The Sydney-based multi-instrumentalist chats remote collaboration, studio gear and her plans for 2021.
By all accounts, Milan Ring is a once-in-a-generation talent.
Over the course of the past five-odd years, the Sydney-based singer, multi-instrumentalist, producer, rapper and engineer has established a reputation as being one of Australia’s finest underground offerings thanks to her crisp, R&B-flavoured beats and uncanny instrumental sensibilities, netting her studio sessions with the likes of SZA, DRAM, The Social Experiment and more.
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On her latest track ‘B.S’ with rising South London rapper Che Lingo, Milan Ring flexes her chops as both a performer and producer, delivering a flurry of punctuated sung-rap verses in addition to laying down her signature soulful guitar leads. It makes for one of the best tracks in her back catalogue to date, and seems to hint at a year packed with similarly irresistible offerings after being tucked away in her studio amid the pandemic.
With the single out now, we linked up with Milan Ring to have a yarn about all things production, performance, collaboration and what we can expect from the virtuosic artist this year.
Tell us a little bit about how ‘BS’ came together, and what the track means to you personally.
So my long time collaborator and friend BLESSED sent me this beat last year which was a demo idea he had worked on with J.LBS and MYBOYROACH from LA. I loved the bass and groove, and just started writing vocals to it.
‘BS’ is lyrically expressed in a question for me – when life throws us chaos, how are we going to deal with it? The song reflects on there being a choice between two paths, one following self sabotaging behaviours, in the forms of drinking, gambling and anger.
The other is about staying calm, breathing and brushing it off. Che Lingo’s verse goes deeper into talking about the ego’s in others and stepping away from fake energy.
Can you break down how the track came together from a production perspective? How did it evolve from your initial idea into what we’re hearing today?
After vibing out the vocals, I wanted to build on it and flip the production and just have fun with that bass line and groove. Basically, I remade the beat from scratch in my ‘lil Marrickville studio, swapping out all the sounds but keeping it true to that initial concept.
Once Che had sent his verse back, I loved the end of his verse so much I chopped it up and chucked it through a high pass filter with some distortion and placed it into the bridge also. Then I reworked the arrangement and mixed it all from my studio.
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There’s a number of sonic elements that recall Latin rhythms and instrumentation, particularly within your approach to guitar and piano towards the end of the track. What transpired for that to become a lead element in the song? Was there a specific influence that you can recall?
The guitar was the first thing I picked up to lay down production-wise, and I instantly started playing that guitar montuno line and a bunch of counter rhythms and riffs to the beat and bass.
I suppose my years of listening to, playing and occasionally performing music from South America and the Caribbean works its way out sometimes! I decided to run with that Latin spin, and programmed in some congas which I put through a flanger and some overdrive.
The piano is a cool story, so my band and I got to perform BS live last December and I multi track recorded the show. So I actually chopped a lil bit of the montuno I asked my keys player, Amaru Derwent, to play live and placed that into the bridge section.
I also chopped up the audience cheering and put that in too, which I think feels really good as they were like cheering semi in key with the song and it just felt right when I dropped it into the session! So anyone who was at that Sydney show is now embedded in the track.
I’d love to get an insight into your studio workspace and how your tracks come together. What gear (guitars, synths, hardware, mics, plug-ins etc) do you tend to gravitate to when writing and jamming, and what in particular are we hearing across ‘BS’?
I play a Fender Strat and I recorded the guitars on ‘BS’ going through a Boss GT-100 effects pedal just for some reverb and a slight drive and EQing.
I mic’d up my Fender Blues Junior amp and laid in all the guitars, pretty sure they are all using the same clean settings and then I just treated them slightly differently in the mix. I believe I used my vocal mic on the guitar amp; I have a Studio Projects T3 mic which I really love. It goes into a UAD Apollo interface and I usually use the 610 and 1176 before it hits my DAW.
I recorded and produced all of my vocals myself on ‘BS’ and have a long line of plug-ins I go through, but yeah all the usual culprits – eg, compression, limiter, a slight bit of tape saturation and verb.
For bass, I found the perfect sound via Trilian and played in with a lil midi keyboard. I also added in some 808s – I was struggling to find the right one for a while and hit up BLESSED to send me a ‘super long, super intense distorted 808 bass’, which he did and you can hear it at the end of Che’s verse and the bridge.
With all the drum sounds, I just scrolled through my samples and threw all the ones I vibed onto a drum rack and played them in. Congas I believe were from my old school DR-880 drum machine which I just recorded in audio, no MIDI.
I do have a really nice piano in my studio, but I just used MIDI to add in the piano (Addictive Keys VST) and the synth sounds. So the whole beat was largely in the box!
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Che Lingo delivers an absolute knockout of a feature verse on this tune. How did you guys link up, and how did you find the experience of collaborating over Zoom for this track?
My manager intro’d me to his music, he sends me music all the time but Che’s music really caught my ear, we ended up reaching out and then a few weeks later we were meeting via zoom chatting about the song and also just music and artistry in general.
It was a cool experience connecting in that way, obviously the only way we could do it with COVID-19, but I think it worked really well and was super organic with Che. He laid in such a perfect verse and what I enjoyed about working with him is that he was also invested in the music, he had the idea of bringing in my Latin-esque guitars from the bridge under his verse – he was like “this is the best bit, we need to hear it earlier!”.
I am always open to new ideas and experimenting to see how they turn out, and I’m also just happy to hear people think my guitar playing is the best part of the track, ha!
The way you switch between drawn-out, sung cadences and staccato vocal phrasings in the first half verse is also really dope. Who do you personally draw inspiration from vocally, and how does that impact your approach towards production?
Thank you! There’s so many influences. I used to listen to a lot of Lauryn Hill and Aaliyah, and a lot of hip hop. I’ve also sung a bunch of jazz before and I think that influences my approach especially harmonically, plus I think my approach to the guitar makes me use my voice differently.
At the end of the day, the voice is an instrument so I like to use it as one, show variety and use it as a rhythmic tool as much as a melodic and lyrical one.
One thing I really like to do is record and produce all of my vocals when the song is still being produced, so that I can then produce around the vocals. Listening for the spaces between phrases, sonically complementing cleaner airy vocals with grittier sounds in the production and vice versa. It’s always this textured balance I’m looking for sonically across the music and instrumentation.
Finally – what’s next on the cards for Milan Ring?
I have a really exciting year of releases and fun content planned! I am especially excited for the shows I have coming up, my Sydney Oxford Arts Factory shows and a Melbourne Max Watt’s show that I just cannot wait for!! It has been too long!!
So I am currently planning for all of that and also just finding time to just relax and play some classical guitar for my little introverted soul.
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