Solo albums can get a bad wrap and I’m not referring to the cellophane packaging. Viewed often as vanity projects, they can be unjustly laughed off by critics and hated on by diehard fans. For Alex Frankel of Holy Ghost! his recently released, Negative Space E.P., was less about ego and more about id.
Frankel’s basic desire to create sparked a banner year that saw him release music for Holy Ghost! (with bandmate Nick Millhiser) and as a solo artist, tour with Classixx as an opening act, and open a Jewish delicatessen in Brooklyn.
I had a chance to chat with Frankel over the phone to talk about Negative Space and how he broke out of his own.
Crave: Solo albums can be perceived as vanity projects or avenues to try different genres. What was the motivation behind Negative Space?
Alex Frankel: The whole thing was an experiment. I know so many people myself included who have these songs on their laptop that they play for their friends late night, send them around, listen to them over and over again. I was sick of that. They don’t need to just live on my computer. Let’s finish them. Set some deadlines and see what happens. Otherwise you end up with a hard drive of 50 demos that you keep listening to and start to get bitter about never releasing them.
Was there any thought of recording them as Holy Ghost! songs?
These songs were fleshed out to the point that I felt it would be unfair to bring them to Nick (Millhiser) because in my mind there wasn’t much to add to them. It’s an easy way for frustration to build if one member brings in stuff and it gets into ‘classic band problem shit’ of people being precious about their songs and ideas, and Nick and I aren’t passive aggressive like that.
So, what was that conversation with Nick like?
I just told Nick I have a bunch of these songs that I want to put out and he said ‘awesome, let me know if I can help.’ I’m very lucky to be in that sort of relationship. I would do the same for Nick. We have written 30 songs together so to put out four songs doesn’t negate or take anything away from what we’ve done or continue to do.
Was it difficult not having that soundboard to bounce ideas off of?
I’m not the kind of guy who can sit in a room and come out with a song that’s done. I need feedback so I relied on other people to fill that void. Technically, I knew that I didn’t want to do live drums because that’s Nick’s thing and I knew I couldn’t get close to that sound with without him.
The process seems like it was eye opening and forced you to try new things, which are both positives, but the title has a pessimistic connotation. What is a Negative Space for you?
I like the term. I was thinking about the push and pull. This middle ground, whether it’s in a partnership or relationship when two people are unable to occupy a common space.
So it’s not that someone is right or wrong, but have different agendas?
In a creative partnership it’s a waiting game. When one person is ready to do something, the other person might not be. So you’re waiting to align. For me personally, I’m a ruminator so I can get stuck in overthinking, overanalyzing.
So how do you break out of the negative space?
Get a shrink. Exercise more. (Laughs). It’s easy for artists to fall into cyclical thinking, patterns that are detrimental but unbreakable because there’s no real deadlines. The whole project, going on tour, putting out music, was a real attempt to sidestep that classic pitfall of feeling like you’re doing something, but you’re (really) not until, at least for me, you’re doing it in a very public way.
It’s been an eventful year for you. What’s been the highlight?
Opening this restaurant (Frankel’s Delicatessen) with my brother (Zack Frankel) was crazy. Months and months of hard work, then one day it just happened. From that day onward it was a launching point. It taught me that I’m capable of doing more than I thought by just doing it. My dad told me that it was the happiest he’s seen me in years.
Okay, so what’s the must-eat item on the menu?
The pastrami, egg and cheese is our best seller, but me personally, I’m a matzo ball soup Nazi.
And, what’s next for Holy Ghost!?
We’re getting back to the studio in November to work on a new album.
Are there still some songs on the laptop you hope to work on as a solo artist?
For sure. This whole process has taught me that there are more hours in the day than I thought. I’ve been slacking.