Interviews

Rhye Doesn't Do Covers or Drunken Party Music

Milosh talks his follow-up to 'Woman' and capturing life's real moments in his songs.

Helene Achanzar

Last year was a busy one for Milosh, the ethereal Canadian vocalist and producer best known for his work in Rhye. Not only did his falsetto-laden R&B outfit release their soulful debut album Woman, Milosh also released a solo album, Jetlag—whose title suggests just how busy 2013 was for him.

But Milosh doesn’t show any signs of fatigue on tour. At his recent Chicago show, when he wasn’t singing, Milosh spent much of his stage time grooving around the stage, jamming on a hi-hat and engaging his band like a smooth orchestral conductor. His setlist, cherry-picked from Woman and his solo work, called on the audience to assist with rhythmic clapping for “Last Dance” and got the crowd moving just as much as he was during “Falling to the Ground.”

The night’s most personal moment, however, came during the final minutes of the show when Milosh and his bandmates sang, without instrumentation or microphones, into a soft and slow fade. The hush of their unamplified voices, coupled with pin-drop quiet of the crowd, created the kind of intimacy you rarely experience at a show.

In the midst of Rhye’s North American tour, Milosh took a moment to chat about what’s next for Rhye, the often-made comparison to Sade, and why he doesn’t make “drunken party music.”

The debut album was very well received. Did that come as a surprise?
Yeah. I planned it as a side project. I thought I was going to play a maximum of nine shows, but now we’ve done 94 shows in the last 15 months. Now I’m shifting things from Woman to a live show. I’m making the show something different, so it has taken on its own life. Song are changing and evolving. I’m adding new songs to the set that aren’t on the record; they’re only for the set. I’m figuring out how to evolve it. That’s what this fall tour is about.

What are you working on as a follow-up to Woman and Jetlag?
I’m working on another solo record right now. I’ve had a lot of people reach out to me about doing collaborations, and I’m just trying to figure out what I want to do. I’ve had so many offers, and some are really talented people. I’m like, “Okay, what’s doable that I can still be passionate about?”

I’m making a hybrid between my Milosh and Rhye records. There are more strings. There’s more organ. There’s bass clarinet. But I don’t know how I’m going to put it out. I don’t want to talk to labels yet. I just want to work on the music and not get too business-minded. I’ll do my thing then I’ll figure the rest out. I’m three songs in right now.

What about your visual projects? The music videos for “Open” and “The Fall” felt very earnest and simple. Is there a relationship between that aesthetic and the choices you make in your photography work?
The music videos were basically Daniel [Kragh-Jacobsen] interpreting a passionate discussion I had with him about what I wanted to accomplish. Obviously, he’s an artist too, so he’s going to have his voice in there. Those two Rhye videos cost me $75,000 whereas anything I do with Jetlag, I’m purposefully doing something super low-fi. We got Lars Von Trier’s director of photography for one of them. It’s kind of ridiculous to spend that much money while my Jetlag videos cost me nothing. Like, actually zero.

I didn’t want to do anything high-budget because it’s not as honest. Someone is interpreting my ideas. I’m trying to balance making a commercial product with my Jetlag record, which I didn’t release with a major label. I didn’t want to do such a commercial thing. It was starting to feel really weird. I want to do all the editing myself. I want to find ways to integrate photography and music.

I did all the photography for Jetlag. I love photography, and I’ve got a lot of cameras. With Alexa, my wife, we just had a bunch of cameras in the car and shot the “Slow Down” video. The video for “This Time” is just footage of us traveling around the world while touring the Rhye record.

You’re very open about your relationship with your wife in your music and photography. How do you understand the tension between being too autobiographical and creating intimate work?
That’s the only way I know how to work. It’s why I won’t do covers. I won’t do other people’s music because if I don’t have the feeling coming from inside me. It feels like it’s just a job or I’m just singing to make money. I write about things that happen. Usually, something will happen and the next day I’ll write about it. In that sense, I can’t steer my career. I can’t say, “Okay, now I’m going to make a loving record.” I have to be in love to make a loving record.

I actually threw away a whole hard drive that had a 19-song album on it because I wrote and recorded it when was in a really depressed place. It was great that I recorded it, and it made me feel way better. I spent tons of time making the songs, and the production was complicated. I worked on it for a year-and-a-half before deciding, “This is stupid. I don’t want to put that energy into the world,” especially because I had this beautiful moment open up into my life that helped me reflect on the darkness. I didn’t want to share that music with people, so I destroyed it. I didn’t want it to keep following me. I didn’t want to sing those songs on a stage or keep reliving those emotions.

