Text: Erica Russell
Listening to HOLYCHILD is like sharing a bottle of vodka with your best friend on a Friday night, dumping an entire bag of craft store glitter on yourselves afterward in drunken enthusiasm, and then sobering up and signing every human rights petition on Change.org.
If you don’t quite get the picture, let me put it this way: The L.A.-based electro-pop outfit creates catchy, sickly-sweet pop music that fucks you up, gets you happy, and makes you think all at once. And while pop music isn’t historically known for its ability to motivate listeners to make serious moves—other than out on the dancefloor, of course—HOLYCHILD’s sparkly grooves do just that. Of the band's colorful debut album The Shape of Brat Pop to Come, singer-songwriter Liz and producer-musician Louie combat sexism, revolt against predicated gender roles, and lampoon the almighty dollar’s stronghold over the American masses, never once failing to nestle their message within the shiny candy-wrapper of a killer pop hook.
Here, the dynamic duo chats about the new video for “U Make Me Sick,” premiering exclusively today on V, the demise of the American Dream, friendship first impressions, and the challenges of creating great pop music with a greater purpose.
Thanks so much for jumping on call! Where is HOLYCHILD right now?
LIZ Thank you for doing this! We’re currently in Los Angeles at the moment.
Why don’t you tell me a little bit about the concept behind the video?
LIZ The song is about a relationship. The chorus is, “You make me so sick / When I see you standing there / Hold me closer, make me care.” Then the second time around is like, “Won't you leave me, then I’ll care,” so I guess it’s not a very healthy relationship! It’s [about] the concept of a fucked up love, and the really high highs and really low lows that exist within that. I wanted to capture that with the music video, so when you see us at some points it’s kind of void of emotion, at other points goofy and fun, and then super loving when we’re in the car, as if nothing else matters. When it’s good, it’s so good and it’s always been good. When it’s bad, it’s so bad and it’s always been bad. I wanted to show those extremes.
I feel like the album in general is very much about extremes.
LIZ Exactly. I write all the lyrics, and I’m a pretty passionate person, so that’s definitely how I do things. I feel like we live in a world where superlatives rule. When someone is really beautiful, they’re suddenly the most beautiful person in the world who has ever existed—until somebody else comes along and is that person. I feel like those things are reinforced by concepts such as, “The 50 Most Beautiful Women in the World!” That shit is so frustrating and annoying to me. The concept of superlatives is so inherent, so I wanted to capture that [on The Shape of Brat Pop to Come].
LOUIE It’s really hardwired into us. It’s a hierarchy.
LIZ We are frustrated by those definitions and the boundaries we’ve set for ourselves, so [with our music] we’re kind of like, fucking with it a bunch by using [those superlatives].
One of the reasons I personally connect with this album is because you talk about feminism and gender roles in these songs. I appreciate that as a listener, especially with pop music which tends to get pigeonholed.
LOUIE This has been coming up more and more recently, which is really nice. Look, it’s 2015, you know? We’re in a different place right now in that you just can’t get away with fluff as easy as you could like, fifteen or so years ago. I think there’s too many environmental, racial, gender, and financial problems—these huge, huge problems—going on. If you’re not talking about one of those things or all of that in whatever capacity you’re making art, then you’re out of touch. You’re just not in touch with the real world. It’s definitely in the front of our minds. We’re just writing about what we’re experiencing and observing. It’s nice to connect with so many other people in the world that seem to feel the same way and are tired of being complacent and are ready to take action.
LIZ I feel the same way. I love pop music, so it’s been an amazing journey and also a challenge to use pop music to get these messages across because it’s something people are really used to automatically digesting. You listen to pop music all the time, whether you like it or not. It’s all around. The goal with all of our art is to have something that’s accessible, but at the same time is experimental. The accessible part would be the poppy melodies, and within that we can experiment. It’s the same with our visuals: pretty colors, with something weird underneath it. Those are the things I’m most attracted to with art, especially pop art. So I feel really privileged right now to be able to talk about these things, and I feel like we’re at the forefront of a revolution. We’re talking to so many younger kids right now who are connecting with our music and who are like, “Hey, this means a lot to me! I feel frustrated that I’m told act this way or look this way.” Also, the demise of the “American Dream” is really frustrating. People tell you that you have to work so hard and that you have to go to college, but that doesn’t even exist for some people. So really, it’s just inspiring to talk to all these people. I feel like we’re all in it together.
I love that you brought up the deconstruction of the American Dream, because I feel as a culture we’ve built up all these expectations that, as a society, we haven’t necessarily been able to deliver in an equal and fair way. I find it interesting that, similarly, you guys took a very DIY approach with your music and even turned down some juicy label offers in the process…
LOUIE I feel like everybody at one point faces that juncture where you can either go down one road and make a quick buck, or stay true to yourself and pursue your dream. It’s very validating and humbling that we turned down all that money at that point, basically to stay true to ourselves. We were starving artists for a while, but I feel like we were pretty lucky to find a really, really nice record label fairly quickly, and were able to work out a deal that made sense. It still feels great to be there. More importantly for us though, I love when we’re connecting with the fans [with our messages]. Half of our generation has taken on this apathetic disillusionment, which I can fall victim to one and a while. But it’s definitely inspiring to connect to people our age who are as enthusiastic as we are about changing the status quo. That’s way more inspiring than saying, “We’re all fucked. This sucks. I’m just going to turn my brain off.” To me, that’s not as productive as contributing to society and working within our broken system to try and fix it. I think that’s what we’re advocating.
The friendship between you two is so palpable. You guys have such an incredible musical chemistry. What were your first impressions of one another when you initially met?
LIZ That’s a great question! [Laughs] It’s crazy. We met four years ago when we were in college. I was a dancer and Louie was the musician for my dance class. We started collaborating pretty quickly after we met. I think we both needed each other because we were in D.C. and it’s kind of a stale environment there. We found each other and found that we could be really open and creative with each other. It’s so amazing to be able to make art together—I don’t feel like we would be here without the other today, you know? Louie is so amazing to work with. His moral compass is so strong.
What about you, Louie?
LOUIE Oh man, I found Liz to be just a comrade in art. We’ve been on this personal, artistic journey together, searching and feeling out different things, and I’ve connected with Liz on all mediums. We have a pretty deep connection, musically. We definitely found that our playlists were really compatible, which is crazy because that’s usually not the case. She’s definitely my partner in crime. The last thing I have to say about Liz is about her fashion sense. Her style is outrageously precocious and she has consistently blown me away with how fun she is. I’m not as into that world as Liz, but I inherently trust all her fashion decisions, which has become a pretty big part of our aesthetic.
LIZ We’re really visual. I take care of all the visuals for HOLYCHILD, and what we wear is a component of that. From the music videos, to the photoshoots, the posters, the album art, and collaborating with really cool stylists and designers, it’s so much fun.
Your aesthetic is like this candy-colored world that has a sharp edge to it.
LIZ That’s right in line with Brat Pop in general, which is all about experimental art and social commentary. We want the visuals to be in line with that, too, so it’s really nice that you’ve been connecting with that.
Finally, what are you guys looking forward to right now?
LIZ This year has been crazy so far. The album came out just a little over a month ago, and we’re going to Tokyo this week to play a show there. I’m so excited! Then we come back and play Lollapalooza. We’re going to be touring a bunch this year; basically, the goal is to continue spreading the messages of Brat Pop. Within that, we’re always writing and creating art. That’s never going to stop. And there’s going to be a bunch more music videos to follow, so that will be fun. It’s just all about spreading the word!
The band's debut album, The Shape of Brat Pop to Come, is out now via Glassnote Records.