From the first seconds of the lead single, You stay in my way, we can sense that we are in for an emotional journey on Milyma’s debut album, Only lovers left a lie. The avant-R&B pop singer, songwriter and producer presents a complex work of art in the best possible sense; it is an album in which the architecture works on different levels – both musically and semantically.
Born to Spanish parents in Germany and raised in Switzerland, Milyma lives in Basel but often travels to London or Berlin to experience the musical zeitgeist. Drawing inspiration from a wide variety of artists, her music is infused with the essence of visionaries such as FKA Twigs, Kelela, James Blake and Missy Elliot. This eclectic mix of influences adds depth and dimension to her unique sound. And even with these references or influences in mind, the artist succeeds by showcasing a very unique approach; it can be placed within the shared scope of these artists but Only lovers left a lie remains unique, different and very particular.
Often, in order to understand and label music within its context, we tend to make comparisons with other sounds we have heard before and songs, albums or styles that are similar. While understandable, it sometimes leaves no room to see through to the experience behind a musical project, which, in some cases, is the key element of it. That’s what you’ll find on Milyma’s debut album, which highlights her mastery and becomes the perfect vessel for her expression.
Lovelessness is one of the most common themes in music, art and human studies. Sophie Calle, Francis Bacon, Haruki Murakami, Adele, Félix González-Torres or Frida Kahlo, Ian McEwan or Shakespeare have managed to tackle a subject that can make us feel both alive and miserable. The existence of the work of these iconic artists will not necessarily prevent you from being heartbroken, but it will probably help you to deal with it, to understand its multiple possibilities and, probably, to start again. We believe we have covered this great problem of humanity, but we still have many forms, experiences and results to learn from. Of all the arts, music seems to be the most effective.
And this is the most important part of Only lovers left a lie. Using her Blofeld Waldorf synthesiser, paying attention to detail combined with the art of improvisation, Milyma covers her (now healed) heartache creating a score that doesn't shy away from the feeling of fear. It is precisely her bravery to experience those emotions that brings the honesty and rawness to the front layer that makes this a very good album, a tale of its own.
Summerwhisper is an emotional explosion of feelings that sort of sets the scene, in Moonlight the protagonist chooses to believe, and Wnomen is a beautiful love song dedicated to all the women in her life. The two-part song Baby I can see you and Baby I can't about the complications of falling in love, are one of the album's best moments. I can't believe is probably the best track on this album; full of honesty and pouring feelings, full-blown dramatic electronic orchestration brings the sentiment to the forefront. We spoke to the artist herself about the process of making this album, her method and influences, and what lies ahead in an era that looks very promising for her.
Hi Milyma, how are you? Your debut album is out now, how are you feeling these days?
I’m doing very well, thank you. I hope you're doing well too. I’m a bit nervous because this album was a huge project for me, and now it's finally out there. I'm curious to see how it’s received, but I'm happy with it.
The single, You stay in my way, is vibrant and powerful, growing sonically as you sing about protecting yourself from someone. How did this song come about?
I rarely go into the studio with specific ideas; I mostly get inspired by the sounds of my equipment. Most of the sounds in You stay in my way come from my Blofeld Waldorf synth and were created through improvisation. Over time I added more and more layers, so that certain parts in the song became differentiated.
There’s definitely an atmospheric aspect to your music that almost goes beyond the wall of sound. A lot of the instrumentation and production of the music is not only gorgeous, but it's also like a drawing of different landscapes where the main story being sung takes place. How have you approached the construction or architecture of the album in terms of sound?
Thank you – when I look back to that time when I was producing and writing those songs, I now realise I was still very in a learning phase by how to try to be my own best producer, so I was testing out boundaries. I think that’s why the production of the album is really detailed and has a lot of different and complex layers. So, it wasn’t really a conscious decision but more out of interest to try out different things while producing it.
Some of the stories told on the album are very hard, there is a lot of pain in I can't believe it, for example. Is music a good vessel for dealing with heartbreak? Were there other works (books, films, music, videos etc.) that inspired some of these lyrics?
Yes, you heard that correctly! The song is heavily inspired by the film score for Moonlight, specifically by The Middle of the World by Nicholas Britell. The rest was inspired by my (now healed) heartache.
It and You is another highlight of the album, and again I find the way it has been visualised very important: a simple but very effective concept in which we zoom in and out of a decontextualised situation centred on the suffering of a difficult, almost abusive love relationship, and the varying speed of the music is reflected in the speed of the images and the zoom, both in the song and the video. It makes the whole artistic experience more sensitive and sensorial. How important is it for you to be able to visualise your work through your videos?
I'm glad you captured my intentions behind the visualiser. It is more important than I wish (laughs). I'm saying this because my video ideas often don't align with my budget. With some of my songs, I see very vivid images and strong visions come up while I listen to them. And I often can't help but try a lot to bring my visions to life. However, I have also often failed or was not entirely satisfied with the visuals because I simply did not have the knowledge, help I needed or financial means to realise the ideas. Quickly I also learned that I can’t do everything on my own - it is just far away from being as good as when someone skilled does it - even if you think ah this is easy to do. – It is mostly not.
