When we made Rhye's 'Woman' one of our albums of the year in 2013 it was evident that the work of Mike Milosh, was unlikely to remain a secret for long - despite the duo initially keeping their identities under-wraps. All the same, the incisive and intimate nature of his song-writing, and his brilliant vocal work, kept his work close and relatable. We caught up with Mike to find out more about his new work under his own name 'Milosh'. We talked about the success of Rhye, his latest LP, and the world that informs him.
You work as Rhye and under your solo moniker Milosh, how do the two names serve as different channels for your music and is there a certain freedom that you prefer working as Milosh?
Robin Hannibal and I made the [Rhye] record together however that was basically where Robin’s involvement ended. So since then the Rhye set had to become it’s own thing, he’s never played a show with me but I’ve played 91 shows by just hiring musicians. What it comes down to is that Rhye is me on the contract which means that I’m the frontman, I’m the person making all the decisions and it’s obviously the exact same thing for Milosh. But they are still separate because they are different sounds, a lot of that is also in the imagery. The thing is it’s changed now and that’s what’s interesting about it. Through all these live shows I’ve started to realise that the Rhye record, as a record and the live show, is completely autonomous, it is it’s own thing. As a result, I’ve been incorporating new Milosh songs in the Rhye set.
I suppose that makes sense particularly as the two outlets have a similar aesthetic.
Yeah it’s like, I write all the lyrics and I write all the melodies so it’s coming from the same being you know?
Totally. So do you prefer working individually or would you like collaborate more?
When I do things under the name Milosh, I usually take more liberties with production, wave-synthesis and creating tones. Where Rhye comes in is I will use strings and horns and stuff like that, keeping a lot more organic and I think that’s the big difference.
So with such a heavy reliance on synthesised elements, what does a Milosh set look like?
A Milosh live set is kinda always different. It’s sometimes me with a looper, it’s sometimes a person playing synth and person playing guitar and someone triggering drum samples. It’s weird I’m trying to figure out the best way to do it. Whereas a Rhye set is like a hammond b-3, a cello player, a violinist, clarinet, xylophone and live drums. I kind of see the value of merging the two so it’s not always just organic and not always electronic.
10 years since your the release of your first solo record, has your approach to making music or your influences changed at all?
It has definitely, music has changed unbelievably in 10 years. It’s just crazy. I still love Aphex Twin, I still 90’s hip hop like De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Pete Rock & C.L Smooth, Craig Mack and I still love Marvin Gaye but that’s stuff I’d started listening to around my late teens. I think what’s happening is that production has changed a lot in the last 5 years and the way you make a record has changed. When I made my first record it cost so much money, even lo-fi and I basically went broke to buy a whole bunch of gear to make record. Now, you can just buy a laptop and do the same thing, so yeah the game has totally changed. I like to look at it that I just keep evolving as a person who listens to music and just changes naturally.
So what do you think is the best way to absorb music in today’s climate? Do you rely on platforms like soundcloud?
No I’m not a soundcloud user just ‘cause I spend all my time making music, like, I spend no time reading and I spend no time enjoying my life! I might be a bit of a dinosaur but I see tonnes of value in people just saying ‘hey this is a cool’. I just don’t have the 12 hours a day to find music by randomly surfing only to end up disappointed! I mean there’s a lot of good music out there but there’s also a lot of bad stuff too!
So shifting the focus on to your roots: Canada appears to be a real central hub of great music. Do you think there is any particular reason for this and would you ever relocate back?
Well I never really live anywhere completely permanently but I’m actually looking at buying a farm in the country where I can build a recording studio. My wife and I live in LA, I like going to Milan and I like to spend time in different cities so I’m constantly taking in new things and experiencing different aspects of culture. I don’t want to be stuck in just one culture, there’s a lot of value in understanding how everyone thinks about things.
In terms of why there is a lot of good music coming out of Canada, I think there’s a lot of simple things about it. Montreal is a very affordable city to live in so you can experiment with art in a way you can’t in a city like London, New York or Paris. Art takes up an enormous amount of free time and you need to live in a city that’s highly affordable. All the best music seems to come out of underdog cities.
The grant system is also really really interesting in Canada. It puts an artist in a position where they can receive a grant for a project and they don’t owe the money back. I can tell you that I’ve worked in all the systems and what I’ve discovered is that artists even more now than ever are being hit hard on the financial end. These grants can get people past that moment where they’re making zero money, before they play shows and make a little a bit of money. I think that’s the make or break moment.
Something made more complicated in a climate where you can have tonnes of recognition but still make no money because all your exposure is online.
