Words by Art Jefferson
Photography by Agnieszka Chabros and courtesy of Milan Ring
Milan Ring reflects an uncanny intelligence, beauty and musical and creative power almost seemingly given to her from spiritual force from up above. Based in Sydney, not only is she a highly known for her stellar vocal ability but as a guitarist (who is also endorsed by Gibson) and producer, her talents are up to par with industry heavyweights. But unlike many, Milan Ring also plays by her own rules, not only operating as a business woman running her multi-medium company MXMAY but also through challenging the ideas and perceptions of femininity, gender roles and more.
Releasing her Glassy Eyes EP back in 2014 simply under the name Milan, the record quickly sparked a buzz, not only earning her praises in the media but also capturing the ears of Zack Horowitz at Universal Music Group, as she walked away with a publishing deal. The record was a high crafting of soul and r&b with a Hip-Hop sensibility. Milan Ring also worked closely with music production royalty Ron ‘Neff-U’ Feemstar whilst in Los Angeles, eventually heading back to her native Australia with enough musical arsenal to practically be a one woman army.
Back with her new beat tape Venus Fly Trap, Milan Ring has again flexed her production muscles, restructuring the sound of trap and fusing into a future-forward, soulful soundscape that is of the highest levels. Whilst a good portion of the project is instrumental led, Ring does bless a few of the songs with her silky voice.
With the title of renaissance woman more than accurately describing Milan Ring, she is definitely out to repaint the canvas of not only music, but imagery as well, and by the looks of it, she is surely achieving her set-out mission.
From vocals, guitar on to production, you’re highly skilled in all areas? Around what age did your journey into music begin?
Milan Ring – I suppose the journey began in the womb ha! Whilst my mum pumped music and danced around (she is a professional Jazz/Contemporary dancer) I was soaking in the rhythms and vibes for sure. Beyond that; I was always drawn to music from keyboards in primary school to singing to guitar in early high school, it was a gradual love affair that I took my time with, I didn’t have extensive lessons etc I went at my own pace.
From your earlier EP Glassy Eyes to your current VFT project, you’ve taken sounds such as Hip-Hop, electronica and more, and actually expanded them into moody compositions. Was that always the goal when your initially began producing music?
Milan Ring – My goal when starting to produce was just to create a sound that was honest and completely me. I was gathering all of my influences and morphing them into what I hoped to be my own sound. I have been very lucky to have worked with incredible producers, however, often there was still something itching at me that the sound wasn’t 100% me or something. The sonic soundscape and mix of a song I really visualise and it is important to me, that is why I pushed myself to become both a Producer & Mixing Engineer. I can now create that sound bubble myself.
With songs such as ‘Chop Suey’, you can hear various worldly elements in the production. Can you talk about how the idea of multiculturalism plays a part in the creation of your music as well as the backdrop of your native Australia?
Milan Ring – I listen to and play music from all over the world and am Chinese, Indian, Welsh, Irish, English so in away I am an example of this multiculturalism in Australia. Australia itself; its landscape, flora & fauna is stunning, that is why I took myself out into the country away from the city for numerous artist residencies, which led me to create both this beat tape and my upcoming singles & EP. ‘Chop Suey’ was a really fun beat to make. It started in the Inner West collaborating with my partner Dom Kirk who is an incredible drummer/percussionist. We got out the kitchen cutlery (literally) and created all these shaking sounds, knives scraping and sizzor snaps that I threw into my sampler. I then laid down the keys and beat & Dom jumped in on an African Talking drum and Congas. We created our own kitchen-blend genre there for sure.
You have worked with industry vet Ron ‘Neff-U’ Feemstar, whose CV includes 50 Cent, Mary J. Blige, Dr. Dre and the list goes on. What was that experience like and what did you learn from him regarding studio bits?
Milan Ring – Neff-U is super humble and fun to work with. He is oozing music, it is honestly too easy for him. He works real quick and I def picked up a bunch of tips from him, mainly in creating a vibe and getting an idea down fast. Later you can go back and swap out sounds but you need to catch that energy while it is there not get stuck on finessing a snare sound or something finicky.
