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20 Questions With Mihi Nihil

The L.A. rockers talk bank robbery, good whiskey, karaoke with Obama & more.

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Photo by Jenna Hipp Spencer.

If you haven’t come across the wonderfully named Mihi Nihil in these pages yet, you just haven’t been paying attention. The L.A. foursome premiered their video for Falling Star right HERE in February. And their darkly compelling self-titled debut full-length was one of my Albums Of The Week earlier this month, which you can read about HERE. But before you do that, get up to speed on them with the help of their in-depth answers to my dumb questions. If that doesn’t make you pay attention, nothing will. 

 


 

Introduce yourself: Name, age (feel free to lie), home base and any other details you’d care to share — height / weight / identifying marks / astrology sign / your choice. 
We are Mihi Nihil, pronounced (mee-kee nee-keel), from Los Angeles, California. A four-headed star comprised of Adam Alt (drums), Nick Steinberg (bass), Benjamin Montoya (guitars) and Mihi Vox (vocals). Together we stand 22’ 2” tall, not sure how much we weigh. Nick grew up in New York City and has his family’s book publishing logo tattooed on his arm. He moved to Los Angeles at 19, loves food/art/fashion and is currently wearing long blond hair. Benjamin has jet black spiky hair, was born in California and grew up in Arizona hunting with a bow/arrow. He is a designer and usually has a pair of sunglasses on, a half finished coffee in hand and hot sauce in his bag. Adam is from a small town in New Jersey, is left-handed, a sandwich lover and has a brother who is also a professional drummer. Mihi is a fourth-generation professional musician whose family are pioneers of Colorado, has one working eye and identifies as she/her. We have one Taurus, one Virgo, one Leo and one Aquarius who all work together harmoniously in orbit. 

What is your musical origin story?
It’s a big bang conception, a crashing of matter! We are a group of friends who floated around in other musical realms and casually came together to jam and quickly realized we had become a band. Mihi and Benjamin had been writing for some time together as a duo. A mutual friend suggested the four of us get in a room together and that turned into weekly jam sessions we call Whiskey Rehearsals. We drank a little whiskey, told jokes, had fun and within a year we had around 200 song ideas. To us, it was kismet regarding timing and ease in which we play together. Officially, we are a new band consisting of members who have had successes in all sorts of creative endeavors. These individual career highlights include touring with some cool people, fronting shows at some cool famous venues, backing up some cool legends and even designing eyewear worn by some cool pop stars. We are the best of friends who fell into being a band. 

What’s your latest project? 
We are introducing our debut album!!

What truly sets you apart from other artists? 
We have a lefty drummer, a punk bass player, a guitar player who loves metal and old country and a singer who grew up in a folk/bluegrass-playing family then got a degree in classical voice and sang with the NYC Opera. There’s a yin/yang to our group and our perspective that makes us different than most alternative/indie bands out there. We met musically in a creative overlap that revolves around our influences. We are among the old-school thought when it comes to making music. We like to write and record together in one room, feeding off each other’s energy. We prefer an analogue/artisanal sound similar to the records and artists we love. Most of our LP was made using instruments, gear and equipment from the 1950s-1970s. There are a few exceptions, but for the most part we like the old stuff, even when it comes to our whiskey. Luckily we found a great producer, Adam Lasus, who shares this aesthetic for making records and captured our performance to tape and a mastering engineer, Paul duGré, who believes in using minimal compression. We really want our sound to be authentic to us, never using auto tune or anything to dilute or squish or change what you would hear when you hear us live.

How will my life improve by listening to your music? 
Wow that’s a tall order. Any good music or book or art is a reflection or extrapolation of life. We want our music to feel at once mysterious and familiar. There’s a comfort in something that feels familiar. So although most of the stories in our songs carry a weight or darkness, there is always an element of light or hope. You need the one to define the other. Our desire is that our audience is able to use our music as a backdrop to their lives. So when a fan hears our songs, they feel a connection and recall important moments from the past as if the song were a key unlocking a door. We want you to feel a clear sense of nostalgia that slowly unravels enveloping you like a warm blanket in an approaching winter storm and we are there with you. 

Tell us about the first song you wrote and/or the first gig you played. 
Gold was the first song we worked on together and it’s the leading track on our record. This was an idea that Benjamin and Mihi had worked on together. It wasn’t until the four of us were in a room that the song found completion. During that first rehearsal at Bedrock in Los Angeles, we wrote a lot of new songs. The first one we wrote start to finish as a group was a song titled Low. We arrived, set up, started to make some noise and Benjamin began with a musical phrase. We all jumped in following and listening and we found that we had finished a song! Low emerged from that 10-minute jam. That’s what happens with most all our songs. They are spontaneously composed together. We like Low. It will find it’s way on a record at some point. 

Our first show was for our friends/family in Adam’s backyard. An engineer friend Davis Jones brought in his board and some speakers, we set up on the back porch, put some lights up and invited some of our closest friends to listen to some of the songs we wrote. At the most there were 15 people there. At the time we had some compositions that didn’t really have set lyrics all the way through but had a firm arrangement. We played them anyway and Mihi made lyrics up. We have a recording of that performance somewhere and pictures of that night. We will find one to share.

