Photo Credit: Andrew Leggett
MIHI NIHIL (say: Mee-Kee Nee-Keel) is an emerging band from Los Angeles, CA comprised of Mihi Vox (vocals), Benjamin Montoya (guitar), Nick Steinberg (bass) and Adam Alt (drums). The group are long time friends whose debut album is described as “the living portrait of art rock," “the most beautiful translation of melancholy to music," "cinematic tones full of grit" and "street-poet post-punk."
Their eponymous LP, produced by Adam Lasus (PJ Harvey, Yo La Tengo, Madder Rose), has two songs in recent major motion pictures, reached #1 on Amazon, #15 on iTunes and #18 on the NACC most added charts. The record received radio/publication support in over 17 countries and was included on the 2021 Grammy ballot under Best Alternative Music Album.
Individually the members of MIHI NIHIL have been around the music scene touring with Iggy Pop and the Stooges and Jane's Addiction, fronting shows at festivals/venues including Coachella, the Warped Tour and Carnegie Hall and backing up artists like Neil Young, John Denver and Bruce Springsteen.
Together the four deliver a melodic, dark country sound rooted in post-punk pulling from a kaleidoscope of influences including early Radiohead, Neil Young, The Clash, Ennio Morricone, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Cure and Pixies. Written in one room, MIHI NIHIL created an atmospheric nine-song debut redolent with nostalgia.
Thank you for taking this interview! How has the New Year been for you so far as an artist?
Benjamin - Being able to practice again and play some live shows has been a blessing post COVID lockdown here in LA.
Nick - I don’t know how to respond, probably still processing.
Adam - The new year has been great! We are writing new music, booking shows, and we released our 1st Vinyl. Lots to look forward to this year!
Mihi - Great in one way, strange in another. Great that we are all in one city have been able to get back to writing and making music as a band. We do this together in one room. We also have been able to play some fun smaller shows which allows us to be more intimate, more raw and loose and maybe try a few new songs that aren’t quite finished. It has been a strange time for me personally just because there are not a ton of paying gigs but as a full time musician I am really good at budgeting LOL. I do think there is a building sense of desire for live music again and, post covid, a sense that people want more from their music. Perhaps more depth, more substance, less spectacle…I see the shift more in younger generations. I suppose that could be true for a lot of people post covid. They have a clearer picture of what makes them happy and want they want more of in their life, work and friendships. I suppose it’s the realization that people late in life have or those in a terminal situation ~ life is fleeting and we better use the short time we have in a way that brings happiness and fulfillment. We have an etching on one side of our vinyl that says “Memento Mori.” This is a concept that is close to us and something we have a sense of when making our music. You have to buy the vinyl to get the other hidden message :)
Can you tell us how you've transformed from the beginning to now as an artist?
Benjamin - I would say I have crafted my own unique sound through my guitar.
Nick - We’ve always been a band that creates together in our band space. So as we’ve been together over years we’ve definitely progressed int dialogue you hopefully create.
Adam - Years and Years of hard work and dedication have helped hone our crafts and make us better musicians and people.
Mihi - wow. That’s hard. The beginning? For my personally that started a long time ago. I was two when I first sang on a public stage and 16 when I was apart of a big tour (John Denver), so that’s a lot of space to try and take in with this answer. I definitely transformed with each experience I had. With this band, I became an artist I wanted to be and am still learning and growing. I learn a lot from my band mates. I always wanted to be apart of writing the music I sing, so that is something I grew into later and with this band. I feel I have had phases throughout my life as an artist. I changed a lot when I went to a conservatory of music. Singing and studying all classical/opera. That was a totally new style and genre of music for me. Now, I am moving from a less scholastic and more intuitive space with my instrument. Less thinking, more feeling…but I have my past and schooled background to help give me a foundation vocally. As a band, I think there is just more trust with each other and we have more security knowing that in our writing space there is no judgement with any ideas being put out. It’s a very freeing experience how we write. A true release.
How did you come up with your latest project?
Benjamin - We worked in a communal way. If I have an idea on the guitar, we just usually jam it out and pull it together. Or I try to contribute the same way to others writing ideas.
Nick - It was basically a culmination of our band space process.
Adam - We’ve all been friends for a longtime so it only seemed right to get into a room and make music together. It was kismet. At the first note, strum, downbeat we knew we had special connection. We’ve been playing a few times a week ever since!
Mihi - Our latest project is our debut album. We didn’t come up with it. It found us in our jams/writing space that we fondly call “Whiskey Rehearsals”.
Where are you from originally?
Benjamin - Born SoCal and raised in Arizona.
Nick - Nyc
Adam - Bernardsville, NJ
Mihi - Littleton, CO
Where do you live now?
Benjamin - Burbank California
Nick - La
Adam - Los Angeles, CA
Mihi - Los Angeles, CA
Do you think where you live impacts how your music is made?
Benjamin -Everything you experience, helps how and what you make.
Nick - Yes I do. Surroundings matter.
Adam - I feel like in LA there may be some more opportunities, but you still must put yourself out there and do the work. Play shows, meet people, and grow your music community. You get out of it what you put into it, no matter where you live.
Mihi - Of course. Although I think as an artist or writer you pull from every place you’ve lived when creating music. Your past, the memories you have, the smells you remember, the images that haunt you still or gave you joy - they all play a part in how you speak through your instrument - how you would bend a note for instance. John Denver would always say “be the bird”, “be the wind” with your instrument…it’s not about the notes it’s more about imagination and expressing a feeling. Growing up in Colorado and with a family that is very much into horses and mountain life and nature shapes me still…that will never leave me. However my time in the mid west and then NYC and now LA has brought a lot of stories and images and rawness and appreciation for diversity, differences and all cultures that I don't think i would have had I stayed in Colorado. I would encourage aspiring artists to live in a variety of environments. Make friends with a variety of people with varying backgrounds, ages and affluence. That can only help broaden your scope of stories to tell.
