Music Interview: MIHI NIHIL – ‘Vertigo’ Out Now!

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We caught up with Los Angeles-based band MIHI NIHIL following the release of their superb single ‘Vertigo’. Read now!

(Please Note: Answers are from the band as a collective unless otherwise stated)

Hi MIHI NIHIL, tell us about yourselves? 

A group of friends who floated around in other musical orbits, we causally came together and quickly realized we had become a band. Our beginnings happened through a mutual friend to help complete a musical project started by Mihi and Benjamin. 

A project that turned into weekly jam sessions we referred to as ‘whiskey rehearsals’. To the group, it was kismet regarding the timing and ease in which we play together and enjoy being with each other. 

Officially, we are a new band consisting of members who have had successes in all sorts of creative endeavours. These individual milestones include touring with Iggy Pop and the Stooges, and Janes Addiction, fronting shows at famous festivals/venues including Coachella, the Warped Tour, and Carnegie Hall, backing up musical legends like Neil Young, John Denver, Bruce Springsteen, and even designing eyewear worn by Bruno Mars, Lady Gaga, and Rhianna. We are Mihi Vox (vocals), Benjamin Montoya (guitar), Nick Steinberg (Bass) and Adam Alt (drums). 

‘Vertigo’ is your second single off of your debut album, written by all four of you in a room together, what was that process like?

Like all our songs, Vertigo was spontaneously composed. Our music is an organic collaborative journey. Often starting with a guitar riff, then drums finding a pattern, then bass entering and then the vocals as we weave a particular song. It’s jumping in with two feet, being open to the energy in the room, and letting the song find you. 

It’s almost like we discovered the same song on our own individual paths using different tools to get there. We share a type of molecular bond when playing as if we have known each other in some strange ethereal way, which makes these impromptu sessions so natural. It’s a very freeing way to experience music writing. 

Nick: There is not one defined process for writing and if there is I’m pretty sure we’re unaware of it. It’s just a natural musical conversation that bandmate mate may start, and through the years we’ve developed an understanding that allows complementing each other along the ride.

The essence of each composition, from instrumentation to lyrics, often occurs as a single event during a jam. Specifically, with Vertigo, the pre-chorus and chorus came first…the verses were found after Adam discovered that rhythmic angular opening stick pattern. We have a video on our YouTube channel that shows a glimpse into our whiskey rehearsal writing process with our first single ‘Be There’. 

(In fact, our name holds a meaning that serves to describe the very way in which our music is created. Mihi Nihil is two Latin words; mihi ‘to me’ and nihil ‘nothingness/void’ whose combined meaning equals the Chinese philosophy Wuji and states “I am endless, limitless, timeless, infinite, boundless, expansive”. 

Now a band motto, the name represents the groups approach to life and music as we write songs together in one room, staying open not only to each other but to the music.

What is your latest release ‘Vertigo’ about?

‘Vertigo’ is a hire-wire act of internal conflict. Lyrically it describes the spiral one can go through of self-loathing, discovery and acceptance. It’s trying to find something true and grounded in a dizzying mental boxing match. 

‘Vertigo’ has received placement in the film ‘The High Note’ starring Dakota Johnson, Tracee Ellis Ross and Ice Cube. That’s a fantastic achievement, how did you feel when you found out?

Of course, we were excited and surprised about this unexpected gift. We had just finished mastering the record and outside of this one request for submission, no one except the band and our producer, Adam Lasus, had heard the song. 

To receive this type of early recognition as a band helps validate how we feel about our art. We are honoured to be apart of Tracee Ellis Ross’ first film, and one of the first official film releases Apple streamed. 

The film was originally scheduled for a wide theatrical release on May 8th, but due to movie theatre closures that started in mid-march because of the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions, it was pushed back to May 29th and released through premium streaming services.

What message do you think your music conveys to your fans? 

We want our music to feel at once mysterious and familiar, like a fog curling heavily and dankly around the listener only to be cut through by rays from the sun. 

For us, music creates gateways by attaching to memories and feelings that return instantaneously when a specific song is played. Also, more than just a story, songs provide comfort to the listener letting them know they are not alone. 

Our hope is that our audience is able to use our music as a backdrop to their lives. So when a fan hears our music, he/she feels a connection and recalls important moments from the past as if the song were a key unlocking a door. Sometimes the memory is cold, and sometimes it is hot, and always the band is there playing the music to tell you they are with you. 

