Q&A: Mike Milosh Talks Jetlag, Rhye, Love, Travel, And His Future Creative Endeavors
Although he’s released three previous albums of sighing futuristic pop, Mike Milosh attracted his largest audience by far this past year by collaborating with Robin Hannibal as the airy and mysterious bedroom-R&B duo Rhye. That project’s delicate quiet storm became an underground sensation, which makes Jetlag, the album Milosh releases this week, a coming-out party of sorts for his long-gestating solo career.
As with Rhye’s Woman, the music of Jetlag is built around Milosh’s lush high-register cooing, so his signature breathy intimacy remains intact here. Yet Jetlag‘s aesthetic is a far cry from Woman‘s traditionalist swell, tending toward a more forward-looking sound that matches synthetic programmed production with the irrepressible romantic longing that haunts all of his music. Highlights “Slow Down” and “Stakes Ain’t High” recall Sigur Rós as much as Sade; album closer “This Time” is cut from the same cloth as the Notwist’s Neon Golden.
Milosh made Jetlag at home in LA with his wife, actress Alexa Nikolas. So it makes sense that the album gorgeously captures the warm domesticity of a night alone with the one you love; I predict this music getting a lot of spins this winter while driving home through snowstorms or piled up under blankets by the fireplace. But Milosh is hardly a homebody. In an interview last week, he expounded on his well-traveled history, the busy circumstances that birthed Jetlag, his close creative partnership with Nikolas, and the next project he hopes to tackle.
STEREOGUM: Hi there! Are you at home?
MIKE MILOSH: Yeah, we’ve been here [in LA] a little over two years now. We contemplate moves to places like Copenhagen and places like that, but as of right now we’re going to stay here for a bit.
STEREOGUM: The first thing I wanted to ask you about was when Rhye was emerging around this time last year, it seemed kind of deliberately mysterious. This time, obviously, you’re doing interviews and there’s photos and stuff right off the bat. Are you intentionally stepping out of the shadows a bit with it?
MILOSH: I don’t think of it as stepping out of the shadows because my first three records I never hit anything and I ended up having to do photos and stuff. There’s a lot of images of me on the internet if you Google my name. I’m definitely find-able. The decision to keep Rhye anonymous was rooted in a couple things. One, Rhye was a side project. Actually, I would probably even say that the main reason for it was because Rhye was a side project and I knew I was going to be releasing Jetlag after the Rhye project and I didn’t want to cross-pollinate the two projects. I knew I was going to be doing photos of myself for this so I thought it was too much to have both projects to be “Me, me, me, look at these pictures of me.” I thought it was nicer to release Rhye like that. It got put under some scrutiny because people thought we were trying to be coy because I didn’t really think of it that way. I can see how people would come to that conclusion, but it was totally unintentional.
STEREOGUM: That makes sense because you obviously have quite a bit of music released prior to Rhye. Jetlag is your fourth album, correct? That said, is it fair to say that this has been your busiest year as a musician?
MILOSH: Yeah. We literally went to 40 different locations around the globe performing Rhye. Portugal, Ireland, a couple dates in the states and doing that while also getting the Jetlag record ready. I went to Toronto a week and a half early to master this record. There was a lot of jumping around and a lot of hours dedicated to both projects. I would say most definitely. Especially because the two years prior in Berlin, I was pretty much doing nothing and just figuring out what I wanted to do musically. I’m always writing songs, but I was messing around and laying low and enjoying art.
STEREOGUM: Is the name Jetlag a reference to all that travel, or did you have the name picked out even before this year was hectic?
MILOSH: It’s totally in reference to all the travel. Most things I do usually have double and triple entendres to them and have multiple meanings. There’s usually one meaning just for myself and then I talk about the surface meanings. But Jetlag felt right because when I was making the Rhye record and starting to make the Jetlag record, I flew like six times from Berlin to LA in a six-month period and there’s never a time when you’re not jetlagged when you’re doing that. For me, it takes a good two to three weeks to fully click into the schedule of a particular city. There’s something weird in your mind when you’re in that state because you’re never locked to that time. You wake up at 4 in the morning or 5 in the morning because your body is still weird. For me, it takes forever to re-click in. I felt like I was constantly in a state of jetlag, in this weird kind of dream world where nothing made sense. I don’t know what’s your environment is like but have you ever been in nature for a long time or a place that doesn’t have a lot of light at night in the country or something? You feel how the moon really affects your emotions and how the cycle of the moon can really change how you’re feeling. And you lose some of that in a city environment. So with jetlag, you’re even more disengaged with the sun and the moon because your circadian rhythms are off and your patterns are off. That’s a long answer to say yes.
