Milo: Milwaukee's Val Kilmer In Real Genius
Rory Ferreira, aka Milo, aka Scallops Hotel, aka whatever else he wants to be called, is an artist that despite many monikers is ready to be defined. During an interview I had with him a few weeks ago, he made clear his frustrations with the smaller local scenes and also what is in store for his music in the future. Making a move to Los Angeles in July is a big part of that, where he will join his other Hellfyre Club label-mates and hopefully solidify himself in the art-rap scene that he has been trying to push so hard in the Midwest. So join us as Milo discusses the aforementioned, as well as his roots, and inspirations behind his music below.
Me: You grew up in Kenosha for a large part of your life. How did growing up there influence your music? Many artists, especially in hip-hop grow up in a culture where influence is bounced off each other and their style is reflected as a product of their environment/culture. I.e. the east coast has a “sound”---did this make you more of an individual as an artist not having a “hip-hop culture”?
Milo: Well, I didn’t really grow up in Kenosha. I went to high school there my last two years of high school.
Me: You’re originally from Maine then right?
Milo: Yeah I was from Maine before that. Yeah, but I mean those are definitely your two big formative years in high school. In terms of our aesthetic, it was formed a lot by like…I didn’t really have any friends and I met a kid in my English class who rapped. He and I both rapped and would overhear the other one muttering, you know what I mean? So that was Nick Donalds, and then he, his brother, and I would record in his living room and then invited Alex over (Safari Al), and it just become sort of like a “Dungeon Family moment”. There were a couple other cats that would come by that studio too like Monty or TJ, and those dudes never really took it to another place and didn’t really pursue it for a living, but there is definitely an aesthetic in that living room that was linked a lot to what kind of hip-hop beats were played in anime. Our lyrical inclinations came from Nick and I, who were both obsessed with West Coast styles. Nick was more obsessed with Living Legends, and in particular a dude name The Grouch. He loves him or at least he did at that time, and then I was obsessed with Freestyle Fellowship, Project Blowed---so yeah, I’d say our sound is a lot like 90s, West Coast sh*t filtered through the modern, Midwest experience.
Me: You major in Philosophy and obviously we can hear that in your music. What was that moment in your life where you decided you want to major in philosophy, and what were some key moments in your life where you can point to that says, “yeah that’s why I act like this now”---or “this is why this aspect of the way I do things is important to me now”?
Milo: Well I guess I would say that if you listen to my rap stuff before college it still tends to be pessimistic, moody, monotone—all my signature style quirks are there but it just lacked a refinement. So more than anything I mean, I want to say that I was always philosophically minded. That’s why I majored in Philosophy, it just made sense to fall into that. But then studying philosophy gave me the vocabulary to talk about those ideas with more nuances and to be more artistic with how I delivered certain ideas or lines. Pre-college it was very rough and clumsy and now there is a little bit more finesse with it. But for me it was second semester, freshman year. There was this dude, Joel Van Fossen, who I went to college with and he was a year older than me. He was the first dude that I met in real life who had that “Good Will Hunting” ability to be on-the-spot brilliant, and I was just really impressed by that. He was a philosophy major and I wanted to hang out with him more.
Me: What is your process for making music? There is a lot that is obviously very personal, but I think that’s why many of your fans connect with it—because it’s coming from a real place and is sincere. Do you write when you are convicted to and then the rest comes later?
Milo: I’m just always writing. I keep notebooks, I’ve got notes on my phone , napkins, my computer, and I try to always be writing. Not always the same stuff, not always raps, or not always for the same rap project or whatever but I’m just trying to keep that open. Then what my process basically is, is a lot of raw content constantly being produced. Making an album or something for me is often a process of refinement---of like, “Ok this is a good idea, this needs to be elaborated on, this could be a crutch to this song…” you know what I mean? It’s a lot of finding where this raw data makes sense and then trying to fit it into the puzzle conveniently. That’s why some of my projects are exceptionally well-thought out and other ones are very immediate in terms of how they sound because they were immediate in how they were made.
Me: You also seem quite comfortable with your beats that you select from your main go-to guys Riley Lake & Iglooghost. How does this work, do you have any input in the direction you want your productions to go? What type of sound do you look for in your beats?