Yeah like you could have 10 million people listen to your song on Spotify but you might’ve only made 50 bucks. No one gets how expensive touring is either. I mean, I played four shows from Bergen, Aarhus, Calgary to Toronto and it cost over $30,000 in flights to play those shows. So this whole world of ‘oh yeah, everyone knows me on Spotify I can tour’ - unless you're a DJ and there’s no one with you it’s extremely hard to tour. I have approached it very entrepreneurially and tried to run it like a small business to actually stay afloat and I think that’s the only reason I’ve been able to play 91 shows in the past two years.
Your wife Alexa Nikolas was involved in the production of your last record, Jetlag, what do you think is important about her contribution to your music and music videos?
Well really simply put, I would say she’s a huge source of inspiration and that’s the most important part. If you’re creating music just to create a song, it’s not the same as being immensely inspired by something and moved by someone. She’s also a very very creative individual and she’s helped me out with a lot of things. She gives her input and I made the entire Jetlag record by her side. She's got a really powerful ear too. When were mastering the record she caught the compression ducking and I was like ‘wow, she has crazy ears!’
I came off the Rhye record with really polished music videos that have a lot of value because 6 million people have seen the video, but at the same time, I didn’t feel the artistic satisfaction over it. But when I made the video for ‘Slow Down’, a really simple lo-fi video, I loved that I 100% stood behind what we created. That has a lot more value for me than the hits on YouTube: the fact that I will forever feel really good about that video. The song channels a real situation that happened between us and creates an allegory for it. When I watched it back I got the chills and when you get the chills, that’s when you know it’s right.
Of course you have heard the comparisons to Sade with your distinct vocal tone, is femininity something you actively try to embrace and do you hope to encompass a feminist vision in your music?
It’s not really my aim, it’s literally just the way my voice sounds. I don’t go falsetto per se, like I don’t sing as high as Thom Yorke or The Bee Gees. I’m not a super high singer but I think the female comparisons come from the airiness of my tone. I’m actually super against the idea of ever trying to force a vibe, like I don’t try to aspire to sound like anything. I just try to be myself.
I’m the opposite of a misogynist, men and women add value to each other in amazing ways. Sex isn’t something that should be cashed in on and sold. When you look at the bulk of film industry out there, it is a very misogynistic industry and when you look at whose producing and directing films, it’s super male dominated. Music is very similar. When you look at the people that are curating the art, you can see that there is this huge bias. It’s an attempt to create an archetypal society that’s not real, when in reality the roles between male and females are so complicated and so intertwined.
When I wrote the song ‘Woman’, I just wanted to create a song that was a conjuring for her without lyrics. I’m often reading a lot of cult books and things about chanting and evoking the subconscious state so I didn’t want lyrics in the song. In my mind, there were all these words going on but in the song I didn’t want them to come out. I wanted it to be this straight emoting, calling for her. To then call the Rhye record ‘Woman’ wasn’t necessarily a logical choice to reinvent gender roles, it just felt right.
‘Right Never Comes’ is a symphony of softly-muted keys, meticulously arranged strings and minimalist percussion. Talk us through the aesthetic of your latest LP.
I actually wrote that song I wrote in like a week and a half, from writing it, to mixing it, to mastering it. I just knew I wanted to help promote the live shows, I didn’t want to sell it yet but the new record I’m working on is not necessarily sounding like that. The record I’m working is different but I’m really excited about it, there are songs on there that I feel really good about.
I have no idea how I’m going to put it out, I don’t want to think about that stuff yet. I just like to work on my own, show people the record and try and find the people who are passionate about putting it out. Making music is a sacred solitary act. I don’t need 20 people from a label telling me ‘Oh, you should do something like this’. I like to stay completely isolated and right now it’s just me. I brought in Thomas Lee (the violinist off the Rhye record) and there will also be woodwind on the record but in terms of collaboration I don’t know. I did a collaboration with Nosaj Thing and I loved the song, but I just don’t think it will go on the record. I don’t have a rule but I have a hunch that this record will just be me. I get a lot of requests to do collaborations, and I don’t mean to be a jerk you know, but I’m constantly turning them down because a collaboration has to be almost magical in its formation, not just organised by business people. But one thing I like the most is when there are tiny secrets in a song. When I stick to a conventional format that is more commercially palatable, it doesn’t have as many rewards over many listens. There will be secrets on this record and people might not even get where the secrets are. But for me, when I listen back it’s those moments that keep me interested in my own music.
Words: George Hemmati
Find out more about Milosh here