Photo by Sam Taylor Johnson.
When Michael Milosh, the musician known as Rhye, and his partner Geneviève Medow-Jenkins decided to buy a house in the summer of 2020, they couldn’t get the oceanside cliffs and sprawling mountains of Big Sur out of their heads. They were based in Downtown Los Angeles at that time, and had grown weary of city life. While Milosh recorded songs at night—the only time there weren’t helicopters whirring overhead and cars whooshing by—he longed for quiet, real quiet. And after years of touring the world doing Rhye shows, moving between Montreal, Thailand, the Netherlands, and Germany, he sought a permanent place to live.
For Medow-Jenkins, Big Sur was home, despite living in Los Angeles since graduating college; she grew up at the Esalen Institute, a community founded in 1963 as a venue for lectures, workshops, and symposiums concerning personal awareness and the mind-body connection. Emphasis at the Institute was placed on a relationship with nature over technology—it was a place that, as Medow-Jenkins puts it during a recent Zoom call with Milosh, “was arrested in time.” In the 1960s, Esalen was a nexus of the Human Potential Movement, and a core group of around 100 staff members—those who tended to the grounds and engaged visitors using the site as a short-term retreat—lived in the main lodge full-time. Medow-Jenkins’s family were some of the full-timers, who bathed in the Slates Hot Springs and hiked the forested canyons in the area year-round. Since they started dating in 2016, Milosh, who is originally from Toronto, had adopted Medow-Jenkins’s Esalen-influenced lifestyle and adopted the place as his own.
Last summer, the couple visited a ranch-style house for sale in Topanga, a canyon flanked by the Santa Monica Mountains and located just 10 minutes from the beach. They were reminded of the serene way of life on Northern California’s central coast (Medow-Jenkins, in fact, used to refer to Topanga as “bootleg Big Sur” before moving there). The white-walled home had clay tiled roofing, wooden windows and doors, and was located on top of a hill. From the outdoor decks, views of the craggy mountains, whose faces were studded with green shrubs, created a sense of calm. They put a bid in on the property the next day.
Since moving in, the place has signified a grounding for both Medow-Jenkins and Milosh, especially in the context of the pandemic. It was a comfortable spot to hunker down and finally set roots. It also proved to be fertile ground for creation. In the nearly six months they’ve lived there, Milosh has scored a film, Medow-Jenkins wrote a television show she’s gearing up to pitch, and together, they have created the music and visuals for Rhye’s upcoming album, Home, which will be released on January 22. The record contains the sweeping beats and sensuous orchestral elements listeners of Rhye came to know on his previous albums, Woman, Blood, and Spirit.
But Home finds the musician—who grew up playing the cello under his father, a professional violinist at The Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto—in an entirely new environment. The staccato chords and upbeat strings on “Come in Closer,” the first full-length song on the album, evoke something akin to hopefulness. “So many times to start over,” Milosh sings in his signature falsetto tones. “So many ways to begin.” On “Hold You Down,” the Danish National Girls’ Choir accompanies a guitar solo that calls to Prince at the bridge. The melodies feel like the first blush of flirtation, the excitement of meeting a prospective lover.
It’s a feeling that’s hard to come by during this time when so many people are isolated or separated from friends and family. There is also the fact that it’s difficult to feel moved by much of anything these days—there are certainly standout pieces of work made by artists, but for the most part, movies, music, and television tend to play in the background of other digital consumption (and doomscrolling). The Rhye record, though, makes you stop and listen, sweeps you from your one-bedroom apartment and takes you to a grassy patch overlooking the Pacific Ocean, or right into the couple’s home in Topanga, standing on the deck watching the fog roll in from the mountains.
Although Milosh had begun writing the songs before the couple relocated, the album’s creation went into overdrive once he started settling into their new property in November. He built a studio on the grounds, where a revolving door of producers and musical collaborators (including Medow-Jenkins) would come to write and work.
Home signifies a new beginning for Milosh, who spent the past seven years riding the roiling waves of change. Rhye originally began as a project with Quadron’s Robin Hannibal in 2013, but Hannibal left the duo four years later, and Milosh bought out the rights from his former label. He and his ex-wife separated. In a 2018 interview, he openly expressed a desire to leave Los Angeles.
But as Milosh describes it, meeting Medow-Jenkins brought him into a new chapter. The two met when she invited him to perform at one of her Secular Sabbath ambient music events in Los Angeles. They feed each other creatively, he says—Medow-Jenkins art directs all the visuals for Rhye; she wrote and directed the videos for “Helpless,” “Beautiful,” and other songs on the album. Medow-Jenkins’s nude body appears as the artwork for Rhye’s last album, Blood—and an image of her emerging from a bathtub she had installed outside the Topanga house will be on the cover of Home.
When it comes to their creative collaboration, the division of labor isn’t set in stone—Milosh will, at times, shoot (he photographed the cover of Blood,) and, as he puts it, “help facilitate whatever Geneviève wants me to do in those moments.” The equity goes both ways, Medow-Jenkins adds. “We integrate our life into all of the art that we put out, and this album is really the epitome of that.”
A large part of their everyday life that’s reflected in Home is Secular Sabbath, which informed the record “in weird ways that are hard to articulate,” Milosh says. These ambient music nights are long format—lasting 12 to 24 hours. Medow-Jenkins chooses guests to perform modalities, from massage therapy to tea ceremony. Then they invite other musical artists, including Joel Shearer, (whom Medow-Jenkins first met when he visited Esalen years ago), Devendra Banhart, and Diplo to perform. (The actress Nikki Reed is said to be a fan.) Prior to the pandemic, Secular Sabbath took place all over the world: at the Roden Crater in Northern Arizona, in Mexico, and New York City. But during lockdown, the pair started doing them multiple times a week, live streaming from their home “just to give ourselves something to do,” Milosh says. Still, Secular Sabbath also serves as a healthy amount of inspiration for Rhye. “The whole point of Secular Sabbath is improv,” he adds. “When you get better at improv, you get better at coming up with melodies quickly, and improv informs what I do in the studio. And then I’m experimenting with synthesizers and getting tones from them in the ambient world, which makes me think, ‘Oh my God, that’s an amazing sound. I’ll recreate it for the record.’”
“It also feeds what we make in other mediums,” says Medow-Jenkins. “To me, Secular Sabbath an iteration of our lifestyle that other people can ingest. If there was a funhouse mirror of our day-to-day rituals—tea ceremonies, recording in the studio, going for hikes—it would be Secular Sabbath. And I think that’s true of the music Mike makes too.”
At any given moment, the couple is settled inside their Topanga house working. But for one of the most memorable pieces from the upcoming album, the two left the compound, and drove to Big Sur. For the “Come in Closer” music video, they traveled north to film Medow-Jenkins’s childhood best friend’s children and her former babysitter. In the video, the two children are seen in the mountains in Big Sur, climbing on waterfalls, jumping off logs while hiking, leaping into rivers, and playing at the beach. At one point, the children dance with abandon, spinning in circles while the sun drops behind the Pacific Ocean, dunking the whole scene in orange light. “There’s such a joy in watching kids play, but the music video is also a call to nature,” Milosh says. “It’s not just playing in a room. There’s something about being wild, outside, and watching it over and over.”
“That’s one of the things as an adult, I try to retain,” Medow-Jenkins adds. “What brings me instant, authentic joy.”
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