‘Experience That Presence’ – Milan Ring Chats ‘Pick Me Up’, Transformation & Debut Album
Out today!
Music 2w

Image via James Evans / Creative Direction via Bou Design House // 

We take a trip down memory lane with the R&B star…

The Sydney/Eora R&B scene is one bursting at the seams with feeling and resonance. Finding its stride in the last couple of years, it’s gone from an underrated corner of the Aussie soundscape to one of our greatest assets. But such musical and thematic shifts don’t come about on their own. They’re spurred along by artists who challenge the conventions of the genre, helping to set it apart while advancing it into its next evolution. One of those such artists is multi-instrumentalist wonder Milan Ring. 

Her latest single ‘Pick Me Up’ ft. Jean Deaux sees the producer talent continue to pivot and shift from any labels placed upon her, reminding us that whether it be the ethereal harmonies of ‘Hide With You’ or the slick bars of ‘BS,’ she’s capable of it all, and the smokiness of her craft especially shines on the new single. To make things even better, with the new offering comes the announcement of Milan’s debut album titled I’m Feeling Hopeful, set for release December 3rd. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t_vvmuqATts

We caught up with the inner west muso to chat about ‘Pick Me Up,’ get the deets on I’m Feeling Hopeful and reminisce on her journey so far. Check it below. 

As a longtime fan of yours, it’s been really nice to see your journey over the last couple of years. What’s it been like for you?

It’s been great. The last few years have been full of intense momentum and I’m really grateful to have been able to continue it in these times. Last year I was going to go to the UK for the first time and everything was happening so quickly, so I’ve put the brakes on it a little bit. 

But it’s just been a really beautiful time. I think I’m really coming into myself as an artist and adult. I’ve been getting to a new level of my production as well and writing has been super fun and liberating for me. I even enjoy music more now than when I did when I was starting out.

Were you able to find a silver lining throughout everything coming to a halt last year? 

 I always try to find a silver lining, but it is what it is. That’s the thing. It’s hard to envision everything happening now, but I believe it will happen in the future, hopefully soon. The first lockdown wasn’t particularly inspiring. But once I got used to it, I spent a lot of time in the studio writing which was really beautiful. 

And I got to create all this new music and finish it. Some of it had been in the beginning stages, but with making music, like anything you do, it’s the last 5% that takes up 95% of the time. So I had time to really put in how much I wanted to into the new music.

Before we get into the album and new single, it’s obviously been quite a rough time for everyone. How have you been managing throughout it all? Has working on new music been an escape for you?   

Every day is different but I’m just taking it one day at a time. It definitely is hard, I’m not going to lie. I think it’s hard for most of us, and really just the lack of connection is the biggest one. I can kind of cope with all the gigs being cancelled to a degree, but not seeing friends and family is pretty hard.

I’m okay though because I have music, myself and my dog kicking it with me, and I have beautiful friends that I still talk to and connect with. I’ve been listening to a lot of music and just chilling as well as going for walks. It’s hard, but I’m not complaining. It just is what it is. Just rolling with the punches.

The title of the new album is ‘I’m Feeling Hopeful,’ which is a really nice sentiment that we could all use right now. Did that title manifest from a specific moment? Or is hopefulness just a general mindset of yours? 

I’ve always had hope for sure, but I think it’s grown over time as well. I’m more hopeful than I have ever been in a way because I just know that life will always throw you left hooks and chaos, but it’s really about how you roll with it. There’s got to be hope.

I think this album was coming out of a darker space which I was exploring, but it was also like a roller coaster ride. There are lots of ups and downs, but there’s this overarching theme of ‘but I’m hopeful.’ Whether it’s about myself or just someone else with whatever they are going through, I have hope for them and I have hope for humanity. And I think it’s so important that we have that because we need it.

And the new single ‘Pick Me Up’ is super lush and smoky so congrats on that. Why was this the single to tie into your album announcement?

It was a combination of reasons. Especially timing. I really wanted to start the album campaign with ‘BS.’ I wanted to follow with ‘Hide With You’ and I think with that song, it’s a really good progression into ‘Pick Me Up,’ which is pretty strong. It’s super upbeat for Milan Ring, which is just above 80 BPM basically [laughs]. But it also features Jean Deux who’s amazing and totally killed it.