STEREOGUM: Do you feel like that dreamworld/not-quite-normal state of mind affected the creative process or the way the songs turned out?
MILOSH: I actually never verbalized it in that way, but you saying that really clicked. They’re really unchained to the grid or a schedule. You’re not thinking, “Wake up, eat breakfast, do this, do this, get lunch, whatever…” You’re unhinged in a lot of ways. And in Jetlag, there’s a very conscious attempt to make sure the songs didn’t have a specific structure that they follow. I wanted them to be unhinged, and I wanted each song to have its own world. When I was writing any of the songs on the record, I never thought that a song was going on for too long or a song was too short. It’s more like, “Did it feel right for that particular song?” and I just let my instincts guide the arrangement of the track. I just did what felt right for the song. I think there’s a relation or a correlation between being in that state of jetlag and being a bit unhinged and the way that affected the actual songs on the record.
STEREOGUM: That makes a lot of sense. Is all that travel hard for you? When I listen to your music, I get this sense of kind of a quiet, serene, really intimate home life experience and you come across as someone who really values being at home with the one that you love.
MILOSH: That’s an interesting question. I love travel and I think it’s one of the most important things people should do if they can afford it. I liked it Holland for two years and Thailand for a year. I lived in Berlin for two years. I lived in Montreal for two years. I grew up in Toronto. I’ve lived in a lot of places, and now I’m living in LA. There’s a really big broadening of the way you look at things when you live in different cultures and really see how people live. Not just go on vacation for a week or two, but meeting people and becoming friends with people from a different culture when you’re in that culture with them and not just LA where it’s different. There’s something really cool about understanding the cultural life of a particular area. On one hand, I really value travel but on the other hand I’m a pretty still individual and I like to be home and pretty mellow and I don’t like intensity. I like subtlety better and a more gentle kind of life and I’ve been lucky that Alexa, my wife, just came with me to all of the dates that we did. You don’t always get the opportunity to travel and not pay out of pocket since you’re touring, so we would go to Portugal early and get an apartment on the coast and we found an apartment on a cliff that overlooked the nicest beach that I’ve found in a long time. Then, we’d hang out for five days and then I’d play a show in Portugal. Then we flew to Ireland, and I left my band it Portugal because it was way cheaper, and Alexa and I just drove around Ireland for four days. There’s all these beautiful things to see there and I’ve been there multiple times touring and there’s a lot of places I wanted to show Alexa that are unbelievably beautiful. So we’ve been trying to incorporate travel with enjoying life and I try not to book too many shows where I don’t get time to actually take in the culture or the cities or the environment. I’ve been really strict about that, which means we don’t make as much money because everything with touring is like, “How many days are you playing and how many days am I paying for?” But I try to make it so that we can enjoy our lives and see a lot of really amazing places. I actually feel so strongly about it. The next video is for the song “This Time,” and it’s the last song on the album. We brought a camera with us and shot all around the world and I wanted to make a video hopefully to inspire some people to go travel and do some beautiful things. We filmed each other joking around in these beautiful places. We found this pond on top of a mountain and it’s not very likely that someone would know it’s there, but I would love to talk about those kind of things and hopefully inspire people to go out there and see some cool things.
STEREOGUM: You and Alexa made Jetlag together. Had you worked on albums with her before or is this the first time for that?
MILOSH: No, it was the first time. I made Jetlag from home and not in the studio. Just Alexa. So it was just natural from there. Like, when I was doing the song “Hear In You,” she was working on yoga poses besides me while I was doing the vocals, and we would talk about it. Ultimately, it started shaping the record because we’d end up have all of these conversations about it. Then she started taking up a much bigger role, saying, “You should add something there,” because I was doing all the technical stuff like mixing and playing with the tracks. She really played an interesting role in how she shaped the songs. She started gaining an ear for the technical side of things, and it was really cool to see her understanding how compressors work and how that affects each other if you have multiple tracks. She started getting a language for it and a taste for it. It was really cool to see her become knowledgeable in the technical aspect of it.