What was the inspiration to make music your career?
Benjamin - People and my need to connect through music.
Nick - Music is feeling and feeling is music.
Adam - Watching my brother play drums while growing up was a big inspiration, as well as my other friends who were interesting in music growing up. I loved being onstage and making art with my best friends.
Mihi - For me I think I saw how people responded when I sang at a young age. They told me it was something I needed to do and when you see change in people or emotional reactions right in front of you as you are playing/singing, that is an impactful thing. I agree with my mates, I strive for connection and feeling. It seemed singing and expressing music was the route in which I could connect easiest and most profoundly. Music will always be apart of my life whether it stops becoming my career or not.
How do you want to shape your career?
Benjamin - I just live in the moment and try ti get the most out of each day. There’s really not a goal, other than crafting the best music we can.
Nick - With my hands.
Adam - Ideally a stable career in music would make me happy. Make enough money to keep food on the table and a roof over our heads. It would be great to have steady work scoring music for movies/TV as well as playing live shows all around the world!
Mihi - I want to see us on some late night shows or a morning show performing, opening and collaborating for/with bands and artists we love and growing our reach. We do have a few of our songs in major motion pictures. I would love us to continue growing that path as well. We do have a very cinematic sound and could morph into soundtracks perhaps with the right director like David Lynch, Sofia Coppola, Jim Jarmusch, Sergio Leone or Wong Kar-wai. I would love us to find someone to help us get on some festivals and in front of more people. Do you know any? LOL. We are great at the music part but it takes a team to build a big career.
Do you work on a tight timeline always or do you go with the flow when it comes to your music?
Benjamin - You can’t force the magic moments. You just have to be present when they come.
Nick - Tight flow.
Adam - I’d say we like to go with the flow. The more restrictions the harder it is to focus and create true art.
Mihi - with us, the later for the most part. We have a show on the 28th and so we are trying to get a few new songs in performance ready fashion….I suppose that’s the most tight timeline we have had. Our songs sort of show themselves to us. If they are ready the moment we first start creating it, then well, we just wrote a song in 3 minutes but sometimes a song isn’t ready to be finished. We record all our rehearsals/writing sessions and jams. We hold onto all our ideas and perhaps eventually those little ideas and pieces will come around when they are ready to be finished.
How did your latest title of your music come to be?
It was our debut album so it only felt fitting to make the first album eponymous – it’s who we are, MIHI NIHIL.
Is it hard to let go of the music when it is done?
Benjamin - Only if you question the work. If it’s a great piece that represents the band. We can’t wait to share it.
Nick - No.
Adam - We always look forward to making new music and we don’t look back. We keep the songs alive at rehearsal and onstage. It’s a lot of fun to revisit old songs we haven’t played in a while and see how they may have changed over time.
Mihi - No. When it’s ready, it’s ready. I do think it’s important to share the music though. A song/piece can be “done” but just sit unheard. I think music needs to be heard and shared with others and then there is a shift of feeling. The song/piece no longer is “yours” it becomes everyones. Until that happens, I suppose that “done” song would hang around. It’s important to let it go.
Do you feel an emotional attachment with your music?
Benjamin - Always.
Nick - Definitely. I feel somehow nostalgia became a theme in our music, and nostalgia can be powerful emotionally.
Adam - All my music is an extension of me. Some happy, some sad, some raging, etc. I believe emotion helps drive a good song.
Mihi - Of course. Our music is very much made with an emotional charge. That never leaves.
How would you describe your music in one word to someone who hasn't listened to it yet?
Benjamin - It’s tough to do with one word. I think “Cinematic” would be the best way to describe it.
Nick - Nostalgia.
Adam - Eclectic.
Mihi - I like reading what others write about our music. One writer from Two Story Melody described us as “street-poet post-punk” and “shoe gazing art rock.” I liked that. It felt true. I know that’s more than 1 word. Ok, let me think…I would say nostalgic as well. There is something familiar about our sound but yet still mysterious.
Where do they go to listen NOW?
Everywhere for streaming/downloading. We were lucky to get distribution with Universal Music via It Goes Up Ent so you can listen to us on all the streaming platforms in any country. Follow this link for the most popular: https://lnk.to/MihiNihil
You can purchase our newly pressed vinyl through our site: www.mihinihil.com. So keep a watch our for our new website and store coming soon in May!
What has been the best fan reaction to your music?
Benjamin - When great friends are playing it and your aren’t in their presence.
Nick - “What’s your drummers tinder?”
Adam - After a show recently I had a great conversation with a kid who had never heard of us. He lived close to the club and heard us sound checking so he came by to check it out. He later purchased a ticket and danced through our entire show that night! Afterwards he purchased one of our vinyl’s, even though he was short on cash. He really wanted us to know he loved our music, and we made a genuine impact on him. That’s the real stuff right there.
Mihi - Watching them dance and sing and have every word memorized. I am thinking of a particular instance with two fans who are 6 and 3 years of age. Not typically our fan base age group, but it was an amazing feeling to see them connect to the music - and love it so much.
Is there anything exciting coming up for you?
We have a few shows coming up soon and are gearing up to record a few more tracks we are really excited about! A few wishes for the near future would be for us to play live on NPR’s Tiny Desk and at this years Bourbon and Beyond festival.
Are you performing the song anywhere LIVE?
Yes! We just performed at The Mint! Check our socials for MORE dates coming up!
Give us all your socials and links so fans can link up with you! Thank you for this interview!
https://linktr.ee/MIHINIHIL (to get tickets to our show, sign up for mailing list ect...)
Stream | Download - https://lnk.to/MihiNihil