Milo: Basically, I found Riley Lake. Iglooghost found me, but the process was the same. It was initially like big folders of beats that were spanning many styles—sort of like a sampler. Then it’s like “ok we’ve tried a couple tracks out, we hone in on the vibe” and then it becomes much more focused, much more like commissioned work. It’ll be a very long e-mail of me describing exactly the sound I need from them using points of other songs we’ve made or other beats of theirs I’ve heard and they’ll present one or two beats that they make that they think fit that, and then we’ll bounce it back and forth and refine it into what I’m really looking for.
Me: Kind of touching on you being a vegan, what made you want to become this and how does this reflect a part of your greater worldview?
Milo: I’m just lacto-ovo vegetarian. I can still eat dairy and stuff but right out of high school you have that “young person idea” of suffering and I don’t know—all my life it had kind of been a weird thing for me that I could ignore, and then I took an ecology class and couldn’t ignore it anymore. I just felt very guilty about it. I just stopped eating meat and it feels good to not eat it. I guess what you are trying to kind of hint at is how does ethics form my worldview? So right, I tend to be a person who develops a maxim and then internalizes it; tries to operate according to duty. I really like rules—so “don’t eat meat”? I like that. I like that that’s a rule, I like that it’s concise and clear, and it’s a rule that I’ll follow. I guess that’s how ethics is important to me.
Me: You just finished a tour with the Hellfyre Club a little bit ago---what has been touring with some MCs that you’ve looked up to even before you were “Milo” been like? Have you learned anything from the live performance aspects of Open Mike Eagle & Busdriver?
Milo: Primarily I feel like touring with those guys from LA has done for me is made me more aware of---I don’t know--- how obsolete local scenes can be to a degree. For example, before I went on tour with those guys, I remember we would rap, we would do shows here in Milwaukee and it was like a never ending f*cking barrage of people critiquing our style or telling me that I sucked or whatever. Not being able to get help from any local press at all—and if it was, it was very backhanded, it was very pejorative. So touring with those guys, more than anything---more than learning a quirk from them, more than any influence has just been how in hip-hop the prevalence of the “co-sign” and once these guys had co-signed me, suddenly all of these things that people were highly critical of me for suddenly became “yo, that’s that sh*t dawg!”—and that’s really frustrating. I mean, I know your question is about style but more than anything touring with those guys has made it so now at my shows or whatever, especially central to this local scene people tend to act a little bit differently now. It weirds me out because yo, I still rap the same way that you used to say sucked and it makes me feel weird. But I definitely say with my first tour with Mike (Open Mike Eagle), we did this show in Des Moines and there were not a lot of people there and they weren’t really f*cking with me at all and I gave up. Right after that, Mike was just like “You gave up! Why’d you do that? Like I took you on this tour..” you know what I mean---he kind of laid in to me a little bit and it made me realize, any audience is an audience to be grateful to have, and introducing this idea of the live show as a craft and a trade, you are doing a service for these people. So giving a live show a sense of heightened purpose is something I got from Mike which then I think reflects on how the show is performed.
Me: What is your explanation for this ‘power of the co-sign’ or just in general, when an artist gets promoted on somewhere like Pitchfork---people are more prone to give the artist their time?
Milo: I don’t really know what that is but it f*cks with me so bad. Even this interview blows my mind away because you don’t even understand---When I was 18 I was on Radio Milwaukee performing live for the very first time, I thought my friends and I were ushering in a new wave of hip-hop and after that one time man, they just made it very clear that they didn’t f*ck with us. I remember I skipped class to go to the automated e-mail invite 88Nine awards thing and brought all of the homies and I’ve been nominated for something and they didn’t let me in because I was like 19. But I mean, anyone who throws an event knows that if you are part of the event but underage, it doesn’t matter. But just stuff like that would get me so mad. Early on, when no one would f*ck with me I would send in my mixtapes, Safari Al mixtapes, Nicholas J mixtapes---we would make these up, send them in to every local radio station, every local blog, and no one gave a f*ck about us man---including 88Nine---and I’m not saying that to be a dick, but it’s true. These people from far away took notice, I got on some bigger blogs, and suddenly it’s like now there is a little bit of “Milwaukee darling” or “Wisconsin darling” going on; and I don’t shun that but it just hurts my feelings because it’s like I wanted to be down from the jump and ya’ll didn’t want us to be down---and now it’s too late---like in July, I’m moving to LA. So, I don’t know what that is, why it’s just local to you, you kind of need someone else to be like “this is cool”---but I don’t know why that is, it sucks.
