Liz Nisitico, singer of giddy electro-pop duo holychild, is sitting on the floor of a Lower East Side apartment pulling clothes from her suitcase: a grey polo shirt, two of her mom's ankle-length black velvet dresses, lacy white short-shorts, and her signature leopard print visor are spread out around her. Eventually she finds what she's been looking for: a piece of shredded, yellow cotton that passes for a Lakers tie-around halter-top. It's her favorite item of clothing this week.
Dressed in a black leather and mesh long-sleeve belly shirt and wide-legged light wash jeans, Liz grabs a pair of silver scissors from above the refrigerator. Louie Diller—keyboardist, drummer and the other half of holychild—has seen all her handmade clothes a million times before. He's witnessed the deliberate and maniacal effect scissors have on little bits of cloth, but he still comments on every item she pulls.
"Does your mom know you took those from her closet?" he says of the Stevie Nicks-like garb.
"I started wearing that one all the time." He points to an oversized two-tone khaki pullover sweater sitting on the armchair.
Holychild are in from Los Angeles for a show in Boston, a quick trip to visit Liz's childhood home in New Hampshire, and four CMJ shows in New York. The pair call it a tour, but they don't have a return ticket home. Their plan is to kick it in New York, maybe find a manager, release two singles off their upcoming EP, Mind Speak, and figure out the next step. They're on a nomadic odyssey—crashing on air mattresses and couches in living rooms across the city.
It's fitting that Liz and Louie currently live out of suitcases. They've done just about everything on their own for the past two years. Liz styles their music video and creates stage attire from thrift store finds and together they write and produce their own music, decorating their EPs with Sharpies. Holychild are determined and for the most part, broke. They're free agents, without a label or a booker, but they are packing two music videos that recently tipped over 100,000 views apiece on YouTube.
The duo first got together in early 2011 as students at George Washington University in Washington, DC. Louie was an accompanist to one of Liz's dance classes and they started making "tribal pop jam" music together and laying down jazz tracks. Then there was a few month stint in New York which Liz spent writing in a $300 a month apartment in Borough Park, Brooklyn. "The rent was so cheap I didn't really have to do anything but write music," she explains. But she moved back to DC to record and write full-time with Louie, then they moved on to LA.
"We needed to have time in LA to decide what holychild is and what it feels like," Louie says. "We did everything on no budget and when you create with no budget it's unforgiving." But they'd rather be broke than burn out on a sound that's not theirs. "It's so hard to say no when someone throws money at you," explains Louie of the two deals they passed over back in the spring.
"It was right when Daft Punk's 'Get Lucky' hit the radio and we had one guy actually say to us, 'We really want you to sound like Icona Pop and Daft Punk' and we were like, 'Don't you want to see what we can actually do?' It sounds tight on paper when someone offers you $25,000 and a radio deal," Louie said. "But we want to set ourselves up for having a career at this, not a three-to-five year sprint."
They've settled on a glittery experi-pop sound, heavy on drums and Liz's excitable vocals. "Best Friends," (which premiered on MTV Buzzworthy in March), utilizes vocal loops, letting Liz harmonize with herself while singing,
"I have the best friends/We can't be boxed in/I'd rather flee than follow suit."
Since moving to LA, holychild began experimenting with a darker visual aesthetic, combining high ponytails, dance-ready choruses, and mountains of sugar with old burlesque movies and creepy slow-mo spit-up scenes.
"The message of our new songs is about the role of women in our culture," says Liz. "I got to LA and was like what the fuck? Who am I supposed to be here? I felt there was a superficial underbelly to LA that I hadn't encountered before." It's a sentiment illustrated and explored in new track, "Happy With Me," and the video for "Playboy Girl," but only if you look behind Liz's floral crop tops. Liz and three other Katy-Perry lookalikes stuff their faces with cakes, candy, cookies, and cream-filled doughnuts, as Liz sings about the guilt and pleasure associated with women, food, and sex. Liz slams a cupcake in and around Louie's mouth, while he sits motionless. Food falls in and out of the girls' faces. It either makes you want to dance or puke.
Liz says Wes Anderson and acclaimed German photographer Juergen Teller hugely influence her personal style and her vision for their videos. Symmetry, patterns, and monochromatic colors: currently, that's her jam. Back to her suitcase and Liz pairs the lace short-shorts with a white tank top, chunky platforms, wool socks, and that leopard visor. She's performance ready. Louie plugs headphones into his laptop, and starts tapping his feet on the bar stool, grunting a couple times. Liz frequently picks what he wears and he likes it that way.
With her wardrobe puddled around her on the floor, Liz pulls out one of the long velvet dresses. "Hold on, I actually need to hem this," she says, grapping the scissors and disappearing into the bathroom. A few moments later she emerges with an uneven hemline that slopes down behind the back of one knee. "I meant to cut it straight, but I actually like it like this." She slips on the visor and poses. "When I get sick of this thing, I'll probably discard it in a dramatic thrust." She takes it off and goes to toss it like a Frisbee.
"She'll just throw it off stage and it'll be gone," Louie says.
Liz's grandmother was a seamstress and taught her to sew when she was a kid. For a while she made all of her own clothes. "I can't tell you how much time I took winding fabric into a dress of some sort. My sister would always say, 'That's not a dress, that's fabric.' Like, okay, valid." She makes yoga clothes on crack: tight and soft and held together in only the most necessary of places. Safety pins and scissors are her only tools.
She dumps out the contents of a black plastic bag—a couple of thrift store finds—and gets to work, hoping to make some new outfits to wear at one of the CMJ shows. Pulling on a pink sweatshirt that says, "Because I'm the grandma, that's why!" she pinches the sides against her waist, rolls up the sleeves, and cuts off the bottom to use as a headband. It seems being a DIY seamstress on the road is a snip.
"I usually don't like to hide my body, but now I'm really into baggy oversize sweatshirts," she says.
"She doesn't dress like a cheap fucking hoe," Louie notes. "She's smart and deliberate about what she's doing."
"Aw, why thank you."
Then her scissors fly across a light blue t-shirt that reads, "FLUNKY" in sparkly letters. She cuts away and it's soon transformed into a tie-into-place belly shirt or possibly, a dishrag. Turning it into the former, she scooches into a long white skirt. Add visor. "This could work."
These days, holychild cites Grimes and tUnE-yArDs as inspirations, but Liz and Louie are more interested in carving out a space like the one No Doubt and Gwen Stefani created in the 90s. "She can survive the test of time as a woman," Liz says. "There's so much pressure to stay youthful, but she celebrates her age and maturity.
They have no idea how long they'll stay in New York. Maybe till the end of October, maybe longer. They miss California vibes, but when they're there they miss New York's everything. Louie's been down the CMJ road before when he performed with his Oakland, California high school band Dizzy Balloon. "They were super cute," Liz says. "Like One Direction but kind of better." For the marathon festival standards, they say their show numbers are low. They would have liked to book more gigs, but sensibility took over. "If I could blow out my voice, I would do a million shows," says Liz.
"If we were a punk rock band we could just do lots of cocaine and Red Bull and play all day every day this week," Louie adds. "But that's just not us."
holychild play CMJ today and tomorrow
10.17 - New York, NY - 6pm at Pianos
10.17 - New York, NY - 8pm at McKittrick Hotel
10.18 - New York, NY - 1.30pm at the Jewel Ship
10.18 - New York, NY - 12:45 am at Mercury Lounge
Jessica writes about music, TV, and dumplings. She's on Twitter - @jessgood.
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