Searching for catharsis with Rhye’s Mike Milosh

"It’s very important to share the beauty we experience in life and not just focus on the terrible president of the United States."

RHYE with HANNAH GEORGAS at Massey Hall (172 Victoria), Monday (March 5). 8 pm. $18.94-$39.50.

Catharsis comes up a lot when talking to Mike Milosh, the singer/songwriter behind the smooth R&B group Rhye.

When I connect with the Toronto-raised musician and producer, he’s preparing to shoot a music video in the desert outside Los Angeles and gearing up for Secular Sabbath in Laguna Beach, an ambient music series organized by his girlfriend, Geneviève Medow Jenkins.

The centrepiece is an improvisational live show with Milosh singing unstructured melodies, playing keys and looping effects with other musicians. There might be a tea ceremony, crystal bowls and massage therapists. Capacity is limited to around 50 to encourage patrons to “drop their sensory selves.”

It’s essentially a more intimate and experimental version of what he does with Rhye, a studio project that started as a duo and has evolved into a touring musical collective led by Milosh. 

“It becomes very cathartic, very special and very healing to sing about love, joy and sharing your life with someone,” he explains. “Those things are being washed over in culture. Everyone goes through similar things and it’s very important to share the beauty we experience in life and not just focus on the terrible president of the United States.”

After breaking out in 2013 with the debut album Woman, Milosh has released the follow-up, Blood (Last Gang). In between the two albums, he was not only writing and recording for Rhye and other projects but touring constantly, in order to save enough money to buy himself out of his previous record contract.

Rhye is returning to the road at a time of intense anger and dissatisfaction. Though the minimal, gentle funk of singles like Woman’s Open and The Fall earned the group comparisons to 80s quiet storm acts, he sees Rhye’s function as more than a lovemaking soundtrack. 

“I keep my music separate from the political climate, but that’s not to say I’m not affected by what’s going on,” he says. “Reading about white supremacists is incredibly disturbing. It’s important we talk about those things. I think my function isn’t to contribute to that talk. I want to share something much more beautiful and unifying.”

Blood isn’t a huge sonic leap from Woman, but a subtle refinement. There’s more live percussion, dynamic shifts in tempo and touches like handclaps that seem both born of and designed for the band’s rigorous touring schedule.

The subject matter draws on his relationships, though two songs – Blood Knows and Softly – he says he’ll never talk about publicly. 

The album title evolved from Milosh improvising melodies and lyrics at a friend’s farm in Caledon. The word blood kept coming up [in lyrics] and it bridged several themes in the songwriting: the concept of home and how blood shapes the human experience. 

“It’s also very feminine,” Milosh notes. “Women can relate to the concept of monthly cycle and the cycles that we all go through. It’s also connected to the concept of family and what you pass on from yourself to another.”

Femininity is a popular topic among reporters with Milosh. When Rhye first released music online, his soothing vocals were frequently mistaken as female. He inadvertently contributed to his gender mystique by backlighting his concerts so he appeared only in silhouette – a move initially designed to force people to put down their mobile phones and lock into communal ecstasy.

“When people are present, everyone is very communicative,” he explains. “You can see the wave of emotion rippling through the crowd at the same time. People get happy at the same time, people get sad at the same time.”

One emotion he doesn’t find relief in is anger. He doesn’t put it in his music or seek it out in other people’s.

But what about something that’s not so aggro, like Björk’s Vulnicura, but is an angry album about a break-up?

“That’s a really good example of something I do like,” he responds. “It might be that I don’t like stereotypically male expressions of anger. There’s something cathartic in her expressing her frustrations. That record does emotional work. The intention is to heal.

“To me, certain punk music or bands like Slayer can feel like an immature ‘waaahhh!’ – like an expression of anger without catharsis,” he adds. “Even if the anger is completely valid and there’s a point, it’s not my vibe.” | @kevinritchie

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