Holy Ghost! Make It Dumb in the Best Way Possible

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Holy Ghost! makes music to dance and think to, music to fall in love to. Their music is of a refined quality that maintains fun as a major component, but their content and technical execution dives so much deeper. They have a maturity that comes from true experience, and with this experience combined with their desire to improve and work to deliver something better, they are a band that you will see so much more greatness from. A definitive band on the James Murphy and Tim Goldsworthy founded DFA Records, Holy Ghost! is fresh off the release of their strongest album to date, Dynamics.

The honesty, the integrity, the authenticity and the creative talent within the duo that comprise Holy Ghost! are all very palpable when you are with these two fine gentleman from New York. In strong leather jackets and with a casual demeanor, Alex Frankel and Nick Millhiser impressed me with their critical thought and humility, and not to mention their very natural collaborative quality. These are two partners in music who are going to see this Holy Ghost! thing through to the very end.

Fundamentally, they have been playing the biggest festivals and selling out shows the world over, but they maintain a refreshing and inspiring hunger. They have brains, talent, and a maturity that informs a strong awareness of the greater musical landscape in which they exist - a quality too few bands ever have.

When I sat down with Alex and Nick at Outside Lands, they came off as youthful but seasoned aspiring musicians who absolutely rocked their set no more than an hour before. Most importantly, they have a spark of love and passion for what they do. They make beautiful music because they love it, and I can tell they will never lose sight of that love.

What is new with Holy Ghost!? How is everything going?

Alex Frankel: Good! We have been touring over the summer, and it is just starting to wind down and we are getting back into the studio.

How do you feel 'Dynamics' has been received since its release?

Alex Frankel: Good, it has been all right, I think it has grown on people I guess. The shows keep on getting better and better.

Nick Millhiser: Great.

Alex Frankel: We have not turned on it.

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What are your favorite songs on the album and why?

Nick Millhiser: Good question.

Alex Frankel: ‘Dumb Disco Ideas’ for playing live. It translates very well to a live atmosphere, a real full band song.

Nick Millhiser: ‘Okay’. I am really proud of both of those songs, but for totally different reasons. Like he was saying, ‘Dumb Disco Ideas’ is a really long sprawling, jammy thing, and we had always wanted to do something like that. We had tried a few times and failed, so I think we were both happy that we could make something like that work. Then ‘Okay’ to me feels like a very concise, direct pop song.

How would you simply and succinctly describe the Holy Ghost! aesthetic and sound?

Alex Frankel: New York! Haha.

Nick Millhiser: None more black. It’s a spinal tap reference.

Alex Frankel: Yeah that’s fine, none more black.

Nick Millhiser: Black with sequins on it.

(Author's note: Best answer I will ever probably receive to a question like that. Thanks for that guys!)

Your songwriting has always been a strong component in my opinion. What is your writing process? Is the responsibility split between the two of you? Or do you collaborate on all of the songs?

Alex Frankel: We collaborate on all of the songs and kind of trade roles. Nick is more of a producer and I do more of the lyrics. It has to pass each other’s tests in order to move forward. It’s a partnership.

In your song ‘Dance A Little Closer’, you have some amazingly fun songwriting. Specifically, ‘Let’s make it dumb, not like a couple fighting, but like a couple when they’re young and just begun.’ Can you tell me about where that line specifically came from?

Alex Frankel: I don’t know, I wrote the lyrics very quickly. I remember writing it and being like ‘Yeah! That’s good!’

In general where did that song come from?

Alex Frankel: Nick started something in the studio, and I was in there alone and I just did the vocals right away.

Nick Millhiser: I didn’t write the lyrics, but much like the word dynamics being used a lot, dumb is a word that Alex and I use a lot, but in a good way. It’s something that we would say to each in the studio a lot, like ‘No, let’s make it dumber, dumber, dumber’ which means not stupid or patronizing to your audience but in the sense of how you can whittle it down to be simpler and more direct.

It’s actually a James Murphyism.

Alex Frankel: Let’s make it dumb.

Your Blood Orange remix is a personal favorite, what is your remix process exactly? Do you pick songs that you love and give it the Holy Ghost! touch, or how do you approach your remixes?

