Spotlight: Rainy Milo
15 Nov 2013
"Writing whole essays on other people’s music, it felt weird to me." RFB catch up with the South-East London singer destined for big things.
It'd be pretty hard to fake the kind of music that prodigal teen Rainy Milo has been producing, and ever since last year's dynamite 'Bout You' she's been rolling out ever more tantalising tastes of her musical world for us to absorb. She's created an atmosphere, or perhaps aura, around her soulful and sultry work that is becoming increasingly hard to ignore and thus looks set to be a big name in 2014. RFB spoke with the ambitious and frankly wise-beyond-her-years singer about the tribulations of being hounded by record label A&Rs, her own magnetism to other hard-working musicians or collectives and how she's learnt infinitely more about music since leaving Performing Arts school.
When did you first get into music, Rainy?
I’ve been really into music since I was little. There are videos of me at three years old singing with my granddad - he was a reggae DJ who used to play around Brixton and places like that. I used to sing when he played his vinyls in the back-room of his house. Then for years after that I became really shy and quiet. I wasn’t a very talkative child in primary school, so I didn’t really get back into music and singing until I was about 14 years old which the developed into me writing songs for myself.
What made you go from singing over your Granddad’s record collection to wanting to make your own music?
I was always really into poetry. I enjoyed writing poems and studying English at school and then one day I made the connection between poem and song. I wanted to write about my feelings and what was going on.
Was there always music on at home?
Completely. My mum would be playing things like; Jim Reeves, or gospel like Kurt Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald things like that, constantly. I had a friend who was always into J Dilla. She would play his instrumental beats. I connected with it. I liked the feel because it mixed hip-hop with the old jazz beats that my mum used to play. I searched Youtube for jazz instrumentals I thought would be cool. That’s when I found ‘Bout You’ a Grover Washington sample and I really liked it.
So what was the next step from that - hooking up with the Last Night in Paris crew?
Actually I wrote ’Bout You’ before I even met them. I was always hanging around with different sorts of collectives; skaters from South Bank, people from East London. It just happened to be that Last Night in Paris are from South East London too. So, I recorded ’Bout You’ in a friends bedroom and I put it out around the time that I knew them.
What was it like hanging out with different collective groups - how much did that inspire you?
It’s always good to see people that want to be really good at what they’re into - being around people with ‘I want to be the best’ attitudes is always really inspiring. To see people do that then pushes you to be like, ‘Hey, I want to be good too’, rather than being around a bunch of people who are like ‘There’s nothing going on where we live, this is boring, nobody cares about us’.
Is that something you saw a lot of? As well as peers being ‘on it’ trying to be the best at their thing, where there people who where like ‘I’m done, I’m 15, I’m not even going to bother trying’?
Yeah. On the weekends I’d be out looking for the active kinds of people. I’d be on the Internet stalking people who I thought where cool and inspiring. Then I’d be sitting in school all week with kids that didn’t want to listen in class or work there’s the small minority that are like ‘Hey you know, I’m going to try and break this’. I wanted to be around those people.
Going back to when you wrote ‘Bout You’. Was that the first piece of music you wrote completely, with this idea in mind, did that tune come and then Rainy Milo was formed?
No, not really. I had written tons of songs before that. I never think about the audience or who’s going to hear it because it’s all for myself. As selfish as it sounds, I make it for me. ’Bout You’ was the first thing I put out there for other people to hear.
What was it like when you got a response to that tune?
At first it was hilarious. I couldn’t take it seriously. I thought that only people from school were going to hear it and that’s it’. So for other people to pick it up, blog about it and really connect with it is just unbelievable.
Do you find it interesting when people comment on your music? You said it’s entirely for yourself and it was really autobiographical. Do you feel ready for a reaction?
It’s all very unexpected. I don’t even have time to think about it. Anytime anybody connects with my music or when somebody sends me a message saying - ‘this reminded me of this time…’ or ‘I really like it, this song makes me feel this sort of way’ - it’s always amazing. Even if it’s one person, it’s got a reaction. That’s a really special thing.
Has it changed the way you work? Knowing there’s an audience now, as opposed to songs that where just for you?
In the studio or when I’m writing I always think it’s for myself. But when it comes to putting it out there, that moment I know it’s going to go on Youtube I think, ‘crap, people are going to hear this’. Then I feel slightly exposed for the first 10 minutes but soon after somebody will send me a message saying, ‘I really like this, this is cool’ and that’s really sweet. It makes the process worthwhile - exposing myself for just one person to like it is worth it.
What were the next steps after ‘Bout You’?
At that time a lot of A&R’s started reaching out to me and I just didn’t feel like it was something that I wanted. I feel like they didn’t understand what I was trying to achieve with my music. You can’t gather that off the back of one song. ‘Everybody just leave me alone, let me go off and create my own thing’ I said. Then I’ll come back through the door and say, ‘Hey everybody, this is my music and my sound and these are the songs that I’ve made. If you like it you can be a part of it, if not then fair dos, you know what you're getting yourself in for.'