Photo by EvaLotta Danforth.

What is the best / worst / strangest / most memorable performance you have given?
Nick – I once played a show in the Tenderloin in San Francisco. When we showed up at the bar/club, the whole place was flooded with about 2-3 inches of water. They just threw down some rubber mats on the floor for us to stand on. We just hoped we wouldn’t get electrocuted. The Tenderloin is in quite a dodgy neighborhood and I remember before we went on two guys were talking at the bar, one guy says to the other “let’s get outta here!” And his buddy turned and said “Nah man, I wanna stay and watch these boys fry!”

Mihi – I showed up to a gig thinking I was going to provide backing vocals for a corporate party. We were hired as the live karaoke backup band. I arrived for sound check at this house in Brentwood and there were rows of cops on motorcycles. Security took my ID and phone. It seemed a little over the top but it ended up being Rita Wilson and Tom Hanks’ house. The small amount of guests consisted of people like President Barack and Michelle Obama, Oprah, Bruce Springsteen, Steven Spielberg, Ringo Starr… The stage was tight and the guests were close, like a living room setup. Tom was the host. He spun a wheel with all the guests’ names on it. It landed on someone’s name, they got up, picked a song and we played whatever they wanted to sing/play. No one had phones to record anything, so the guests were open and having fun. Not really the most memorable performance I gave, but definitely one of the most memorable gigs I’ve done.

What is the best / worst / strangest / most memorable performance you’ve seen?
AdamThe Flaming Lips live. They just give such crazy concerts. The visuals they have are amazing and the crowd engagement is insane. Super fun show. 

Nick – Yeah, I agree. I saw the Lips in 96 in a dingy club. They had put up pieces of wrought-iron fencing with Christmas lights wrapped all around it through the whole club. They bought an AM station for the night and gave everyone headphones at the live concert to tune into the station. So you were hearing different music in your ears that went along with what you heard on stage. I also loved seeing Bauhaus at Coachella and my first concert ever was seeing Bob Marley at Madison Square Garden.

Benjamin – Seeing The Verve at the Mayan theater in California was incredible. It was the last show they played before they broke up and they sounded so good. By far the greatest show I have ever seen was Adorable. They had just released Fake. It was in a small little venue/bar and they were so obscure that not very many people from Arizona were there. Most everyone had driven in from different states. Everyone there knew they discovered something great. Slowdive opened for them. It was magical. 

Photo by Jenna Hipp Spencer.

What living or dead artists would you like to collaborate with?
AdamMaynard from Tool or Perry Farrell
Nick
James Brown
BenjaminThe Cult or Daniel Ash
Mihi – Neil Young or Ennio Morricone

What artist or style of music do you love that would surprise people?  
NickShakira. Have you ever heard She Wolf? That’s a great song! It’s a classic disco track. Oh, and Haim. I love Haim.
AdamTaylor Swift – she’s so good! Also any jazz fusion, that’s something I wrote a whole report on in school.
Nick – Oh yeah, I used to love Weather Report. It’s great music to cook to.
BenjaminHarry Styles.
Nick – I like Harry Styles too. His Peter Gabriel cover on Howard Stern was great.
Mihi  – I like his grandma collars and pearl necklaces.
Benjamin – Well, I can’t go without saying Maiden, but that wouldn’t surprise people
Mihi – In college, I used to order tapes from different ocean-research institutes of whale songs. I love those recordings. I could listen to those tapes for hours. 

What words do you hope people use when they describe you?
Adam – They’re so fuckin good!
Benjamin – Authentic, they have their own sound.
Adam – They’re bigger than Jesus!
Nick – You mean ‘better than Oasis.’ 

What useful skills do you have outside of music?
Adam –Making babies. You could also say I’m a computer wiz too.
Benjamin – I design stuff.
Nick – I don’t have anything
Adam – You’re the best joint roller I know
Nick – That’s true. I do roll a really good joint.

Who can you do an impression of?
NickMichael Caine.
Benjamin – My mom complaining
AdamArnold Schwarzenegger or that “Welcome to Movie Phone” voice.
MihiKristen Wiig playing Liza Minnelli Tries to Turn Off a Lamp or those high-pitched girl voices in Japanimation films/shows.
Benjamin – But you actually were some of those voices!
Mihi – That’s true.

What do you collect? 
Benjamin – Whiskey and guitars
Adam – VW memorabilia
Mihi – I collect memories
Adam – I collected mammary glands and then I got married.  

Photo by Jenna Hipp Spencer.

If money was no object, where would you live?
Nick – New York City, hands down.
Adam – Hawaii … well maybe Amsterdam or Sweden.
Mihi – In a modern tree house in the woods.
Benjamin – Burbank (which is where Ben lives)

What would you like to be reincarnated as? 
Adam – A falcon or hawk
Mihi – That’s what John Denver wanted to come back as when he died. You should meet my dad. He’s a falconer.
Adam – So he could train me when I reincarnate?

