Ghosts and the machine
Holy Ghost! was born out of the break-up of major-label teenage hip-hop act Automato. Alex Frankel tells Jim Carroll about the joys of not being on a major, how James Murphy got them to follow their disco hearts, and their first taste of remix rejection (
shows were on a tour in the States with LCD Soundsystem, and that was eye-opening.
“We play nearly everything live on the record and there’s not many samples.
“Nick is a drummer and I’m a piano player and we’ve played those instruments since we were little. When it came to transferring that to a real live band, the only issue was that there were two of us and we needed more than four hands, so we had to get other musicians in. We’ve been playing in bands of all sorts, rock bands and hip-hop bands, in all kinds of venues since we were 13 or 14, so it’s second nature to us. If you’ve never done that, it could be tough.”
Even as Holy Ghost! become a live act, they haven’t spurned their trade as DJs and remixers. DJing still pays the bills. “We didn’t start the live band to make money, because you actually lose money when you’re a live band at this stage. DJing brings in the money, and live music is where we lose that money.
“We’re doing less and less remixes because we’re busy with the album and the tour. They’re fun to do because they demand different skills to writing our own material. With remixes, you’re rearranging and recontextualising someone else’s work and it’s a much different experience.”
Occasionally, remixes serve to remind them what happens when you start to work with a major label. Last year, the duo remixed Love Get Out of My Way for a band called Monarchy, turning a humdrum electropop tune into an outlandish, wonderful disco stomper. The only problem was that Monarchy’s label, Mercury Records, rejected the remix.
“We put in a ton of work in to that,” says Frankel. “We redid the vocals, we rewrote the whole song, we spent weeks on it, we were really proud of it. When we sent it in, it was rejected. But when it started doing very well – after it hit the internet – it was, of course, suddenly accepted. We went on Twitter about it after it was rejected, and we got a lot of support, so maybe the label thought it was making them look uncool.
“The band are really good guys and they wrote to us to say they loved the remix and didn’t have any problems with it. But that’s the problem of being on a major: the middleman is taking the decisions for you.
“When we do a remix we kind of expect it that people know what they’re getting and not come back wanting us to change things around. We’ll accept criticism, sure – when we’re hired to do a remix, we know we’re doing a job. But that’s the only remix we’ve ever done that got rejected.”