Rhye's debut album 'Woman' seemed to emerge from the shadows, a marbled, sepulchral take on R&B's more ghostly inclinations.
Released with relatively little fanfare, the material grew to take on a life of its own, the sheer intimacy of the songwriting pushing fans to develop intense relationships with the music therein.
Cast into a world of intense touring, multi-instrumentalist Robin Hannibal took a step back, with Mike Milosh pursuing the venture alone.
Stepping back into the studio, he faced a number of contradictions: a deeply personal project that had grown to become universal, the increasingly size of the live set up stood in contrast to the separations in his own life.
Gradually, though, new paths presented themselves. Fresh ideas poured forth, a new relationship with ignited, and bold, inspired new album 'BLOOD' emerged.
Out now, it's a real wonder, an entrancing take on the sound that pushed Rhye to R&B heaven while allowing new sounds to settle.
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There was an incredible mystery around Rhye when you first emerged.
It wasn’t intentional. It wasn’t like I had this masterplan to remain mysterious. Number one, I didn’t even really know that the record was even going to do well. I had been involved with records before, and all of them had ended up fairly similarly. This was the first time I was with a major label, and I guess the system is a very different thing, and I didn’t realise how much push there would be and media attention.
I guess early on I didn’t want to be in a lot of photos, but not from a desire to be mysterious, more from a desire to avoid over-thinking it. I don’t know which publication it was, but someone wrote something about me being this mysterious entity, and it just kind of snowballed from there. I can’t really do much about people’s impressions of me, so… whatever!
And that allows you to focus purely on the music.
Focus on the music. Also, I played like a lot of concerts and it’s not like I hide at the shows. You can see who I am if you just come to a concert – I’ll be there singing!
Do changes in your life - like those experiences on the road - change the way you approach music?
In general it’s me recording. I started making music in 2004, so it’s always changing in a recording context. I think I’m always evolving as a person, I don’t want to be overly dogmatic and have one particular way I always work, so I try to allow myself space to change.
Within that I have various methodologies – like, I have very similar ways that I approach the vocals, and lyrics, and different elements of production, but hopefully I’m always learning different ways to approach things. I don’t start a track the same way twice. Sometimes I’ll use a piano, sometimes not. I think I’m always evolving and I’m not overly staunch in the way that I approach it.
Opening up onstage every night must be a daunting experience.
I think it used to take a lot out of me. When I first started I was shy, essentially… so being in front of people, singing, and not knowing if you like that… There’s a lot of things that you’re thinking of. And over time I’ve realised that if I just take the courage to be vulnerable, to just do it, then the shows end up being better and I end up connecting with the audience.
I feel I have a more rewarding experience as a musician onstage if I allow each night to be a little bit different and evolve. You don’t know where your emotions are going to take you, as far as you engage with them. To me, that courage… it doesn’t take a lot out of me, it’s not like I’m exhausted at the end of a show – in fact, I’d say I was invigorated by the shows, and I feel encouraged to continue in that direction. But it does take courage to do that.
Sometimes I have to get the crowd to be so quiet that I can actually sing with no microphone – and you’re talking 2500 people being quiet! So it can be quite a powerful thing, but that takes courage and courage builds up over time. It doesn’t come out of nowhere.
Do you take that vulnerability into the studio with you?
I guess the scenario is different, but the concept of being vulnerable – which is a very important thing to me – is very similar. In the studio I only have one or two people around me – if that – it’s a very closed environment, so when I approach the studio I don’t have 20 people hanging out and partying.
So for me, vulnerability is when you’re alone, recording a vocal and you can have a couple of songs, you’re almost crying, so let’s not go any further. The people around me kind of encourage me to be vulnerable. They also know that it’s kind of what I’m about, so anyone who is around me in a work context… They know that’s why they’re there, I think. It’s mutual. If someone’s in the studio it’s because they want to work with me, and they encourage that.
Onstage it’s its own thing, because you’re essentially saying to all these people: hey, can you listen to this very special moment right now? And that’s something different… It really is.
