Holy Ghost! Frontman Alex Frankel Talks About Being Labeled a Singles Band
Brooklyn-based electro-pop act Holy Ghost! had both an instant and gradual rise to fame. The electro-pop duo Alex Frankel and Nick Millhiser began releasing remixes of acclaimed indie songs such as MGMT's "Of Moons, Birds and Monsters" before debuting their first piece of original material in 2007. The song "Hold On" came out at that time, but the band's first full-length didn't hit record store shelves until April of this year.
This somewhat unconventional rise to fame is both a blessing and a curse for lead singer and keyboardist Frankel. Holy Ghost!'s self-titled album appears in his eyes as somewhat disjointed and repetitive, like an album of singles as opposed to a collective sequence of songs. From his sharp tongue and attitude over the phone, it's evident Frankel wants to be truly creative on a follow-up album and better recognized for inventive work.
Whether uncomfortably famous or hung over from smoking hash for the first time in Vancouver (Frankel said it made "him feel nervous and act weird"), Frankel answered a few questions about this year and what it's meant to them as a band. First impressions aside, we have to give them props for making it through Dallas three times in only a year and half -- once with LCD Soundsystem and once with Cut Copy. The next will be tonight with Eli Escobar at the Prophet Bar. And Frankel made sure to give a shout out to the band's favorite BBQ spot in the city, Off The Bone Barbecue.
You guys were known as being a "singles band" up until this year when Holy Ghost! was released. What kept you from previously creating a whole album?
When we started, we simply a made a song and [DFA Records] at day one put it out, which is kind of all we ever hoped to do -- to have a 12-inche [vinyl]. That was "Hold On." And then right after we put that out, when we were working on songs with the album in mind, we started getting calls asking us to DJ. People liked the song and our remixes, but in order to quit that day job and sort of move to just doing music, we would do DJ tours. And we loved doing it; it wasn't just about the money or anything, but point being that we had to work constantly in order to not work. So producing an album took a while. We never felt rushed. We just took our time and gave it a lot of thought. It's OK to take a few years to make a record.
Was your ultimate goal always to create an album or were you guys taking things song by song?
From day one we always wanted to make a full-length album and tour with a live band with people playing and stuff. It just took a long time to get there. The second record will be totally different. [The band] was two guys doing a lot of work for a long time, so now it's a little bit different in that we can tour and play shows and people will come and buy the record and we have a record label and everything is OK. We can pay the rent kind of. I think it should be better now, but before it was scraping by every second of the way.
What was your day job you were talking about before you shifted to music full-time?
I had several jobs. I started out as a bike messenger, then I worked at a record label in Brooklyn, and then I was the assistant to Moby, the electronic artist, doing his laundry for him. Nick worked in a wine shop.
Are you happy with the album?
Yeah. I'm stoked about the next record now.
What are you planning to change between the first and second records?
On the last record, a lot of songs came out individually over a period of three years. "Hold On" came out, then "Static On The Wire," then "Say My Name" came out. Even "Do It Again" was released digitally four months before the album came out, but they are all on there. What we're trying to do with the next record is finish it quicker and release it all together without a lag between the singles and the record. We are intent on making a full-bodied LP that is going to be presented as one package.
What's your favorite track from your self-titled debut?
Production-wise, "Some Children" is the one I'm most interested in -- I can keep going back and listening to that one. Song-wise, "Wait and See." Live, I really like playing "Jam for Jerry."
Let's talk for a moment about your stage performance. I saw your set at HARD in Los Angeles, and it was awesome. But there were definitely more than two people. Who else travels around to play live?
Well there's Sam Jones; he's in front of me right now so I'm going to say good things about him. He plays Wurlitzer and a modular synthesizer. And then there's Eric Tonnensen -- if you Google all these names you can get the spelling and whatever -- but Eric is kind of a keyboard god. And then there's Nick, my partner, who plays piano and bass live. And there's Jim Morso on drums and Chris Maher on guitar. It's a full-on, big production now.
What do you like about the whole "band" feel?
Well it's not cheating. I mean most bands right now -- electronic bands, not rock bands -- use pre-recorded tracks. It's like half the music they're playing is coming from a computer. If it were 10 years ago, you would have been laughed off the dance floor. I remember vividly when someone was talking all willy-nilly about this stuff and said that it was almost like lip syncing. It was a huge deal. And now it's like, who the fuck cares? The DJ culture and the general music-going culture do not care anymore. It's like, "Whatever, man. It was awesome. They sounded great." But all they did was play the album -- loud.
I take it you're not a fan of the DJ culture.
We come from that bitter, arrogant New York school of not wanting to do [prerecorded tracks] and wanting to go back to playing music with people they way The Talking Heads did, Electric Light Orchestra did, the way a million electronic bands before us did. It sounds better; it's a real show; mistakes happen; it's interesting; it's fun. I just don't like going to concert and see a guy playing over tracks. I think that's lame.
How do you feel about the guys who stand up there with a computer and mix tracks that way?
Yeeeaaah, I'm not paying for that. That's crazy.
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