Mike Milosh doesn’t want to make pop hits; he wants Rhye to mean some­thing to lis­ten­ers

The Georgia Straight - - Contents - > BY KATE WIL­SON

West­ward Mu­sic Fes­ti­val per­former Rhye is ded­i­cated to cre­at­ing mu­sic with longevity rather than mak­ing a string of pop hits.

Land­ing a ma­jor-la­bel deal is most mu­si­cians’ dream. But for Mike Milosh, the man be­hind Rhye, sign­ing a con­tract with Poly­dor weighed him down for sev­eral years.

When the act be­gan as a duo, it was courted by ma­jors for months. Rhye’s del­i­cate, sul­try com­po­si­tions stood apart from the ag­gres­sive pop and R&B that dom­i­nated the 2012 charts—a fea­ture that sparked the feed­ing frenzy for Milosh’s com­mit­ment. When the la­bel re­leased its first LP, named Woman, the next year, how­ever, slow sales led Poly­dor to bury the project.

Af­ter much de­lib­er­a­tion, the Toronto-born Milosh re­fused to let Rhye fade into ob­scu­rity. Draw­ing on a clause in the small print of his con­tract, he chose to buy his way out of his deal and move on with­out his mu­si­cal part­ner, Robin Han­ni­bal—an en­deav­our that in­volved a huge amount of money. For­tu­nately for Milosh, Poly­dor had no con­trol over the cash he earned through tour­ing.

“I al­ways kept the tour­ing sep­a­rate, and treated it as its own busi­ness,” he tells the Ge­or­gia Straight on the line from a ho­tel in Tel Aviv. “I was start­ing to think that maybe I just should have changed my name [rather than buy­ing out the con­tract], be­cause that would have been way sim­pler. In the process of de­cid­ing what to do, I was play­ing so many con­certs, and pour­ing en­ergy into the project—the name and ev­ery­thing. I was buy­ing time while I was fig­ur­ing out how to get the money to buy off this op­tion. Then I had this mo­ment where I said, ‘Yes, I should def­i­nitely do this,’ be­cause I’d put so much into it al­ready.”

For nearly five years, Milosh booked tour dates around the world to play songs from Woman—a feat that, in the mod­ern world of the two-year al­bum cy­cle, is al­most un­heard-of. It was also a point of val­i­da­tion for the artist. Ded­i­cated to cre­at­ing mu­sic with longevity rather than a string of hits, he found his time on the road of­fered him a new free­dom.

“On one hand, I was sur­prised, but I also wasn’t,” Milosh says of his abil­ity to con­tinue to sell out venues with­out re­leas­ing new mu­sic. “Some­times I get these feel­ings in my life that what I’m do­ing is what I’m sup­posed to be do­ing. It just feels right. All the tour­ing I was do­ing kept feel­ing right. I kept play­ing places that were new, and go­ing back to see some fa­mil­iar places a few times. I went through a few it­er­a­tions of the band. I think I felt lucky, more than sur­prised, ac­tu­ally.”

His years on the road served as the in­spi­ra­tion for Rhye’s lat­est re­lease, the stun­ning 11-track Blood. Eschew­ing the elec­tronic pro­duc­tion of Woman in favour of live-recorded in­stru­ments, the artist was mo­ti­vated to cre­ate an al­bum that mir­rored the ver­sa­til­ity of his seven-piece band. Guitars, vi­o­lins, cel­los, trom­bones, synths, and per­cus­sion were each put to work in the stu­dio, build­ing tracks that are at once mus­cu­lar and frag­ile. Milosh’s an­drog­y­nous vo­cals float over the at­mo­spheric melodies, telling tales of love, in­ves­ti­ga­tion, and dis­cov­ery. Aim­ing for a record where each track em­bod­ies a new emo­tion, he hopes Blood has the abil­ity to con­nect peo­ple across ages and cul­tures.