What was it you were trying to go for and get out there?
There wasn’t ever really a full on goal for what I was trying to create. I always go for what I feel attracted to. When somebody sends me an instrumental it’s whether it sparks a reaction for me to write a song to it. So the goal is always blending sounds that I’ve been into and inspired by, never just sticking with one thing. People really put things in genres so they can understand. But I want to create lots of different things and different sounds, so I can’t really stick with one thing. One day I may feel like making a jazz thing, one day I may feel like making a rock thing. How can people condemn me for that?
What’s it like receiving beats from producers?
People often send me folders of music. There are things that I like and things that I don’t like. Luckily people don’t get offended when I don’t like it. Often I like something but I think, ‘yeah that’s cool but can we turn that up a bit or tweak this’. I’ve been lucky with people letting me have a bit of free reign of what they’ve created too.
Yeah, that’s good. Do you feel like there’s a scene of people around you of a similar age and similar ideals that you feel part of?
Definitely. There are a lot of young singer-songwriters out there now. Odd Future when they came out a couple of years ago, that really did spark teens being excited about making music again.
A lot people think about young individuals and how they navigate the route of music. There are guys like Joel Compass and others that are 17/18 years old that seem to get it. There seems to be a sound to that too; hip-hop, R&B, jazz infused sounds. What do you think it is that has got young people listening to that music and wanting to make it their own?
Really thinking about it, I can only speak for myself. I’m into it because that’s what was played in my house but I can’t say that for every other teen. Now everybody’s got the Internet we are connected with people who we’ve never even met before. It’s not difficult for me to say ‘hey I like this jazz song’ and find somebody else that likes it too.
Have there been any points in your journey so far you’ve found difficult to negotiate for yourself?
When I was turning people down there was a feeling of, ‘oh my god, I’m actually stupid. This is never going to come around again’. But then I’d much rather turn it down whilst still being myself than take it on and not be myself. That would make me really unhappy. When people where first reaching out to me I was reading stuff like, ‘something something A&R’ at the bottom of the emails. I didn’t even know what that was. Of course it was scary going to meet lots of people but you filter through. I’m learning as quickly as I go along.
What are you writing about now – what’s inspiring you?
My songs often they sound like they are about love but there often just about relationships with people that I’ve known and really cared about, or people who pissed me off - that kind of thing mostly. Real life and things I’ve been through.
Is it interesting as a songwriter to take those moments and feel like you can write about them? Are you thinking about those moments as an opportunity? Do you think ‘This has happened to me, this is music, let’s make it positive’?
Definitely. It’s a way of getting over a situation. Some people I know go to counsellors to talk about life. I sit down and write, put it in a song. When I’m sitting on trains and stuff I’m thinking about things that happened ages ago. I might see a little kid that reminds me of a friend I had when I was young. I think of the lines to myself, write them down at the time and come back to them later. It’s always thinking, remembering and reminiscing.
How important was school for you to make music? Did it inspire you or did it get in the way?
I think school inspired me to go out looking for people that where inspiring. Which is great because it pushed me into meeting the people that I recorded ‘’Bout You’ with. Rather than inspiring the music it made me think ‘oh gosh I don’t want to be here, I want to do something other than this’.
Are you still at school?
No I left… I think maybe a year and a half ago.
Was that a big decision for you?
Yeah, schools all you ever know until you’re about 18. I was the last of the bunch that could leave at 16. At the time I was thinking ‘okay they’re a performing arts school, but do I want to stay here and train to do things that people have already given me the opportunity to do’. It’s one of those things. You can’t teach people how to write songs, how to perform on stage or how to make music, you just have to go and do it.
Was that quite a strange? Being at an art school then going out and doing it on your own anyway?
It’s really strange. I was doing musical theatre, you can sort of be taught that kind of thing. But I was really into writing songs, so it was weird to think about how people on the music side do it. Writing whole essays on people’s pieces of music, it felt weird to me. Music is for creating and listening to, rather than sitting there and writing about it all the time.
Your music feels quite British. Do you ever look to America for inspiration with stuff?
I like British artists. But I also love America. If I like it I listen to it. I don’t think too much about it. I don’t think, ‘Oh, let me see what the Americans are doing’. I feel like the UK has done that for long enough. I think this year we have been coming out with cool authentic UK artists. I feel like the rest of the world’s looking at us now, which I’m really proud of.
It’s interesting to see your approach to all this. Is positivity quite an important thing for you?
I think I take a positive attitude towards going to the studio. I think ‘I’m going to make something great today’. Sometimes the music that I make is quite melancholy. It can be quite sad, reflective or moody. I do have some happy stuff but it’s not all positive and sunshine in my music. But in my day-to-day life I try to keep everything as positive as possible. I’m writing about my real life, so I’m not going to be sad all the time. I do have happy moments too. I’m a bit of a weird person; things are either really great or really bad. I never have a balance. I wish I could…