We see that ‘Vertigo’ was accompanied by a video that had a special YouTube preview and a chat with the directors, band and actor, can you tell us more about the video?

‘Vertigo’ was shot in a single day in a house that had just sold. So we had to fit the shoot into the day before the house changed hands. That same day, the US National Guard came to Los Angeles to enforce a city-wide curfew (this was during the George Floyd protests happening here in June 2020). 

Between the LA lockdown, the tight time frame and us losing work from the pandemic, we had to come up with something that would work with these limits. The concept of the video came in a dream. Two faces were in it, friends VJohnny Simonello and Alba Morea. They were called the next day and immediately got on board. With the help of Vjohnny and filmmakers, Alba and her partner Hal Masonberg, the dream was realized.

The story touches on the very basic and universal message that so many of us don’t feel we can be who we really are. The video was a different venture for our band because we couldn’t be together (due to Covid-19 and Nick living on the East Coast) and that was hard for us. However, it was all about timing, and we couldn’t be happier with the results. 

Who are your non-musical influences?

Mostly our family and friends, especially the person that brought us together as a band, Simon Madrigal. Simon was there for every rehearsal and apart of the lyric writing, so he is a definite influence for us as a group. 

So many incredible people influence us and environments, such as David Lynch, Jim Jarmusch, Sergio Leone, Andre Malraux, Egon Schiele, “Booker” Noe, Shinji Fukuyo, Aldous Huxley, James Baldwin, E.O. Wilson, Attenborough, Guillermo Sauza, Tadao Ando, Redwood National Forest, and the list goes on and on, etc..

What’s the best gig that you have ever played? 

As a band, we have just begun, and outside of writing this record, we have only played a handful of live shows so far. So the band individually answers this:

Nick: – “Mine was when playing in Tokyo, standing at the side of the stage about to go on and noticing my pants shaking from the extreme volume of the countdown to our performance. The fans were so amazing, going wild while we played every song and dead silence in between. To allow you to speak or just out of respect. They treated us like The Beatles, we got chased through the streets by fans and I even saw a girl waiting for us as we arrived on the Bullet Train with a sign that said ‘I Love Nick’”. 

Adam: “For me, it was in St. Petersburg, Russia with Street Drum Corps. We were doing a worldwide tour, and at that show, we played for thirty thousand people. It was an experience I’ll never forget.”

Mihi: “The second time I sang at Carnegie Hall in New York City. I was with guitarist Pete Huttlinger in the beautiful main hall. The acoustics were so incredible that I could sing the quietest whisper of a note, and I knew the person in the back top row could hear me. Being on that stage, singing to a full audience and thinking of all the artists and music that have filled that legendary place overwhelmed me.”

Ben: “My favorite show was the last MIHI NIHIL show here in Los Angeles at a club called No Name that has since closed down. We were celebrating the finish of our debut record with our family and friends. It was a special moment in time, and the music was magic.”

What do you think are the biggest obstacles for bands/artists today?

Not being able to have a live, real connection with your audience – at least that has been a challenge for this year. Another obstacle is an oversaturation of music/content and overstimulation of information that makes it harder to find underground bands and new music. Certainly, curators like FVMusicBlog are helping to make those connections easier, and they need continued support. 

There seems to be an intense focus on the ‘right now’ so that the songs are shorter in length, the substance is often minimal, productions extremely digitized, and there is little or no time to enjoy the music before being asked to move on to the next song or single. 

Artists do not release complete works or albums as much, instead of being pushed to release only singles. The desire to hunt for great music also seems less than what it used to be, and that might be because of the shortening of attention spans, and the affect digitization has on our minds. With all of these societal changes, there is an ever-increasing pressure on the artist to produce more and more cheaply and to expect less in return. 

Finally, what are your hopes for the next two years? 

That our current world climate is coming to a climax, the last big wave so to speak, before real changes in how we utilize technology, to more in-person relationships, to a more empathetic approach to all life, and especially a deeper appreciation for the arts. As a band, we definitely want to create more music, perform tons of live shows, and be able to make a healthy living as artists. 

If we are dreaming, we would love to be on Jools Holland, Underground Garage, on NPR’s top 2021 record list, playing festivals and stadiums, opening for bands we love, and of course, it would be amazing to continue to hear our songs on TV shows and films. Ultimately, we look forward to seeing where this music lands.

FV Music Blog October 2020

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