For his sophomore LP, Rhye’s Mike Milosh took the hard road to soft rock
About a year after releasing Woman, Rhye’s 2013 debut, Mike Milosh began receiving unsolicited photos and messages from couples who credited the sensual, seductive album for soundtracking the conception of their children.
“My response to that is, ‘Wow, people are wanting to share that much about themselves with me,’” he says. “I guess I just feel honored that people are willing to express that this song helped to conceive their child. That’s a very special thing.” He laughs. “There’s nothing bad about that.”
But Milosh feels like it’s not really his business how people connect with his songs or whether they think he’s purposely creating “baby-making music.” He likes the concept of listeners taking something they hear and making it their own. “That’s the way I listen to music,” he says. “I don’t always listen to music the way it was intended. Once you put art out into the world, it’s not really your own anymore. People are going to interpret it, change it, have experiences with it.”
Woman was a love letter to Milosh’s then-wife, a silky blend of soft rock and slinky R&B and smooth jazz. Milosh, a Canadian who had released four solo, electronic-based albums before partnering with Denmark’s Robin Hannibal to make Woman, sings in an aching alto, so comparisons to Sade were ubiquitous. Songs such as “The Fall” and “Open” were overtly erotic; the intimacy was explicit.
Originally, Rhye was going to be a studio project, with minimal live performances. But the album’s acclaim and Milosh’s eagerness to tour changed that. Hannibal, who fronts Quadron, opted out, and Milosh assembled a touring band that included horns, strings and multiple keyboardists and vocalists; they spent several years on the road, taking the intimate music to increasingly large crowds. Translating Woman’s studio subtleties to audiences in the thousands transformed the songs and, in turn, influenced Milosh’s goals for Blood, the long-delayed second Rhye album.
“After playing tons of concerts, I started getting bored with the sound,” says Milosh. “I didn’t want every night to be the same. I started leaving room for improv in the songs, make them bigger, make them smaller. That really influenced the way I approached making this record. These songs have those possibilities in them, to expand and grow and maybe go a bit nuts at times, then drop back down to a vocal outro.”
Blood is of a piece with Woman, but the arrangements are starker and sharper. It’s restrained and subtle but rich with detail. The tempos are still slow and sensual, and the songs have a lot of space in them, but they have a lot going on, too. Plucked strings drop in; woodwinds bubble to the surface; a disco bass line locks in; an African highlife guitar riff crops up; a Hammond B-3 lends a soul/funk groove. Above it all floats Milosh’s lovely, sighing voice.
“Things sound minimal at times, but there’s actually a lot of layers,” he says. “Even a song like ‘Please’ may sound very simple, but there’s, like, 80 tracks in the actual session. I’ve really become comfortable with my voice and using it in this tone that is to me very airy, gentle. I’ve been exploring that more and more. On Blood, I really wanted to explore vulnerability.”
The road to Blood was a difficult one, littered with breakups and legal hurdles. Hannibal left the project immediately; Milosh and his wife divorced; because of contract disputes, Milosh had to use money he’d made from touring to buy the rights to make a second album, then find a label to release it. (He’s back with Loma Vista, the same label that released Woman, although the imprint is now independent.) But there was also joy: Milosh’s new girlfriend was his muse for Blood (he took the nude picture of her that’s on the cover), and after opening the album with “Waste,” a ruminative breakup song, the songs trace the blossoming of new love.
“Music or art for me is a type of therapy or catharsis—it’s a type of healing for me,” says Milosh. “I’m not a very angry individual; that’s not my nature. I’m not a mad guy. The way it comes out in me in the art is a lot more peaceful or melancholic or joyous. The melodies err on the side of beauty rather than an expression of anger or angst. I’ve always been drawn to music that’s more beautiful.”
That beauty is alluring, and Milosh isn’t entirely surprised that strangers share intimate moments in response.
“I’m oversharing, even,” he says. “I’m sharing a lot about my personal life in the songs. My whole point is that I want to bring people together with the music. Knowing that people are having these intimate experiences, essentially bringing them physically together, is definitely in line with what I’m trying to do.”