Milan Ring on finding her most authentic self, creative control and her new single, “Hide With You”
Music is always a form of healing, but for Milan Ring it’s much more.
Milan is the definition of the modern multi-hyphenate artist: singer, rapper, writer, guitarist, producer, stylist, creative director – you name it, she does it. By exploring every corner of the creative process, Milan not only curates a strong visual and sonic aesthetic, but through this output – explores every corner of her identity.
Her new track ‘Hide With You’ is no exception. Packed with a painful sense of longing, it sets the scene with softly spoken rap, a slick beat and jazz piano, takes pause in a gospel interlude that will send chills down your spine, but when it ends, you’re left with a true sense of feeling free. The journey in ‘Hide With You’ echoes Milan’s constant search for freedom; from past relationships and the traumas of mental health to her full suite of creative expression. But within this search, something beautiful is found: Milan’s most authentic self.
With birds chirping and the sun shining, we hopped on Zoom with Milan, unpacking how her new song and music video came together, the influence her Indian heritage has within her creative collaborations, and why healing has freed her identity.
These birds are going off at the avocado tree. Let me just clap my hands and see what happens.
Milan claps, and the birds disappear.
Really excited to chat with you. I remember hearing Step Back on the radio and pulling over the car to find out who was behind such a smooth song, and since then, I haven’t stopped listening. How are you?
I feel good today. It’s a super nice day outside, so I’ve been trying to get some sun.
You’ve just released ‘Hide With You’, a beautiful track that reflects on mental health, the search for freedom and ultimately healing. The song combines soft rap, harmonised gospel vocals, jazz piano and a slick beat – and it all works so well. You wrote, produced and mixed the track, which is incredible. Can you tell me how the production of the song came together?
When I first started writing, I had found this piano sample by Marcello Maio – a keys player I work with often. I chopped it up and found this loop that felt super emotive. Then I added a couple of opposing notes in the baseline to give a feeling of dissonance, and as soon as I made that combination, it sent me into this space of shedding and healing from something painful. It added a slightly more melancholic narrative to help tell the backstory, but within all of that – there’s still this hopefulness in the piano. Then when the harmonies in the choral breakdown section hit – it feels like such a shift in the song; when the healing begins. Sonically and dynamically, it propelled me forward to keep the song growing.
I wanted to bring up that moment in the song – it feels like you’re taking a calm breath in the eye of a storm. And then it just unleashes with those beautiful gospel harmonies. What was your approach to create that poignant moment in the song?
It’s similar to how I approach many songs where I want to build a peak moment. It’s that James Blake approach when it comes to structuring a song where it just grows and grows and grows and grows and grows and grows, you know, what I mean? It’s like, I can’t grow anymore, but then it grows. So I stacked all those harmonies, brought the base back in, had the extra synths grow, and let the piano and vocal ad-lib keep building and building to a climax. And when I listened back, I realised that’s the combination that needed to happen.
Before and after this moment, a story unfolds about having tough love for someone struggling with their mental health, but at the same time wanting to soften and hide away with them. Do you ever find it difficult to tell personal stories on a record?
I don’t when I’m writing, but I find this part – speaking about it – the difficult part. I’m a very honest and open person, but I also want to keep some things for myself and protect those around me. I think it’s really important to leave things open to interpretation because everyone resonates with it so differently.
For Hide With You, I wrote the first verse and the chorus almost two years ago, and at the time, the narrative was still playing out in my life. I had left the second verse blank, and over time, life continued to give me another perspective, until one day, I was like, I’ve got it now.
So I think the song’s more literal meaning to me is interesting because once I’ve stepped away from the song and I’ve gotten to this point, I’ve released it, I’ve worked on it for so long, it takes on a new meaning for me. It feels like missing people I’m not with right now, but when I wrote it, it wasn’t about that. COVID didn’t exist; it had nothing to do with that. And I think that’s what’s so beautiful about lyrics and poetry; they shift meanings over time.
