After hiding out for years in the underground world of New York City clubs as DJs, Alex Frankel and Nick Millhiser of Holy Ghost! are now a live force to be reckoned with. The funky electronic duo released their self-titled debut in early April on DFA Records and have been touring nearly non-stop across Europe and North America with Cut Copy this spring. Mary Chang talks to the man behind the mike, Alex Frankel, right before their sold out homecoming gig in Brooklyn. He speaks about why he’ll be eternally grateful to James Murphy, the transition from DJs to live performers and why he shouldn’t be trusted with computers.
You two were schoolmates and have been friends for a really long time. Is this the secret to a successful music act? Surely once in a while you must get on each other’s nerves…
When you find the secret, let us know. Yeah, of course, we’re human, but I don’t know, I think we’re both pretty psyched to make music as a job. You can’t be too testy, really.
Rumour has it that it was James Murphy who asked you guys to open for LCD Soundsystem last year (2010), which in turn “forced” you to come up with a live show. Did you come to a certain point when you said to yourselves, “it’s time to turn this into a real live show”?
Yeah, when James asked us. Seriously, I am grateful to James for a lot of things, but nothing more than that kick in the ass.
How scary was it the first time you guys played live as a band and not as DJs, in a “secret” show at Under 100 in New York City?
At the time I thought it was the craziest feeling in the world. It turns out that’s how I feel most nights, even after a year of touring. It’s exciting. Like a high school play.
What did you learn from this first show? Any hints you wish to pass on to bands just starting out?
Relax, then go for it!
For that night, you had friend Caroline Polachek (of Chairlift) on vocals and synths. Are you planning to collaborate with her and Chairlift more in the future?
Caroline has one of the best - if not THE best - voices I’ve ever heard. Anytime she calls, we answer.
‘Jam for Jerry’ is one of the best songs on your new album, and was written in loving memory of LCD Soundsystem / !!! drummer Jerry Fuchs. Did you find it difficult to write about someone you knew so well? What do you think he’d make of the song?
He’d probably be embarrassed at the attention. Ugh. It came relatively easily, at least lyrically.
How do you think your reputation as highly-sought after DJs affected the way you approached the writing and recording of the record?
It got in the way a lot of the times because we were on tour supporting ourselves and didn’t have huge chunks of time at home to write. But on the flip side, it kept our ears to the ground for good music and what worked in a club.
‘Hold On’, which has become instantly recognisable as Holy Ghost! by dance music aficionados, appears on the album as well. Did you feel any pressure after the success of that single?
No, not really. We just kept going.
Tell us about your touring band members? I know at least one is pretty much brand new (his first show being in March, opening for Cut Copy).
True! There’s Chris Maher on Guitar - we call him ‘Elder Maher’ - he’s actually only like 1 year older, but he’s wise beyond his years. Then there’s Erik Tonnensen, on keys. He’s a beast. I remember in the beginning I thought I was a better keyboardist - not anymore. He really is kind of a freak. And yes, as you mentioned, SAM JONES! I heard him whistling while he was driving the van (he was the tour manager), and I was like, ‘dude, can you sing?’ He denied his ability at first, but turns out he can play everything and sing like an angel. Basically we have the best band in the world. Total bros and the only reason I like tour.
You have a lot of equipment onstage with you when you’re gigging. Have you ever accidentally left something behind?
No comment. Yes. Comment: I am not to be trusted with the computer. Especially not in Paris.
And you’ve got a very nifty iPad you employ live to play certain beats. How has that one piece of gear changed your set / the way you view live performance?
It allows us to control Ableton [a loop-based software music sequencer] without staring at a screen. It’s tactile, it’s sexy, it’s loveable.
You’ve been touring with Cut Copy for a while now, first in Europe and the UK and now across North America. Any interesting anecdotes from the road?
No comment. No, I kid. I mean, they’re just great folks. I guess a funny story is when Tim [Hoey, Cut Copy’s guitarist] grabbed me on to stage to sing their encore, I had my Blackberry and a cigarette in hand and looked like a complete asshole because I didn’t know the words.
I imagine you’ll be playing tracks from your new album to lots of festival crowds this summer. So far you’ve been announced for London Calling, Primavera in Spain, Great Escape in Brighton…with many more appearances to follow, I bet. Were you avid festival goers before, either in the U.S. or abroad?
Nope. I had never been to a festival before we played one. I think Nick had though, but he was more precocious than me in his youth.
What kind of music do you listen to in your down time? Do you listen to dance music or other genres?
I have been listening to Pilooski, Panda Bear, and Beastie Boys tonight. My girlfriend said it sounds good!
What’s something in your music collection people would be surprised to know you own?
Finally, what’s the funniest/silliest thing that’s been written about you that was either false or misinformed?
That we were cousins who started as a break dancing group. I believe Juan from Juan Maclean is responsible for that one.