“I think we were a little embarrassed by liking these records by The SOS Band and Chaka Khan. Disco wasn’t cool then, it wasn’t hip, and we didn’t know anyone who was in to it”
THERE ARE second acts in pop music. Back in the early years of the last decade, New Yorkers Nick Millhiser and Alex Frankel were members of Automato, a hip-hop group that enjoyed some success with its one and only album before it all fell apart. A band formed when the members were at high school, Automato were never destined to graduate.
Such an underwhelming end didn’t put Millhiser and Frankel off, and they started working together as Holy Ghost! That was in 2006 and now, five years on, they’re preparing for the release of another debut album.
Holy Ghost! are about superb pop tunes with a delicious disco drag to the grooves. There’s an old-fashioned charm to tracks such as Hold On and Do It Again as they snare you with infectious melodies and warm, glittering hooks.
The album features a star turn from Michael McDonald. “I’m friends with a girl whose father played bass with Michael in the ’80s,” says Frankle. “We’d written Some Children, and the only way I could sing it – because it was a little out of my range – was to use a fake Michael McDonald voice. We were talking about having someone else sing it, so we decided to go for him because we kind of had a connection to him. It was a long shot, but it panned out.”
When Millhiser and Frankel, who met as seven-year-olds at school in New York, swapped hip-hop for disco, it was a good move. “We got into disco during Automato,” says Frankel. “We were searching for samples, and we really got in to releases on labels like Salsoul, West End, TK Records and Casablanca that we found in a really great
record store right by our house.
“Eventually, we started liking the songs and the production for more than just their suitability as samples. At the time I think we were a little embarrassed by liking these records by The SOS Band and Chaka Khan. Disco wasn’t cool then, it wasn’t hip, and we didn’t know anyone who was in to it or knew about it. But James and Tim were encouraging us in that direction, and exposing us to a lot of that sound and made us feel okay about it.”
James and Tim are James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem and Tim Goldsworthy, the producers who set up the DFA label that Holy Ghost! now call home. DFA released their first single, Hold On in 2007 and waited for them to come good with the album.
“We took our time; we didn’t ever consider rushing things,” says Frankel. “A lot of that came down to the fact that the label never really pushed us to get the album done or get it out. They left us to do things at our own pace. It was the opposite experience to Automato. With Holy Ghost!, Nick and I are in control from the very start, and we get to call the shots with everything from artwork to day-to-day operational stuff. It’s totally our project and DFA is very much the opposite of a major label.”
That said, Frankel believes the problems for Automato were to do with personnel rather than pressure from a label. “We were very young. We were 16 when that band started, and the others were also teenagers. I think the blame has to apply to the people in the band and not the people we worked with. Major labels are major labels.”
Holy Ghost! have paid a lot of attention to their live show, which “has taken time to come together”, says Frankel. “Our first live