That makes so much sense. When I first listened to the track, I’d just assumed that it was born out of lockdown. So the fact that it’s open to interpretation and can take on new meaning in our current context is really powerful. For your healing, does it help that the song has taken on a different meaning? Or does it just pick open old wounds?
For me, music is healing. Hide With You helped heal that particular narrative, and connecting with that initial journey continues to help. I guess I feel comforted in a way. But it also helps to see other people’s reactions, how they perceive it, and how they’re comforted by it – it gives it new meaning. Talking about mental health, depression, you know, addiction, escapism and finding freedom, they’re subjects that quite possibly will follow us our whole lives, whether it’s friends, family or the world. The song and its meaning just continue to morph as time goes on.
What did this past year teach you about yourself and your approach to making music?
I think it’s very intimate hiding in the studio and doing a lot yourself, but I know I can produce and mix a record on my own. At the same time, there are still all these possibilities over the internet. I’m still contacting friends and people I collaborate with, and we’re bouncing files to one another. But when it comes to myself, I’ve learnt how important it is to protect your energy and find methods to bring peace, self soothe, and self-care. Not just by watching tips on Instagram, but really doing the work. I’ve made sure I’m meditating daily, journaling and being out in nature. I can be a workaholic and tend to burn myself out, especially when gigging and producing. So it’s a time that’s forced me to be like, stop.
Sorry, you might be hearing my dogs crying. He’s very old and a lot of work at the moment, but that’s another thing about COVID – it lets me spend a lot more time with him.
(Milan points the screen to a cute pup by her side)
“I want to hide with you, out there in endless space” takes on a whole new life in your music video. How did you create such magic during lockdown?
The clip came together so easily, given the circumstances. My housemate Caitlin McCartney is an upcoming director and a great photographer; we’ve done some work together before. So we’re in lockdown, she’s out of work, and I’m not doing any gigs, but I’ve got my favourite song that I’ve released so far coming out. So I said let’s make a visualiser, something simple that can keep looping. But instead, she got really excited, made a beautiful treatment and said, “why don’t we just do a full clip?” The concept was to have those dual dreamworlds of being inside and going out into vast space. So we hired some gear to the house, went out to the sand dunes to shoot some footage and transformed my bedroom. I had all this draping from post shoots and my stage design, so while she was setting up the camera, I started throwing shit around the room and pegged up heaps of fabric. I’ve got a style that I gravitate towards and heaps of clothes to play with, especially with a yellow colour scheme, so I had a clear direction. We’d smoked out my bedroom and sealed up everything so no smoke alarms could go off – so, at the end of the shoot, we opened my little old school windows to the street and watched the smoke tunnel out of my pink room.
High production clips often have so many different themes to explore and so many people to coordinate. But it ended up working perfectly because it’s simple and raw, just like the song. It let the song speak for itself.
You’ve reached into every corner of the song; you’ve written it, you’ve produced it, you’ve mixed it, you’ve done production design and styled the music video – you’re exploring all corners of your creativity, and it comes across as a really strong ‘Milan Ring’ vibe. Why is it important to take full creative ownership of the whole package when you’re making music?
Yeah, awesome. I sound super controlling, huh? I really enjoy all the aspects of the creative process. Every project is different, but this Milan Ring project is literally my name; it’s such an extension of me. So I feel like anything that’s going to portray me in a particular way, whether it’s photos and images, while I’m always down to collaborate with people who do it for a living because they have incredible visual eyes, I know what I like and what I don’t like, and I definitely like to be a part of the process regardless. I have fun getting into different creative things. It’s also just fun and adds another aspect to my music. I taught myself Photoshop and used to make all my album covers up until Switch Off.
I see it holistically; everything from the music to the visuals needs to support the vision. That comes from knowing myself more as a person and as an artist, and understanding which values I want to portray.
