[Interview] Nick Millhiser of Holy Ghost! Talks Band Beginnings, Touring, and Influential People

DFA electropop duo Holy Ghost! have had an interesting and eventful history, to say the least. The duo, consisting of New York natives Alex Frankel and Nick Millhiser, found their beginnings when they joined the DFA Records family ten years ago as members of the hip hop group Automato. After the group disbanded, the pair continued to make music, and, instead of continuing the path of hip hop, they veered more towards a vocal-based, electropop sound. From there, Holy Ghost! was born. Continuing on under the DFA label, the pair have released an EP, an amazing self-titled debut LP, and enough remixes to be combined into their own album entirely. From touring alongside their DFA cohort James Murphy and his famed outfit LCD Soundsystem, to opening for Cut Copy and Chromeo, to headlinging their first tour this year, Millhiser and Frankel have a lot to be proud of.

As the duo wraps up their North American headlining tour, which I had the chance to attend just one week ago, Nick Millhiser took the time to answer a number of questions that have been on my mind as of late. You can read our interview after the jump. As well, if you haven't hear the dup's latest single titled "I Wanted To Tell Her," head over to Green Label Sound's official website to download the song for free.

Some Kind of Awesome: Your debut single, “Hold On,” was released in late 2007, and the two of you continued to work on smaller projects, such as remixes of Cut Copy and MGMT, as well as releasing your second single “I Will Come Back.” You also released a video for that single which was a shot-for-shot remake of the video for New Order’s “Confusion.” Why did you decide to do a shot-for-shot remake of that video? And, with New Order being a clear influence, what other bands or songs have you drawn on when making music as Holy Ghost!?

Nick Millhiser: Almost everything that Alex and I do starts with something else as a reference.  Most often we start by saying "okay, let's do something KIND OF like this..." and we will start with an idea, or an image and build off it. Less often, but sometimes, when we really want to make it clear that we are paying homage to something, we just say "Okay, let's do something EXACTLY like this." With the "I Will Come Back" video we wanted it to be totally clear that we were paying tribute to New Order because the song itself was kind of an homage to them as well. So we just did our best to copy it shot by shot.

Musically, "Do It Again" and "Some Children" both kind of ape the groove from Herb Albert's "Rise"/Biggie's "Hypnotize." The 16th note drum and synth intro to "It's Not Over" was us trying to do something that sounded like this Serge Santiago edit we had been playing out in our DJ sets a lot at the time. With "Slow Motion," we just copied Don Ray's "Got To Have Lovin'" note for note.  So, yeah, we reference stuff all the time.  Sometimes it's pretty subtle, or maybe only something that we can hear, and sometimes it's to the point of "sampling" or blatantly copying something else.   

SKoA: You’re Static on the Wire EP was released in mid-2010 and was followed by the long-awaited release of your debut, self-titled LP in April of this year. What was the recording process like for the EP the album? Are you both pleased with how fans and critics have received your debut album?

NM: It was a long process, but I don't think we could have done it any other way as there was a significant learning curve involved with making the first LP; we did so much of it ourselves and we had to learn to how to work in a studio. That's part of the reason why we took on so many remixes during that time. Remixes were a great excuse to mess around and experiment in the studio and we learned a lot about producing and especially engineering and mixing in the process.

As far as the reaction goes I guess I'm happy. I don't read reviews. I know that something that everyone says but in my case it's totally true. So, with the exception of the Pitchfork one, I've kind of been blissfully unaware of the critical reaction. I care a lot more about what music fans think and they seem to like it which is great. When the album came out I was doubtful that we would get to do our own headlining tour for this LP, but here we are. It's very cool and very exciting.    

SKoA: In support of the album, you’ve been touring a significant amount. What are your favourite, and least favourite, aspects of touring? Do you prefer touring alongside fellow label mates, such as LCD Soundsystem, or headlining with the support of bands like Jessica 6 and Midnight Magic?

NM: Doing our headlining tour has been amazing. Just having the means to bring the exact personnel and equipment we've always wanted means that we are, for the first time, playing these songs without any compromise. Likewise, being able to soundcheck for two hours a day makes all the difference in the world for a band like us given all the gear we have on stage. Now that LCD has retired I can't think of any band big or small who tours with a backline like this. Portishead maybe. The Beastie Boys when they tour.

That said, doing tours supporting others was a totally necessary step. We learned a lot in the process and there was something kind of nice about playing shows where the pressure really wasn't on us to fill the rooms.  The ability to tour like that for as long as we did allowed us to work out hundreds of kinks which would have been much more embarrassing to work through on a headline tour. And, of course, it's great touring with friends. There are far worse ways to spend your time then traveling around the country with LCD Soundsystem, Chromeo and Cut Copy.  

SKoA: With your touring schedule going through to the end of the month, what are your plans for the future? Are you planning on continuing to tour in the New Year, or will you be working on new material, such as an EP or a new single?

NM: This tour is basically the end of touring for us for a while. We finish this run back in NYC at the end of November and then we get back to work on the second LP, which Alex and I started this past summer.  With any luck we should be done in a few months. We will then be traveling to Australia for the future music festival in March but we are doing that purely for fun, as the festival has given DFA it's own tent to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the label. We couldn't really say no two weeks of festival shows in Australia during the summer with James, Pat, the Rapture, Juan and Marcus. It's gonna be a lot of fun.

SKoA: One last question. The video for “Wait and See” gives off the sense that the two of you have very supportive fathers, begging the question, who have been the most influential people in your lives?

NM: Yes, we both come from very supportive families. And off the top of my head, here's an incomplete list of some important influences I've been thinking about a lot lately...

  • James Murphy
  • Tim Goldsworthy 
  • "Endtroducing..." by DJ Shadow
  • "Clues" by Robert Palmer
  • "With Sympathy" by Ministry
  • "Tango in the Night" by Fleetwood Mac
  • Jerry Fuchs
  • "Ill Communication" by The Beastie Boys
  • George Nelson/Charles & Ray Eames circa the 1950s.
  • Mom & Dad
  • Alex Frankel
  • "Illmatic" by Nas
  • John Baldessari
  • Juan Maclean 
  • "Thriller" by Michael Jackson
  • Most anything written and/or produced by Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards.

SKoA: And, just because I’m curious, I’ve got one more question. Since the two of you are New York natives, what is the best place to eat in New York City, in your opinions?

NM: Brooklyn Diner, Marlow, Maston Lake, Taco Santana, and Nha Toi.