“I be­lieve that mu­sic—more so than some of the other arts, be­cause we don’t have to speak the same lan­guage to get the feel­ing from the song—is a bind­ing agent,” he says. “I think it brings peo­ple to­gether. Cul­tural ex­change in mu­sic is prob­a­bly one of the most beau­ti­ful things. Of­ten you get to some­how in­fil­trate peo­ple’s lives in their liv­ing rooms or their bed­rooms or their houses, and bring peo­ple to­gether in tiny mo­ments as well, which is in­cred­i­ble and very beau­ti­ful. I could prob­a­bly go on about it for a long time, but to dis­till it to some­thing quite sim­ple: if you make mu­sic that has a fairly lov­ing and peace­ful in­ten­tion, I have this faith that it trans­lates, and it helps bring peo­ple to­gether in a very lov­ing way.”

Over the tu­mul­tuous course of Rhye’s ex­is­tence, Milosh has re­mained true to his ideals. As ded­i­cated today to pro­duc­ing qual­ity mu­sic over quan­tity as he was dur­ing his time with Poly­dor, the artist doesn’t judge his suc­cess by the tick­ets he sells or the num­ber of times his al­bums are streamed—although both met­rics are ex­cel­lent. Rather, his ded­i­ca­tion to the project is mo­ti­vated by the re­sponse from his lis­ten­ers.

“Even my man­ager isn’t re­ally look­ing at it [al­bum sales],” he says. “I think ev­ery­one who is in­volved with me is un­der­stand­ing that I’m not mak­ing mu­sic that will pop off. They’re not pop hits. I’m mak­ing mu­sic that hope­fully be­comes part of peo­ple’s lives for a longer pe­riod of time. It’s not about hit­ting a crazy tar­get. For me, it’s more im­por­tant to see that peo­ple are smiling or cry­ing,

or hug­ging. I see a lot of peo­ple hug­ging at our shows. That’s a lot more spe­cial than a num­ber.” > KATE WIL­SON

Rhye plays the Vogue The­atre on Satur­day (Septem­ber 15), as part of West­ward Mu­sic Fes­ti­val.

Great Lake Swim­mers’ Dekker sought some­thing son­i­cally new

Some­times chang­ing things up isn’t nec­es­sary, 2 but that didn’t stop Great Lake Swim­mers founder Tony Dekker from do­ing just that on this year’s The Waves, the Wake.

To lis­ten to the sev­enth al­bum by the beau­ti­fully down­beat On­tario am­bi­ent-folk unit is to con­clude that the sta­tus quo was no longer in­ter­est­ing for the singer-gui­tarist. Over its 15-year run, Great Lake Swim­mers has built a rep­u­ta­tion as the kind of band you reach for when the storm clouds are gath­er­ing in Novem­ber and you’re hun­kered down in a log cabin near Tofino, 100 Mile House, or the wilds of Cas­ca­dia.

In some ways, that still works for The Waves, the Wake, ex­cept that Dekker has cho­sen to swap out acous­tic guitars for in­stru­ments some­what out­side his com­fort zone, in­clud­ing marimba, har­mo­nium, cello, vi­o­lin, and harp. The re­sults are, as usual, stun­ning in a way that makes you long for the West Coast rains (or, if you pre­fer, On­tario snow­falls).

That the sonic re­cal­i­brat­ing of Great Lake Swim­mers worked out as seam­lessly as it did pleases Dekker, mostly be­cause there was a pe­riod when he won­dered what the hell he was do­ing.

“When I was writ­ing for the record, I was re­ally feel­ing a shift in per­spec­tive,” the laid-back On­tar­ian says, on the line from Toronto. “I think part of that had to do with new par­ent­hood and all that comes with that. I was re­ally search­ing for some­thing new, but what ex­actly I was search­ing for I didn’t re­ally know, and I’m still not sure. I do know that I went through this pe­riod where I re­ally had to get over this hur­dle of hav­ing a new per­spec­tive on my writ­ing. And while it took me a while to get over that hur­dle, once I broke through I feel like I re­ally tapped into some­thing to where the flood­gates opened.”

As Dekker hints, he even­tu­ally ended up with an em­bar­rass­ment of riches on The Waves, the Wake, draw­ing heav­ily on Toronto mu­si­cians out­side of his nor­mal cir­cle of col­lab­o­ra­tors.

