“Rhye is a black woman.”

Exclaim! - - TIMELINE -

Mike Milosh is in Lis­bon and finds him­self en­gaged in small talk with a woman. He tells her he’s in town, play­ing a show. She’s like, ‘Cool, what band?’ Rhye, he says — he’s the front­man. She calls Milosh a liar. He couldn’t pos­si­bly pos­sess the soul­ful, ethe­real, in­tan­gi­ble con­tralto Rhye is known for.

“She didn’t be­lieve that I was Rhye. She got mad and ran off to Google me,” Milosh re­calls. He saw her again soon af­ter.

“I Googled you. Rhye is you. But I still don’t think so,” she says be­fore storm­ing off.

Is­sues of iden­tity have been the story of Milosh’s life thus far. Rhye was sup­posed to be a side project, yet now it’s all-con­sum­ing for Milosh. Milosh met Den­mark’s Robin Han­ni­bal while on the same record la­bel, and they de­cided to work to­gether on mu­sic. Milosh is care­ful in de­scrib­ing his re­la­tion­ship with Rhye’s orig­i­nal col­lab­o­ra­tor; he’s mind­ful to give credit, not too much, and gra­ciously rec­og­nizes how Han­ni­bal was able to help crys­tal­lize and cod­ify the Rhye mys­tique. But Rhye is Milosh, Milosh is Rhye, and he is com­pletely be­hind the cre­ative reins at this junc­ture. “I just let peo­ple kind of run with that,” he says of the com­mon mis­con­cep­tion of Rhye’s iden­tity.

“[Han­ni­bal] made that first record with me,” Milosh clar­i­fies, “but he ac­tu­ally signed an ex­clu­sive deal with [another la­bel], and wasn’t re­ally al­lowed to even con­tinue work­ing with Rhye. And he’s not a live mu­si­cian, so he was never part of the live show. I orig­i­nally thought that Rhye was only go­ing to play about ten to 15 shows, but we ended up play­ing like 450. So the project took another turn and be­came this live act. He’s got his own stuff — he’s a re­ally busy guy — and I think what hap­pens is once a thing takes its own shape, it’s gone in its own di­rec­tion.”

The ini­tial mys­tery be­hind the band — who and what they were — was partly ac­ci­den­tal, some­what cul­ti­vated. Back in 2013, the sur­fac­ing of breathy sin­gles “The Fall” and “Open,” an an­drog­y­nous vo­cal and sen­su­ous vi­su­als stirred cu­rios­ity and in­vited com­par­isons to R&B singer Sade. De­but al­bum Woman was an un­der­ground hit that year, and Milosh and Han­ni­bal were ul­ti­mately re­vealed as the soul-pop cul­prits be­hind the tease.

Van­ity fac­tored into it some­what as well, Milosh notes, stem­ming back to his ear­lier days as a bur­geon­ing elec­tronic artist un­der his own name. “There are a cou­ple of fac­tors in that. I re­mem­ber one time I was stupidly read­ing in­ter­net com­ments, and peo­ple were com­ment­ing on the al­bum cover for [2006 elec­tronic al­bum] Meme,” he ex­plains. “Some­one posted that they loved my mu­sic, but hated my nose. And it re­ally both­ered me, like why does some­one care about my nose?

“It kind of made me feel in­se­cure, I think. And at the same time I mar­ried this girl named Alexa, who I’ve since bro­ken up with, but she had a lot of prob­lems with celebrity. I just started think­ing that I don’t re­ally want to be some­one that peo­ple rec­og­nize. I just want to make mu­sic — the cult of celebrity thing wasn’t im­por­tant to me. We were sign­ing with a ma­jor for the first time, and they are go­ing on about the po­ten­tial PR cam­paign and how big it was go­ing to be. I re­al­ized that it maybe wasn’t what I wanted. I didn’t want to get wrapped up in that beast — it kind of scared me, to be hon­est. I just didn’t want to be in all th­ese pho­tos.”

The mys­tery be­hind Rhye wasn’t a mas­ter plan, he in­sists. “There was this spec­u­la­tion that I was a woman, which I didn’t un­der­stand. I didn’t feel like I needed to an­swer to it at the time; I knew that peo­ple were go­ing to see me any­way, be­cause I tour a lot,” he says. “It was ac­tu­ally more com­ing from a se­cure place of like ‘I don’t want to be [in a] bright spot­light,’ to the point where the first whole year of shows, I was not even al­low­ing the front light on stage.”

