Milan Ring on her breakout 2018, new single ‘Step Back’ & her debut national tour
Sydney-based MILAN RING released new single ‘Step Back’ at the beginning of March – a sensuous track about “finding your internal light and resilience” and “brushing off negative rhetoric and not allowing it to shake you.”
As with Milan‘s fantastic string of singles in 2018 – ‘Unbounded,’ ‘2063,’ ‘Obscured,’ ‘Drifting’ and ‘Green Light’ – the true power of ‘Step Back’ lies in its subtlety, with a level of detail originating from Milan‘s work as producer, vocalist, guitarist, and engineer. With each single, Milan has been revealing more and more of her keen ear for idiosyncratic RnB and soul, displaying an impressive versatility in vocal style and instrumentation. Having just announced her debut headline national tour, it seems that Milan is poised to make even bigger waves this year.
I had the great pleasure of linking up with her last week, speaking at length on her process, her work so far, and what’s on the horizon.
Thanks for taking the time to speak with us today, Milan, and congrats on a really wonderful 2018. You released a string of great singles, played the biggest shows you’ve done so far, and worked on some great stuff I’m sure. How are you feeling at the moment?
Thank you! I’m feeling really positive, and grateful for where I’m at and where things are going. I’m excited about a lot of things we have in the works, especially for this headline tour. It’s my first one and I’m working on a few new things for it.
Congrats on booking your first national tour as well, that’s such a milestone.
Yeah, I’m stoked!
You’ve just come away from performing at Pitch and Panama festivals this weekend just passed. How was your experience of those festivals?
I really liked them. Panama was so beautiful. That was my first show in Tasmania and everyone was lovely. It was such a warm crowd, and a beautiful vibe. Everyone who runs the festival was lovely.
I’m originally from Tasmania so I know how nice the Panama crew are. People go to that festival for the right reasons, you know?
I feel like it’s set the bar for me, haha. It ran so smoothly, there was no stress. Going from festival to festival from rural Victoria to Tasmania the day after was so chill.
That’s good to hear. I’ve heard some nightmare stories about back to back festival sets.
Yeah, that’s what you hear. I love to be over-prepared, always ready to jump onstage.
I’m intrigued by the fact that you perform solo a lot. Is that a conscious choice or one of necessity?
It was a conscious choice. I just thought I’d experiment. I’ve adapted each song and each one has a different roll-out in how I play it, like loops versus samples and triggers. I gave solo performance a go and got a really good reaction from people and thought, “Maybe I’ll do this for a while.” I’m still experimenting with adding other instruments to it, but I suppose the core fundamental thing with it is me as a singer and guitarist and a producer being able to showcase that element of what I do.
I’ll keep experimenting with different configurations, keeping it fresh for myself and for other people as well. I enjoy it a lot, and it’s good knowing I can rely on myself. I’ve changed things a lot which might be overwhelming for a lot of musicians. Every set I do is different.I like to change things up on the spot a lot. I have to work with musicians who are adaptable to that, which I have done.
It is really hard to find musicians who can stick around long enough to get your sound, and intuit what you’re going to do… Who get your creative decisions.
It takes so long to develop those relationships! I totally get making the choice to see if that happens but not have to rely on that as well.
I think that’s the big thing for me – if my drummer is sick, does that mean I can’t do the gig? No! No matter what, I’ve got this, I’m accountable and responsible. Everyone else is just adding extra flavours.
That’s a great way to put it. In terms of live looping, singing, playing guitar, triggering sounds, and then engaging a crowd as well… That’s a lot for someone to do by themselves, especially in a high pressure environment like a festival. How do you translate your studio productions to live shows?
Well, first I decided not to use my laptop on stage. Because I get so technical, and I love mixing – bringing all of the plug-ins and getting super analytical – I feel like having my laptop on stage will bring my analytical brain with me too much. I feel like it would take away from my ability to engage with the crowd, to sing and talk.
Basically I do a bit of pre-planning, thinking about how I’ll build the song if I want to loop it, or maybe if there’s a point in the set where I want to drop the beat and just play guitar. It’s very involved, with a lot of trial-and-error. Usually I get everything down before bumping things out, and because I’m used to these tools, it’s relatively quick and easy. Then it’s the arrangement.
It takes a lot of time, but I like it. When I finally export all the samples, and I hit play and it’s working and looping in time, it’s so satisfying. Often I’m doing that hours before my set, because I’ve changed something. I keep my life on edge haha!
With each single last year, and now with the release of your new single ‘Step Back,’ it feels like you’ve really come into a style of your own. Not to say that the style wasn’t there beforehand of course – there’s definite through-lines in your work now to say, Venus Fly Trap. In this last year of singles, it feels like this sonic world has properly manifested. How did these songs come about?