Alex Frankel: Sometimes, but that one we didn’t get permission. Normally you get the files, but that time we just had the stereowave file. It was more of an edit really, a bootleg as we called it. Usually it’s a mix, sometimes it’s friends' stuff and sometimes it comes from a record label. We never do songs that we can’t find our own way into.

Nick Millhiser: That one was kind of the exception. Like Alex said, we never do something that we can’t find some way into it, but a lot of the time it is work for hire to a certain extent. Part of the challenge is that it is very far removed from what we do and that’s part of the fun of it. Alex pretty much did that one, but he actively was like ‘I want to remix this song!’ and just did it. Whereas we did that in the beginning a little bit, we did that with Panthers and with MGMT we picked the song. Generally the label comes to you, not the other way around.

As a prominent band on DFA, how are things going generally speaking with the label? Is it a happy home for the Holy Ghost! sound and future?

Alex Frankel: Yeah, for us it’s great, it’s going really well.

Kind of the key thing under that, after LCD ended its run, everyone was saying, ‘Holy Ghost!, you are now the biggest name on DFA.’

Alex Frankel: Ha! And then they were proved wrong...

Ha ha, I don’t know about that.

Alex Frankel: Sinkane put out his record.

Nick Millhiser: Interesting fun fact, technically speaking, LCD was not on DFA.

Alex Frankel: They were on Capitol. But it’s good. We didn’t get to play Outside Lands to a crowd like this or Coachella overnight, and a lot of bands do, like Banks for instance. She played before us at Coachella. She just shows up. Her song rises to the top of the internet, and maybe it has some radioplay and boom she’s at Coachella, not that she wasn’t working hard years before.

We have been putting out music for seven years and most labels would drop you after two years if you weren’t rising quick enough. DFA is the exception and we are very lucky to be on a label that let us move at our own pace.

Nick Millhiser: We move at our own pace, but DFA being an independent label, they are somewhat limited. Using Banks as an example, I do not know anything about her, but my view of major labels is generally pretty cynical, and saying nothing about her music which might be great, but you don’t get to be a band that plays Coachella that quickly without having a fair amount of money behind you, and DFA just doesn’t have those resources.

Alex Frankel: It’s the pro and the con. The resources aren’t there to propel you unnaturally, but the pro is that if there is a natural build, they will stick by you.

Nick Millhiser: It sounds fucked up to say, but the expectations are low. It sounds like a bad thing but it keeps everyone on an even keel. The way major labels work is they throw a bunch of money at something and if this isn’t making a million bucks, move on, whereas like DFA is just like, ‘We like you. We are not going broke having you around, so good luck! Whatever you guys want to do. Go for it!’ It works very well for us. I can’t imagine moving to a major. It would have to be pretty special.

Alex Frankel: That being said! Anyone who wants to call about moving to a major, we are always open to discussions.

Where do you see Holy Ghost! in three years?

Alex Frankel: I think we will be lucky playing here one slot later, for me that is what I hope; that we get to continue to do this.

Nick Millhiser: That is sort of always the way the band has gone.

Alex Frankel: It doesn’t even matter if we’re later or earlier just as long as we get to keep doing it.

Nick Millhiser: Make another record, hopefully that record is better than the last record.

Alex Frankel: Bands are a dime a dozen and come and go. To be able to do it as a career and do it all the time, we feel really lucky. If we can be there in three years, it would be cool.

Who should we be listening to?

Alex Frankel: Not to be biased, but there is a new record out on DFA called ‘Museum of Love’, Pat Mahoney’s project.

Nick Millhiser: It’s very good.

Alex Frankel: They are really, really good. They are just good! Then a lot of weird old stuff.

Nick Millhiser: Warpaint. I was really bummed we were playing at the same time. I like their older records, but I love their new record. I have seen video of them playing live and they look really good. My girlfriend went go seem them a week ago and texted me a picture of them playing saying ‘You’d have such a boner right now, they’re so good!' So I’m really bummed that we missed that. That record hasn’t left my record player for three months.

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