The song has dual meanings. It’s about being powerful in yourself and your sexuality and being super strong in that. But on the flip side, I’m talking about insecurities concerning vanity and pick up culture, and all these ways that we fulfill our self-worth from other people and vices, like being intoxicated for example. 

And obviously the album speaks about addiction and vices as well. So I think it ties in nicely, but it’s kind of fun as well. It’s just because there’s a lot of sad shit coming up  too [laughs]. So we were just like “let’s announce the album with some upbeat vibes that still have a dark edge to it.” I like that it’s super smokey as you said, I love that. It sounds smokey to me too. 

You marry hip hop and R&B really nicely on it and have done so with ‘BS,’ ‘Hide With You’ and even your earlier releases. How does singing and rapping help express/reflect different parts of your artistry? 

I love that question. I actually have a few different ways I use my voice. There’ll be airy head voice ad-libs which are sweet and soft and at times sensual, but it’ll depend on where they’re placed in the song. And with my rap voice, I’ve developed a couple of different types from just recording myself. I produce all my vocals and record myself and I’ve just experimented with my voice a lot.

But also with rapping, you’re able to say a lot more in a way. It’s definitely got this grittier side of me, a darker side. Sometimes more honest and raw as well. 

But when I sing, I’m quite often in metaphor as well. Not strictly, but it’s just what I tend to fall into. Whereas with rapping, I’m a bit more literal and am telling the story of it slower. 

What else can you tell us about ‘I’m Feeling Hopeful’? What can we expect musically?

We can expect a lot of guitar moments, guitars are quite predominant throughout the album, which was intentional because that’s my instrument. I think there’s only one song where there aren’t any, which was ‘Hide With You.’ And I think overall the sound and space feels the most authentically me on this project. I’ve never done an album before. It’s been so long since I’ve even done an EP. It’s just been single after single. 

And they were all their own entity in their own world. I wasn’t trying to pair them with others intentionally. I was just creating for the fun of it and exploring different sides of me and sounds for the album. I really had intention from the outset. I wanted super strong hip hop drums but with these sort of washed guitars. I wanted to feel really present and distant at the same time, playing with verbs and space sonically.

I wanted it to feel like a roller coaster ride and for the listener to feel the the highs and lows of mental health. Of addiction, depression, love, connection, fear, everything. It’s just waves. I wanted it to be vulnerable. I played it to my friend Rick who manages Onefour and Becca Hatch, and he was like “It’s like peeling back the onion layers of Milan. And I feel like I know you more now than I ever have.”

And I was just imagining myself as a little onion peeling off the little layers [laughs]. But yeah, I really liked that interpretation. It feels like a deeper look into me and what I think about. And also just production-wise, I executive produced the whole project and it sounds like it’s cohesive to my style. 

You’ve talked about how the album is defined between the choice to “run into the chaos or rise above it” and how that dynamic has manifested around you. As we sit here now, how do you see yourself having emerged from all of the experiences/lessons that influenced this album?

I think no matter what, every moment of every day we have a choice to go left or go right and sometimes it could look like running into the chaos or something more simple. But overall, I’m stronger and more present, powerful and fearless. And I have more courage than I did before those experiences.

We learn our best lessons we can from life and the things that give us the most growth are the most difficult things. They’re shit at the time, but then we look back in hindsight, we’re like “oh, I’m glad I went through that because now I recognize this, I know this about myself. I’m that much stronger.”

Those experiences have given me more clarity and perspective and hope too. You’re just like “well, that was shit but I’m better for it.” So that’s hopeful in itself. 

That sentiment has been a recurring theme in your music over the years. In writing about those themes, you’ve fostered a pretty inclusive community with your fans, which is super apparent at your live shows. Is that connection something you draw on from time to time? Whether that be on stage or in the studio? 

That’s such a nice reflection. And I’m glad that you feel like that in the audience, because with every show I’ve done, when I look out at everyone it’s just the best. I see a lot of friends, but I also see so many people that I don’t know and I’m always like “I wish we were friends” [laughs]. Everyone just gives so much love and is really present. And like you said, it’s super diverse, inclusive and just really beautiful.

And I’m so grateful that that has manifested and I hope that continues to manifest. But I do draw upon that in the studio and through interactions on social media as well, which is really important to me.

