HOLYCHILD at the Rock & Roll Hotel: An Interview and Concert Review

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photo credit: Jancarlo Beck
Photo credit: Jancarlo Beck

HOLYCHILD is a LA-based pop duo comprised of two GW grads, Liz Nistico and Louie Diller (#raisehigh, right?). With Billboard branding them as “your next indie-pop obsession,” I was excited to catch them at the Rock & Roll Hotel. On Saturday, they brought their infectious jams to the stage and played an electrifying set. Having seen the group at the Velvet Lounge about a year prior, I was ready to see what new surprises the band would bring. Before their set, I also had the chance to sit down and chat with them about their GW origins, their whirlwind year, and donuts, because who doesn’t like donuts?

While HOLYCHILD may be branded as a pop duo, their music isn’t all sugary-sweet. They describe their music as “brat pop,” a genre that fits their sound perfectly. Think of your favorite bubblegum pop artist, but edgier. Brattier.

photo credit: Lotanna Obodozie
Photo credit: Lotanna Obodozie

With Diller on the keyboard and the other supporting band members, Nistico took the stage and immediately commanded the crowd’s attention with her unbeatable stage presence and awesome dance moves. HOLYCHILD opened their set with “Boy Name,” a brand new song off of their forthcoming album. They then played two songs off of their new EP, Mindspeak, before throwing it back to an older song, “Diamonds On The Rebound.” Throughout the show, the band’s energy kept the crowd moving, with no one dancing harder than Nistico herself. Alternating between singing at the standing microphone and dancing up, down, and in the middle of the stage, Nistico gave it her all, singing with full conviction, holding nothing back. In between songs, the band took a quick moment to thank everyone for coming, stating that there were friends and even old professors in the audience. HOLYCHILD closed their set with two songs: “Bombada,” an energetic in-your-face jam, and “Happy With Me,” the summery lead single from their latest EP.

All in all, HOLYCHILD is like a breath of fresh air and I cannot wait to see what they put out next. You definitely want to keep an eye on these two: they’re skyrocketing to bigger and better things.

Photo credit: Lotanna Obodozie

So you guys met at GW. How did you go from meeting each other to starting to make music together?

Liz Nistico: That’s a good question. I guess that since this is for GW, we can get into what actually happened instead of just glossing over the details. So we met and I wanted to do a project with Louie and I proposed that we do a street art project together and he was like “Yeah sure, that’d be cool.” And then soon after that, he found out that I painted and I was painting a lot at the time. And [Louie] came over to my house, I think. I lived in The Savoy and I had painted a fifteen-foot wide image of a man’s face, like it was reds and purples and his eyes were yellow. It was really intense and my roommate was really pissed about it and Louie was like, “Woah, this is so cool.” I guess I was kinda flaky at the time but he was like, “This is really cool, would you wanna paint the basement of Ivory Tower?” So Louie set up a student org and got tons of instruments and band gear down there. And so he would go to Guitar Center with like $30,000 from the SAC.

Louie Diller: Do you know the SMC, Student Musicians Coalition? I started that with a friend.

LN: Yeah! And so Louie had already put together the SMC and he was like, “Would you wanna paint a mural in there?” And I was like “Sure!” so I did this huge face of a guy on the three walls. I had never really written any music but because I was painting in a jam space, Louie and I just started jamming together down there. And then it kinda went from there! And we were friends and we were in DC for a while together and we started writing songs together. Right after I graduated, there was a month where I was still there, so that’s how it happened.

LD: The genesis was at J Down, where Liz was a dancer for Maida Withers’ advanced modern dance class and I was a musical accompanist for that class. So that’s the initial point of connection.

LN: Yeah, that’s how we got together.

How did the name HOLYCHILD come about?

LN: That came from this sweatshirt that I had, actually. I was in New York City and at the time I was showing paintings a lot. I was going to school in DC and every weekend pretty much I was in New York showing paintings in galleries. I remember having to ask my professors saying “Sorry, I’m not gonna be here Friday. Sorry, I’m probably not gonna be here Monday.” because I was doing this a lot. So I was in New York and I needed a sweatshirt and this woman gave me a sweatshirt and said, “It’s my daughter’s and you can keep it.” It said “HOLYCHILD” in huge letters  on the back and I took it and cut it straight down and cut the sleeves off and wore the hood. It was just like a huge badass boxing sweatshirt and I wore it everywhere. By this time, I was basically living in NYC; it’s like a year and a half after the sweatshirt had been obtained. I was in NY and Louie was in DC and he was convincing me to move back to DC. He’s like, “So you should move back to DC and we can record these songs and like, be a band.” And I was like “Okay, I’ll move.” And then he was like “Okay, now we need a name.” And I was like “How about HOLYCHILD?” and it kinda stuck from there.

