New York City's Holy Ghost! just released their newest track "Anxious" via iconic disco label West End Records. To complete the whole revival, the 12" single comes packaged in the classic pink sleeve, making this the first new release to see the vintage sleeve in about 30 years. Alongside Holy Ghost! is a Tom Moulton Mix and the record's B-side sees a Chuck Davis Orchestra Holy Ghost! remix.
The whole package brings all the right vibes and glittering accents to make you want to get up and dance beneath the disco ball. Holy Ghost! has gone from modern disco with the pioneering DFA Records, and then back to disco roots with West End Records. Disco is still very much alive and we were lucky enough to chat with Alex Frankel and Nick Millhiser of Holy Ghost! about their West End Records debut and more.
EARMILK: Congratulations on the new release "Anxious," do you want to talk about that a bit? Like, what it means to you from your perspective?
ALEX: It's a pretty big honor for us to be in this record sleeve and to join a history of the label. You know, having A Tom Moulton Mix of one of our songs is amazing. We've been buying West End Records and playing West End Records for many, many years and to be part of it is very cool for us. A really unique opportunity that kind of just jumped at us when it became an option. And it's really great to get music out.
EM: How did it come together? It's been 30 years since they put anything in this sleeve. It's something really, really cool to revive.
ALEX: In short it was just kind of a weird happen-stance like our manager Justin pointed out that the label was kind of sitting dormant and you know, inquired about what the deal was. And, it became quickly apparent that the people who bought that catalog and the label were totally up to do something. They were trying to do stuff—they were doing some cool stuff in England, doing kind of remixes of old songs and reissues, but we were pleasantly surprised that they were interested in putting out new music too which hadn't been done in a long time. So once we connected with the folks at BMG who had bought the label a while back, then we just started to figure out how we could fit into it. And then we met Tom, and once we met Tom then it really kicked into gear, because he helped us to… I don't know, that kind of felt like the real welcoming into the West End family.
EM: Did you ever imagine that you would ever imagine that you'd be releasing something on West End?
ALEX: Uhh, no.
NICK: No, certainly not. I mean again, credit where credit's due. I really don't think it would have crossed Alex or my mind, even like consider it really. And it's really the initial spark of the idea that came from our manager Justin, who was just sort of like, "What is happening with this label." And then honestly, as soon as he initiated that conversation, it seemed BMG was instantly receptive. It very quickly seemed like it could happen. And as soon as the idea was in Alex and my head, we were super into it. But you know, if you had asked me a year ago, or two years ago, I never could have guessed. Never would have thought of it.
EM: Would you like to do anything else with the label? Could you foresee anything else happening?
ALEX: Yeah, hopefully this is the beginning of a longer, larger relationship. And now I think we're just stoked that this all came together, and relatively quickly for how long this could have taken. Yeah, this is the beginning of a larger chapter for the label and for our relationship with Tom.
EM: I noticed, also in reviving the sleeve, you guys also did the fan mail in cards. Do those actually work, can you mail those in?
NICK: Yeah, you can.
EM: Oh wow, nice! That's a really cool detail.
NICK: The first two people I gave them to, I like asked them to fill it out, and they were both like—they didn't want to fill it out. They wanted to keep it. Which that didn't occur to me. It sort of bummed me out. I was like, "No, no! I really want people to fill them out and send them in." They were made with the hopes and intention that people would mail them in. The completist collector part of me… Maybe part of the mail-in should be that we'll send you, in return we'll send you a fresh one.
EM: Of course, yeah! As a collector myself I think that would complete the whole experience because that was my fear. "Oh, I'm going to mail it in! But then, I won't have it."
NICK: It didn't even cross my mind.
EM: Do you guys happen to remember when you first started buying vinyl?
NICK: Yeahhh???... It was a very long time ago.
NICK: We both started pretty young when we were teenagers. I think we're definitely very much of the cassette and CD generation, but we were both super into hip-hop as kids. And we both bought samplers at a relatively young age. The easiest and cheapest way to hunt for samples was going to record stores. So I started buying records probably around 13 or 14, 9th grade freshman year of high school. And then likewise a lot of the best, well not necessarily the best, but the most current hip-hop stuff would be only available first as a 12" single. I would go for all the initial rocket releases like before Blaqstarr put out an album, Pharoahe Monch put out an album—like all that sort of stuff. Singles came way before the albums came out. So that was sort of our gateway into buying records.
EM: Do you remember what your first records were by any chance?
NICK: You know what, I really don't. It may… yeah, I don't know. I definitely remember going to see De La Soul at a venue called Tramps in the city and Mos Def played with them and I'd never heard of Mos Def before. He had on stage said, "I have a new single out." And so I went to Fat Beats and got—I don't remember if that was the first time I ever went to Fat Beats, but that's the earliest memory I can think of, like going to seek something out that I knew was only available on vinyl. And yeah, that would have been like 8th or 9th grade, I don't really remember.
EM: New York has awesome record stores all over. Do you guys have a favorite shop to visit?
