You never hear about the guy behind the scenes, the man pulling the levers behind the face of Oz. In the case of the sultry soft-pop duo Rhye, that man is Robin Hannibal – which would make his musical counterpart, Chris Milosh, Oz.
While it’s Milosh’s vocals we hear breathing so heavily into the microphone on tracks like ‘The Fall’ and who goes out on tour on behalf of Rhye, it’s Hannibal who opts to stay home and focus on his work as a studio producer. “The way it’s set up is I’m more of the silent partner in the process, and with creating the record, and Mike takes it out and tours with it, performs it,” Hannibal explains.
And he actually does rather well working from home. With his side-project Quadron or any of his previous projects, he has never toured or played out. And since being signed to Innovative Leisure two years ago with his current act Rhye, he’s carved a pretty good niche out for himself. “Sometimes you have to go through certain points to get to that point to know what it is what you really want to do,” he states.
Prior to Rhye and Quadron, Hannibal was making a pretty comfortable living in his native Denmark, where he was a full-time musician. “I’ve been living off of music since I was 22 or 23,” he says. “I’ve been [doing it full-time] for 8 or 9 years now. You pick your ways and you pick your work. I made a lot of music before Quadron, and Rhye as well… There was always a different project going on that was paying for the bills.”
Speaking of what compelled him to move to L.A, the town in which Rhye is stationed, he explains that the move was for each of his two relationships: one romantic, the other musical. In particular, he was committed to his musical relationship with collaborator Milosh, whom he met very much by fate.
“We knew of each other’s music for a while, and we both really liked each other’s music, and then coincidentally ended up on the same label. I didn’t even know they were releasing his music.”
Hannibal adds, “The label-head-guy suggested that Mike should remix one of the Quadron songs… He remixed one of the songs and sent it over and I really liked it. There were parts of it that were really cool – I really liked the vocals he had done on it. And so I started to remix his remix, and make an entirely new song out of his remix of one of my songs. And that’s how it started.”
Previously, Milosh, of Canadian origin, was living in Berlin, while Hannibal was living in Denmark. The two met up and quickly found chemistry. “We both both produce, we both play instruments, we both sing, and we both write lyrics, so it was very easy to understand each other.”
“We do it together, we have some natural goals we fall into,” Hannibal explains, describing their dynamic. ”I’m playing more instruments than he is, and he’s obviously singing more than I am, so in that way everything’s open. If one of us has an idea with one thing then we’ll follow it.”
This special bond is founded equally upon how much they have in common, as well as how little. “Both of us have had training. Mike has played the cello and the drums, and I studied music composition for a while. And liked. I still read books on arrangements. I get really excited about it. To me, that’s the most fun part about the song, that I get to [put] arrangements over an album, and how to create that, which instruments. We both love classical, jazz, and soul. Pop music, both new and old. Mike listens to a lot of Radiohead… He’s also very into electronic music, very modern electronic music. And I listen to a lot of score [and] soundtrack music”.
About this project in particular, Hannibal discusses where their two sets of tastes collide. “We could meet around [soul music], but we didn’t want it to sound like a soul record,” he says. “We wanted to have the elements of soul that we both really like, which is the pure emotion you sense from a lot of singers when they sing, and it’s more about creating a feeling, creating a tension.”
On the subject of feeling and tension, Rhye’s music is often described as ‘sex music’ – not helped by the fact that their song ‘Open’ was licensed for a Victoria’s Secret commercial. However, Hannibal stressed this quality is largely inadvertant, saying, “It was just kind of what came out of us making music together.”
About the Victoria’s Secret Ad, Hannibal has his regrets: “Maybe in hindsight we should’ve said no to that as well. It was early in the process. We thought it might [have been a good fit] because the song is sensual… but the way they cut the song, we didn’t really appreciate. Now that we have signed to a bigger label, we don’t have so much to worry about about tossing and turning every penny, and we have the option to not say yes to everything, and that feels great.”
And comfort comes in all forms: “It’s mostly [in sales] of records, and publishing… There’s a lot of different areas of money: [there are] production fees. We sell things to different commercials or movies, things like that. It’s interesting and it changes all the time as well. People still buy records and there’s still a business, there are just a lot more [competing artists now].”
While he may be in a loftier place of power now, before Innovative Leisure came knocking on his door, Rhye’s debut was recorded on a surprisingly (and inaudibly) low budget. All the orchestral sparkle was actually performed by a single sessionist, Hannibal’s good friend Thomas Lea. “We did everything just him and us,” he says, “and actually there’s only one guy playing on record. We just doubled it and created it. That’s just my way of recording strings, it’s actually because we didn’t have budget, so it was the only way we could do it. It’s a way of cheating I’ve learned over the years, not having enough money to [hire] a quartet.”
The organic element is vert purposeful, as Hannibal explains. “We strip down the classic elements of pop song writing and made it more almost more… instant… like a feeling, like a vibe. But then I also thought it’d be really nice to add these orchestral elements, so it could have classic ingredients, as opposed to just electronic and modern.”
And the formula appears to be working, as far as Hannibal can tell. “You get in a lot of situations where people ask you what’ve you done recently, play something that you did. And I always play one or two Rhye songs: I notice it doesn’t really matter what kind of person it is that I play it to, they can all relate to it.”
Rhye’s album Woman will be released through Polydor on 04 March.