Where Woman was in­ti­macy, sheathed, new record Blood is naked and raw. Woman pon­dered the neg­a­tive zone be­tween love and long­ing; Blood tra­verses it. For Milosh, emo­tion­al­ity is at­tained more strongly through mu­sic than in hu­man in­ter­ac­tions and events. “I think I’m mildly psy­chotic that way,” he pon­ders. “I don’t cry in real life very of­ten. If some­thing’s hap­pened, I’m not cry­ing in the mo­ment, I’m just ob­serv­ing it. And then I think about it, and then I try to re­flect in mu­sic, and then I start to get that choked-up cry­ing feel­ing. It’s al­most like I can’t feel un­less it’s through mu­sic. It’s re­ally weird,” he says. “There’ve been shows that I’ve lit­er­ally got­ten the chills, to the point where I started cry­ing. That is one of the best feel­ings in my mind. Ac­tu­ally, in that mo­ment, you’re like, ‘Wow, I’m a hu­man be­ing. I’m not a psy­chopath. I’m not a ro­bot.’ I’m feel­ing this crazy feel­ing from this mu­sic and it’s one of the most pow­er­ful things ever.”

Recorded mostly in Los An­ge­les — in the same stu­dio where leg­endary soul group Earth, Wind & Fire cut al­bums, he notes — Blood feels stip­pled with stark­ness, smoul­der­ing with in­tent, its recipe of cham­ber-pop, soul and R&B on sim­mer. Much like the bulk of Rhye’s ethe­real out­put, the al­bum ori­ents it­self by way of soul. While he worked with pro­ducer Thomas Bartlett, aka Dove­man, on tracks like “Please,” and King Henry for “Taste,” Milosh was the pri­mary pro­ducer on the project. “I’m very dom­i­nant in a stu­dio ses­sion, in terms of ‘This is what we’re do­ing.’ It’s a del­i­cate bal­ance, be­cause I don’t want to be a dick to any­one.”

It’s all within a re­spect­ful con­text. “Bartlett, for ex­am­ple, when I play with him, he’s re­ally good at just lis­ten­ing to me sing. He’s like, ‘Oh my god, that was great.’ I did this one line in the song ‘Softly,’ where I ac­tu­ally started to cry when I sang this word, and I had to stop the record­ing, and he just kept record­ing,” he notes. “I want peo­ple to be the best, and get the best out of them at the same time.”

But­tressed by plucky or­ches­tral tones, the over­ar­ch­ing tim­bre of the sound feels rooted in rhythm and blues. Rhye is billed as such: al­ter­na­tive R&B, boudoir sounds for the Sade faith­ful. He ac­knowl­edges it, but be­lieves it’s much more.

“I don’t have any weird neg­a­tive bi­ases against any genre — I see value in them all. But I’m not this crazy R&B head,” he of­fers. “I don’t have this mas­sive R&B col­lec­tion at home. I don’t have the whole Stax cat­a­logue mem­o­rized.

“I don’t hear [Rhye] as R&B,” he ex­plains. “There are things that I love about R&B that are in there — sounds that have in­formed things that I do, like vo­cal sounds. But I think there are also Gre­go­rian chants in the melodic struc­tures. My dad thinks a lot of Rhye feels like straight-up Rus­sia, that there are lot of things on Blood that sound like Rus­sian folk mu­sic.

“I love a lot of elec­tronic artists, par­tic­u­larly old Warp artists. But I also used to play a lot of jazz [and] blues and I did a lot of live shows with the orig­i­nal mem­bers of the Plat­ters as a drum­mer and singing backup vo­cals back in the day. Plus clas­si­cal mu­sic has al­ways been in my blood. It’s all mu­sic — you can bor­row from ev­ery sin­gle method­ol­ogy,” he says. “I’m just a guy singing.”

Milosh was born in Toronto of Ukrainian parent­age. His fa­ther was a trained vi­olin­ist and Milosh has been im­mersed in the clas­si­cal mu­si­cal world since he could walk. “I started play­ing cello when I was three,” he says. “I took to it re­ally fast and my fa­ther no­ticed. I started play­ing with my dad’s quar­tet [and] ended up play­ing at the Royal Con­ser­va­tory re­ally young.”