LD: My side is that we would always jam in the Ivory Tower basement and Liz would be wearing this absurd sweatshirt and then I always associated our songwriting sessions with the HOLYCHILD girl and that sweatshirt so it was a pretty natural progression.

What prompted the move from DC to LA?

LD: Good question! After I graduated from GW, we were considering NYC or LA just as awesome cultural hubs where we would wanna be based out of. Creatively inspiring environments. No disrespect to DC and the rest of the country, just what works for us. Ultimately, I think we chose LA because I grew up in Oakland, California. I actually had spent a lot of time in LA writing, recording, and performing with other bands from the Bay Area that I had played in. So I already had a pretty solid network of music-making friends and connections in that area that I didn’t have in New York. In New York, we had a lot of friends and family but they just weren’t related to the music industry in any capacity. It made sense to move to LA and I have no regrets making that move.

LN: Also, there’s a lot of badass music coming out of LA. It was like “do you wanna go to Brooklyn or LA?” and Brooklyn also has a lot of badass bands. I don’t know, LA just seemed a lot more manageable for us and Louie had all those contacts. So we took the plunge about a year and a half ago–it wasn’t all that long ago.

photo credit: Lotanna Obodozie
photo credit: Lotanna Obodozie

Well I first heard you guys about a year ago, and the first song by your that I heard was “Watching Waiting,” which sounds a lot more jazzy than your current sounds. How would you describe your musical evolution throughout the past year or so?

LN: First of all, when we started writing together in Ivory Tower–I guess that was early 2011–we had no intention of what we were doing. It was just like a bunch of songs that we were writing together. I think that we always assumed that someone else would sing it. I never thought that I would be the lead singer.

LD: Because you were gonna graduate.

LN: I was gonna graduate–I was leaving. I was like, “Yeah, I’ll write these songs with you and someone else can sing them. I’m leaving DC.” So we wrote all these songs and “Watching Waiting” was part of a collection of songs we wrote then that were all over the place. “Watching Waiting” was jazzy, there were another few jazz songs, one was straight up a rendition that we did of “All Blues” by Miles Davis that we made into a Radiohead jazz song and we were so into that. And then another one is this tribal pop song. Then “Best Friends” came out of that, more alt-rock-pop. So we had all of these songs and they were all over the place and we knew that. We kind of got to LA and were like, “Cool. We have this project, we really need to figure out what the sound is.” It just happened really naturally. We spent some time writing and all of the songs were just more focused and by that time, the early stuff that we wrote together was my first time writing music. I was a lot more wild in my execution of things. I’m into jazz and I’m into pop and I’m into country and whatever. I feel like I can get down to anything and so can Louie. So we would come together and it would be all over the place, but now if one of us is doing that, then the other one can kinda of reign it in and make it more HOLYCHILD. We understand the balance a lot more now.

LD: Collectively, just moving to LA was maybe the best thing we could have done, aesthetically, creatively speaking. In LA you sink or swim, depending on how strong of a brand you have. I hate to reduce it to such economic terms, but LA is where the industry is at. It’s a very industrious environment and thankfully we’re smart enough that we recognize that. It really forced us to sharpen, to focus everything about our brand. In a way that’s still very sincere. We don’t feel like we’re selling out to the LA industry. You can learn from what people do in that environment. I think it was really beneficial for us to be exposed to that kind of culture.

LN: Exactly.

LD: And here we are today.

How would you describe your songwriting process?

LN: I guess every song is different. Louie will come to me with a melody and I’ll sing it and kinda fuck around with it and go from there. Sometimes I’ll come to him with a melody and go with that. Sometimes I’ll write on a loop station and I’ll give him a song. But one person usually has the genesis and we really collaborate from there. Songwriting is totally 50/50. Something that does happen is that production is like 80% Louie, 20% me for input. When we’re writing I’ll have scratch lyrics; I’ll always make up lyrics on the fly. Sometimes some of those words will stay and I like having some of those words stay because it’s so in the moment. It’s so raw. I’ll usually go in and rewrite the lyrics after we have the whole song. I’ve gotten really good at fitting words to syllables that are already there.