“Do­ing some­thing dif­fer­ent on this record def­i­nitely took some work, for sure,” he says. “There was a lot of re­flec­tion, and a lot of deep think­ing. I think that ended up be­ing re­flected in the mu­sic. With the last cou­ple of al­bums, we’ve had this more or less reg­u­lar back­ing band, even though our mem­bers change with ev­ery al­bum, if you go back over our seven al­bums now. With this one, the Toronto mu­sic com­mu­nity—and ex­tend­ing be­yond that as well—sort of be­came the back­ing band as we ze­roed in on the in­stru­ments we

wanted to use. That opened up a lot of av­enues as we got into some re­ally in­ter­est­ing col­lab­o­ra­tions with dif­fer­ent peo­ple who were su­per spe­cial­ized and skilled at their in­stru­ments.”

Recorded in an old church, the record heads for pre­vi­ously un­charted ter­ri­tory right off the top, with “The Talk­ing Wind” marked with wa­ver­ing flute and soft-fo­cus clar­inet, “In a Cer­tain Light” built around back-porch banjo, and “Fall­ing Apart” spot­light­ing the re­gal harp-play­ing of Mary Lat­ti­more. Great Lake Swim­mers serves up pop at its most ethe­real and ghostly on the marimba-pow­ered “Hold­ing Noth­ing Back”, dives head­first into rat­tling ghost-town coun­try with “Root Sys­tems”, and even plays things straight-ahead with the sunny MOR pop num­ber “Alone but Not Alone”.

Link­ing The Waves, the Wake to Great Lake Swim­mers’ back cat­a­logue is Dekker’s con­tin­u­ing in­ter­est in ex­plor­ing themes of soli­tude, the power of na­ture, and how we all feel just a bit bet­ter when we find our­selves off the grid—with the bonus of no cell ser­vice. It’s no ac­ci­dent that the al­bum kicks off with “I’ve been talk­ing with the wind a lot,” from “The Talk­ing Wind”.

Asked if he wrote The Waves, the Wake some­where beau­ti­ful—like Tofino, 100 Mile House, or the base of Mount Baker—dekker sug­gests that some­times get­ting in­side your own head is as im­por­tant as get­ting away from it all.

“For this one, it was more about cre­at­ing men­tal space than phys­i­cal space,” he of­fers. “I can’t say that the record is re­ally tied to a par­tic­u­lar place. My jour­ney with this record was more of an in­ter­nal one than an ex­ter­nal one. If that makes sense.” The lyrics—filled with ref­er­ences not only to the wind, but also to waves—hint there were some dif­fi­cult-to-nav­i­gate times, which makes sense given that Dekker wrote the al­bum while he was rid­ing the won­der­ful, in­sane roller coaster of hav­ing a kid.

“I no­ticed that waves kept com­ing up in a lot of the songs, and that there were lit­tle bridges in the songs that pro­vided a sort of syn­chronic­ity,” he says. “I also feel that wave is a pretty loaded word, as is the wake, and then putting those two words to­gether works on a cou­ple of dif­fer­ent lev­els. Waves, the way I see it, is about push­ing to­wards the fu­ture, and wake is the trail be­hind which you have to nav­i­gate. It’s all about try­ing to find a place in the cen­tre of that, to find a bal­ance be­tween those two things.”

Dekker has done a mas­ter­ful job of find­ing that bal­ance on The Waves, the Wake, which has enough con­nec­tions to the past to sat­isfy long-time fans of Great Lake Swim­mers even while the singer looks to the fu­ture and moves for­ward as an artist.

“Mak­ing this record made me re­al­ize how much time I used to have,” he re­lates. “When you don’t have it, you’re like, ‘Re­mem­ber the days when ev­ery­thing was a lit­tle freer?’ But I couldn’t be hap­pier about the way that ev­ery­thing turned out. It’s been a great chal­lenge.” > MIKE USINGER Great Lake Swim­mers plays the Im­pe­rial on Septem­ber 21.

Rhye’s Mike Milosh (above) be­lieves that mu­sic is a way of bring­ing peo­ple to­gether; Tony Dekker (be­low) looked in­ward for Great Lake Swim­mers’ lat­est.

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