During the day, the moon and stars rest in the cerulean sky, and like wispy spirits, they are nearly imperceptible. At night, the sun begins to feel an orangey-red warmth when tucked in darkness’ thick blanket. Just as the sun illuminates the once dormant moon, at nightfall, the soul seems to reach out its hand and with the faintest snap, it switches on a warm light, waking the most quiet of feelings.
Milky Day, a rising lo-fi R&B artist, tells me, “I feel like there’s something about night time, past midnight, that puts me in my feels more. I just like being in my room when it’s kind of dark and having some nice lights on, and just being in that creative mindset.” His music is vividly atmospheric, and conjures a dusky calm through twinkling chords and melodious vocals. His start in music is in harmony with his learning of the piano at eight years old, and now when he creates music, the notes he plays awaken stories and memories tucked away.
One of his first released singles is “After Midnight” released in 2018, and almost each song after has sounded like it lives within those hours. This is not to say that he only creates music for this specific space, but he has carved a sparkling identity in this sprawling celestial scope. He has released two gorgeous EPs, OOL and Distractions, as well as several singles over the past four years. Some of his more popular singles include “You’ll Be Alright” with twelve million Spotify streams, “Fool” with eight million streams, and “Take it Slow” with five million streams. He has also collaborated with several artists from Sarah Hemi, Bread.Man, Ash Haze, Dept, DON FVBIO, and Thomas Ng among others.
Dept’s track “Autumn Breeze” in which Milky Day features, comes to mind as he tells me of scents linked to memories of his. He asks, “You know the smell of the air when it's the fall season and you can smell the trees? It brings me back to college because I moved to the US for college and it started in the fall. I remember walking onto campus and the air just smelled really fresh like trees.” In our conversation, we traverse several memories and songs of his that serve as a memory’s soundtrack. We also talk about his creative process and his feelings about his first big performance in New York.
Read below for the full conversation.
I want to start going as far back as you can remember. What is your first music-related memory?
It’s honestly probably playing piano. I started from a pretty young age - maybe when I was around eight. It was my main instrument growing up, and I played it for over ten years. I don’t have a specific memory, but I remember playing a lot of piano at home when I was a kid.
So since you played piano as a kid, now that you’re doing music professionally, do you tend to start with instruments before the lyrics?
Yeah that’s pretty bang on. I usually start with chords or some kind of melodic motif. As you said, I’m a keyboard player, I have a keyboard next to me (holds up keyboard). That’s usually how I start all my songs. I start with the production and if I come up with a cool idea that I really like, then I listen back to it and loop it a couple of times. I think about how it makes me feel and what kind of memories it reminds me of. I pick out a specific memory or emotion then I start to sing some melody ideas and put some lyrics to it. I know there are people out there who have a lyrical idea first, but personally I’ve never been able to do that.
I love that you talk about memories related to music. Is there a particular song of yours that really evokes a vivid memory when you listen back to it?
It’s definitely got to be one of my more sad songs. I personally think that those sad, nostalgic emotions are stronger than happy ones [laughs]. Not necessarily stronger, but it hits differently. I would have to say my song “Feeling Blue.” I was going through a breakup, well actually it was created after the breakup when I was looking back on it and reminiscing about those times, and realizing there were still hurtful emotions that were lingering. So that song has a special place in my heart. It’s definitely one of my more emotional and moody songs.
Since we’re on the topic of memory, I’d really like to ask you one of our signature questions. Since smell is so closely linked to memory, if you could bottle three scents associated with memories of yours, what scents would you bottle?
That’s a good question. I know one of them which is a vanilla scent which is someone’s cologne [laughs]. There’s another scent that really sticks with me. You know the smell of the air when it's the fall season and you can smell the trees? It brings me back to college because I moved to the US for college and it started in the fall. I remember walking onto campus and the air just smelled really fresh like trees. It’s very specific but I really remember it. Also I want to say the sea. I enjoy being near the water and going to the beach, so definitely the sea salt smell. Another one isn’t a specific smell, I can’t explain what it is, but it’s the smell of home. I guess it’s related to the stuff we eat at home and our body odors mixed together [laughs]. Everyone has a certain smell at home.
That’s funny because I was actually reading something recently online where people were saying that most people don’t know what the smell of their own home is because they’re so used to it, but it’s often very pronounced for other people coming in.
I think when I’m at home I can’t smell it, like right now. But because I travel quite a bit, I don’t spend as much time home anymore. So when I first come back, I notice it. That’s probably the only time I notice it because I get used to it immediately.
"There's something about night time, past midnight, that puts me in my feels more. I just like being in my room when it's dark and having some nice lights on, and just being in that creative mindset."