LD: Liz is pretty good at freestyle lyrics in the moment. It’s pretty cool.

LN: Thanks!

I feel like it’s been such a whirlwind year for you guys. You played SXSW and you guys had a Billboard feature. How have these past couple of months been?

LD: This might sound cheesy, this might sound pretentious—

Uh, oh.

LD: Money and hype aside, creatively, it’s very validating. It’s really empowering to have that type of connection with people and with a record label that we find to be very inspiring, Glassnote Records. Honestly, everybody on our team from our management to our booking agent to our label to even our business management and the guys in our band. We couldn’t be happier with Team HOLYCHILD. It’s definitely more than just us–it’s behind the scenes. To have all those types of connections materialize within the last year is just empowering. It’s reinforcing our intuition, just to trust it even more than we have ever trusted it before.

LN: You know when you put out art or anything and you’re like, “Fuck, I hope people are okay with it?” Or even something worse, like putting out an article that’s saying something controversial that you know could be read the wrong way? Putting out art is always nerve-wracking. It’s really nice right now that people seem to be supportive. It feels so nice.

LD: How we overcame our fears in putting out our art was basically us justifying the sincerity behind it. We’re not trying to bullshit anybody. We know the production value is high enough that we’re proud about what we have to say. At that point, that’s all we can do from a delivery standpoint. If people are gonna like it, that’s out of our control. Here we go! Again, thankfully, so far it’s been really validating.

Just last week I was at this restaurant and there was someone at the table next to me with his friends and he was like, “Oh yeah, have you heard of this band HOLYCHILD coming to DC?”

LN: What?! That’s so crazy, that’s so cool!

Yeah, I got so excited!

LN: I wanna meet them, that’s awesome. 

LD: Yeah, we need people to spread the word! You might know about us but a lot of people don’t know about us.

LN: We think those things are crazy too. I’m glad, that’s crazy!

What’s it been touring with another GW band? Does that add another dynamic?

LN: You know what? It has been so nice. I don’t know if it’s GW-induced, but Jukebox the Ghost are such nice guys. We’re playing music, it shouldn’t be the most stressful situation. But you get to a venue and sometimes you have to set everything up then people get stressed.

LD: Egos. There are lots of egos.

LN: That stress is so unnecessary and you’re like, “Ugh. Let’s all chill.” Jukebox is so chill.

They’re so awesome.

LD: Right now they’re playing a Ghostbusters cover. They’re the shit.

LN: That’s been so nice and we’re wrapping this tour up today with them. Tomorrow we have a show at the MOMA which I am beside myself about. It’s gonna be so cool. I’m honored to do it; I can’t believe they’re letting us play and show our art there. Then two days later we start a tour in Michigan and go all the way back to California with this band Sleeper Agent. And they’re also really nice! It’s really just nice to play with nice people. Not everybody’s nice. It sucks.

LD: It sets a precedent of positivity that you can only go up from. We’ve had some shows recently with some not so nice people and there’s been this air of negativity that’s lurking in the corners and rears its ugly face in sorts of egomaniacal ways.

LN: It just makes you stressed out. And you go to play a show and I feel no stress from the audience and I think everyone in HOLYCHILD feels that way. It’s just stressful to know they’re on the side of the stage and you’re just like, “It’s music, it doesn’t matter.”

LD: At least for me, personally, I probably care most about what my fellow music-making peers think about our music than anybody else. I kinda respect their word the most because they know what it is. They know what it takes to create it. So when you have to deal with egomaniacs from the artists’ side, it’s just the biggest pain in the ass. To make a long story short, with the GW connection, there’s gotta be some sort of subtle being on the same page without having to talk about anything. It’s been really easy and really pleasant.

LN: They’re so nice.

I have one last fun question: what’s your favorite donut flavor?

LN: Donuts are so good looking. Donuts are the best looking dessert. [To Louie] What’s your favorite one?

LD: Dude, you just gotta go with glazed. Classic, timeless, there’s pretty much always a time and place for it. I had a glazed donut for lunch, that’s probably why I’m hungry.

LN: I also like glazed. I recently had a buttermilk glazed donut and it was so good. It was just buttermilk dough and it was glazed. That was great. It was from this place called Randy’s in LA. There’s literally a huge donut on top of this little donut place so you can see it from miles away.

– Lotanna Obodozie

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