In Space Ballet’s cosmic torch song “Out of the Blue,” vocalist Kim Irene Milan projects her feathered alto beyond the stars — literally. The video accompanying the psychedelic trip-hop duo’s song features Milan and drummer/keyboardist Jedd Lygre superimposed over quasars and spiraling galaxies. As the duo jams amid the cosmos, it seems like the coolest band at the end of the universe.
Since Space Ballet was launched in February 2020, Milan and Lygre have released three videos and at least five songs. On May 4, the band drops their latest single, “Wolf’s Moon Waltz,” recorded during the full moon of January, called the Wolf Moon. Their music may shift from the shuffling trip-hop of “Out of the Blue” to the pulsing electronica of “Both of Us,” but Milan’s free-falling, hypnotic vocals remain at the heart of each song.
She can sound hopeful, mystical, and forlorn all in the same breath: “You’ve reached the platform of the universe / So why not jump into oblivion?”
Born into a military family, Milan grew up in southern Spain, which had a “monumental influence” on her as an artist, she says. A natural dancer, she studied flamenco, the popular Spanish style of music and dance. When it came time for the family to come back to the states, they moved to New Orleans. Milan fit in.
“I always saw people with cameras and canvasses, and singing and dancing,” she says. “It was part of life.”
In college at Radford University in Virginia, Milan started writing sketches and stories. With a like-minded group of students, she produced and edited videos she had written. While she earned a degree in media studies, her extracurricular video work sparked her desire to create.
“The day I graduated from college I jumped in a car and drove 2,400 miles to East L.A.,” Milan remembers. “I wanted to write for TV.”
Writing, she says, was a shield to hide behind.
“I wanted to be in the world but [was] a little shy about coming out.”
She found work as a production assistant, and with other P.A.s launched a Brazilian jazz band that played coffee shops and jazz clubs. The group featured Milan on vocals and bass player Rafael Moreira, who went on to appear as a guitarist and vocalist on television shows like CBS’s Rock Star: INXS and NBC’s The Voice. After recording a three-song EP, the band promptly broke up.
Milan moved from East L.A. to Hollywood, where she befriended writer and actress Stephanie Bennett, who asked Milan to record a children’s song for her feature Some Body. Milan cut the song and earned a trip to the 2001 Sundance Film Festival. She remembers leaving screening venues to see well-known musicians play down the street.
“I saw Phil Lesh on guitar, and got to meet Tom Morello because the actors didn’t know who these guys were,” she says.
By this time, Milan was a single mother with a daughter, Tina, whom she had with Ronkat Spearman, a member of Parliament-Funkadelic. Realizing none of her creative relationships in L.A. were lasting, Milan left for North Carolina, landing in Wilmington. There, she worked as a production secretary on the pilot for the science fiction series Surface, and sang with a beach band named Karma Sutra Theory.
In the audience at one KST gig was Matthys Barker from Charlotte. Barker and Milan began dating, and within three months, the couple had married and moved to Charlotte, where Milan gave birth to a second daughter, Ziva.
With musician and producer Scott Slagle, Milan formed the band Sweet Irene, which released two albums of alternative pop-rock, Windows and Dust and The War on Sound.
“We played at The Evening Muse one time and then boom!” Milan remembers. “It was done after that.”
French hip-hop artist Riks Laguinte contacted Milan after hearing her songs on Myspace. The rapper from Marseilles wanted to record and tour with Milan.
“We hit it off right away,” says Milan, who speaks French and Spanish. Milan flew to France in time to record an album with Laguinte’s band, Swamp Bug meets the Frog. The group toured, taking part in Fête de la musique. “In France every June, they have music every single night in every single town all over [the country],” Milan offers.
Milan’s French sojourn came to an abrupt end when Laguinte refused to sign an American contract. Milan felt the partnership could not evolve without an American deal. The band dissolved.
Milan was in the beautiful village of San Antonio in the south of France, brooding. Serendipity struck again when she met British musician and producer Tyrax Ventura at the teashop he owned in the village. Once again, Milan hit it off with a musical collaborator and formed a band. Just as the pair, calling themselves Sugarpump, started writing an album, Ventura moved back to England.
“It took me flying to meet him in England several times over that following year to finish the record,” Milan offers. Sugar Rush, an infectious electro-pop collection, was released in 2015. Through Ventura’s connections with the British film industry, Sugarpump placed their music in Throw of the Dice, a drama about immigrant families in England.
Then Ventura got married and lost interest in the band. Like Milan’s previous projects, Sugarpump shut down. Milan came back to Charlotte and attempted to put together another music project, but it too fell through.
At a low ebb, determined to quit music, Milan received a lifeline from a friend, musician and producer Jason Herring (The Mystery Plan). Herring encouraged Milan to keep on making music. He put her in touch with some friends, including drummer and keyboardist Lygre.
With the single “Wolf’s Moon Waltz” dropping, Milan is at a crossroads. She’s getting a divorce from Barker, and contemplating the lessons she learned as a woman in a male-dominated business trying to make connections stick.
“All the places that I have been, it comes from the need to find my community,” Milan says.
Milan comes up with Space Ballet’s intense and spiritual lyrics on the spot, freestyling to Lygre’s improvisations. As a medium who does readings for clients, she has a word for her method: channeling.
“A lot of the times the words will come out and I won’t know what they mean, until after I go back and tidy things up lyrically,” she offers. That meaning is often spiritual, even if it examines pain as well as joy.
“In ‘Out of the Blue,’ when I sing, ‘You’re beautiful in every dimension,’ I mean that. I want everyone to feel that way about themselves.”