'Summer Days' was one of the first songs were heard from this album, it's a real jewel.
We talked about it, my management and my label, and looked at the whole record, and ‘Taste’ just felt like a nice bridge between the ‘Woman’ record and this record. It also feels like a doorway into this record – it doesn’t feel like the heart of the record, it feels like a doorway. A nice way to express what the album is about.
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As a songwriter, do you tend to focus on one song at a time, or is it more fragmentary?
Generally I work on one song, finish it, and then move on to the next. But when I decide to make a song it’s usually a couple of days in the making. I don’t work on it for two months straight or something, I kind of charge up with living, travelling, and then when I’m in the studio I’m pretty focussed.
The other thing is I’m writing from a natural experience that probably happened the night before, and that will be why I’m writing the song. So I feel really compelled to get it out in that moment, because I’m in that moment, feeling those feelings. So it generally happens pretty quickly. There’s little changes here and there. Last night I took out a part and make some changes just because I felt it ended the record better, sonically. Generally, I write a song, move on… write a song, move on.
Much of the lyrics are incredibly personal...
It’s straight up autobiographical. I don’t like to augment experiences and then almost come up with a story around it, that’s not really what I do. I don’t criticise folks for doing that, but for me I write from the experience, and then sing about the actual experience. Obviously, I’ve used devices like double entendres within the lyrical context, but it’s a very specific thing I’m singing about… always.
Performing live is such an intense experience, do you take that headpsace into the studio?
Yeah. I mean, sonically 100%. So for example, the choice to make this record all live drums… I wanted to make sure I got this beautiful drum kit, this ‘65 Ludwig kit. It’s the sound of the record to me, this live drum kit. When I’m playing all the parts I know we’re going to be using this kit as I don’t like using backing tracks or programmed beats…
It’s all performed, it’s all live. That was a real decision, and it became quite important because it was about the live show, I don’t want it to be like the studio so I leave a lot of room for the live show to expand and contract and change and morph. Sonically, they’re very linked. The same players are playing live as they are on the record. Sonically, they’re linked but independent.
One of the real standouts on the album is 'Please' - what drew you to that simple, unadorned sound?
It’s really interesting because there’s been a lot interviews of late, and one of the things that keeps coming up is this idea of being under pressure. Am I under pressure to release a follow up? I think a lot of musicians do feel that pressure. I don’t know, I kind of figured out this way in life to not be pressured. For me, pressure doesn’t come into things.
For example, in the studio it’s about using what’s in the studio and making things be very natural. The path of least resistance. The drums are always set up to record, no matter which studio I’m using. Everything is patched up at all times. It’s important to have an environment that will guide creativity.
‘A new experience, a new life’ - what makes this record so new?
That’s an interesting question. I suppose there’s a couple of answers. Number one: I had to buy out a deal to make this record. There was an option on a little label that I had to deal with in order to find this path. So I really felt a renewal as an artist in a lot of ways. I felt that I had to fight to make this record, it wasn’t like I was handed this opportunity.
It was kind of tumultuous, to be honest, and there were a lot of deliberations on my part. In the end we decided to go down this direction. That’s a big challenge, and when you go through a challenge like that it’s not just financial, it’s emotional – and the emotional part is probably even more difficult. You have to go through it because otherwise I’d forever be this bitter artist mad at people for making it difficult.
But that’s not the headspace I’m in, the way I view things. I almost accept fate, and just go with it. But there’s a huge sense of renewal about that. Songs like ‘Phoenix’ are pretty on the nose about re-birth or coming back.
Alongside that there’s discovering your sexual prowess. I went through a pretty intense break up before the record – that’s why the album starts with the song ‘Waste’ - but I fell in love with this amazing woman, just this incredible person… She’s who I photographed for the album art, and it was very important to me that she was the person on the cover, as I try to make everything very honest and very real… And not a product.
So within that there’s also the re-birth and the renewal, and the re-looking at things, feeling things. 100% is what I’m saying.
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'BLOOD' is out now.
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