in changing how we approach the use of space itself, as the answer to supporting music may be found in how we look at the spaces we inhabit.

"To develop better cities, towns and places, we must alter the way we think about development, and place music and culture alongside design, viability, construction and customer experience," it says. "Buildings must be treated as platforms, not assets. We must explore mixed‑use within mixed‑use, so a floor of a building, or a lesser‑value ground floor unit can have multiple solutions for multiple communities."

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