Me: Why did you choose “Milo” as your rapping pseudonym, and why does this name best fit who you are as an artist?
Milo: To begin, I don’t think any one name best fits me which is why right now, there are so many side projects: Scallops Hotel, working on this other thing called Black Orpheus, some fools and I just started a band. There are so many different aspects to creating, but certainly the name Milo for a certain kind of my solo projects makes sense because it’s kind of a boring name, it’s kind of forgettable. At the time I was super into Drake at 16 and I just didn’t know you could call yourself a name that boring. As soon as you say it it’s like “What did I say? I forgot it.” I just like how immediate his name was and it could just be a dude. At the time, I was re-reading The Phantom Tollbooth because I liked it as a kid and I liked how snotty he was. Milo in that book is kind of a dick. He goes on this adventure and is kind of like “I didn’t ask for this dawg, I didn’t want to do this!” So yeah, I just liked that “anti-hero” vibe and I liked how boring the name was so it kind of fit.
Me: How receptive are people from bigger cities such as LA and NYC to your music? Are there any key differences that you notice in general between Wisconsin and larger cities such as this?
Milo: In a larger city my times in LA and New York have been phenomenal. They are always packed, there are always so many people who are interested and eager in being part of a scene and cultivating a new aesthetic. I would say that smaller cities are insecure about what they can offer, so I would say that a bigger city wouldn’t let someone like WC Tank rap there for 10 f*cking years without acknowledging him whatsoever. It blows my mind that WC Tank has not won every award that is available in Milwaukee. I feel like if WC Tank lived in LA he would be like Lars Von Trier by now, you know what I mean? He would be like Gerhardt Richter, he would be a well-known, world famous artist because that’s the caliber of work he has always been presenting year after year after year after year after year. I think the danger there in the local scene is that it tends to be elitist and exclusionary and it breeds a resentment. Do you remember the group Chester French? That dude DA in Chester French is from Milwaukee. He doesn’t rep this sh*t because no one here f*cked with him. How many other musicians are from this place that keep it on the low because when they were here this elitist local scene rejected them for being weird and they went to a bigger city where they got put on. Dude is making songs with Pharrell and you know it’s like f*ck it—the local scene is cool but if it’s a hurdle then its going to be jumped over and its going to be obsolete. I think of that and it makes me sad because two years ago when I was a young kid in college I wanted nothing more than to be a part of this Milwaukee machine. My friends wanted nothing more than to be a part of this Milwaukee machine and now we are older and want to live off of our art now and want to make big moves. It’s like we never got the support here so we aren’t going to stay here, and it’s just bizzare man, I don’t know.
Me: I also was doing a little digging and saw that you’ve done a show with Zeroh a while back. In general, how has being signed to the Hellfyre Club, if at all, helped you network with other artists? Have you ever networked with any artists you’ve met on tour or been with on different shows? Also, talk about what it was like to meet Jill Scott.
Milo: First and foremost, shouts out to Zeroh, that’s the homie. Yeah, Zeroh’s great man. My boss Nocando threw an event over the summer called Daylight. Basically, it was a really cool rap-centric event and the bills would be curated so that one in particular was “left-field brown guys”---so it was like Mike Eagle, Zeroh, and myself. That was really cool, and he had other ones where he’d have like “quirky white rapper week” and it was really tight. So definitely being a part of Hellfyre Club opened up my network immensely and those dudes are pretty well connected and have been around a long time and it’s dope to have their support. The Jill Scott thing came kind of out of nowhere. Not to say too much, but someone close to her f*cks with my music and was playing it around her and she was like “What’s that?”, and yeah we hung out in LA and she’s the best---she’s honestly one of the nicest people I’ve ever met in my life, she’s great.
Me: Recently, you were featured on a Mello Music Compilation with L’Orange production. Speak a little bit on how that came about.