Do you always want to release music that’s hopeful or loving?
Yeah. There’s a lot of dark stuff in the world right now. There’s a lot of misogyny and objectification of not only women, but also other aspects of life. There’s a lot of sexualization for the sole purpose of creating a commercial product. I don’t like it. It’s terrible for people’s minds. It’s super dangerous for young boys to watch videos of chicks being treated like hoes.

I see a dark thing happening the in media right now. I’m like, “What does that mean? What does ‘Anaconda’ mean? What is it really saying to girls that are 17-years-old? Why are we not worshiping people’s intelligence? Why are we not worshipping people’s creativity? Why are we just worshipping a girl’s tits and ass and a guy bragging about his sexual prowess?”

This song I wrote for this fall tour, the lyrics are, “We’re building worlds with our minds/ Now we have to live in it.” We create the world we want to live in through what we put into the world. We attract, through what I call scientific methodology for gravitational psychology, people to us based on what we decide to be. We make choices, and those choices bring certain people to you. If you’re an asshole, you’re going to have a whole bunch of assholes around you, and you’re going to do asshole things. That’s why it’s important to ask yourself, “What do I want to contribute? Who do I want around?”

I’m interested in real moments in life, what everyone does end up feeling: falling in love, being hurt by people, having situations that are amazing, terrible, whatever. I don’t care about drunken party music. There’s enough of it out there. I don’t need to contribute to it. There’s not a lot of what I’m doing. Not because I’m special, but because labels push something else. There’s a lot of people making loving music; it’s just not getting out there.

While we’re on the topic of loving music, let’s talk about the comparisons that have been made between your voice and Sade. Other artists, including Jessie Ware, have also shared that comparison.
I didn’t think about it, but my entire career people have brought it up, even when I was singing in tones that were more affected and electronic. People thought I was a woman. I’m not. I just have an airy tone to my voice. That’s how I sing. I’m not a big Sade fan. I have nothing against her. I was never into Sade, so it’s funny that everyone thinks I sound like Sade.

She has seemed to inspire a lot of artists in the past several years who are doing electronic R&B and electronic soul. What do you think of the rise of this genre and what space do you occupy within in?
People love a lot of traditionally black music for its amazing vocals and really cool lyrics, and then people are learning to produce with computers. They’re using soft synths and recording with computers because it’s what they can afford to do. Studio work is so elitist. You have to have like, a hundred grand just to record a studio record.

The Rhye record has a more soul vibe, and my Milosh stuff is more electronic. It’s a natural thing that’s gonna come out as a result of laptops and microphones and people wanting to create music. I don’t think the development of the genre is intentional. It’s something that just makes sense.

But there’s also been some pushback from those who believe that what’s happening in electronic R&B is completely separate from what we consider traditional R&B. Certainly, if a genre doesn’t change and grow, it becomes obsolete.
Yeah, or it becomes like jazz. It dies. It becomes institutionalized or becomes a purely academic pursuit. Why be so dogmatic? What’s a genre anyway? Everything’s always a reaction to a thing becoming nomenclature. A thing is accepted until it becomes boring and people react to it. That’s how new things come. That’s why music is usually centered around youth culture - the youth accept the new movement while some 50-year-olds might be stuck in their ways.

But you can stimulate yourself and follow genres and follow how technology influences music. Chamber music evolved into classical because Baroque instruments could project so far, and then the technology changed so violins could fill a hall. That influenced the way people wrote music. They didn’t have to write for audiences of 20; they could write for audiences of 300.

So what can we expect from Rhye in the not-so-distant future?
I’m going to build the live show into it’s own thing. I don’t want it to be locked into the concept of Woman. I want it to be more like the Grateful Dead in that you go for the show, you don’t go for the album. The concept of Rhye is going to change into these songs I create for the night of the show, not just trying to recreate the album on stage. I want it to be a special night every time I play, and I want to keep letting it evolve and follow what feels right.

I want to write this new record, and I’d like to use all these new musicians I’ve hired to play with me. I really enjoy playing with them.

Are there any artists you’re not currently collaborating with that you’d like to?
If you could call Richard D. James from Aphex Twin, that would be so badass. If you could get him to make a song with me, I’d be like, “Let’s do that.” It would fun to do a song with FKA Twigs too. I’d just be curious.

Helene Achanzar is a very big Sade fan. She's on Instagram.