Is Rhye the most romantic artist working today?
Take a look at his performance on NPR’s Tiny Desk from earlier this year, where he and his band sit around a ridiculous number of dimly lit candles, playing cool, low-key sensual R&B meets ’70s soft rock, with his gentle, falsetto soaring above the music. You will be in the mood. This video may be more Barry White than Barry White.
It’s not exactly indicative of his normal live shows, which tend to be much bigger, higher energy productions. But they can really vary, depending on the space he’s in.
“I make the live show a lot bigger, almost harkening back to an era of the ’70s,” says Rhye, whose real name is Mike Milosh. “There’s no formula I do every night. If it feels like it’s a very gentle crowd that wants to be a little more emotionally introspective, I try to keep it that way. If it feels like it’s a crowd that wants to let loose a little more, we try to let loose a little bit more.”
Even at his liveliest, there’s an easygoing quality to Milosh’s music. You can really hear it on his slow-burner sophomore album Blood. You can even sense it just when you talk to him over the phone.
“I think as a person I move at a slower tempo in a way,” Milosh tells me. “I don’t get that angry or stressed out. I’m definitely expressing much more sensual things with my music.”
His music has really developed in the past five years between the release of his debut album, Woman, and his long-awaited follow-up, Blood—which is a crisper, more emotive album. He and his band have played hundreds of shows, touring the world several times over.
Going into the writing of Blood, he thought about his band a lot, and thought about what these funky jams would sound like with his band playing them.
“I’ve gotten to the place where I’m writing thinking of the fact that it’s going to be a live show. I know what everyone is capable of,” Milosh says.
It was a completely different story when he wrote his debut album, Woman. Back then, it was primarily a collaboration between him and producer Robin Hannibal, and the music was made for the most part on Hannibal’s laptop. The songwriting is similarly R&B style love songs, but doesn’t have quite the tender touch of his new album.
As his project grew more popular, Milosh assembled a band for live shows and fell in love with the live experience of instruments.
“We don’t have any laptops on stage. What’s going on right now in music is a lot of people have backing tracks, so they’re playing the exact same show every night. That’s not what I’m doing,” Milosh says.
The relentless touring schedule that would follow was a result of issues he was having with his record label. They weren’t moving forward on working with him on a sophomore album. They only way he could release one was if he bought his contract back. To generate that kind of income, he needed to tour, a lot.
Oddly enough, the nonstop touring is what cemented his resolve to go 100-percent live. He liked, in particular, the flawed beauty of a real instrument that was typically ironed out on computers.
“One of my favorite sounds is the pedals of the piano, like right before you hit a note, you push the pedal down. I don’t want that out. I’m actually saying, ‘let’s put the mics in a place where we hear that,’” Milosh says.
The new music for Blood wasn’t even written during that mass-touring time period. He wanted to wait until he knew he was capable of releasing it.
“The five-year gap was kind of forced upon me. It wasn’t a lack of content or even a creative decision. It was simply fiscal—I had to buy them out,” Milosh says. “I was frustrated at the time but in the end I’m like, ‘You know what? Maybe it was the way it was meant to be.’”
When he recorded the album, he ended up playing a lot of the music, including all the drums, keyboards and lead vocals. There’s some collaborations with other artists, and some other players on the record. But he just assembles who he needs to make the particular song good, and then live he does the same.
“I think that’s why I’m not identifying what Rhye is to anyone. It’s like this entity,” Milosh says. “It’s me at the helm, but it’s morphing as I work with different people in the studio that have nothing to do with the live show. It’s very malleable.”
Rhye performs at 9 p.m. on Wednesday, July 25 at the Catalyst, 1011 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. $28/adv, $33/door. 429-4135.