What’s your idea of perfect happiness / total misery?
Nick – Hot coffee | Cold coffee
Adam – Being married for both
Benjamin – Playing music in one room together / Being away from home too long
Mihi – Sitting outside under a roof during a rain/lightening storm / Having to pick through old slimy wilted lettuce or herbs to find the good stuff

What are your pet peeves?
Nick – A sponge left at the bottom of the sink? I mean, why would you do that? No one leaves the soap bar at the bottom of the shower.
Adam – Loading the dishwasher wrong
Benjamin – People on cell phones when they should be listening
Adam – That’s what YOU do Ben! You’re the worst at that!
Benjamin – I know man, but we’re talking about what MY pet peeves are.
Adam – I want to change my answer. I hate it when guitar players tune every second at a session or jam. It just kills the vibe.
Mihi – I can’t handle mouth noises in my ear. Slurping or quiet wet smacking. That sibilant noise drives me insane LOL.

What are you afraid of?
Nick – Pigeons
Benjamin – Spiders. I have arachnophobia.
Adam – I don’t really like snakes.
Mihi – I used to have a recurring dream that my teeth and jaw got locked together and in order for me to open my mouth I had to break all my teeth. I am afraid of that dream coming true. 

What would the title of your autobiography be?
NickWorst Gig Ever
BenjaminNice Try
Mihi – Ben, I feel like yours would be called Do the Hustle
Adam‘He came, He saw, He Kicked Some Ass!’

Who should play you in the movie of your life?
NickIggy, but not the singer, my Chihuahua! I feel like he would do a good job.
AdamElliot Page. A good actor and sorta looks like me
Mihi – I feel like Dave Gahan would play you well too.
Adam – Dave can play me any time.
Nick – I could also go with Willem Dafoe or Rutger Hauer
Mihi
Frances McDormand – love her! I feel like she would get me. I think Rose Byrne is cool too.
Benjamin Benicio del Toro 

What’s your motto?
Mihi Nihil. Our name holds a meaning that serves to describe the very way in which our music is created. Mihi Nihil are 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.” The name represents our 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’s always in your refrigerator?
Nick – Pickles
Benjamin – Yeah pickles and hot sauce
Mihi – Yeah me too, pickles and some sort of chili paste/sauce
Nick – And Kewpie mayo
Adam – Turkey. For sandwiches! I have a turkey sandwich every day. I have one in my bag right now.
Mihi – Bottles of cocktail concoctions – like fermenting pineapple juice and I always have high-fat unsalted butter too.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
Nick – To enjoy cilantro
Adam – Motivation to be into fitnesssssss
Benjamin – I wish I was younger still
Mihi  – To be really well read

If you had one day to spend as you please without any consequences, what would you do?
Nick – Rob a bank
Mihi – And an art museum

What’s the silliest thing you believed as a child?
Adam – My dad used to say he put “summer air” in our bike tires
Benjamin – I used to believe new sneakers made me run faster
Adam – Well, I used to believe that my mom loved me and then she left. And I used to really believe that my dad had to walk up hills both ways to school in duct-taped shoes.
Mihi – I used to think I could get sucked down the drain in the bathtub. I also believed that tale that if you crossed your eyes too long they would get stuck.

What world record would you like to break?
Nick – I know which one I do not want to break: The hot dog eating contest.
Adam – I’d like to be the person who has traveled everywhere.
Mihi – Everywhere? Like even to space?
Adam – Yeah! Space….and Spain
Benjamin – Most guitars 

What was the worst job you ever had?
Adam – Folding newspapers at a convenience store in my town.
Benjamin – Cutting greens at a golf course in the Arizona summer. Even at 5 a.m., it’s 100 degrees. It’s so hot. It was the worst.
Nick – I was a busboy at a restaurant called Live Bait. Part of my job was cleaning the “ladies” bathroom. It was always the dirtiest, grossest place and always had tons of panties everywhere lying around. 

What’s the best and / or worst advice you were ever given?
Adam – A guy once told me that I would have to choose between being a musician or working with computers and I’ve always been able to do both. That guy sucked.
Benjamin – The same thing for me! Someone told me if I started my own business or became a musician, I should just plan on being homeless.
Nick – A record executive from Arista told me “fake it till you make it … there are no wrong notes, but there is off time.”
Benjamin – The best music advice I got was to learn the guitar parts I wrote and slow down!
Adam – The best advice I received as a musician was to listen … and don’t fuck your band members.
Mihi – The best advice I received was early on. I was about 16. John Denver told us to look at a song like a painting on a canvas and to view the blank space just as important as the paint. The space is what defines the shape and form, so don’t fill the space up! His manager KO told me never to call any musicians or music people earlier than noon. That was good advice. He also said it was very important to remember after a show to thank each and every one — the crew, management, venue personnel and so forth — personally before you leave. Other advice I received from John’s band was mostly about knowing how to choose the best alcohol to drink — high-quality wine and whiskey.

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Photo by John Conway.