Mike Milosh of Rhye talks autonomy in the music industry ahead of Body & Soul
The silhouette behind sensual hipsters Rhye, Mike Milosh, has found his own answer to the woes of the current record industry climate; doing absolutely everything for himself.
“I even drive the tour bus. I kind of do everything. It’s the only way to sustain it, I discovered”, he says.
In the two years since the release of his major label debut ‘Woman’, he has been hard at work. A full-length solo album, 150+ shows and a host of musical experiences of varying sizes later, he is preparing for another European tour with a 6-piece band, which includes a stop at Westmeath’s Body & Soul festival.
However, unlike most bands of Rhye’s stature, he is doing so autonomously, without the support of a label; leaving the coordination of the schedule, the finance and even the tour bus in his increasingly capable hands.
“I’m kind of becoming a master of that. I know how to make it work, but it takes a lot of discipline. Some people tour and they run it negatively financially so they can promote a record. My view is different.”
One could have forgiven him for resting on his laurels; ‘Woman’ had seen his standing in the music world grow exponentially, with fans and critics alike. Branded ‘Best New Music’ on Pitchfork (the hipster stamp of approval), the album went on to achieve critical acclaim. Such is the power of the blog nowadays, it would see commercial success as well, hitting No.55 in the Billboard chart in the US.
But commercial success is not what it once was. Milosh found himself once again at the bottom of the musical food chain, a position he had grown accustomed to over the course of a solo career under the moniker of ‘Milosh’. “There was two years where I had like one pair of pants, because I’d rather buy a microphone than clothes”.
He realised quickly that he would need to find another form of financial recourse, as his album royalties took on a form of debt return, “To be perfectly honest I’ve seen no profit, no royalties from 'Woman', and I don’t think I’ve seen a dollar on it in terms of record sales. That’s as a result of the structure of major label record deals. The royalty rate is so low and the advance was so much that the ability to pay off the advance was just… it’s kind of like a really bad bank loan or a really, really bad mortgage.”
The album in question was a lesson in intimate and controlled songwriting. While it is composed of light, breezy love songs, it is more than likely the result of the same kind of hard grind that Milosh has taken on in the other aspects of his musical life, from running his tour to releasing his own records. He and his collaborator Robin Hannibal accentuate delicate vocals with sparse instrumentation, allowing space to develop between his frank utterances (“I’m a fool for that shake in your thighs, I’m a fool for that sound in your sighs”), speaking volumes about the most personal of experiences.
Six months after Rhye’s debut came out, Milosh set himself back on the path of self-sustenance, releasing his fourth solo album, ‘Jetlag’, on his own Deadly label. “I didn’t want to do the major label thing with it, it just didn’t feel like the right fit for that record.” While the album was significantly less popular than ‘Woman’, releasing it on his own label proved to be a more lucrative venture. “Jetlag hasn’t sold that many records but then I actually make more money on it than with Rhye”.
Now he finds himself running every aspect of his musical life (with the aid of a manager) - a Walden-esque figure, tilling his own field, creating his perfect environment for artistic creation. “You have to be self-sufficient in order to be able to accomplish what you want to artistically. That’s a very hard line to straddle and I think the best way to straddle it is to free yourself from financial burdens to labels.”
This self-sufficiency allows him to avoid the difficulties that tend to arise when business and artistic ideals come head to head, “To me that’s not what music is about, it has cultural value far and beyond that. And I think that when you have people essentially bean counting behind you, trying to push you to "turn a profit" it ends up dictating what the music sounds like in a bad way.”
This is not to say that he regrets his dalliance with a major label, which undoubtedly brought him a larger audience than he was likely to achieve on his own. He sees his experiences as ‘Milosh’ and as ‘Rhye’ as equally gratifying, despite the gulf in size, “Some of the coolest things I’ve done live have been both Rhye and Milosh, and they have value in different ways. I did a show in Sligo in a hotel room for like 20 people as Milosh, and it was a really amazing experience.”
“And then some of the venues I’ve gotten to play with Rhye have been unbelievable, I got to play in Massey Hall in Toronto, which is a hugely iconic venue. My parents' first date was at Massey Hall. So, it was really cool to have them in the audience watching me play there years later.”
He acknowledges that music often has to go through the rigmarole of a label’s promotional process to garner sufficient attention, he just hopes this can happen after the music itself has been completed. “You gotta make the music for yourself and then figure out if someone wants to look at it. Then once you get involved with people, you hand it over and hopefully you can trust that everyone understands each other on a PR level, because that’s where things can change dramatically. But at least the music is how you envisioned it and wanted it to be.”
But he speaks of a need for caution amongst artists in how they allow their music to be used and portrayed by labels, “The capitalist business model is dangerous, especially for art. People should try to be very careful and very protective of how they navigate through it. But everyone’s just so eager to get their music out, because you’re an artist and you wanna be heard, right! You’re like ‘oh my god I want someone to like it!’ It’s not always the best choice.”
Ultimately, he is aware that the line he has taken is not suited to everyone, and credits his personal success (in achieving at least the goal of sustaining oneself with music) to stubborn resilience, “I’m just so headstrong and so absolutely determined to always only make money with music, and I’ve been like that since I can remember. I’m a very stubborn individual.”
Autonomy, of course, requires a lot of individual grind and hard work. “Releasing something on your own, the problem is that it takes an incredible amount of man hours to do everything, because I did everything on it [Jetlag]. And you know, it’s hard to do everything.”
It sure is.
Mike Milosh plays Body & Soul festival Ballinlough Castle, Co. Westmeath. this weekend.