Last year your music received very good reviews and some journalists mentioned you as an artist to watch out for in 2024. Did that put more pressure on you to make the album or was it more of an incentive to nail it?
No, I haven’t felt more pressure. It gives me more of a drive, as it's more a confirmation of what I'm already doing. I can simply give what I can give, and if I know it's honest and authentic, then I'm happy.
In the press release for the album, you explained that “it’s about processing the layers of a break-up and heartbreak.” The album as a whole is a cathartic experience of someone facing suffering but not afraid to take the right steps. Was it important to you to capture this message in exactly this way? It's quite interesting to see how heartbreak is one of the most commonly dealt with themes in the arts and yet there are new ways and methods of exploring it.
It is in general important for me to simply go through these emotions and not be afraid to feel and experience them. I also believe that these feelings are transient and simply part of life. Moreover, once you've processed them, it creates space for other things. I capture the message this way because writing these songs also helped me to go through it and they were created out of these emotions.
Baby I can see you is another great moment on the album; it contains tension, underlines the issue of history, speaks of suspicions of lies, and is a dramatic moment that continues in Baby I can't, a fantastic expression of how fickle love is. How did the idea of this duality between these two songs come about?
Originally, it was just one song, but I liked the last part a lot, so I decided to give it a bit more space in dividing them as there was much going on in the construction and composition of the song. So, the last part is now Baby I can’t.
Being born to Spanish parents in Germany and raised in Switzerland, how did it influence you artistically? Do you remember which artists and singers you listened to when you were growing up?
Subconsciously, I’ve sought to embrace the most captivating aspects or those that resonated with me the most from my background and environment. My parents, being open to art and music, exposed me to a variety of genres. My dad listened from Stevie Wonder to Bach, my grandmother was a flamenco singer so here and there picking up pieces. During my childhood and teenage years, I was then more drawn to R&B and hip hop, with artists like Destiny’s Child, Aaliyah, and Missy Elliott being significant influences for me.
Do you remember your first contact with music and the moment you realised it was something you could do?
Yes, from the age of nine to nineteen, I played classical piano. Which has influenced me how I make and listen to music. Then, at fifteen I started to use GarageBand and at eighteen, I purchased my first synthesiser, which set my whole learning by doing process. It took me at least five years to build confidence in my art. Various steps led to where I am today, but dropping my fashion design studies for music was the moment I realised it is something serious.
Do you think being self-taught in terms of music production has helped make your work unique? Things have changed drastically in the music industry over the last few decades in terms of resources for artists, but there is an interesting vision here, where a new generation of artists has defined sound and a new way of creating it as a signature of the times.
Yes, I believe if you know the artist, you can hear if a song comes from one source. When producers send me something finished and ask me to sing over it, I can feel a bit disconnected, like it doesn't belong to me – not always, but sometimes. So, I’m truly grateful for producing my own music, as it makes me more independent in creating. Also don’t get me wrong I love to collaborate and go into the studio with other musicians – there is something very beautiful about making music together – it’s just different.
Can you tell us a bit about your collaboration with Darren Cunningham (Actress)? Was it a challenge to work live with them?
It was a great experience! Honestly, I jumped a bit into the unknown as I didn't have much live experience at that time, and I was still figuring out how I can bring my studio knowledge on stage and also placing myself on stage. We worked really well together. Darren gave me room to experiment - and we mostly improvised adding some moments where we established specific elements.
“I'm aware that I’m scared but I don't care.” This is what you sing on the last track, Not even that. This sums up nicely a constant mood on the album; even in the more solemn moments, there is confidence in the words spoken and sung even in the most difficult moment of suffering. Was this intentional?
Yes, in low points in life, I try to find strength in something - so all you can do is go through it. I have a lot of respect for the feeling of fear because it's not always clear whether it's because you want to protect yourself or because you are afraid of change and letting go.
Wnomen is a love song dedicated to all the women in your life, whom you value and protect at all costs. Can you tell us a little bit about this song?
As you’ve already mentioned, this song is about the women who shaped and healed me, and much more. I am very thankful to be a part of most of their lives and witness their growth - they are and have been my rock. Although the album predominantly talks about romantic love-topics, the relationships with my family, friends, and those who have influenced me are the ones that have truly defined and strengthened me. There is a profound strength in the continuity of relationships over various phases in life. I am referring to people who have been very close for 15 years or more, witnessing our changes and growth.
What's next for Milyma?
I’m currently working on my next EP or possibly even an album. I’m not entirely sure yet; it might evolve into a collaboration album as I already have some people involved. I'm really excited about this project. In terms of the music, I can only say that it's a bit more stripped down and reduced compared to this album.