Tuesday, October 22nd 7:00PM
The abridged version of the story of Holy Ghost! – the one that begins in 2007 with the release of the
duo’s highly acclaimed, revelatory debut single “Hold On” – is less than half the story. A full retelling
begins far earlier – nearly two decades before either the duo’s excellent 2009 track “I Will Come Back,”
their critically lauded 2010 EP Static on the Wire and their 2011 self-titled full-length debut, or the
remixes they’ve done for a seemingly endless list of esteemed artists – MGMT, Cut Copy, Moby, Phoenix
and LCD Soundsystem among them.
In fact, the unabridged Holy Ghost! story starts when 7-year-olds Alex Frankel and Nick Millhiser met in
their elementary school on New York City’s Upper West Side. Even then, the pair of second graders were
beginning to make music, nudged on by the “artsy” environs at Manhattan’s Trevor Day School and their
“First grade, I started playing saxophone and I hated it, and I wanted to quit,” says Nick. His mother told
him he could drop the saxophone, but he would have to find another instrument. He started taking drum
lessons and realized he’d found what he wanted to be when he grew up.
Alex also got an early musical start. He began lessons with jazz pianist Les Horan, a family friend, at
age 6, and learned to play by ear and improvise instead of memorizing scales. By age 12, he had already
started to work on his own songs.
Huge fans of hip hop as they moved into their teen years, Alex and Nick, along with four other musically
likeminded friends, formed Automato, a hip-hop outfit with live instrumentation and an affinity for
groove-based songs. The band of high school sophomores quickly made a name for itself, gigging all
around the city and playing some of its best known, now defunct, clubs. In 2000, Automato – mere high
school seniors at this point – were signed by Capitol Records. They met with a series of well-known
hiphop producers, most of whom Nick says “didn’t know what the fuck to do with a live drum set.” After
countless fruitless conversations, the group was introduced to James Murphy and Tim Goldsworthy, two
young producers who were just starting a label called DFA. It was a pairing that, though they couldn’t
have known it at the time, would outlast Automato.
Automato’s DFA-produced debut was released in 2004 to light fanfare: The UK’s Guardian called the
release “The first essential hip hop album of the year.” But the band dissolved just a year later. Alex
and Nick remained friends with Murphy and Goldsworthy, even lending their talents to DFA as studio
musicians on recordings by the Juan Maclean and remixes for N.E.R.D. and UNKLE. Following a brief
stint when Alex left the city to attend Upstate New York’s Bard College, and Nick toured with the Juan
Maclean, the two again started making music together. They self-recorded some “ragtag” – Nick’s word
– demos, including an early, bare bones version of “Hold On” which they shared with Murphy, who liked
what he heard and encouraged them to keep working.
They finished the track a little over a year later. The two shared this early version with a few friends,
including tastemaker Tim Sweeney, who liked it enough to play on his revered radio show, Beats in
Space. Murphy heard as-of-yet unfulfilled promise in the single, and led the duo – now called Holy
Ghost!, a name taken from a song of the same name by ’70s soul masters the Bar-Kays – back into the
studio, where the LCD frontman produced and remixed the single. “Hold On,” released on DFA Records
in 2007, gained the attention of some of the most esteemed names in dance music, including A-Trak and
The Loft’s Dave Mancuso. Alex and Nick found themselves traveling the world as in-demand DJs, and by
the end of 2008, they had remixed songs – by request – for Moby, MGMT and Cut Copy.
By the time 2009 wound to a close, the duo set to work on a batch of songs that would be a heftier
offering than a lone single. The resulting four-song EP, Static on the Wire, which included “I Will Come
Back” along with three new singles, was released on DFA in May 2010. It was only a taster of what was
to come on the band’s full-length LP, which was released the very next year.
The 10-song self-titled album included a few guest appearances (Luke Jenner from the Rapture; Chris
Glover from Penguin Prison; and – really – Michael McDonald) and though it certainly yielded more
evidence of Holy Ghost!’s place at the top of the heap of dance music makers, this isn’t likely to be a
collection of club bangers. It cemented an idea of what people have come to expect from Holy Ghost!:
Riveting songs filled with analog warmth and wonderful, driving, catchy rhythms.
After a few years of relentless and successful touring with only a single album, an EP, and a couple
singles to their name, Nick and Alex reconvened in the studio to start working on their newest batch of
songs. The result of these sessions is the band’s upcoming sophomore release, Dynamics.
Though they were only making their second album, the experience they brought with them to the studio
was a huge advantage. “There was a bit of a learning curve on the first record that slowed down the
creative process,” Nick said. “We didn’t have to learn how to record an album at the same time as we
were trying to make music this time around.” With the recording studio now tamed, the band felt they
had more control and better instincts with writing their music. There were more musical casualties this
time around as well, with more songs and musical ideas getting left on the cutting room floor as the band
separated the wheat from the chaff.
During recording for Dynamics, Alex felt more comfortable with his singing abilities than the first time
around, and the duo pushed themselves to record more single-track vocals, yielding a more personal,
emotional response. “I tried to make more simple, personal ideas come across more effectively,” he notes.
“When you’re doing up-front vocals, you can’t bullshit the lyrics, because you’re talking directly to your
The effect of these things upon the overall recording sessions for Dynamics is that the band are painting
in bolder strokes, truly utilizing one of the most important aspects of music (dynamics) to open their
songs up to entire new palates of color. “Dynamics is really a descriptive term we used to focus on
contrast, but it’s also referring to a lot of Alex’s lyrics this time around, which deal with the dynamics of
relationships,” reflects Nick. “It’s a good single-word descriptor of what we were trying to do with these
songs, something we kept coming back to when writing and recording.”
At the end of the day, Holy Ghost! are making great dance music that is beyond passing trends, that
gets to the very heart of why we love music, that touches our most simple, direct, inborn reactions to
sound. “I’m trying to make music that makes me as unabashedly giddy as music made me when I was
a kid,” says Nick. “I think that’s a big part of why we’re so obsessed with sounds. Because I think more
abstract things, like sound, take [you] places. It’s a guttural, sort of ambiguous familiarity to things you
grew up with that I think, when you get older, you come back to. And you’re like, “Oh – this really is the
A nine person ensemble bonded by the unwavering desire to make you, the listener, and the rhythm become one; the secret love children of Donna Summer and George Clinton serving up an orgasmic feast of funk, disco, electro and soul.
Anchored by former “H&LA” alumni Carter Yatusake, Morgan Wiley, and W. Andrew Raposo and powered by the enormous vocals of chanteuse Tiffany Roth, Midnight Magic teleported the masses to the dance floor this summer with their interstellar 12″ “Beam Me Up” on Permanent Vacation.
Rounding out the Brooklyn based unit is Caito Sanchez, Nick Roseboro, Max Goldman, Jason Disu and Andrew Frawley.