At home: Many of us have been spending our time here since March 2020. For Mike Milosh, head of R&B music collective Rhye, the word has taken on a new meaning – he has moved from life on the street to a more enduring idea of being at home in his home outside of Los Angeles, where he created his latest studio album . However, the sound of this record was conceived long before the pandemic: it started with the idea of wanting to record a choir, which led Milosh to invite the Danish National Girls Choir to come to the US to record with them.
“It’s hard to describe how happy it is to be with a choir, but I sing the notes and then they sing them back to me and then 50 people sing them,” he says. “And how, it worked. I think that was the craziest part. It’s probably the most overwhelming thing I’ve felt in my entire musical career, just hearing this choir sing that I wrote – and in the best possible way overwhelmed.”
Mike Milosh spoke to NPR’s Ailsa Chang about Rhye’s new album Home, which was released today, and how he has tried to deal with anxiety and stress in addition to creativity during that time. Listen to the radio version at the audio link and read on for an edited transcript.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Ailsa Chang: Why did you choose the Danish girls choir especially to sing with you? What about this group?
Mike Milosh: It all started because I did a concert with them in Copenhagen three years ago and they did this beautiful show with me where we started all night with just the choir coming in from the stage and walking through the crowd . There was that moment when me and Ben, one of my keyboard players, saw this choir and we both couldn’t … like, I couldn’t get any sound out of my voice. You’re almost like crying for the music. There is no emotional trigger; It’s not that I’m sad about anything in my life. You are simply overwhelmed by the beauty of the sound. At that moment I said, “I know I have to put this choir on a record.”
Your new album is called At homewhich feels to many of us the way it basically has been all last year, for better or for worse. I just wonder what did the idea of home mean to you when you made this album during the pandemic?
In retrospect, it almost seems mean that I named the record Home because I named it before the pandemic hit. I bought this house in Topanga, which is on the border with Malibu in the mountains, knowing that I wanted sacred, creative space. I am merging with creativity all my life. I don’t divide it up that much. My partner, we wanted a home that was very creative and a little bit removed from the city. So my home is the amalgamation of the ability to do what I do, namely to make music and take a lot of photos, make a lot of video, edit a lot myself. When we found this place, it looked like the perfect scenario for it, and it was.
Though you’re a bit removed from the horrific wave of COVID that’s happening in LA right now, one of your songs touches on another thing that made life in California stressful: the wildfires. There’s a song on your album called “Black Rain”; What does this song catch for you?
It was really strange: I didn’t really understand myself why I was singing that whole “Black Rain” thing. And then, very soon after, we got these forest fires and we literally saw soot fall from the sky and land on the driveway, and it was all over the windshield of our car and it’s on the roof of our house. It’s actually a really horrible feeling. [My partner] Geneviève, her mother, lost her home in Big Sur in a forest fire five years ago. it’s very triggering for them. These forest fires are really, really, real – they’re not just some distant mountain that you don’t know where it is. I think we called 911 three times about fires that we saw the beginnings of. And like me and Geneviève talk a lot about it, you have to somehow get your fear under control.
I want to end our conversation with the song “My Heart Bleeds”. There’s a line that goes, “Like it or not, we need to feel a change / Come together now / Like it or not, this place needs to move in different ways.” Tell me what you are saying
A friend of mine, Austin, who is on the song with me, his cousin was attacked. Like a racial crime – she’s black and someone stabbed her. And luckily she is fine. But it really bothered me a lot. The Rhye project, I always thought … it’s not a very political project because I want a project that is very inclusive. So this song, it just calls people to say we gotta be together. We have to be united. We need to appreciate each other and come together and move forward. It’s not hyper-politicized in the lyrics, but in my intent and feeling it’s a strong social message because the hatred that feels widespread in the US … is incredibly grotesque to me and I’m not trying to Add grotesqueness. I try to ask people to let go of it.
Speaking of forward, if you bring this music to the world today, what are your hopes for 2021?
They’re probably very similar to all of them. I want to be able to go to restaurants. I want to hug my friends and not worry about everyone. I really want to be able to visit my parents easily, without much tension or stress. Of course I want to be able to tour. I really want people not to be afraid of each other. It is necessary, but I would like to see the fear people feel how it dissolves and we return to a state of normalcy. And when we return I think the new normal should cherish these times very much, you know? It shouldn’t just be like, “Oh yes, we’re going to a concert.” It should be like this, wow, it’s amazing that we can see things again and be with people again. So that would be my hope.
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