Talk about the motivation to create your MXMAY imprint, which is actually more like a multi-medium platform encompassing everything from fashion and music on to photography. Also could you talk about the name itself of the company?
Milan Ring – The motivation to create MXMAY was to create a space to release these ideas, whether music or fashion, somewhere we can feel free to express ourselves. MXMAY. In short; Everything is Beautiful. I want to create a fashion line that is non gender specific. Mx is the prefix for individuals that do not wish to specify or may not identify with being male or female. May is my grandmothers name and means beautiful (mei) in Chinese. Also MX in roman numerals is 1010 which of course is binary; male/female, yin/yang, light/shade.. – and one could say everything is made up of these opposing elements in varying degrees. So Everything is Beautiful.
One thing that you are challenging is how femininity is perceived by the masses. Over the past few years there have been people stepping out and unapologetically defining their idea of being. When did you first begin thinking about the perception of femininity and do you think we’re progressively moving in the right direction or is it still a long uphill battle?
Milan Ring – I think this is something we are all constantly discovering from birth, when we are discovering who we are before we are told who we should be. We all know this, there are preconceived boxes society tells us to squeeze into and especially in the west one is ridiculed if you don’t fit. That is true across the board, everything from image to race to the consumerism based world we live in, but to flip back to sexuality, I believe there are varying degrees of masculinity & femininity in every individual & this is a beautiful thing; both sides should be embraced and individuals should have the choice of how they want to dress and how they want to be identified, with no shame.
In an interview a few years back with Pitchfork, Bjork addressed the sort of misogyny that exists in the production world. What has your experience been like as a woman confident in what she does? Have there been any negative reactions from some?
Milan Ring – Definitely. I have been in sessions where it was clear the male producer felt uncomfortable that I was jumping on drum machines or keys etc. Clearly wanting me to “stay in my lane” as a singer. Even comments like you should get this man to produce for you or this man to write for you. And I’m like I literally just said “I’m producing my own shit”, did you not hear me? Or when my ideas aren’t taken seriously in the studio. Doubt. It is all doubt because there aren’t enough of these female producers and role models. And then it becomes a gimmick thing like she says she can produce but she probably can’t. I can imagine this deterring a lot of females from producing but I can’t wait for the tables to turn. This rhetoric makes me fire up, gets me excited to prove to myself that they were wrong. Voices of doubt hit you and effect you but at the end of the day fuck what they think its what you do that makes or breaks you. But overall I have been really fortunate to have a lot of supportive people around me both men, women and trans, music. And moving forward I think mentorship, especially in our schools, is the most important thing to make big changes in the future and in leveling out these gender imbalances.
In a sense, would you say that MXMAY in itself reflects that empowerment of ownership and controlling of the way your art is projected to the world in its purest manner?
Milan Ring – Totally. Labels this labels that. We don’t need them. I’m staying indie, I have no ambition to sign to a label. Maybe this will change one day but I think only if the industry changes. I want to be able to release music how I want when I want; collaborate with talented creatives all on our terms. No “suits” talking shit in the background – I’ll be the only one in a suit thanks ;P
Finally, how have you been able to juggle the responsibilities of a business woman and an artist, and what advice can you give to others who wish to walk a similar path?
Milan Ring – It is a juggle I am still trying to perfect. I think it is important to separate when you do your bizo and when you are creative, you can’t do both at once as the biz definitely depletes one’s creativity. I think it is important to see your strengths and weaknesses and find people that can take on particular roles for you, as much as we’d like to try we just can’t do everything. There is a line to be drawn at some point, and collaboration is really key. But it is the right collaborations, that feel good, not necessarily look good on paper, a lot of people talk but it is important to try and see through that hype. I also think it is important not to take things too seriously and have fun with it, have fun with the team you work with, it should be an enjoyable journey.
Milan Ring on iTunes
Milan Ring on Spotify