 I’m really excited to be able to be amongst it again. I just feel like this is the community, where it is so inclusive and diverse, and I feel like so many of us have such open, beautiful and deep conversations as well. It’s not just surface-level club shit, it has substance.

At your Oxford show I noticed the relationship with your band on-stage, particularly during ‘Hide With You.’ How does that family unit, along with Astral People, support you in your journey?

 I couldn’t do it without them. They’re essential. I just spoke about the one-woman show that I was doing for a while, but I always wanted to have a band. And Amaru, DC and Bad Mandela, they’re just incredible humans and musicians. And I think we really have this beautiful rapport together. So I’m so glad that you can see that because it’s genuine. It’s super easy with them and I feel super supported. And like you’re saying, with management and Astral People, it’s a beautiful community. 

Everyone’s genuinely invested and I feel really grateful for that because in a lot of ways it’s about me, but I really see it as it’s about the music. And I feel like I’m a vessel for the music and we’re all, myself included, helping and supporting this vessel to make its way upstream.

 I’m just really grateful to have a supportive team and I can’t wait to keep growing with everyone because there’s been so much growth in the last few years. And even in the face of adversity, in the face of COVID and whatnot, we kept growing.

I was re-reading that whereareyoufrom piece from a while back and reflecting on culture and belonging in Australia. I was thinking about how cool it would be if that young Milan could watch that ‘Enzinna’ video with B Wise and Sampa. How do you think she’d respond? 

Oh man, I love that question. Yeah… little Milan [laughs]. I remember I was reflecting on a lot of bullying and other things that went on for me in early high school in that piece. If that Milan was to see that clip… I reckon she just wouldn’t believe it. She’d be crying with relief that she was accepted and she accepted herself, and was just brave enough to be herself.

But also, she’d just think it’s super cool because B Wise and Sampa are cool and I reckon year seven Milan who was being bullied would think she’s cool. So not that I’m saying I’m that cool now because I’m definitely a dork [laughs].

But yeah, just proud and fucking excited. I really like that question because I think we forget as artists to reflect like that, to really see the growth and the progression. If you were to meet me ten years ago, I’d just be a completely different person in a sense. We do become different people in a lot of ways but just in the sense of music, especially with how shy I was then compared to now.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UTnycYRAouI

Now to start to cap off, us fans have been looking forward to this album for so long. I’m already getting mental images of another Oxford show after it’s dropped. Although that might be a little while away, what do you think those moments are going to be like from up there on the stage?

Oh my God. Even thinking about it is making me want to cry [laughs]. I think it’s going to be so overwhelming and powerful to be reunited with everyone. It’s going to be special. And I’m so proud of this album. I’m so proud of the songs and I really hope I can perform them for you all and experience that presence, that spark, that moment. There’s just nothing like it. And I’m getting goosebumps talking about it because I’ve been suppressing thinking about it. I miss it too much. 

But distance makes the heart grow fonder. And I think I’m moving forward, I’m practising and I’m working on my craft every day. I’m always growing and am pushing myself to grow. So I know that when I get that chance to be in front of you all, I will be present and I’ll deliver to my utmost because that’s what we all deserve. You know what I mean? And I just want to do that justice for music and for everyone.

(We actually shot Milan’s Oxford Show earlier this year. Check out the full gallery and review here).

Lastly, you’ve played plenty of venues and done so much over the years, but throughout it all that 2012 Frank Ocean cover on FBI has always stuck out to me. If you could take that Milan into the studio and show her the masters for this new album, how do you think she’d react? 

That’s such a great question, that’s so sweet, it’s so nice that you listen to so much stuff, but also that you’re bumping that cover. I must’ve been like 22 or 23. I was a baby.

But she’d probably just be like “fuck off!” [laughs]. Honestly, because those were the early days. I might have even just been at TAFE and was only just starting to explore my production. And now to produce and mix a whole album of this quality however many years later… I mean, I’m really upping myself here but I would be super proud.

I think she’d feel pretty empowered… Maybe she would’ve even gotten here quicker because she would have had more self-belief.

Milan Ring’s new single ‘Pick Me Up’ is out now. You can buy/stream it here and presave her upcoming album ‘I’m Feeling Hopeful’ here.

Words by Amar Gera October 7, 2021
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