Thank you! In terms of how they came about, they’re all different, and I’m always continuing to experiment and find my sound. I think part of the biggest leap was not only my production but my mixing, because I’ve always had a particular sound I want to achieve, a particular space I want to have in the instrumentation of my sound. That takes a few years, and it’s still happening. It’s a lifelong journey, really, but I feel like I jumped to the next level of it sounding more professional.
Venus Fly Trap was a great facilitator for that because I mixed and mastered that, and I was pretty happy with the sonics in that project but felt I could get it even better. These songs now have been given the light and care I felt that they deserved, that’s why I didn’t want to rush them out the years before. I feel like each one has their own sound, their own little world, but using the same space to mix from would help them be similar.
They all sound part of the same world and consistent. It’s really interesting to hear you say that happened in the mixing stage, because I think so many people agonise over it in the writing stage.
Yeah, I definitely try to think about as little as possible in the writing stage, with as few preconceived ideas as possible. Not “This one did well, so I’ll write it like this one!” I don’t like that side of it…I just want to make sounds, go with the flow of what resonates, see how far I get with it, and see if it’s something to release, or to keep in my ever-expanding demo folder.
That kind of intuitive approach to songwriting, makes a lot of sense, because you’re drawing upon soul and R&B, which are “looser” styles of music, at least in terms of composition. A lot of the best music from those traditions came out of informal session writing. You can get really bogged down in overthinking songwriting.
It’s a different world, definitely. You can go into the formulaic pop world, where there are methods and they work, and they make a lot of money, but it’s not really where I feel happiest. I’ve experimented and done sessions like that, but I don’t really care for it.
Well if it’s not you, it’s not you. It feels as though there’s been a step-up in the exposure you’ve been getting in this last year, that’s culminating in this new single and the national tour. How do you think your practice has changed with that exposure, over the course of last year?
The biggest change was stepping out as this one-woman show, and then all last year I was gigging consistently. December 2017 was my first original gig in years. I’d released other music, but I wasn’t really performing. I had no management or booking agent at that point, I was just putting things out on my own label. I put ‘Unbounded,’ then put out ‘2063,’ slowly getting more support slots. Then I met my booking agent, and getting ready to put ‘Obscured’ out I met Astral People and started working with them.
All of these things came from gigging. Getting yourself out there is so important. For me, I strategically held myself back because I wanted to be set-up in production and engineering, I wanted to be ready. I could have been gigging earlier, but it all happens in its own time.
Your style is one of the centrepieces of your work, its versatility is a real driving force. How do you think your vocal style in particular has developed over the years?
I think it just does its own thing really. I record and produce my own vocals, and really like doing that—I often write while I’m doing that, experimenting with harmonies and backgrounds and then just perfecting the leads. I think that experimentation definitely makes you very aware of your voice and its capabilities. I have these different voices, like guttural or head voice, these different ways to use your throat and your diaphragm.
The more I record and listen to myself, the more I’m aware of myself and can use that. And also performing and gigging has changed it a lot—like I give more in certain places live, which makes me more emotive and performative in the studio, singing how I would do it on stage. I’m always inspired by so many other artists, and everything seeps in somehow. The more I work on my guitar playing changes my voice too, thinking about lead guitar lines on the voice.
Listening to your work, I think in particular the last 5 or 6 songs you’ve put out, there’s this consistency but also breadth in your production choices, both in terms of your vocals and the instrumentals, like the brass on ‘Drifting,’ the guitar solo on ‘Green Light,’ a range of different keyboard tones…I know a lot of this would come from producing yourself, but you’ve been in the studio with a lot of different artists too. How do you approach collaboration in the studio?
I’ve always just kept the approach open and see where it takes us. I’m super open to ideas, sometimes just jamming to come up with ideas, or maybe they’ve got a part ready and I grab it and throw down the drums. Once again, it’s in the mixing and post-production where you can swap out sounds, or say, the pad that started the whole track we just remove for good. I think that’s where you can get more analytical. I get inspired by just scrolling through my VST synths, creating new patches, trying new guitar sounds. Also catering to the song – I felt like ‘Drifting’ wanted to have a horn situation, which was MIDI brass, but then I got actual horns to do it.
What’s on the cards for 2019?
More music, for sure! I can’t be too specific about that yet. Obviously my tour, and more exciting things to be announced. Lots of TBAs!
Milan Ring is touring nationally in April/May as part of her ‘Step Back’ Australian Tour.
Saturday 27 April at The Landsdowne, Sydney,
Friday 3 May at the Workers Club, Melbourne
Saturday 4 May at Rocket Bar, Adelaide.
Tickets via milanring.com
Photo via Facebook
Words by MICHAEL STRATFORD HUTCH
MILAN RING IS EMPOWERING AND HYPNOTIC ON ‘GREEN LIGHT’
MILAN RING PERFECTS DUALITY IN ‘DRIFTING’
PITCH MUSIC & ARTS FESTIVAL SHARE THEIR STELLAR SECOND ROUND OF ACTS
FBI RADIO ANNOUNCE 2018 SMAC AWARD NOMINEES