Milo: There is a writer named Dylan Tracey, he’s a music journalist, and I want to say that he put me on L’Orange’s map and I know at least he put L’Orange on my map. Then we just kind of followed each other and would DM a little bit about stuff we found interesting. It came time when he had that compilation thing and sent over a couple beats and asked for a song and it was super easy to write to. I banged that out in like an hour, the entire thing.
Me: Since you also have a great love for different things in pop culture (for example you cite Dragon Ball Z, Ash Ketchum, The Matrix, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles etc)—so just for fun, if you could give a metaphor for how you view mainstream hip-hop, what is the best reference you could give for your view on it?
Milo: I view mainstream hip-hop as like the Stark Armies in Game of Thrones and underground hip-hop is like the Brotherhood Without Banners. You know what I mean? It’s like we are kind of trying to do the same sh*t. I know people will try to pit Waka Flaka and I against one another and certainly when I was younger I would have participated in that, but I’m older now and I see the beauty in black guys being able to make art and make money off that. He and I are trying to do the same thing at the end of the day. That’s the bigger army that gets more attention and more hype and is definitely cooler and we are kind of like the seedy, on the low, like you don’t really know what I’m up to what I’m doing…so yeah, that would be the best reference.
Me: If you could describe your life through one film right now, what would that be?
Milo: My life is on some Real Genius sh*t. It’s like Val Kilmer his senior year, he’s just acting like a lunatic before he goes out in the real world, and that’s how I feel. If I think about Milwaukee and Chicago as scenes and my final year in participating in this rap climate before leaving to a different one---really being able to fool around with my boys and do shows that have potlucks in them and sh*t, if we are at that point.
Me: What is the biggest thing that you can take away from this past year and having a degree of success doing something that you love?
Milo: Biggest thing I learned in 2013 up to this point is that all of the really really good rap songs that really really count still don’t bring dead people back to life.
Me: You talk a lot about “killing lonliness”. Is this the main thing that you want people to take away from your music, “that you aren’t alone”?
Milo: I mean any system has certain axioms. That is definitely an axiom of “Milo” in my music is to kill loneliness. To understand any album I make or any show I do or any bizarre thing that you see coming out of the Milo camp---first and foremost what you need to consider is that we are just maximizing everything that we think could possibly kill loneliness. We are not trying to make friends for the sake of making friends either--I’m not really interested in that. I’m interested in kindness, & compassion, & not being an asshole to people. But being an asshole to people who deserve being an asshole to too. That’s another really important part. That too aids in killing loneliness: getting rid of the assholes. But definitely my number one takeaway more than anything if someone was like, “TWO WORDS! GO!”, it would be like “kill loneliness”.
Me: You mentioned earlier about some projects that you have been working on. Can you go more in depth about some projects that you will be releasing soon?
Milo: I’m working on an EP, something called Black Orpheus which sounds like if you took a butterfly fart and pitch shifted it down and then reversed it and then you played that and queue Lazarus’s goodbye horses at the same time---that’s basically what I’m going for with Black Orpheus. Then there is this thing called a “Toothpaste Suburb” which was a very ambitious project. On tour, sometimes you stay at other people’s homes, and so what I would do is record the sounds of me brushing my teeth in different bathrooms. That became a toothpaste suburb. Those are the two projects that are coming out this year.
Me: I heard that you don’t plan on doing music forever. Is this still true about you, and if so, what other ventures do you plan on pursuing after music?
Milo: I want to do music as long as it makes sense. We all know musicians who have just outlived their duration---it’s too long. Neil Young is still killing it, which is amazing to me. But then you think, I don’t know if I want to name any names---but you think about Chingy…he fell right the f*ck off. But yeah just certain artists, they fall off, and certain artists never fall off. I just know that if I fall off I want to fall off—like to not make anybody listen to me anymore. Should that happen then yeah, I’d definitely get into writing and probably the axioms would remain the same. I might explore them in a different way, but like I was telling my girlfriend the other day, I want to write a short story about a man remembering what it was like to eat a cheeseburger. That is probably some sh*t that I would write a song about, but I’d just write a short story about it instead. It would be pursuing the same thing fundamentally.