On recent comeback single 'Wishing You Away', the pair explore the effect of growing up with domestic violence
What is the price of being an artist? We expect those who provide our entertainment to bare all in their work; ask them to mine their personal highs and lows, triumphs and traumas for the sake of a banging pop song, provoking painting, or life-changing novel. Rarely do we stop and think about how doing so affects a creator’s own life.
Los Angeles indie-pop duo Holychild can tell you all about that side of things. After two years away, they’ve followed up their 2015 album ‘The Shape Of Brat Pop To Come‘ and subsequent 2016 EP ‘America Oil Lamb‘ with new single ‘Wishing You Away’. Musically, it’s a breezy and bright first taste of their upcoming second album – one that showcases a new, brutally honest approach, detailing the domestic violence singer Liz Nistico witnessed in her parents’ relationship growing up.
“I’ve been having a hard day today,” Liz says from her car, parked curb-side in LA, in between searching for costume pieces for the band’s next music video. “I’ve been thinking, ‘Why did I put out ‘Wishing You Away’?'” As well as struggling with how having people knowing that much about her personal life makes her feel, her family has understandably reacted less than positively to the song’s release.
“I know it’ll settle but I was just with my family and they’re bringing it up left and right,” she says of the tension it’s caused. “I did talk about it to them before I released it but I don’t think they had the full information on it. So today, I’m like, ‘Why did I do that? Why am I putting myself through this? Why am I putting these other people through this? Is this the price of art?'”
As uncomfortable as it might be, Holychild’s second chapter is all about putting their struggles and problems out there in song form. In the past couple of years they’ve had a lot to write about, be that grappling with past abuse or dealing with sickness. In 2016, the duo – completed by producer and multi-instrumentalist Louie Diller – decamped to Mexico for six months where they wrote approximately 200 songs. Liz credits the things they were going through (as well as the new family of creatives they made during their time there) with that creative purple patch, with songwriting a necessary vessel for them to vent their feelings.
“The things that I was going through were, to me, all of my greatest fears,” she says, having just listed surgery, pregnancy, and abortion as some of the things she had to deal with. “If I had named something as a fear, it happened in the last two years. That was really interesting for me to have to confront those things and be really honest. It made me feel like I couldn’t hide from anything and I was just being so honest in a way that I wanted to be before, but I don’t think I had the courage, necessarily.”
‘Wishing You Away’ marked a turning point in the band’s songwriting – one that showed them they were capable of something they hadn’t shown the world before and that Liz could write powerful, personal pop songs without masking what she was really saying. “Veiled honesty is something I was really guilty of [before],” she explains. [Glittery 2016 collab with Kate Nash] ‘Rotten Teeth’ means a lot to me but I would also use these phrases where I didn’t care if somebody understood. I understood it and it meant something to me, so it didn’t really matter. ‘Wishing You Away’ was almost like I was speaking to my dad. I feel like it’s almost an evolution of self.”
In the song and its colourful video, directed by Liz, she explores her worries of repeating her parents’ mistakes in her own life. “I had this example of a relationship and I was really fearful about getting myself into that [kind of situation], and I have been in toxic relationships,” she explains. “I saw that relationship between my father and mother – how has that affected me? Am I prone to an abusive relationship? Am I inevitably going to be put into that cycle, which is a really big fear for me.”
The visual flits from shots of Liz and Louie, dressed in a pink tulle veil and fluffy angel wings respectively, goofily running across a field, choreographed dance routines, and darker scenes of Liz with blood pouring out of her head or slowly revealing a black eye to the camera. It’s deceptive, seducing you with images of balloons, cake, and fun before disrupting that happy vision with something altogether more uncomfortable.
“It’s also a warning,” the singer says of the video’s heavier moments. “There’s these shots of a studio graveyard. I wanted it to be black eye, blood, and death. It’s not okay to have someone not treat you well and I wanted to be heavy-handed with that.”
That contrast between happy and sad, light and dark, is something Holychild have utilised well in the past and is a theme that will continue on their next album. “We like to have a dynamic experience, in general, but also bring people in with familiar pop form and pop hooks,” Louie explains when he joins the conversation from his apartment. “Liz’s life experiences are heavy, real, and worth talking about, so I’m happy she’s bringing that out now more than ever. I don’t feel like that has to be mutually exclusive with the melody or anything else, though.”
So far, Louie has taken charge of the production and mixing of the new songs, which they say they will release as and when “feels right”. In that role, he’s taken inspiration from elements of Childish Gambino and Kendrick Lamar‘s records. “I like how loose and real those records are and how much they breathe,” he says. “I’m trying to inject as much of that humanness into the new stuff with real live musicians.”
One of the draws of using living, breathing people to play their songs, rather than relying on laptops and technology as they used to, is the potential for imperfections. “Right now, I’m definitely in a phase of mistakes, whether it being melodically pitchy, or drums being slightly off,” Louie explains. “Just to complement that honesty [of Liz’s songwriting].”
You’ll have to wait for a while for a full record – or more details of it – but Liz does tease what to expect from it. “Every song is different,” she says. “I don’t wanna be chained to a genre, or a sound, or a vibe – that’s not human. There are songs like ‘Wishing You Away’, to this love song [‘100,000 Hearts’] we’re putting out next, to this song that’s about extreme lust, which is probably our most provocative song. Then there’s this other song about my grandfather, who abused me [‘Carmello’].”
If that sounds like a lot of intense emotions, you’re not wrong. “There’s definitely a lot of sadness [in the record],” Liz nods. “But in a stereotypical Holychild way, where it feels upbeat until you really listen to it and then you’re like, ‘I’m gonna cry.'” Grab your tissues and your dancing shoes, and get ready – Holychild are about to conquer your heart and your feet.