ALEX: I always love going to A1 in the East Village, and obviously Turntable Lab. And out here in Brooklyn, The Thing is still always fun once in a while, which is like just a big, cavernous pile of unorganized records but can be very fun. I guess, A1 is probably my favorite shop.
EM: What was the pile of records? What was that?
ALEX: There's like basically kind of like a Salvation Army sort of place, like a secondhand store called The Thing on Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint. And there's like a basement of just like thousands and thousands and thousands of unorganized records. And, as long as you can tolerate the mold and stuff that's down there, you can go and just kind of hunt. If you go down there, most of the time there are people with portable turntables listening for samples and stuff. Sometimes with like a mask on if they're staying for a long time or whatever. It's always just fun to stop in there, like a different universe.
EM: Of course, I could imagine.
EM: You have a few DJ sets coming up, do you have a favorite record you're spinning lately?
NICK: That's a good question… As far as DJing stuff, I think that Alex and I, there's a really weird thing that happens when you DJ. Like Alex and I most of the time actually when we DJ, play off USB sticks, but even when we were playing all vinyl—and I still carry around a lot of vinyl, I honestly couldn't tell you the names of 75% of the records in my bag. Some of them are bootlegs, some of them—obviously I probably knew the title at the time I bought it but then it just becomes like a cover or a label. I've just been listening to records today, we're playing tonight. I've been going through a bunch of new records I bought. One I'm really excited about is this new Paranoid London 12" and then another one is this bootleg edit I think it's just called Waffles. It's a series and there are probably 5 of them and they all have waffles on the label and that's it. I think it's the 2ManyDJs guys, but I couldn't tell you what it's called.
EM: That's a fair answer.
EM: So I personally am I a huge Michael McDonald fan, some would maybe say he's more yacht rock than disco, but you guys worked with him on the first record. How was that?
ALEX: It was cool, you know we never actually, still have never met Michael face-to-face. It was done through a connection to his bass player, George Hawkins, and we basically communicated just over email, but it was crazy to get the… Basically he said, "What do want me to do?" and we were like, "Do whatever you want, but do those crazy harmonies." And what we got back was pretty insane. His voice is so powerful. Very crazy to open up the stems, open up the files, and hear how forceful his voice is.
NICK: And he did it all very… It all came together very, very quickly. And we had a clear idea. We knew the parts we wanted him to sing. We sent him like a reference, but I forget exactly what it was, but there was some time crunch and he was basically like, "I can do it, but I need to do it," I think it was like, "In the next 48 hours," or something like that. So we hustled to get him everything and then the amount of stuff he sent back as quickly as he did was really amazing. I mean it sounded like he did it… .
ALEX: You could tell it was effortless.
NICK: It sounded like he did everything basically in one take and you know, it sounded like a walk in the park for him.
EM: That's so cool. Do you have anyone that you're aspiring to work with in the future, or is there anyone you'd like to work with?
ALEX: Stevie Nicks, Carly Simon, Mos Def… you know I think we have a list of heroes that we'd love to work with but think you know, it's kind of like a lust thing.
NICK: Like that one, the Michael McDonald one, was so effortless in the way that it came together. It was so low pressure and so low stake. I think that's kind of why it worked as well as it did. And because we got really lucky in that our connection to him was sort of through friends. And as much as there are like a million people in theory I think I'd want to work with, like the few times other things have almost come up or something, when you get like 6-degrees of managers and labels and stuff involved, it all gets very serious, bland, and in a way that can be a little scary. For us meeting our heroes has been like, the idea of making something is that it's supposed to be fun and carefree. I don't know, I'm always a little afraid of meeting my hero. If for nothing else than like, I will be at fault. Like I will expect something of them that isn't fair, or expect something that's entirely based on the impression I see and assessed from listening to their music for so long. But yeah, collaborating is supposed to be with people you don't know.
EM: Any word of a new record at all? Like a full-length?
ALEX: We're finishing up now basically we're in the final stages of mixing.
EM: Also, something really cool, part of the proceeds from the "Anxious" record sales are going to go toward the Gay Men's Health Crisis and Lifebeat, did you want to talk about that at all?
ALEX: I mean in short, Mel Cheren who started West End, the GMHC was very dear to his heart and he was very much a part of its inception and its growth. We felt that if we wanted to acknowledge that—Mel is dead and died from AIDS—and so many of the people surrounding the label, fans and artists, passed away from AIDS too. So we felt like it was a situation to give back. It's not billions of dollars, but at least some portion of whatever this generates should go back to that cause.
EM: Is there anything else you want to add about "Anxious" or any of the shows you have coming up or the release?
ALEX: We've got a few DJ shows this weekend and then we're playing live in January and kind of just kind of starting back up again. It feels like the beginning of a new chapter and I think we're both excited.
Find "Anxious" out now and available to order from the Holy Ghost! website. Proceeds from this 12" will help LIFEbeat and Gay Men's Health Crisis to honor the legacy of West End founder Mel Cheren through efforts to support and help educate communities about sexual safety, health, and diseases.
Catch Holy Ghost! live in Brooklyn January 24th at Elsewhere, more information is available on the venue's website.