Yeah for sure. If you’re going to represent yourself, then that kind of creative freedom and control helps make sure everything is laddering up to that vision. It’s exciting and it comes across. Everything that comes from you, whether it’s sonically, artistically or visually, gives a really rich and beautiful picture.
Oh, cool, that’s nice to hear. That’s the intention, but that also comes with me overworking because I want to be involved in everything. But that’s why it’s so beautiful as the team expands and grows from the label, to my team I perform with, to Kate Baldwin, who does the lighting and stage design for my shows. There are more and more people that all understand the vision. I’m excited to see where it continues to grow once shows come back.
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What about Hide With You’s single artwork – it’s choreographed by the BINDI BOSSES. How did that collaboration breathe new life into your vision?
I’ve known the Bindi Bosses for years and love them; we’ve been hanging and learning more about the different mudras (Indian dance symbols). I reached out to them with a concept to do all these covers with the mudras and explore what they all mean. I use my hands all the time, like I literally gesticulate when I talk, so it seemed fitting. In Hide With you, the mudra is Bhramara which represents picking at small things, opening knots and opening up. It’s echoed in the film clip; there’s a part where I’m in a foetal position and then it opens up in the next shot.
I read your piece on Where Are You From, which talks about the frustrations of growing up on unceded land with parents from Indian and Chinese backgrounds. How did your shared Indian heritage with the BINDI BOSSES influence your work together?
A lot of their work is about connecting mixed-race Australians, South Asians and Indians with culture in a way that’s really open and inviting. So having a part of your ethnicity that you’re not super connected to, sometimes you feel like this imposter syndrome to even connect with it, you know, and I know so many mixed-race people feel that way.
I love their philosophy and the way that they work, so it’s been really beautiful to connect with them and explore more of my heritage and culture through them, alongside my family and the historical connections I can make to my Indian heritage (in relation to the BINDI BOSSES). It’s been really important for me because I think I really shied away from that identity. Some schools I went to were so brutal, and you don’t realise how much that stuff’s stays in you. And then you’re like, hang on, what’s this problematic thought I’m having right now?
I think that’s just been a part of finding myself more and knowing who I am. And part of that is connecting more so with all aspects of my heritage. But that’s also not all that defines my identity.
Yeah, it’s about understanding those nuances to your identity so that when you are out there in the world, you can present a fuller version of yourself.
Absolutely, yeah, and I think a lot of that, and a lot of everything I do is about learning tools and learning myself. It’s coming to me so clearly in this interview – I’m just constantly striving to be as authentic as I can.
Do you think ‘Hide With You’ is one of your favourite songs because it presents the most authentic version of yourself?
I think the reason why Hide With You is one of my all-time favourite songs (currently) is because, not only is it very vulnerable – it’s brought an incredible amount of healing for me and continues to, it feels really freeing to me. So that’s powerful in itself, but also the fact that I really did all of it. I don’t want that to be the reason why it’s one of my favourites, because I love so many of my collaborations (my favourite song does change every week), but it’s a particularly special song and always will be. It’s this combination of being able to portray myself super authentically, and I can’t really fit that song in a genre. There’s something unique about it as well, which I really love. The more I’ve found that authenticity within myself and the ability to be vulnerable, it comes through in my music – particularly in this song. I sound like Brené Brown.
I want to end on a lighter note. What can we look forward to from you for the rest of the year? What are you most excited about?
I was gonna say gigs, but they’ve all been cancelled. There’s more music coming, which I’m so excited about, and a few very exciting collaborations coming out on other people’s tracks this year. I’ve just finished a lot of music. So I’m excited with this feeling of freedom to write new things. I think I’m going to spend some time on my little Spanish guitar in my bedroom.
What kind of energy and space do you feel like you’re going to be writing from?
R&B love feels. Definitely some love jams. I’m feeling in my feels. Am I blushing?
Image via Caitlin McCartney
Words by Chloe Hayman