When Robin Hannibal tapped Mike Milosh to remix a song for his electro-soul project Quadron, Hannibal was so blown away by the results that he invited Milosh to lay down some tracks together. Milosh, who’d been living in Berlin, flew to Hannibal’s Copenhagen studio, where the pair recorded “Woman,” and later “The Fall,” a lush between-the-sheets ode to love that emerged as Rhye‘s breakout single late last year. “When we were listening back, we were like, Fucking hell, this is so different,” Hannibal recalls. “It’s classical and traditional, but modern and minimalist, but full and rich all at the same time. Those two songs, in many ways, laid the bedrock for what was to follow.” What followed was Woman, the now Los Angeles–based duo’s debut album, a stunning set showcasing Milosh’s androgynous, feathery vocals and polished piano-brass-string arrangements that evoke Air, Sade, and even Bacharach and David. “I try to steer away from the commercialization or commodification of me, the singer,” says Milosh, which explains why he and Hannibal choose to keep their faces out of the imagery that accompanies their music. “I think Rhye should be its own thing: You hear it, you have your own experience with it.” And what a sublime experience it is.
How did you two form Rhye?
Hannibal: We knew of each other’s work before forming Rhye. Coincidentally, it turned out that we were on the same indie label in America. The label owner asked Mike if he was interested in remixing one of the songs I was doing called “Quadrant.” He did a beautiful remix, and I loved the parts he sang on because I really like his voice. We started talking about creating some music—this was two and a half years ago. Mike was living in Berlin at that time, and I was living in Copenhagen, so he came up for a week, stayed with me, worked in my studio, and just played around. We finished two or three songs, among them the title song for the record, called “Woman,” and “The Fall,” our first single. So it was very productive and just kind of grew from there.
Milosh: We realized while we were recording in the studio that we have the same work style. Then he flew over to L.A., and we didn’t know what to do with the project. Our label was like, “Would you guys want to do an album together?” and we were like, “Yeah, but we’re in separate cities. How do we do that?” They facilitated the Berlin-L.A. exchange from that point on. Everything happened on its own. I fell in love with this girl in L.A., who I’m married to now. Everything just came together.
How is your work ethic similar?
Hannibal: We both really liked each other’s music, so it was very easy to work with each other. It was very seamless, very fluid, and it just developed. What was so great was that we’re both very versatile. Mike’s a great drummer, so we’d start a song where he just played drums. Or it could be a production idea, or a progression of chords, or even just an idea like, “Why don’t we make a song rooted in this genre and see where it goes?” We took a bit of each of our aesthetics and kind of married them together, so we created this hybrid of the two of us that very quickly made sense. There was a conceptual idea about the sonics very early on that was very easy to follow and build on.
And what was that idea?
Hannibal: Well, the song “Woman’” is a fugue—Mike had that idea. I thought it would be interesting if we did it with synthesizers, so we made it into this weird hybrid of styles. Mike started chanting “woman.” There was just a vibe. I remember when we were listening back to it, we were like, “Fucking hell, this is so different. It’s classical and traditional, but modern and minimalist, but full and rich at the same time.” And the same goes for the song “The Fall.” It was me on piano and Mike on drums, and we were just jamming. It was so stripped down, just the two of us. Small ideas would develop into a full song. Those two songs, in many ways, laid the bedrock for what was to follow.
What’s the story you were hoping to tell with this album?
Milosh: I don’t think we were trying to say anything—ultimately, we were just playing. We enjoyed what we were doing, so we followed that through. And lyrically, we were just singing about things that were happening in our lives.
Hence the title of the album, Woman
Milosh: That’s how the creation of the record started. When Robin says that “Woman,” the song, laid the bedrock, it did create the spirit of the record. It’s very much about being in love, and being in love with a woman. It felt right to name it that. The song “Woman” is not a traditional hit, just chanting over a fugue. It’s subtle. I think it encapsulates what our feelings were at the time we made the record.
All of the artwork you’ve chosen for your releases consists of close-up shots of a woman’s body. What’s the fascination there?
Hannibal: The majority of the songs have a love theme or themes of sensuality or emotion. They were written from a male’s perspective, to a woman. Like Mike was saying, the imagery encapsulates the record: the woman, as a muse. In many ways, both of us moving to L.A. and being in love played a role—it was like the album was made on love. We started talking about using the woman’s body, which is beautiful but often portrayed in an overly sexual way. We thought it would be interesting to make it more abstract and show elements of the woman’s body that are extremely beautiful—for instance, the woman’s back, the woman’s hips, the woman’s neck.
Milosh: It’s really challenging to come up with album art, because you know people are going to associate that with the music. We talked about this really early on. I try to steer away from commercialization or commodification of me, the singer. Rhye should be its own thing: You hear it, you have your own experience with it. It’s nice if the first time I listen to music, I’m just hit by the sonics of it. I’m not thinking about what that singer looks like. Music is its own thing. We don’t have control over what happens in people’s living rooms. It’s supposed to be their own experience. We thought if we led with imagery of ourselves, it’d be counterproductive for the project.
A lot of listeners were surprised to discover who Rhye was. Your voice certainly fooled me, Mike. I expected some sensual, Sade-like female to be behind these songs. Were you surprised that people were surprised?
Milosh: No, because I’ve heard it a lot. I’ve been compared to Sade from the time I started putting out records. The thing is, I don’t personally see that or hear that. I don’t think my voice is feminine, I just think I’m soft. But it goes back to that idea that we’re not in control of people’s experiences, so if that’s what people feel and connect to, then that’s their own experience—and there’s something beautiful about someone having a unique experience.
Hannibal: If you don’t put yourself on the cover, people will create much stronger imagery and dream away. Which is what music should be. It shouldn’t be about the person, it should be about the art.
Where do you think music will be in 20 years? What would you like it to sound like?
Milosh: Music is one of the most important cultural phenomena there is because it actually creates a way of being, a common attitude. It brings people together, puts people on the same page, and breaks down borders. If everyone likes a song and they agree why they like the song, it literally becomes a meaning. Any Beatles song is an actual meaning now. I think where I’d like music to go and where it’s going to go might be different. I’d love it to be a very honest, sincere thing that holds true artistic value and becomes a voice of culture, not of each artist but of music in general. I hope there’s always something about music—something political, romantic, or whatever it is—that brings people together, and that they have a joyous experience because of it.