Interview: Milo (Hellfyre Club)
Wisconsin to LA transplant Rory Ferreira is better known as his stage name Milo, a member of the LA-based Hellfyre Club. This week we spoke with him and got an in-depth look at Milo’s writing process, musical preferences, and his artistic identity.
What’s the hip hop scene like in Wisconsin? Was it challenging to start a musical career in the Midwest?
It’s cohesive enough, really. By and large, focused around Milwaukee as a hub. Figureheads include: WebsterX, YoDot, Klassik, WC TANK, Unifi Records et al, and lots more, probably newer folks i don’t know, too. i was never hyper involved. i think starting a music career is a bit of a challenge, was that related to geography? i don’t know, in some ways undoubtedly but it probably all “comes out in the wash”.
How did you come up with the name Milo?
When i was 17 i was in a rap crew and i just needed a name real bad to say on recordings. At the time, i was really taken with how effective i found Drake’s music and by extension Drake to be, how he could focus on painting context to inform the personage and sort of leave us hanging in the interim with a quasi-mysterious name. That part was what astounded me, truthfully. That the name could be commonplace, or in use, or casual and be your rapper name, it still seems very crazy to me. Rap names like Big Daddy Kane make sense but Drake doesn’t and milo doesn’t either and so that’s why i chose that name.
How did you first come into contact with the Hellfyre Club and the West Coast rap scene?
Mining. When i was still in the data-acquisition phase of my love for rap, galaxies away from the confidence or head-room of creating rap, i would (like all children of 1992+) rank all rappers. And in order to do that i needed to hear all the music that all the rappers ever made, and so i did that. i would spend shifts listening to albums after school, fake sleep, wake back up and go to the computer room and fall asleep in there listening to rap albums i stole off KaZaA and then burn albums for my CD player and bus ride to class and during home room or free time or really any time all i did was farm knowledge about rap. i say all that to say this: the rap coming out of the west coast, specifically Los Angeles has historically been the best, that’s sort of irrefutable and so my attentions have always been here because of that, even as a kid, and of the scene two fellows in particular stuck out, Open Mike Eagle and Busdriver so when i began rapping, i began pestering them, because i had informed my aesthetic, my understanding of this genre by what they made. Luckily, they responded. i was very nearly about to quit rapping, actually. i had loaned some money from my grandmother to make CDs and was just feeling very glum about the whole thing, like maybe i had expired the impulse to do this well, to write the witticisms and be the clever boy but then i got an email from Regan (Busdriver) and it was a one-liner and i fell on the floor in my college’s science building. i just fell down and screamed and couldn’t believe it. It said, “if you need help, Hellfyre is willing”. and so i pledged my allegiances and i honor my squad and i love them dearly, i think they’re the most creative artists out.
Much of your work seems to be a sort of progressive realization of your “self”. What will your new album tell us about you that we don’t already know? What new spaces of personal truth have you tried to carve out?
If it is that’s a by-product. i hesitate to get behind the word “progression” because i think it implies an end, and i think there is an inherently capitalistic viewpoint that doesn’t make sense w/r/t metaphysics or aesthetics that crouches itself in terms like “progression” and “development”, and i am scared of that. i hope that doesn’t sound snarky, i’m just listening to Connan Mockasin and typing this up for you, not at all trying to be acidic but i know sometimes i am, so i’m sorry if it comes across. as for new spaces, personal truths, uhm– maybe none. i have never considered it my duty to give answers, that’s beyond me. i don’t even really want to hear what people think are the answers to any of those sorts of “truth” questions, honestly. What i’m interested is knowing: “oh, you too, have these thoughts and they haunt you? How do you deal with the haunting? Do you ever feel better? Can you tell me what that is like?” That’s what i try to instigate. i hope that’s the takeaway.
You’ve gained a relatively wide audience in a short amount of time, at least from where you were only a few years ago. Do you feel like a wider audience has strengthened external pressures to make your music a certain way, or has it given you more creative confidence and freedom?
i struggle with how accountability plays into this, sure. How responsible am i to give a listener context clues? Is there a rubric? If so, how thorough? Something i heard: all art makes sense if you can unlock the appropriate context (language-game). but as a person making a piece of art, how much of this is my duty/job to not just make the art, but also make the appropriate tweets explaining x line, or z song, or say the appropriate thing in the interview unlocking this particularly enigmatic stanza and so now i try to make that instead of an anxiety thing for me, a goofy thing. My friends help me with this so much, they’re very, very good at it. Then Scallops Hotel is born. Freedom is the only meaning.
In a genre that generally relies on macho confidence, you acknowledge insecurities and anxieties in your lyrics and while on stage. Was this a conscious decision? If so, why did you decide to portray yourself in a more honest manner instead of relying on a persona?
In a society that largely corrals my people, in the media and otherwise, into monolithic columns, it seems important to subvert the usual tropes but also recognizing, always recognizing and paying homage and big upping, the wonderful visionaries who came before me and have been doing this for many, many years. And recognizing that being gentle is a type of intensity, too. i’m sorry if this is at all obtuse i’m speaking like we’re old friends and i hope you don’t mind that, i’m just trying to answer these questions thoroughly and as they occur to me, without filtering.
But to be a bit more, to the point, a bit more historicist with it: yes– it was a conscious decision to acknowledge my fears because this is a tradition that predates me. Myka 9 of Freestyle Fellowship on their first tape, To Whom It May Concern…, track 3, “7th Seal” says, “BUT I’M OKAY, YOU’RE OKAY, I’M OKAY, YOU’RE OKAY..” and i think that’s more or less what i’m doing, i’ve just muddied the formula.
You’re very open about your affinity for philosophy and art. Which philosophers and artists do you think have most profoundly influenced your craft?
Schopenhauer always. Fanon in great detail. James Baldwin, 1 of 5 men worth adoration maybe. Audre Lorde– Cables to Rage grew me not just tall but wide.Llots of Nietzsche, too much Nietzsche but luckily soon after Rorty and lots and lots of him too. DFW, too, most. Delillo is astounding. Parks, the playwright, taught me discipline. i write every day because of her, so perhaps Suzan-Lori Parks most of all.
What are some of your favorite albums right now?
Mick Jenkins’ the Water[s], Open Mike Eagle’s Dark Comedy, Busdriver’s Perfect Hair, Connan Mockasin’s Forever Dolphin Love, the Last Poets’ This is Madness, Sleep’s Volume Two, Shabazz Palaces’ Lese Majesty, Megafaun’s self titled, Freestyle Fellowship’s Innercity Griots, Krill’s Alam No Hris, Serengeti’s Don’t Give Up, Majical Cloudz’s Impersonator, SB the Moor’s El Negro, Wild Nothing’s Nocturne, Told Slant’s Still Water, all of DOOM’s shit is always in rotation as well as all of Kevin Gates’ catalog. And then this mix i found on bandcamp called “Beech Coma” there’s a song on it called EQ something by EC something and i just want whoever made that to make an album with me.
What is your favorite song you’ve written?
Karl Drogo sighs feels the most like how i feel at any given moment.
How does it feel to have a Wikipedia page?
i have to take a hiatus from the internet soon.
Any crazy stories from concerts of festivals that you’ve performed?
Actually, my first tour i had to fly from Boston to Chicago. i had a connecting flight from Boston to New York. So really my first tour i had to fly from Boston to New York to Chicago. From Boston to New York, Kanye West was on my plane and i took that to mean something.
If you were a pizza, what would your toppings be?
Blood, gold, ash, myrrh, bones, tupperware lids
Interview by Kate Chambers