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Rhye makes melancholic R&B, but his outlook’s steeped in positivity

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“As a kid, I would break into the zoo when I was 15 and 16 years old and jump into animal cages.”
Photo: Genevieve Medow Jenkins / Courtesy

Before we jump in, I want to congratulate you on another great record—I reviewed it back in January and thought it made loneliness sound sexy. Do you feel like Blood is an inherently sadder album than Woman? It’s interesting, ’cause some people have said that, but to me it’s actually not a lonely record; it’s kind of like a triumph record. It’s about overcoming a couple things that were difficult, logistical challenges.

I think for some reason when I’m happy, music I make sometimes sounds melancholic, I don’t know why. There’s a couple apology songs, and then there’s “Waste,” which is addressing a breakup that was previous. This record’s not like a sad record, per se, but it might sound it.

How do you translate Blood for the stage? Part of making the Blood record, I was trying to make it much closer to a live performance. We use the same instruments onstage—a Hammond B3, a MiniMoog, guitar, trombone, violin, cello, bass and drums. The record is very similar, and that’s the way it’s going to be onstage.

Did you go into it that way because you knew you were going to tour so heavily again? For Woman, you played nearly 500 shows in five years. Some of it was subconscious. That’s the way I was headed, because we played so many live shows, and then there’s also just an awareness [that] if I’m going to tour this even half as heavy as I toured the Woman record, I wanted it to translate very honestly. It was very natural.

You have a unique ethos. You started out not wanting people to know who you are, you’ve declined to have your music in a car commercial, you toured a ton so you could buy yourself out of your old record label. It feels like the music really comes first before anything else. From an emotional standpoint or as treating music as an entrepreneur, I just have a thing in me that if someone tells me I can’t do something, I try to do it. As a kid, I would break into the zoo when I was 15 and 16 years old and jump into animal cages—nothing mean, because I love animals.

I want to do stuff with symphonies, so I’ve been getting closer and closer. We got to do a performance in Denmark with a 49-piece girls’ choir. There’s a lot of elements that tried to prevent me from making the second record and I was just like, no, no, no. If you’re going to try to inhibit me, I’m going to show you I can do it. It’s definitely a big part of my personality. I’ve got a lot of drive as an individual and it’s not just about music; it’s about life in general. I just try to do whatever I want to do, all the time.

What kind of music did you grow up listening to? I would guess that you’re influenced by the ’80s, Prince, stuff like that. So, No. 1, I’ve got an older sister, so a lot of the music that she was listening to trickled down to me. I loved Depeche Mode, Tears for Fears, Duran Duran, even Japan, David Sylvian. I loved Prince and Marvin Gaye. I also got really into Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, anything that was Mitch Mitchell drumming, because I used to fancy myself as a drummer. I’m pretty eclectic, ’cause I also played a lot of classical music, my dad’s a violinist and my whole upbringing was in classical. When I was around 16 or 17, I started getting into different types of jazz ,and then I got really into Parliament Funkadelic and Brazilian funk and traditional Pakistani music.

Any chance we’ll hear world music seep into Rhye recordings? I flirt with it right now. If you listen to the Blood record and you take a song like “Sinful” or “Blood Knows” and you kind of look at it through the lens of listening to a traditional raga, you might hear influences. I’m also working on a classical record right now which is very different from the Rhye record. In terms of world [music], I’m a pretty big traveler, and I never know where I’m going to go.

You seem pretty low-key. I’m wondering what your thoughts are on a place like Vegas. It’s my first time playing there, and I’ve never been there before. I actually have no idea in any way what to expect. There’s like the TV version of things, and you know that’s not the real version.

What else are you working on at the moment? I’ve already started working on the third Rhye record. The other thing that I do is that my girlfriend and I throw these nights called Secular Sabbath. They’re really fun. They’re ambient nights that are very experimental. So I do like two-to-three-hour vocal improv and we bring massage therapists to massage people while I’m singing. We have a traditional tea ceremony and do tarot card readings, and we do all these things while I’m performing. I use those as an experimentation ground to try things out with small crowds, because we basically let 100 people show up at these events. We don’t try to let it get big.

Is it all by word of mouth? We have an Instagram called Secular Sabbath, but that’s the only way we advertise—everything else is just word of mouth.

I suppose if you have a good time in Vegas, we can hope you might end up bringing Secular Sabbath back here. It might be really cool to do something not in the city but in the desert. I’ve got three friends with houses out there, and they spend a lot of time out there. I think there’s some really cool opportunities to do something like that with a small group of people. It’s just a matter of, does it fit in my schedule, and can we make it happen? If we can, it would be very cool.

Rhye with Vagabon, Sabriel, Andrea Gibson, Jamie De Wolf, Anthony Valadez and Erik Kabik. Sunday, April 8, 7 p.m., $30, Brooklyn Bowl.

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Leslie Ventura is a staff writer at Las Vegas Weekly and Industry Weekly. She’s picked the brains of rock stars ...

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