CityFolk: Rhye is all about spontaneous musical combustion


Michael Milosh started with a cello at age three.

His violinist father, John, wanted to expose his son to a stringed instrument at an early age.

Michael, it turns out, liked the cello and he studied it until he was a teenager. He started in Suzuki training and eventually joined the Royal Conservatory orchestra.

And then he rebelled. The way Michael Milosh chose to do that was to pick up the drums and hammer away in the basement. But notably he kept playing music.

That has evolved into a career as an eclectic musician whose take on modern rock and roll is pretty unique. He’s got a couple of albums that have drawn acclaim starting with 2013’s Woman (longlisted for the Polaris Prize), Blood (2018) and most recently the piano-centric Spirit, released in May, 2019.

These days his dad likes his music, but he will tell Michael “if there is anything rubbing the wrong way” Dad’s got  good ear.

The music collective that is Rhye features a seven-piece band including percussion, a Hammond B3 organ, guitar, electric bass and … oh yeah … a violin and a cello and Milosh. This large ensemble will perform at CityFolk Sept. 14 at 6 p.m.

Milosh was in Los Angeles when he spoke with ARTSFILE. He’s been in L.A. for eight years.

“I do fly around a lot. I’m quite a transient individual,” he said. “I go to Toronto a lot I go to Europe a lot.”

Typically, Milosh is eschewing the normal cut-an-album-and-tour-it routine.

“One of my philosophies around live performance is I’m not really holding to the tour cycle. I’m not just touring to promote a record. I believe the show is something on its own.

“Every night I kind of change it up a little bit. I call out the songs. We make changes. Sometimes we do it slower, sometimes faster, sometimes we add a guitar solo or we take it away.

“It’s quite fluid based on where we are playing.”

Basically, Milosh said, “I don’t want a job per se. I want to be in the moment with the music every night.”

He said his early classical training has served him — in a way. He says he might doing what he does in reaction to classical repertoire.

“I find classical music and the world of classical that exists today to be very staunch and very calculated. For a form of music that is incredibly emotional, the approach to learning it is very unemotional. It is hyper-intellectual.

“I am glad I learned all these things. I’m glad I have this concept of melody and what a suspension is in my mind.” He does pull from playing classical.

“I was never a virtuoso. I didn’t just want to be a cellist. I just liked the music. For me, when I make music, I do the opposite.”

In the studio he does work with strings but “I purposely don’t notate anything that I record. I sing all the string parts to the string players.”

Milosh believes the notation process existed so people could get down their ideas. Recording studios didn’t exist at the time.

“But it’s 2019. I don’t need to notate everything I do. I enjoy singing the inflections to people. I want to sing the way, I want a crescendo to happen. I don’t want to just write it in and have someone interpret it their own way. I want us to come with it together.

“I want to get that really drawn out feeling. I don’t think you can really write that stuff.”

In fact, he said, almost every song he has ever recorded has strings on it.

“The way I record strings, I don’t try to take away from the main vocal line, I try to support the main vocal line as if the strings were background singers.”

At the centre of his performances, Milosh said, is his voice.

“Everything is supposed to be there for the voice. I purposely don’t prepare my voice to sing. I just do it. I even write lyrics while I am doing the take. I don’t pre-meditate a lot of things.

“I also have a blueprint somewhere in my subconscious of what’s going to happen with a song. And I just kind of let it out. It seems to flow better that way.

“You don’t have roadblocks. You don’t overthink things and you don’t fall into the trap of hyper-analysing. That turns into an inner critic. I don’t even go there.”

When writing or creating Milosh said he thinks of a tone and a melody. The lyric comes second.

“It’s very hard to write a poem and fit it into melody. I’d rather write a melody and mumble words so I can hear what my subconscious is telling me. Then I turn them into words. I do put a lot of thought into words.

He says his live music is gentle and melancholic with “touches of psychedelic rock in a weird kind of way. I want all the colours of the rainbow represented in the live show.”

“I’m many songs into it.” Milosh has spent an intense six weeks in the studio and has made “about 28 songs. I will have to cut it down to 12. I have really be on a tear.”

In October, he will do three more weeks straight in the studio, honing the work.

“I like to make sure  song is at the 50 per cent done mark after six hours. I produce while I’m going so when does a drum pass that will be the drum pass in the song.

“It’s like building a house. You don’t put the temporary foundation in, you put the real foundation in.”

He says he has also been very adamant in the last little while that he doesn’t look at computers when he is producing.

“It’s made it way faster. I feel there is such a linear format with a computer. I don’t want that to influence the way that I look at making a song.

“I like to have my imagination engaged a bit more than I did.” He also has stopped using a metronome.

“I will start with a beat and make sure it’s all in time and then play to the beat. If you are playing to metronomes, it’s just a click That influences your mind in a way that’s inorganic — robotic.”

Where: CityFolk Festival City Stage
When: Sept. 14 at 6 p.m.
Tickets and information:

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.