Music

A Midsummer Night’s Dream: How Mike Milosh Is Reinventing Rhye

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The cover of Rhye’s new album, Blood, was shot in northern Iceland last June, just after midnight, with the midsummer sun still hanging over the horizon. Geneviève Medow-Jenkins jumped into a freezing glacial lake for a swim and the water was so cold that she emerged covered in goosebumps. The photo shows her drying in the midnight sun, her wild, dark hair pulled to one side emphasizing the curve in her naked back. While the twentysomething Medow-Jenkins may be the subject of and the inspiration for much of content on the band’s sophomore album, Medow-Jenkins is not Rhye. The man behind the camera is. The slightly mysterious, r&b musical project is in fact all Mike Milosh, the Canadian singer who first picked up the cello at the age of three and released several solo albums while based in Berlin — all before teaming up with Danish songwriter-producer Robin Hannibal to create soulful songs–turned–internet sensations “Open” and “The Fall” in 2012.

When Milosh first captured a candid Medow-Jenkins, his girlfriend of two years, he knew this shot was the one. The couple and a group of close friends spent a week exploring the Icelandic countryside after a Rhye show in Reykjavík, driving north for nearly seventeen hours, stopping at beautiful sites along the way. “[The image] felt right because it’s triumphant and it feels powerful, but at the same time it has all the beauty and gentleness of her female form,” says Milosh. “I felt like it just completely summed up what the record was about. It’s this gentle consistent soft power, but it’s still power, and it’s still triumphant.”

The black-and-white photograph also embodies the intimacy of the record. Blood is steeped in innuendo and rich in toe-curling descriptors, not unlike Rhye’s earlier work. After all, it was a candlelit video of Milosh singing “Open,” a song undoubtedly about the female orgasm, that went viral: “I’m a fool for that shake in your thighs,” he croons. “I’m a fool for the sound in your sighs.” The single sent the internet and journalists into a tailspin trying to identify the singer responsible for the song’s sultry vocals, often described as Sade-like. The similarly sensual black-and-white photograph on the record cover didn’t discourage them. It would take months and a New York Times profile ahead of Rhye’s debut album, Woman — released exactly five years ago, in March 2013 — to identify Milosh and Hannibal as the men behind the music. “I just think that the media came up with this idea that it was anonymous or mysterious and then everyone kind of ran with it, but all of the information was right there,” Milosh says. “My name was in the credits.”

A lot has happened in the space between Open” and Blood. Hannibal left the project before the release of Woman, though the pair remain on good terms. Milosh moved from Berlin to Los Angeles, fell in love with a girl, and toured incessantly — playing gig after gig in venues around the world — to try and come up with enough money to buy out of his unfortunate record deal. It was exhausting. Deep in debt, and with his marriage dissolving, Milosh began writing and recording the songs that would later make up Blood, starting with “Waste.” It’s the first and only song to address his divorce, “letting go of the past and then moving into the future.”

Writing the album would be a two-year uphill journey, making the stakes that much higher this time around. It all became real when Milosh had enough funds to finally buy himself out of the Polydor deal, and then signed with Loma Vista. Though Milosh never felt pressured to release new work: “I never really felt pressure per se.… I just kind of followed the path that I guess I’m just on and went with it,” he says.

Milosh wrote “Phoenix,” a cheeky and semi-erotic song about reinvention, shortly after “Waste.” “It’s a double entendre in a lot of ways,” he explains. “It’s reclaiming your sexual prowess, it’s reclaiming the right to make a record under the name ‘Rhye,’ it’s kind of overcoming the struggle of that.” It’s also the track that inspired a slightly different approach in setting the mood and sound for what was to come. Many of the same ingredients are there‚ and Milosh finds warmth in production. But he also wanted to make a more live-sounding, groovy album, fit to perform onstage. He played drums himself, and turned a former bedroom outfit into a real live band. At Brooklyn Steel two weeks ago, he opened the show with “3 Days,” from his debut, and spent the evening bouncing between drums and keyboards. “We’re going to try a song we’ve never played before onstage. We were like, ‘We’ve got to try and do this in Brooklyn,’ ” Milosh announced, before launching into “Phoenix.”   

Blood was made on the road, in between tour stops and in cities around the world, with pieces coming together in recording studios from L.A., New York, and Toronto to Berlin and Sussex, England, among others. When asked what sorts of things he was working through while writing these songs, Milosh says, “Allowing yourself to be open to falling in love, change, allowing yourself to evolve, letting go, and the reality of relationships, which is essentially making sure you’re always empathetic to the other person and open to what they’re feeling.”

“It’s in a lot of the music, that empathy, and trying to understand that two people come into a relationship with their own personal experiences and there’s always that allowing each other to be themselves,” he adds. “You’re not supposed to lose yourself. You’re supposed to allow the other person to be them.”

Which brings us back to the cover of Blood. It’s clear that a major turning point for Milosh — both personally and creatively — was meeting Medow-Jenkins, when he agreed to perform at one of her Secular Sabbath ambient music nights in L.A. two years ago. “I did that, we met, and we just kind of really connected on a very spiritual level. Not religious — like, our spirits connected,” he says. Secular Sabbath is essentially a two-hour improvisational set, musically speaking, with other elements of sensory experience added in, like massage therapy, tea ceremonies, or tarot readings. “We don’t know what’s going to happen and we don’t typically do songs,” Milosh says. The only exception was a few weeks ago in Mexico City. “I ended up falling into [the Blood track] ‘Song for You’ and I got the whole group of people to sing the whole song with me,” he says.

The singer describes Medow-Jenkins as a “wild woman,” who grew up on a mountain in Big Sur, and would be completely comfortable swimming in a glacial lake and posing nude for an album cover. Yet while she sounds like the perfect muse, Medow-Jenkins has also become Milosh’s creative partner; the two live together in the Arts District in L.A., and Medow-Jenkins travels with Rhye when she can, planning her Secular Sabbaths around Milosh’s tour schedule.

“We feed each other creatively and as result I write new songs,” he says. “She wrote the music video for ‘Song for You’ and then I shot it. We directed it together.” They have a few other music videos in the works, and shoots planned upon Milosh’s return to L.A. between stops. In the meantime, Rhye will tour throughout much of the spring and summer, a few weeks on and a few weeks off, while he and Medow-Jenkins try to make another one of his dreams a reality — buying a farm in Canada, where he grew up, and where Milosh can build his own secluded recording studio. They’re already scouting locations.  

“Song for You” was the last track written for the new record. It’s about Medow-Jenkins, as “Softly” and “Blood Knows” likely are too, in some way, though Milosh won’t disclose their meanings. “I was missing something like ‘Song for You’ on the record, but I didn’t know what it was,” he says. He loves playing the song live, particularly last in the set. “I love leaving people on a gentle note. I don’t love leaving people amped and ready to party. I love the idea of leaving people in an introspective moment,” Milosh says. It’s no surprise he wants people to feel things, and in the final song in an already emotional set, Milosh tries to drop in completely and give one more piece of himself.  

“All right, we’re going to bring this way down. We’ll end this softly,” Milosh says, before singing “Song for You” to close out the show. “I saw your tear fall from your grace/I fell in love/I saw that fear when you showed me that kiss/We fell in love/I’ll play this song for you…”

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