STEREOGUM: It sounds like there was a technical dimension to all of that, but it at least from the sound of the music, it seems like it would be an emotionally intense experience to collaborate with your wife on music like that.
MILOSH: It is, but at the same time it isn’t. We have a really interesting relationship. I think we’re the only couple that I’ve ever met that literally spends 24 hours a day together, and we both have atypical jobs. She’s an actress, and there’s a lot of time when she’s not working. And it’s the same with music. A lot of the time we’re just chilling out, and it’s kind of intense the way we live our lives. So we have to create a project together. Like we’re doing all the music videos for Jetlag together. The “Slow Down” video was her idea. We brought the camera and did two takes of it and we took the second take and that was it. It’s not intense, but we’re just doing that.
STEREOGUM: Yeah, that video was really affecting. The song itself was really affecting, but the video added something to it like music videos are supposed to.
MILOSH: Music videos are weird, man. They can just be a visual thing so people have a tool to promote the song. That’s what a lot of videos are like. What we’re trying to do with Jetlag is make sure that every video we do matches what the song is about. That’s why “This Time” is about us traveling because the song is about us enjoying that time of our lives. I wanted to show that as opposed to hiring actors. I thought it would be cool to just hold the camera ourselves and not bring other people into it. The only people that held the camera was our drummer that I have for Rhye, Jake, and her friend held the camera for a bit. We took a really different approach to it because the Rhye stuff was highly industrial and costly — intense amounts of money, a big name director for the second one, a dance studio did the first one, and actors were involved — and there’s something impersonal about that. Not to discredit what we do with Rhye, but I just wanted to do something different.
STEREOGUM: That makes sense. So what’s your plan for the coming year?
MILOSH: I don’t really plan that much. I just kind of see what happens. But I do have a schedule of things to work around. Monday, we’re doing a gallery show. My wife and I did all the photography for the artwork. Basically, I shot her and so I have the prints printed out 6-foot by 4-foot. I like printing and I like photography a lot, so I did like 50 prints of all of the artwork, and we’re doing a gallery event. If it goes well, I think we’re going to try to do one in Toronto and maybe one in New York, London, and I’d love to do one in Berlin. They’re not performances, they’re gallery shows, but I probably would perform at some of them. I want to tour the record for a little bit to see how much I can deal with performing the record because it is tiring. We’ll see what happens. There’s a couple collaborations I want to do, a couple artists that I’m trying to figure out the time for.
STEREOGUM: You mentioned that Rhye was very intentionally a side project. Do you guys think that you’ll do another Rhye record? Do you have any ideas about that?
MILOSH: I have no idea. No thoughts about it. That was that, we did that record. Now I’m doing Jetlag. But we’ll see what happens. I’ll be honest, there’s a part of me that wants to do a short film as my next big project. I know it will take a lot of energy to put together, but there’s something in me that wants to do that.
STEREOGUM: Is there a specific idea that you have for a film that you want to do?
MILOSH: Yeah. There’s an idea that I have. I really like photographing Alexa and then shooting video-type things. We’ve done a lot of jokey experiments, and I’ve probably done like 1,500 photographs of her. There’s something really amazing about the immediacy of video. There’s something really cool about it. But if I had my way, I’d be able to do a short film in the next ten months.
STEREOGUM: Last thing: Maybe you’re sick of hearing about this, but how did you feel about everyone thinking that your voice was a woman’s at first when the Rhye stuff was coming out? Did you get a kick out of that or was it offensive to you or what?
MILOSH: I don’t really get offended that easily. I think if you’re going to put music out there into the world, you have to have a relatively thick skin because some people are going to hate you and some people are going to like it. It’s completely out of your control. There’s no point in getting offended by stuff like that. I didn’t see or hear what people were saying because obviously I know I’m a guy and I don’t really hear that. Obviously, I know I have a soft voice but I don’t think it’s a woman’s voice. But it was funny. I thought it was funny and, at some point, I don’t want people to think that so we tried to combat that by having interviews where people actually got to talk to me and hopefully write about the fact that I’m not a woman… So it goes with that idea that you can only control making the music, you can’t control how people perceive it or take it in. People are going to have their own experiences with it. If that’s part of their experience, then I guess that’s just part of their experience.
[Photo by Alexa Nikolas]