Interview: Holy Ghost!

Jasmine Phull speaks to the disco-dance electro wizards about on-stage dress codes, Phillipe Zdar and the DFA Records family.

Jayne Robinson

Date published: 28th Jun 2010

Shrouded with ambivalence and dirty looks since the release of Chekhov’s short story “The Exclamation Mark”, the use of this hyperbole punctuator has forever been frowned upon. But in 2007 two men couldn’t have cared less, and out of this apathy came HOLY GHOST!

After the demise of their short lived high-school rap group AUTOMATA, members Nick Millhiser and Alex Frankel formed the New York disco-dance entity under the helpful guidance of high-lauded record label DFA. Holding the title as remixers and musicians, the James Murphy protégées are well recognised for dance-floor staples 'Hold On' and 'I Will Come Back'. The boys indulge in the longer length tracks reminiscing back to the funk-fuelled shimmering 80s; big on the lofi and old school synthesizers, the electro wizards have just released their five-track Static on the Wire EP. It’s an infectious dalliance into analogue instruments that will lead you straight to a hook-heavy heaven.

We speak to the childhood friends about on-stage dress codes, Phillipe Zdar and the DFA Records family.

First off what’s with the exclamation mark in Holy Ghost? Where’d the name originally come from?

NICK: The name comes from the Bar Kays song "Holy Ghost!".  I googled the lyrics one day and the first line had been transcribed as "Your love is like the Holy Ghost!"  I thought it was funny.  

Alex: Yeah, its sounds good. 

Your Static on a Wire EP has four songs all around the six minute mark. Was that a natural decision? Considering the average length of a song is three to four minutes were you a bit worried the longer lengths would scare people off?

NICK: Yes and no.  Obviously your average Joe has a short attention span but people who are familiar with what we've done before like 'Hold On' or 'I will come back' or the remixes in particular (which, let's be honest, is probably pretty few) know that we can be a bit, um, long-winded.  We just enjoy giving things a bit of time to build and don't like to cut things short if they're feeling good.  That's not to say we're into self sabotage - if we ever write a song that we thought could be, say, played on radio, we'd cut it down for sure, but the songs on the EP seemed to lend themselves to longer arrangements.  

ALEX: I hope that people enjoy the length of the songs and the arrangements. To us they feel good. Our album, due out soon, has some shorter songs and you can always do a radio edit when you need to. 
How many songs did you have to cull? 
NICK: There are about 11 or so done for the record.  We picked 'Say My Name' and 'I will Come Back' because they had both been floating around, but had never gotten a proper vinyl release. We had been working on Static On The Wire for years so we just wanted to get it out and thought 'I Know, I Hear' would round out the package nicely. 
Just this year you’ve started performing with a live band. How’s that transition been and what was the decision behind it?

NICK: It's something we had wanted to do from the beginning.  From day one we intended for Holy Ghost! to be a band that could play live but we never had the resources to do it until now. It's been a lot of work, but we're both really stoked to have finally gotten it off the ground.  

ALEX: Nick and I have played live music since we were in our early teens. It’s something we always wanted to get back to and things have lined up in a way that has allowed us to do it right now..

Is Brooklyn, NYC still where it’s at in terms of electronic/synthesized music?

NICK: I think so - LCD, Jacques Renualt/Runaway, Drop the Lime, Wurst Records, etc, etc...

ALEX: New York is New York, someone is always happy to take your seat if it’s empty - or if it’s not. It’s a city of survivalists, so there will always be groundbreaking, innovative music and art here.

What were you going to be before you got into the music foray? Were you studying?

NICK: We both went to college but directly prior to Holy Ghost! we were both working boring jobs - Alex as a personal assistant and I worked at a wine shop. It's only been since about two years ago that I've been able to support myself as a musician.    

How did the Phoenix remix come about? Did they approach you or vice versa? 
NICK: They approached us through Kitsune, who we had worked with before when we did a cover version of an “In Flgaranti” song.  As I understand it, I think Phillipe Zdar put the guys in the band on to our music and they specifically asked for us as a result.  So, we owe Zdar a big thank you for that one.  

ALEX: Zdar !

Do you prefer creating your own or remixing other tracks? Why?

NICK: We like them both for different reasons. Writing and recording your own stuff from scratch is probably more creatively fulfilling but there's also something really fun about recontextualizing someone else's music and working within the restrictions of doing a remix.  

ALEX: Yes, there are different beasts with different but equally rewarding results when tamed correctly - similar to dj'ing versus playing  live.

Do you try and co-ordinate your on-stage outfits?

NICK: Actually, yes. We don't have costumes or anything and we're not trying to make a fashion statement of any kind but we have a black/white/grey rule because we want things on stage to look uniform and neat.   

ALEX: Also, i think we're allowed to wear red touches too, right Nick? Nick is the visual boss.

What should the crowd be looking at when Holy Ghost! is on stage?

NICK: Sweet tunes played loudly by four sweaty, hunky dudes. No laptops allowed.  

ALEX: Not sure about hunky, but there are four of us. I wish our gear was alive and we were on stands.

What's the best thing about being a part of the DFA family?

NICK: That's basically like asking "what's the best part about being friends with your friends?". I don't really know how to answer that. I guess just being a part of the DFA family is the best part of being a part of the DFA family, if you know what I mean. We are a very fortunate bunch.  

ALEX: Being part of a family. 

Interview by Jasmine Phull