Mike Milosh is the driving force behind Rhye, the Canadian R&B project set to wrap up the Big Blue stage on the Friday night of this year’s Winnipeg Folk Festival. Milosh spoke with Stylus about his workhorse tour schedule and what he’s been up to in the five years between Rhye’s 2013 debut album, Woman, and 2018’s follow-up record, Blood. Read the full interview to geek out on hotel safety and microphone set up advice, and find out how you can help hype their Folk Fest Friday night set.
@BestWestern Our room was robbed overnight while we were asleep in it in your Chicago Grant Park. Even after the police took a report & confirmed the crime, we’re not offered anything for our fear, lack of sleep, or all of our stolen items. Not an ok way to treat customers.”
Stylus: Your tour schedule is very full and worldly this year. Looks like you’re pretty busy.
MM: Yeah, it’s pretty full. Yeah. And it’s been going full on since January. It’s been a busy eight months. I think
Stylus: Pretty busy with the interviews too?
MM: Yeah, we’re trying to space it out. It’s pretty hard to do interviews on show days just because of the nature of getting to a city, getting to a location, getting to soundcheck, eating food, you know, showering. It probably has to be limited to like one a day maximum, but then right now I’ve got a couple days off, so it’s like okay, let’s do it.
Stylus: Perfect. Thanks for fitting us in. I listened to the two albums, Women and Blood. They’re often somewhat similar in tones and melodies, but there are also a lot of differences sonically and emotionally. The albums tell different stories musically. I’m curious how you approached them differently in in a couple ways. First, the difference in the emotional narrative from Woman to Blood, and also in terms of instrumentation and production.
MM: Yeah, well, one, everything I write is from truth. Like, it’s from experiences that I’ve had in my life. There’s nothing that I thought of ahead of time, like oh I want to make a love song or I want to make an apology song. It’s not like that. It’s more like impacts on my life that I write about. So, emotionally, to me they’re very different records ’cause they’re coming from very different experiences.
They’re also five years apart with what happened. Like, what happened in 2011 when I was writing [Woman]. [Blood] I wrote over two years from a much different place. I went through a divorce, and had to buy-out the record label. I had to do all this crazy business stuff that I never thought I would have to do to be able to make the second record. It was definitely a very interesting journey. There was a tumultuous period met by a really beautiful period. And some of that is captured in the record.
“Waste” deals with just kind of saying goodbye to a relationship that just ended, and then the rest of the record is moving forward and that physical or personal transition you make emotionally. It’s a person redefining their personality and who falls in love with someone else.
Sonically, they’re very different. The first record was essentially a bedroom record recorded on a laptop but using real strings, a real harp and piano. Whereas the Blood record, I was very fortunate that my bass player acquired as a business owner a per cent of a recording studio in LA, and I recorded most of it at that studio.
I have my drum set up there, so I’m using that a lot, and when you’re recording in a recording studio, it’s a very different experience. Not looking at a computer screen a lot. You’re using analog gear [as] opposed to an LCD screen that you’re tweaking plugins and stuff like that. So it has a bit of a darker tone. To me it’s kind of a warmer tone.
The other thing is [that] I was really interested in wood and instruments that are made out of wood, so it has a wood-ier tone to it. I don’t know if other people pick up on that or not but I do.
I don’t know if anyone else cares what this stuff, but most importantly, I switched from a U47 line-in [microphone] to a U67 line-in. The first record was on a 47 which caters to lower singers actually, so you really have to EQ[ualize] it, and do tons of EQ-ing. For the 67 you don’t have to treat it as much as it kind of caters to my voice a little bit better. And it keeps a lot of that air tone. I could geek out on that forever but I don’t know if you want to go down that hallway But yes, it’s a more analog record
Stylus: Stylus is exclusively a music magazine, so we’re a good place for it.
MM: Then I can also express that I’m really interested in this idea about when people listen to music that’s really digital. I was noticing that people blink a lot whenever the snares hit or the high hats hit, you notice they’re blinking. And then you feel that it’s because it’s actually hurting their ears but they don’t realize it.
So everything I’m doing on this record is to kind of create like a comfort. Like you’re in a womb, you know? And the pianos, when you record a grand piano, one thing that I’ve come across is they can sound a little bit treble-y or harsh. So I would say every single piano part on this record has felt on the strings, or I do this technique where I put paper on the strings.
I went to university for jazz as a drummer, so it’s me playing drums on the record as well, but the big thing is I recorded the drums [with] two to three mics maximum. It’s very honest with the sound of the drums. It’s not tweaked a lot. Just the drums, a couple mics going through a pre-amp, lightly touching a DBS 160 compressor for a TG1 Chandler, and that’s it. And that kind of became the heartbeat of the record to me. And I know it’s an analogy that’s used a lot about drums, but it truly does become the heart of the record because that’s the beat, that’s the tone, that’s the tempo. I kind of center a lot of the songs around a gentle, kind of soft impression.
Stylus: Going back to your mention about people blinking to snares and high hats in digital music, it makes me think of a lot of the sounds in electronic dance music. I noticed on your Spotify that in addition to the songs from the two albums, there were a number of remixes. The stage you’re scheduled to close out Friday night at The Winnipeg Folk Festival is the Big Blue Stage, which is generally a more dance-able stage, so I’m curious what you’re intending for that set list. Do you plan to play a set list with a certain environment in mind?
MM: So what I do is I don’t actually make the set list until I get there and I look at the stage and I see what the environment is like and I see the crowd. I generally make the set list about a half an hour before we actually play. I look at the crowd and think ‘okay, what should we do?’
I won’t know what we’re going to play exactly until I get there. I kind of want to see the vibe of the people. I mean if everyone is just sitting on the grass and they’re all chilling out, I’m going to change the set to suit that. If it feels like people want to get up and they want to dance, then I’ll make it so they can dance, but I don’t want to just shoehorn my set into the environment. I try to listen to the environment.
I’m not sure exactly how it will go. Some of our stuff is much more rowdy, and as a result we play a little more rowdy. And then when we play Massey Hall in Toronto, for example, we’re very detail-oriented, very gentle, a little bit more ethereal.
Stylus: Okay. We’ll go by the feel of the moment. I only have one last thing to say, which is that I hope the Winnipeg Folk Festival isn’t putting you up in a Best Western.
MM: [Laughs] I have no idea where we’re staying as of right now. I’ve had amazing hotels on the planet and I’ve had the worst hotels on this planet. You know we got robbed in Chicago at the hotel that we were at. We’ve had some bad experiences. That was a bummer because my violinist and my bass player were actually sleeping and someone broke into their room and stole their laptop. It was actually kind of scary. But I’m actually looking forward to going to Winnipeg. I haven’t been there since I was a little kid, so it’s going to be great for me to see it.
*Interview edited for length*