On sort of the same topic of atmosphere, your music is very atmospheric, especially “Listen to the Rain.” So I wanted to ask, for you personally, what type of atmosphere makes you feel most at peace, or most comfortable creating music?
I’ve got to say my room. It’s kind of a boring answer, but that’s where all of my music is made. It’s usually at night time. I feel like there’s something about night time past midnight that puts me in my feels more. I just like being in my room when it’s kind of dark and having some nice lights on, and just being in that creative mindset.
I used to be a runner - so I used to live right next to a really big park and I’d always go on runs there. That’s kind of a peaceful place for me, more so to clear my mind and to overcome stress.
I really like that answer. Getting more into your music, you’ve collaborated with several artists, so when you are working with someone creatively, how do you navigate the final product being the best of both of your talents rather than a compromise of your talents?
I guess half of the process is done by yourself and then half is done together. Let’s say I made a beat or produced something, we’ll come up with a structure and decide who takes what verse and what section might sync together. Maybe in the final chorus, the other person can sing what I’m singing but we can add more harmonies. So we’ll have our structure and we’ll write based on that. I’ll write my verse, they’ll write theirs. During that process you have to make sure it sounds cohesive, in terms of story, melody, and tone. So oftentimes I’ll have to adjust my verse or ask them to re-think some parts. Then the final piece is figuring out how we can merge our voices together. We can figure out if I should harmonize to some of their lines or vice versa. That final stage glues everything together.
Overall, in terms of the process, I give very honest feedback. If something doesn’t sound right or doesn’t suit my style, then I just tell them and we make sure we get to a point where we are both happy with the final product.
In terms of feedback when creating, is there any feedback you’ve received that really stuck with you?
These are some really good questions, by the way. Something that comes to mind is, I have this one friend who is also an artist, his name is Sway Bleu. He’s very talented and we’ve helped each other grow a lot. I really appreciate how honest and direct he is with his feedback. If he thinks, oh the melody could be catchier here, or maybe you should add more harmonies here, I take it very seriously. I know he’s giving me super honest feedback because he wants the best for me. Direct, honest feedback is something I’ve learned to really appreciate.
Yeah I think that especially now, I’ve noticed this new wave of people sort of preaching that you shouldn’t care what other people think, but I do think it’s really important to care what other people think. Of course if it’s someone with bad intentions then don’t listen, but I do think a lot of people have good intentions and should be listened to. It’s up to you then to judge whether you want to take it in or not.
Yeah I much prefer that over just trying to be nice or non-offensive, you know? I want to know what people think, if someone doesn’t like it then I want them to tell me. I don’t want them to just say, “Oh yeah, that’s nice” because that doesn’t tell me anything [laughs].
Exactly! I couldn’t agree more. I know a few years ago you had scored the sound for a film called Astray. If you could imagine your music on any film soundtrack, what film do you think best suits your aesthetic?
I’m not hugely into film, so I’m not really sure, but actually scoring for film is something I would like to explore more. When I score for films, not that I have much experience, but I feel like it’s a totally different process. First of all, I try to strip away my Milky Day sound and actually see what the footage or video looks like and I listen to the director about their intentions for the film. I try to recreate what they have in mind and pair it with what I’m seeing visually. Film is a whole different world. Maybe synchronization deals would be a situation where I can just pair my music more easily, but I feel like film is a much more personalized process.
Yeah I hadn't even really thought of that in terms of having to strip away your own sound a bit. Before we wrap up, I want to ask about your first on-stage performance. I saw in an IG post of yours you mentioned wanting to learn to be more comfortable in front of the camera. I know it’s a bit different, but for you, how does that feeling translate to being comfortable on stage or embracing how you feel on stage?
I did my first big show last month in New York opening for Shaun. I was quite nervous leading up to the performance, but when I did it I was actually very comfortable. I think part of it was because a lot of my friends were there to support me so it felt like I wasn’t alone. The crowd was also very engaged and supportive, but yeah I think a part of it was because I wasn’t trying to fake anything, you know? I wasn’t dressed extravagantly. I tried to make eye contact with people.
I think this also relates to my image that I’ve been trying to formulate with my management. Over the past few months we’ve been talking about, “what is the Milky Day brand?” I told them who I am, and what kind of values I have. I told them that I don’t want to be fake. Honestly, I don’t like the fake social media culture. I’m not huge into fashion and I generally dress pretty simply, so they made my image about being authentic and genuine which I’m really happy about. It’s in line with who I am and means I don’t have to do things that I usually wouldn’t do.
"Honestly, I don’t like the fake social media culture. I’m not huge into fashion and I generally dress pretty simply, so they made my image about being authentic and genuine which I’m really happy about."