How 27 year-old Holly Miranda arrived at The Magicians Private Library is a tale every bit as wild as the records otherworldly title suggests. Its a story of overcoming zealots and dodging mobsters. It takes in small-scale fraud and subterfuge. It wouldnt have been possible without Belinda Carlisle, Trent Reznor and one of the 21st centurys preeminent creators of sound: album producer Dave Sitek.
The story of the LPs recording is equally compelling. Made before Holly had a record deal, during a months sessions at the TV On The Radio mans Staygold studio in Brooklyn, it sees its makers starting at 7pm and recording straight through until 9 am. Every night. Holly picks up the story: "My rehearsal space was down the hall. Dave was sleeping on site. We slept all day, recorded all night for about three weeks. It was a pretty intense experience. If my prior recording sessions were school, this was like getting a masters."
The end result, as youve probably heard, is one of the most enthralling records of 2010. From the fantastical spell of "Forest Green Oh Forest Green" to the horn-laden atmospherics of "Joints", The Magicians Private Library is a record intent on taking you on a journey. Its a record equally in love ("Waves") and in dreams ("Sweet Dreams", "Everytime I Go To Sleep", "Sleep On Fire"), dark, bold and sonically ambitious horns & beats, MPC & strings, synths & bells & reverb, its all here.
Dave Sitek and Holly Miranda first met 5 years ago in New York City. "Dave was in the process of building his studio, next door to my rehearsal space and Headgear Studios (where he recorded the first Yeah Yeah Yeahs & TV On The Radio records). We just met hanging out the lobby. We became friends and Id bring him demos I was recording at home. Sometimes hed make requests for songs. It started with a cover of "God Damn The Sun" by the Swans. And then we went back and forth for years like that".
"There was an idea wed make an album together one day, but between our touring schedules and figuring out how to pay for it, it wasnt easy yknow? Eventually, when we finally made it into the studio, I had about 40 demos I'd recorded at my apartment, or on the road in the back of the van."
One of the songs, "Sleep on Fire," was inspired by a friend in the building who was asleep in his bed when fire broke out in the apartment below. "Luckily, someone was awake in the living room and carried him out," she says, "When they were able to get back into his apartment they found that only the spot beneath his bed had burned, had actually fallen through to the floor below. That image always haunted me. So the songs about not wasting your time here. Sleeping like your bed is on fire."
As for The Magicians Private Library itself, just where is this bewitching place described in the title? How can we find it?
"The Magicians Private Library could be anything and anywhere...." Holly begins, "But I got the title from my schizophrenic Uncle, my Dads little brother who Ive always been really close to. We were on a boat ride one day and I cued up Dark Side Of The Moon. It was the first time my Uncle--whod been in a mental institution since he was 23--had heard that album. It got to the middle of the record, yknow, the part where the guy is really laughing? And theres lot of background talking and I was kind of like...maybe this wasnt the best thing to be playing for my Uncle Ronnie. So I stopped and asked him what he thought of the album. He turned to me and said 'I think it sounds like the magicians private library!. That was 5 years ago now, and Ive always had it in mind for the album title. The record is actually dedicated to him."
But before Magicians Private Libraries, La Blogotheque sessions and Vanity Fair shout-outs, prior to support slots with The XX, Friendly Fires and The Antlers, in advance of rave write-ups in Dazed & Confused, the New York Times, album cameos from TV On The Radio members Kyp Malone and Jaleel Bunton - there was church. "I went to church, five days a week for 14 years," Holly reveals with a hint of a southern accent courtesy of her childhood, split between the state of Tennessee and her birthplace in Michigan.
"I wasnt allowed to listen to secular music. The movies were a no-go. I didnt have cable, I didnt have MTV - certain cartoons were deemed demonic - like The Smurfs! Motown was actually OK, because my parents had grown up in Detroit."
In a house where music was deemed devilish, Holly had to find other ways to get her hands on this particular contraband. It came via her older sister, whod established quite the racket ripping off a US CD subscription service (Columbia House) by getting free CDs sent to her house under pseudonyms like Belinda Carlisle. "My sisters seven years older than me so shed come home stoned and crash out, I'd go in her room with a flashlight and steal CDs to listen to...that was the first time I heard The Cure, Nine Inch Nails, Elvis and Aretha Franklin." Not that this arrangement lasted too long...
"One day my Dad found the CDs. He read the Nine Inch Nails lyrics about fucking the devil in the backseat of your car, broke that CD in half and made my sister go to a record store and sell the rest!"
Within a few years, a 16 year old Holly had decided shed had quite enough of Detroit and headed to NYC. She crashed at her sisters pad and started playing around the city. The good news: This led to her first record deal. The bad news: unfortunately, it was with the mafia, funded by their profits...
"I figured out I wasnt really signing with the label they said I was," she explains "and the contract they wanted me to sign was total bullshit. The lawyer THEY appointed for me advised me NOT to sign the deal! When I didnt, they told me that Id never work in the music industry again, made some threats... I went back to Detroit for a few months to hide out and started working on new music. That was a pretty eye opening first experience to have with the entertainment industry."
Having avoided the horses head in the bed treatment, Holly not long after formed The Jealous Girlfriends, ran into Dave Sitek in that hallway, goes solo, and well, you know the rest...