Rhye Reflects on His 'Rebirth,' Talks Directing 'Phoenix' Video With His Girlfriend/Creative Partner
When he picks up the phone for a recent call with Billboard, Rhye's Mike Milosh is traveling from Barcelona to Ireland; after playing Dublin's Forbidden Fruit Festival, he'll hit the road again for a gig in Manchester. Thankfully for Milosh, he's become adept at dealing with change.
In the time between the R&B-leaning indie act's debut album Woman (2013) and sophomore project Blood (Feb. 2018), Milosh parted ways with his co-founding member Robin Hannibal, went through a divorce and bought himself out of his major-label deal with Polydor to release a second album under Loma Vista. He looks back on the tumult -- and how it made him a stronger artist -- with Blood track "Phoenix," the video for which drops today (June 5).
"It's very simply a rebirth -- there [were] a lot of changes in my personal life, and also the way I was structuring my musical life," Milosh explains of the song. "You put all of that together and it's such a change -- it's reevaluating how I'm going to approach the Rhye project, but it also highlights my personal life."
Directed and produced by Milosh and his girlfriend-slash-creative-partner Genevieve Medow Jenkins, the cinematic, stunning visual follows a group of women confronted by a "storm" in the form of an unexpected visitor. Deliciously eerie, with references to apocalyptic films, high fashion and Greek mythology, the short film tells Milosh's own story of rising from the ashes: "A couple of years ago when I was planning [Blood], it was daunting," he explains. "These are the rewards for actually following through."
Stream the video in full below, and scroll on for Milosh's thoughts on reconnecting with nature for Blood, life on the road, getting recognized in public and more.
What inspired the song "Phoenix"?
It was actually one of the early songs that I made for [Blood]. I made "Waste" first, and then I started working on "Phoenix." "Phoenix" was pretty much me working by myself, and I was having difficulty with it. I don't usually do this, but I just kind of let it go for a sec. Then, things had changed in my life -- my personal life -- as well. So it sounds kind of mystical, but it felt [like] l was fated to hold on a second for the song [until] the right things came to conclusion in my life.
In Greek mythology, the phoenix is a bird that is constantly reborn, rising from the ashes of its predecessor. How, if at all, does the myth fit in to the song?
It's very simply [about] a rebirth. I went through a divorce, I had to buy out [of] a record label to be able to make the second record. There [were] a lot of changes in my personal life, and also the way I was structuring my musical life. You put all of that together and it's such a change -- it's reevaluating how I'm going to approach the Rhye project, but it also highlights my personal life.
When you first started talking about translating that into a music video, what were some of those early conversations like?
Well, my girlfriend Genevieve [Medow Jenkins] and myself wrote the video. We were talking about this idea of a rebirth, and of rekindling my connection with something natural musically, because to me the Blood record is a lot more earthy as a record. I was really interested in a lot of the instruments being wood, and recording it in wood rooms. I was spending a lot of time in Big Sur when I was making the record, going back and forth to L.A., and being in a forest.
I grew up in Toronto, and we had much more [of a] tree environment than L.A. You get older, you start to return to things you were interested in when you were younger. When Genevieve started [writing the video], she was really interested in this idea that a woman symbolizes this return to something natural. And that's what the dancer is supposed to be -- the storm that shakes these girls out of an apathetic way of being. The video doesn't go to full-force transition for the girls, it just subtly hints that she's starting to awaken something in the girls.
What is your creative relationship with Genevieve like?
We have an ability to communicate without using words. She helps buffer if I forgot something, or I'm missing something. I'm really interested in this idea of collective abilities -- how two people can push each other a little bit. I think that's what's happening. And we've got a strong teamwork element to our relationship that carries over -- the "Song For You" video was the same thing. That was the first one we tried together. We really got to explore our working relationship with each other, because it was one of our best friends as the lead.
Where was it filmed?
In Malibu at a good friend of mine's house. We had one day to shoot it. We started filming at 7 in the morning and finished it by 7 at night. From a technical aspect, it was quite a challenge for me. You can't really miss any shots when you're only shooting for one day, even though the video's only four minutes. You can be starving for shots if you're not careful. You've got to maintain a Zen calmness while you're trying to blast through something.
Speaking of all the different shots, do you have a favorite?
When the girls are inside the house and they're kind of looking at [the "storm" character] dancing outside. Where the sun is, and the way it's kind of flashing on everything, the colors that we got from it -- even though it's a moving image, it feels like a still. My other favorite moment for some weird reason is the shot of the girl with the magnifying glass in the chair. I feel like it stays in your mind and hits you in a really beautiful way.
There's also a strong influence of high fashion in these women's outfits. What made you incorporate that?
I used to shoot a lot of fashion when I was younger, and it's something that's interesting to me, even though I'm not a very materialistic person. Our good friend Anna Schilling was the stylist [for the video], and she was a very successful model for many years. She's kind of amazing at it. Anna had personal relationships with all these designers, and a large personal collection that we were able to draw from. She's in the video -- she's the girl that's boiling the potato. It's a reference to The Turin Horse, which is a film about the end of the world, where the only thing they can eat on the planet is potatoes.
What's it been like touring and sharing your new album with the world?
It was a big decision to bow out of the record label to make the second Rhye record, and a couple of years ago when I was planning it and paying for it, it was daunting. These are the rewards for actually following through with it. I feel like we're at a place where people are starting to know about Rhye.
There's always been somewhat of a cloud of mystery surrounding Rhye, but I take it that's getting more difficult to preserve. Do you miss the anonymity factor?
The concept of it being mysterious was never the intention. I just didn't really want to be in press photos, because I thought we were getting to this point where everyone was really interested in the artist and not the music. It bugged me. Now, [I'm] being recognized a lot, in airports and restrooms and stuff like that. But I think it's fine because the crowd that we draw tends to be very respectful. I've had people hug me and start crying. People talk about how [the music has] been positive for them on a personal level, like a healing.
Have you had a favorite tour stop so far?
In Japan before we played, me and Genevieve went to these baths that were in a tiny town, and we were the only non-Japanese people there. Also Primavera, the [Barcelona music] festival, is one of the best festival experiences I've had just because the lineup is amazing. I'm really interested in adventure, so for me, I always try to plan in having experiences while traveling that are unique. If I'm in Iceland, I go for a week early, and we travel around and take photographs and explore.