He’s versed in his par­ents’ cul­ture as well, grow­ing up lis­ten­ing to Rus­sian folk and tak­ing lessons in Ukrainian dance. And be­ing part of the Cana­dian mul­ti­cul­ture, lis­ten­ing to pop, rock, R&B, hip-hop and elec­tronic sounds were a part of grow­ing up. Ado­les­cence be­gat angst, dis­il­lu­sion­ment and the search for some­thing more — typ­i­cal teen stuff. He taught him­self per­cus­sion and kicked off a high school band named Eu­phoric Trance.

“I had this mo­ment of just be­ing dis­in­ter­ested with clas­si­cal mu­sic for a while. We were do­ing stuff like bat­tle of the bands at high school. It was re­ally 16-year-old stuff, but was re­ally in­for­ma­tive; it was when I de­cided that I wanted to play mu­sic for­ever.”

Af­ter study­ing jazz and elec­tro-acous­tics at Mon­treal’s Con­cor­dia Univer­sity, it was off to Europe to find him­self. He landed in Ber­lin and dropped a cou­ple of elec­tronic al­bums, as Milosh, on the Plug Re­search la­bel — 2004’s You Make Me Feel and 2006’s Meme. It was around 2010 when he con­nected with elec­tronic pro­ducer Han­ni­bal, who was on the same la­bel, work­ing on his Quadron project with vo­cal­ist Coco O.

I’ve lit­er­ally been bit­ten by a bear,” he says ca­su­ally. He pro­ceeds to re­call a litany of events that would have felled lesser mor­tals: a breakup with for­mer wife and muse; a vi­o­lent en­counter with a Los An­ge­les neigh­bour that left him con­cussed weeks be­fore a Euro­pean tour; the afore­men­tioned bear in­ci­dent; and another en­counter, when he was nearly at­tacked by wolves dur­ing a camp­ing trip in On­tario. There’ve been “a lot of curve­balls” dur­ing the last few years. Things that, in his words, could have been mildly dev­as­tat­ing. But the fact he’s still able to ex­press feel­ings via song feels right to him. “The first song on the record is called ‘Waste,’ and that’s def­i­nitely a song re­flect­ing the fact that [we] broke up. I don’t har­bour any an­i­mos­ity to­wards us break­ing up. That’s just what hap­pened. My life has got­ten, like, you know, re­ally beau­ti­ful and amaz­ing. I’d al­most rec­om­mend any­one that’s hav­ing trou­ble in their life that they find mu­sic, a way to ex­press emo­tions cre­atively where they can find beauty in their sit­u­a­tion.

“Noth­ing is go­ing to stop me from mak­ing mu­sic,” he con­tin­ues. Ul­ti­mately, Blood is his paean to hu­man emo­tion, to ex­ist­ing, to feel­ing through mu­sic. “I think I’m at peace be­cause I make mu­sic. I don’t think I would be if I didn’t,” he says. “Mu­sic has the abil­ity to make peo­ple em­pathize in a way that has mean­ing, that’s re­ally im­por­tant. I don’t think I’d be so os­ten­ta­tious as to be­lieve that I’m right about any­thing that I’m say­ing, but this is how I feel.”

Blood is a per­sonal state­ment, as all mu­sic should be. But larger suc­cess is al­ways on the radar. “Main­stream suc­cess, I feel I would love to achieve main­stream suc­cess. That would be an amaz­ing re­al­ity,” he ad­mits. “I could play a 20,000 per­son sta­dium — bring it on. I’ll to­tally go for it, and I’m ex­cited about it. [But] I wouldn’t dumb down the mu­sic I’m mak­ing to get there. So I don’t know if that’s the world that we live in.”

On an in­ti­mate level, mu­sic is about cathar­sis; on a uni­ver­sal level, it’s about sur­vival. In Blood, it’s about hav­ing the courage to be the ver­sion of your­self that you want to be. “I hope that the mu­sic in­flu­ences them in a pos­i­tive way to be that per­son. To un­der­stand it’s about re­spect for you, and for the peo­ple in your life,” Milosh says. “It sounds su­per preachy, but it’s some­thing that’s real. I’m not try­ing to cash in on some­thing or try­ing to be clever. I’m just try­ing to be hu­man.”

“I could play a 20,000 per­son sta­dium — bring it on. [But] I wouldn’t dumb down the mu­sic I’m mak­ing to get there. ”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.