“Music is like a journal for me. It’s a healing process “
Milan Ring recalls the moment she let a potential introduction to a pop megastar slip away. The Sydney singer was at the airport a few years ago when she bumped into rocker Nuno Bettencourt, a member of Extreme and Rihanna’s touring guitarist. “He came up to me and just started chatting – and then he saw I had a guitar in my hand,” she recalls. “He gave me his email, but I never contacted him.”
The faux pas is a “classic me,” admits Milan Ring. “I met so many different people who gave me their contacts. I’m not the best at following through.
Not that Milan needs to push other musicians. It is a singer, rapper, multi-instrumentalist, producer and sound engineer who conceived all aspects of her debut album “I’m Feeling Hopeful”, released last Friday. In this collection of softly declarative mood pieces, Milan Ring takes soul, R&B, hip-hop, electronics, dub and psyche into his field of action. She reflects on emotional turmoil, transformation and healing – songs like the jazzy opening “Hide With You” resonating in this era of pandemic.
Of Chinese, Indian and Australian descent, Milan grew up in west-central Sydney. She played guitar in bands, studied engineering and audio production, and released her debut EP, “Glassy Eyes,” as early as 2014. She recently revisited it, says Milan, and was “surprised” by what she heard. “I think I’ve kept my sound, even though it seems like such a distant person – I barely know who that person is. But it’s cool to hear there’s still me there.
Milan has forged a profile with successive singles – 2018’s “Drifting”, on depressive stasis, was a turning point – and tours. She continues to perform as a sessionist – at one point joining Nico Segal’s collective The Social Experiment, associated with Chance The Rapper, in Los Angeles. At home, she composes and produces for Arno Faraji, Thandi Phoenix and B Wise. (Milan also collaborated with The Avalanches, which she opened for earlier this year. “We’ve done a few songs, but we’ll see if any of them make the light of day or not,” laughs- she, clearly aware of the duo’s mythically slow turnover.)
Milan was jamming with The Social Experiment when, in “a happy accident”, she met SZA. “I just got into a session one night when she was – I had never heard of her before and I didn’t know her music, it was before ‘Ctrl’,” Milan said, referring to SZA’s acclaimed debut in 2017 album. “But, yeah, I was hanging out with her and another great songwriter / singer called Wynter Gordon [who now goes by Diana Gordon]. We were all jumping around the cabin a bit, all singing the song at different times…
“She is such a beautiful person – she is very, very, very nice. So she deserves all the incredible success she’s had and more. Milan channeled that admiration into a lush mashup of “Ctrl” “Love Galore” and “Broken Clocks” tracks for Triple J’s Like A version earlier this year.
“Perhaps the most melancholy and darkest tracks on the album came from a place of pain and hurt that wanted to be healed.”
Determined to remain independent, Milan took her time to record ‘I’m Feeling Hopeful’. Her past writing was “exploratory” but fragmentary, she thinks. “With an album, I always wanted it to be a very coherent set of works,” she explains. “I wanted there to be an intention from the jump; right from the start. I wanted there to be a very clear direction in which I was heading.
For the album, Milan collaborated extensively with his friend BLESSED – the duo duo (and each playing guitar) on “Sydney Hue”. The idea for the song came to her on a flight to Adelaide as she listened to demos and visualized herself and BLESSED on a Sydney rooftop. Otherwise, she only considered the vocal features after “I’m Feeling Hopeful” ended – reaching out to British MC Che Lingo for lead single “BS”, Chicago rapper Jean Deaux for “Pick Me Up “and the Bad Apples rapper. BARKAA for the flagship album ‘Let It Glide’.
On “I’m Feeling Hopeful” Milan boldly tackles a heavy topic – “things like mental health and depression and drug addiction and vices and disease, in the sense that drug addiction is a disease”. Writing in confinement has aroused an “introspection”, she concedes. “I guess maybe the most melancholy and darkest tracks on the album came out of a place of pain and hurt that wanted to be healed,” she postulates. “Music is so healing and the music I create is an extension. It’s like a journal to me in many ways. It is a healing process. So there were materials that really dug deep.
Milan is reluctant to explain his words, but suggests that the material is “both” autobiographical and observational. (It is telling that she cites James Blake’s slant “The Color In Anything” as a “direct influence” on “I’m Feeling Hopeful.”) Life; things that I observed; things I heard, ”says Milan. “But I like to keep it pretty open to performing for people, because I like it in the songs.”
Having said that, Milan confirms that one of the album’s more raw numbers, “Dreaming”, is “quite literal”. She sings: “I was kicked out of school / And the judge blamed me / I was 16 they just didn’t hear me / Then I was 19 and I crossed the screen / Everything throughout my 20s / blacken what i saw”.
“I was really thinking about a lot of experiences and my time in my late teens and early twenties. This teenage period was a bit difficult for me – as it was for so many people, ”says Milan. “I really felt like I was going in the wrong direction for a long time. I had to consciously move away and approach the light for a spiritual look on it.
“[Being mixed race] is a whole different story, because you are never enough. You kind of float between all these different cultures.
Milan found this spiritual balance by embracing its cultural roots – especially the Hindu philosophies of evolution, empathy and liberation. The album cover depicts her posing, guitar on her knees, in reference to the iconography of Saraswati, goddess of knowledge, music and the arts. Indeed, even growing up in the multicultural center-west of Sydney, she struggled with her identity.
“Why are you cutting me up into little pieces, fragments with edges and borders, like the borders that cross countries and cities and streets and houses? She asked rhetorically in an account of her experiences with racism for the digital photojournalistic project Where Are You Frm.
A teenager beset with intrusive questions about her background, Milan actively tried not to identify with her cultural heritage.
“I think for me, being so mixed-race, it’s also different. It’s a whole different story, because you are never enough. You kind of float between all these different cultures.
“But it’s really beautiful and unique. We are who we are. For me, it’s really important to be proud of all sides of me.
Milan Ring’s “I’m Feeling Hopeful” is now available via Astral People Recordings / [PIAS]. She will tour Australia from April to May 2022 – for more information click here