Rhye enjoyed a brief moment of anonymity back in 2012 after the group’s “Open” and “The Fall” dropped online out of nowhere. Those sparse, yearning, R&B-leaning love songs with Sade-reminiscent vocals came with few details about the band members themselves, but by the year’s end, the jig was up: Rhye was identified as the L.A.-based, Toronto-bred singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and producer Mike Milosh and Danish producer Robin Hannibal, also known as one half of Quadron. The duo put out its first LP, the understated though emotive Woman (Republic/Innovative Leisure/Loma Vista), in 2013 to much acclaim and hit the road soon after — only, Hannibal was absent.
“He doesn’t tour because he doesn’t play any instrument,” says Milosh, sitting in a hotel room in New York City a week before the release of Rhye’s latest album, Blood (out Feb. 2 on Lorna Vista Recordings). “He’s more like a computer-y kind of guy. So he was never a part of the live show.” According to Milosh, the road was not the only thing creating distance between himself and Hannibal: He suggests that contracts Hannibal signed as part of Quadron interfered with their collaboration. “He wasn’t even allowed to work with me,” Milosh says. “He made a couple choices that weren’t the best for him. He suffers from what I call self-destruction.” There were talks about bringing Hannibal back into the fold for the new record, but ultimately, Milosh went on without him. (Hannibal provided the following statement through his reps: “Mike and I formed Rhye together. We came up with the concept, the name, and the visuals and co-wrote all the music for our debut album, Woman, together in the spare bedroom of my Los Feliz apartment. At the time I had just been signed to Epic Records as a member of the duo Quadron and so was not legally able to sign to another major label, instead signing on as our project’s producer with an equal share. I’m very proud of Woman – it will always hold a special place in my heart. I wasn’t involved in the making of the second album, but I wish Mike the best of luck.”)
Milosh produced, wrote, and recorded Blood over the last two years in studios in L.A., New York, Toronto, Berlin, and Sussex, England. Hannibal’s absence goes unnoticed, as the dreamy and blissful 11-track project contains the same spaciousness, warmth, and explorations of the heart as Woman. The newness in this Rhye album comes through in the groove that runs beneath songs like “Feel Your Weight” and “Count to Five.” “I think it’s because I’m playing drums live on this record,” says Milosh, who also uses live synths this time around. “I love groove.”
In addition to the more rhythmic vibe of Blood, there’s a richness to the music that wasn’t there before. “It’s too sterile, the original record,” he says. “I like the live show better than the original Woman record.” Watching crowds move during his performances made him pay close attention to varying his styles, which is why the groovier numbers are balanced by gentler sounds like those on the breezy, romantic “Song for You,” the last song Milosh made for the new album. “It’s the one that made me know that I was finished the record,” he says. “I was really a little bit frustrated with the record until I made that song.”
On the other side of the emotional spectrum, the first song he wrote for the album — and one of its best — is “Waste,” a lush, synth- and string-driven remembrance of Milosh’s breakup with his ex-wife, Alexa Nikolas. “When I look at the whole project, that’s the only song that refers to me breaking up,” Milosh says. “It was like one of those slow-motion explosion breakups.” The rest of the record is optimistic, as he looks to the future and specifically to his relationship of the last year and a half with girlfriend Geneviève Medow Jenkins, whom he photographed in Iceland for the album cover.
Despite the fuller sound, the record remains quietly intimate, thanks to the anchor of Milosh’s breathy, ASMR-triggering voice. “Just me recording myself, I think is where I’ve come up with a comfortability with being soft,” he says. “One of the luxuries of recording yourself when you’re by yourself is no one’s judging you, so you can kind of go in any direction and no one’s staring at you. You can find your own voice — you know, the whole metaphor of finding your voice — and you can also find your real voice when no one’s around if you’re willing to spend time with yourself working and recording. You start to realize what works and what your notes are, what timbre works and what emotions come out with different sounds.”
The vulnerable tone he landed on serves him well in his music, though it has set up a strange expectation for what he is like in person. “I know I do an hour and a half of this very sentimental performance, but I’m not like that in life,” Milosh says in a smooth tone that matches his singing voice. “I’m not even that gentle. I’m weirdly kind of tough. Like if someone messes with me, I’ll punch you in the face. I’m not that soft. I used to play hockey.”