"Mind Speak," the indie-pop duo's first release, is due out in March.
Before it seemed like it would be their reality, Liz Nistico and Louie Diller of the Los Angeles duo Holychild perfected pop stardom as a state of mind. The pair, who met in 2011 when Diller served as a guest musician in Nistico's dance class at George Washington University, used to draft five-month plans for the career of their dreams — outlining goals for wardrobes, music videos and live performances. When labels weren't showing any interest, Holychild developed a tendency toward professionalism and polish that challenged the expectations of a DIY group with no real connections to the music industry.
"Our music is a little weird, so we stopped at nothing to make sure everything we did was at a really high production level," says Nistico, 25. "Our attitude was, 'Fuck if we know whether anybody will like this or not, but the production quality is going to be so killer that whether or not they like it, they won't be able to deny it.'"
As luck would have it, a lot of people liked Holychild. Self-produced videos for a handful of smart, hooky tracks— including "Best Friends" and "Playboy Girl" — attracted the attention of a number of major labels, all of which promised to turn the group into the next pop sensation. After a slate of well-received performances at CMJ last October, the suitors circled like sharks sniffing fresh blood.
But despite the crossover appeal of their sound, Nistico and Diller were reticent about things getting too big, too fast.
"People told us, 'Yeah, yeah, yeah! We're gonna put your song on the radio right now and you're gonna have a ton of fans!'" Nistico recalls. "I'm down to be on the radio, but right now we want to share our music with people in a genuine way. If radio happens down the line, sweet. But we don't want to force it."
Ultimately it was the independent label Glassnote -- home to Phoenix, Mumford & Sons and CHVRCHES -- that most aligned with Holychild's 'Goldilocks' sensibility of being not too big but not too small. Between November and December of last year, the group signed its label deal, partnered with manager Nicky Berger (who also manages Grouplove) and joined the roster of powerhouse booking agency William Morris Endeavor, whose client list also includes Rihanna, Adele and Bruno Mars.
"You start to talk with them and they're really fun, -- they've got this joie de vivre," says Daniel Glass, founder and CEO of Glassnote. "And then they start getting into their vision for their music and where they want to take it, and it's very intense. They're totally in control and serious about their craft."
"Playboy Girl," the latest Holychild single released just before CMJ, hints at the duality in the band's worldview. The song is a pop polemic, poking at the absurdity of female beauty standards while a dance-friendly guitar riff ricochets in the background.
"Do you only like it 'cuz it's all that you've been told?" Nistico sings on the track. "I still resist that, your perfect world and all your faulty goals."
"Our songwriting is deliberate, but we don't try to categorize it," explains Diller. "We don't really think about whether something is 'too experimental' or 'too pop.' It's more about being sincere— that's always the primary motivation."
"We like making pop music that says something," Nistico adds. "Pop is something people know how to digest. We're interested in using that to make them think."
Holychild has finished recording its debut EP, "Mind Speak," which will be accompanied by a conceptual video trilogy — directed by Nistico — when it arrives in March. The videos will trace the stages of objectification experienced by a central female character, from empowerment to insecurity and emotional desolation.
In the spring, the band has several dates lined up for SXSW, which will be followed by touring and festival appearances including Firefly fest in June. A still-untitled full-length album, to be produced by Diller, is in the works for fall.
"So much has happened the past year with us struggling working day jobs and trying to do everything ourselves," Nistico says. "Now that we actually have people helping us and are working on our art fulltime, I can't even imagine what's next."