It’d be so very simple to confuse Rhye’s Woman and Milosh’s Jetlag . Rhye is a collaboration between Mike Milosh and Danish producer Robin Hannibal but both albums feature Milosh on vocals and are essentially companion pieces in lyrics sound and narrative. Both albums feature black-and-white images of a naked woman but there’s a key difference between the sensual shots: only one is of Alexa Nikolas Milosh’s adored wife and the subject of both albums. The use of an anonymous model on the cover of the highly celebrated Woman still haunts Milosh.
“It has always bothered me to be perfectly honest” he says from Berlin. “It felt really insincere at the time and feels even worse now. I would never do that again.”
It might seem like a hyperbolic response considering how frequently record companies use contracted designers and models to construct artwork. But Milosh is an obsessive kind of guy. All of the material surrounding Jetlag — which was released eight months after Woman debuted at No. 55 on the Billboard 200 chart — was created solely by him and Nikolas. That includes lyrics production videos and of course artwork.
But to truly understand the intense dedication to DIY one needs to understand the backstory of Milosh and his work in the duo Rhye. Hannibal a famed Danish producer (whose work was sampled on Kendrick Lamar’s “Bish Don’t Kill My Vibe”) and Milosh met through their shared label Plug Research (a company that has housed the likes of Flying Lotus and Bilal). Milosh was living in Berlin at the time and was invited to Denmark to record with Hannibal. But Milosh had devised a manifesto of sorts before laying down any of his buttery vocals.
“Something I feel really strongly about is to only sing about things that have happened in my life” he explains. “I really do hate the idea of creating commercial products or something that by design’s only purpose is to be financially successful. You have to wrap up the things that have happened or are happening in your life and put them into song for it to truly mean something in my opinion.”
By the summer of 2010 — when the duo recorded the first three tracks of what was to become Woman — Milosh was intensely in love with Nikolas. Both she and Hannibal were living in Los Angeles while Milosh was still in Germany. Rhye’s record label Innovative Leisure paid for the vocalist to fly back and forth across the ocean a total of six times for both professional and personal reasons.
The company’s gamble paid off enormously. Hannibal’s production expertise coalesced perfectly with Milosh’s vocals and knack for creating nuanced soundscapes (exemplified on his three previous solo albums). Horns and strings soared while Milosh’s silky yet assured voice whispered of his utter veneration for Nikolas. However the album’s tender themes weren’t just cheap tricks for easy sales.
“I know where my head is at and I just trust that people can really feel the sincerity of my work and not confuse it with something vulgar or a commercialization of sex” he says. “Actually in my eyes I sing about relationships in the records; it’s a much broader topic then just sex when you listen to everything. It’s also why we tried to create videos that steer people to think about everything a bit more and not be overtly sexual in tone hopefully stirring an emotional response in the person listening as a result.”
If there’s any remaining regret about the cover art of Woman it should most certainly be washed away with the accompanying videos. Nikolas has popped up again and again in films for both Milosh and Rhye; in one case a silhouetted Milosh croons to his wife in a candlelit room while another simply depicts Nikolas driving (in a black-and-white sequence no less) while tearfully listening to his “Slow Down.” In all cases his sincerity is overwhelming.
Milosh isn’t sure what the future of his collaboration with Hannibal will be; he cryptically notes that “I don’t even know what Rhye is.” But in addition to playing a handful of shows in Europe catching a Nils Frahm courtyard show in Berlin experimenting with some more collaborations and chipping away at a new solo EP he’s also working with his wife on yet another likely highly intimate video.
“I am loving what’s happening so far with it” he says. “I am making the video with her with the same methodology that I like making music: just let the creation take form on its own grow naturally as an experiment that starts taking shape like a sculpture that’s hiding in the stone.”
Rhye perform on Wednesday June 18 at Central United Church as part of Sled Island.