I met up with HOLYCHILD, a Los Angeles-based duo comprised of Liz Nistico and Louie Diller, at the back of a sophisticated and crowded bar during their pretty energetic reign at SXSW this year. The two self-proclaimed “brat-poppers” just released their new MINDSPEAK EP and sat down with Indie Houston to talk a little bit about their thought-provoking music video trilogy, SXSW, and their views on gender roles and power dynamics in relationships.
How has your SXSW experience been so far?
Liz: So far so good! This is my first time playing SouthBy, and it has been crazy, successful, but a whirlwind.
How have your shows been?
Louie: We played a show with an artist named MO – she’s from Denmark – and that was really fun. Our label showcase was really great, too. One artist that stuck out to us was this artist named Flo Morissey. She’s this really special voice and talent.
Liz: This other artist named Ceremonies was playing one of the shows we were playing yesterday, and they were amazing. It was such a nice surprise to load up my stuff and listen to them play. It was like southern rock meets Of Montreal.
How would you say the Austin crowd differs from any other crowd?
Liz: Well the SXSW crowd is just down to consume music. Like, New York and LA for instance are very used to consuming music, but they’re not necessarily excited to do so all the time whereas here people are excited to consume the music and listen and find new music. People are so open and cool.
Louie: It’s definitely just more eager ears. Maybe in other markets people might just be skeptical, or they might not know show protocol or how to respond, but here people just really want to get down. So it’s fun for us because we like to get down live, so there’s this nice synergy we’ve been having with the audience here, so it has been really fun.
How does the writing and producing process go for you guys?
Liz: That’s a great question. In general, it pretty much works like this. All songs are written half and half. In terms of chord progression and melody, that’s pretty much 50/50. For production, it’s about 80% Louie and 20% me. Lyrics are about 80% me and 20% Louie.
Could you talk more about the your new Mindspeak EP? Inspiration behind it? Overall themes?
Liz: Definitely. We just released it on March 4, and it’s essentially about the role of the female in our culture from different angles. So “Every Time I Fall” is about me being frustrated to be called “girlfriend” because it puts me in this gender stereotype that I am rebelling against. So, it’s essentially about the contradictions that I feel being female in our culture and being pressured to look or act a certain way and making decisions about acting and looking that way or not. I feel like it pretty much sums it up in the videos that accompany the EP. I wrote and directed three music videos to get with 3 of the songs to kind of show the evolution of objectification. So, that’s essentially what the message behind the EP is.
I was watching this video trilogy earlier, and it was really interesting. Could you talk more about these videos specifically?
Liz: So, I wanted to convey this feeling of objectification and the contradictions that exist around it. So, essentially what I feel is pissed off that people objectify women and that women are sold and used in advertising for other products. That’s something that bothers me. However, if I go out and don’t dress up or look cute, then I will feel self conscious about not fitting in that role. So, I was just thinking and thinking about that concept and about how that contradiction exists within me. So, the first video is about the power that one can feel from being objectified. In the first video, the girls have the power. They know they’re cute, they know the guys want them, and the guys at that point don’t have the power because they know the women are the objects that they want. The second video is the turning point where the women give the men the ability to judge them. The final video is where the men have the power to judge, now they have the power in this dynamic. And the women are upset for putting themselves in that situation but are still going through the motions because they put themselves there.
Louie: Yeah, so as much as it’s about the objectifications of women and the contradictions within that, it’s also about power dynamics in relationships.
Liz: Yeah, definitely. I thought about these videos so much. It was a very long process to write and direct them, and it was the first time I have ever done that. But that’s the overarching concept in them.
So, Louie, what would you say your role is in the videos? I noticed you kind of get pushed around by the girls.
Louie: Haha, yeah! Liz, what would you say my role is?
Liz: I like using Louie as a male who neither confirms nor denies the existence of these contradictions, which is kind of the role that I feel a lot of people in our culture take. Yeah, we all see that this is a problem and that it is detrimental to people. We all see that people are hurt or lessened in a certain way because of the way that capitalism has pushed this on us. But at the same time, how many people are really doing anything about it? So, that’s what I like to use Louie as. I don’t feel like that’s how he is in normal day-to-day, but in videos I like to use him in that way. He’s there, but he’s not there. He’s not doing anything to fix the problem, and he’s not doing anything to contribute either.
Louie: Yeah! You’ve never told me that, but that makes sense. Also, I’m not an actor. So it’s easy for me to kind of do the music things and be straight-faced.
Definitely! It’s also about that, but if you were to watch the videos without even thinking about that stuff, it’s all just really colorful and fun. So how important do you think the style is? And how important do you think a music video is to a song?
Louie: I think it’s pretty critical. Liz has a really strong sense of visuals. That’s sort of her department.
Liz: I want people to see it and be like, “Oh wow! This is really interesting to watch, and it’s really pretty. I like the colors, and I’m stimulated by what people are wearing” and have a very cursory experience, because I feel like that’s how we watch things. And I’m almost trying to get this subliminal message across. I’m really obsessed with composition and what people’s emotions are on film, what they are doing. But I wanted it to be deep-rooted. So, you watch it and then you’re like, “Wait a second. What did I just watch?” And that’s the approach we have with a lot of the messages in our songs. Yeah, this is poppy, this is nice to listen to, and you’re singing along to the lyrics but all of a sudden you’re like, “Wait, what is that saying?” I just like making everyone think, so if we can do it in this way, I feel like it could reach a much broader audience.
Louie: Yeah, and that is HOLYCHILD – drawing people in with familiar ideas and themes and visuals and catchy hooks but challenging them simultaneously in more subtle ways. That’s what HOLYCHILD is about.
In your songs, do you ever draw inspiration from other artists or genres? I noticed in “Happy With Me” that it’s kind of Jamaican and Reggae, which is interesting.
Louie: Yeah! We definitely do. “Happy With Me” is actually an Afro-Brazilian beat, and I understand how it could be taken as Reggaeton or Jamaican, but I’ve gotten pretty deep in studying and playing Afro-Brazilian and Afro-Cuban music. So, it’s an Afro-beat that inspired the rhythm, yeah.
Liz: But in general, yes. We are definitely influenced by other genres.
Who are some of your favorite artists that you’re listening to right now?
Liz: I’m really into Sam Smith right now. I think he’s really cool. “Money On My Mind” is tight. Chet Faker is killing it. The new St. Vincent is tight.
Louie: I know Phantogram is kind of mainstream and everyone knows about it, but I’m into it! It’s hard to deny. I also really wanna hear new Little Dragon, too.
Liz: We’ve been listening to a lot of Yacht. They’re great. We’re basically just really obsessed with music and are listening to all kinds of music all the time.