INTERVIEW: Rohan Stevenson (I BUILT THE SKY)
There's no denying it - it's a beautiful time to be an Aussie prog fan, particularly with 2019 offering some staggering releases that have shaped and challenged the very core of the progressive world. And in amongst the whimsy and chugs of this dizzying world of fusion and experimentation lies an artist extremely well-versed in the tech/instrumental heavy realms: Rohan Stevenson, aka Ro, the man behind Melbourne "cloud core" project I Built The Sky.
From his blistering fretwork to his explosive live shows, Ro's musical sorcery has continued to flourish with his dynamic arrangements scoring him local and international tours, signing with Atonal Agency (Animals As Leaders, Intervals, Plini, Sikth, Monuments) and most recently levelling up with I Built The Sky's third full-length The Zenith Rise unveiling late last week.
Conjuring charming tones and diabolical riffs, The Zenith Rise finds Ro at his most engaging, boosting moody feels and jaunty licks into an ether of stellar musicianship. And just before the release of this utter prog gem, Tiana grabbed Ro to chat inspiration, motivation and instigating "Hi 5" Walls of Death. Full interview below.
UP INTO THE ETHER (I BUILT THE SKY)
TIANA: Hi Rohan, thanks so much for taking the time to have a bit of a chat today! Exciting times ahead for you, most notably with The Zenith Rise dropping on Friday 1st November…how does it feel to finally be so close to release?
ROHAN: It's been a long time coming, and I’m just super excited for everyone to hear it, so yeah pretty exciting times right now indeed.
TIANA: And on the topic of the new album, let’s dive in a bit deeper to that aspect for a moment here…it’s been a while between albums now for you, how was the process this time round compared to your previous releases? Did you come into The Zenith Rise with a clear-cut idea of what you were after, sound-wise? Or was there some natural evolution along the way?
ROHAN: A little bit of both, the main thing, as with every release is trying to make something that is better in every way, I always try to improve my song writing and production and for this one I think is actually a huge step up. The process was actually a lot different as I had Forrester Savell on board for mixing and mastering which was really cool. Sound wise, I think it’s a fairly natural progression, I think the songs have a lot more depth and scope to them than ever before, I spent some time doing stuff like recording breaking glass and weird sounds which I made a glitch section out of, I've never done that before. The song writing I feel is much superior too, a lot more highs and lows and some of my best riffs to date. The other huge difference is the artwork which was taken care of by Pat Fox and he was also amazing to work with.
TIANA: You concoct these engaging tunes on your own, do you constantly find yourself coming up with ideas for songs? Given it’s just you, is motivation ever an issue?
ROHAN: Motivation is definitely an issue, but I don’t tend to stress about it, I ride the times when I’m super creative and accept the times when I’m not, there’s usually a ton of non creative elements I need to attend to anyways, so I just focus on those things...If all else fails... ill just take my dogs out for a walk or go the beach and try again later. Often times my determination carries me through the unmotivated times, but I don’t ever force it.
TIANA: The new album has also seen you work with Forrester Savell who seems to be the ongoing patron mixing saint of amazing Aussie prog of late. What was it like having him involved for this latest sonic adventure?
ROHAN: Actually a bit a dream come true for sure, I’ve always wanted to work with him for many years, and now it’s just finally happened. It was great to work with him, very easy, at first I was sending super detailed responses about things, but after the first track got completed, he knew what I was after and just kinda nailed it. The end results far exceed my expectations so yeah, just so stoked to be able to work with him and on the end result.
TIANA: Your tunes flex an amazing amount of density and dexterity…I managed to catch you in action a few years back in Sydney and it was a pretty beautiful experience I have to say. And I’ve read in the past you list bands like Periphery and the like as significant inspirations…have any other bands come along onto your radar who you would list as inspirations and/or influences as you continue to establish and evolve your sound?
ROHAN: I’ve actually really gone the other way these days, I’m more influenced by non musical things to do with bands/music, like energy, expression, feeling, dynamics and creativity. I listen to prog music less and less and enjoy other forms of music... like lately it’s been all about Nirvana. Just that raw energy and powerful song writing, that’s my focus these days, not really style wise but everything else. The fun for me while engaging in the prog stuff is creating freely and seeing how far I can push things and how much emotion I can get out of a song. I think this new album runs the whole spectrum of emotions for sure... You’re gonna laugh, you’re gonna cry, you’re gonna wanna mosh, you’re gonna wanna break stuff.
I BUILT THE SKY LIVE IN ACTION//pic by Jason Rosewarne
TIANA: Speaking of live shows, you’ve toured with some pretty insane artists over the years, has there been one or two significant standout live shows or tour moments that have dramatically stood out for you, whether they were memorably good, bad or hilarious?
ROHAN: YI love all of it personally, for me one of the best experiences was supporting The Dillinger Escape Plan, we were treated very well and really got a taste of the ‘pro experience’. Touring Europe/UK was another amazing time, notably pulling off a bold move to a sold out London crowd where I lied and told them that we had done the ‘Hi Five Wall Of Death’ at EVERY show we had played on tour...the reality was, this was the first time, amazingly everyone joined in and actually did it... It was amazing hahah... I remember thinking HOLY SHIT when it was all going down.
TIANA: As a guitarist I have to ask the inevitable question – obviously you have quite an insane guitar collection on the go, what’s your go-to axe right now? Or is it an impossible question to ask if there’s only one particular favourite…?
ROHAN: I’ve heard this said before, but I definitely agree... Guitars are like children, you love them all equally. I find myself cycling through them but my latest addition has been a stand out for sure, it’s a Kiesel Delos which is Kiesel’s take on the classic strat design. The guitar looks super classy and classic, but it plays like a modern beast. I installed my fav Bare Knuckle Pickups in it and now it sounds like a monster. Really excited to bring it out on tour with me.
TIANA: On that note, if money was no object, what’s your dream guitar that you’d love to get your hands on?
ROHAN: For fun and for playing around at home, id probably go and pick up an original 54 Strat, they probably go for around 50k so yeahhhhhhh, I have a few more albums to sell to make that happen. For something to play in I Built The Sky, I'd probably spec out a really fancy Kiesel with crazy exotic woods, but really, I’m extremely lucky to have what I have so I don’t really crave that kinda thing anymore.
TIANA: And finally, in honour of your new album The Zenith Rise - depending on what your preferred definition is of “zenith”…I’m gonna go with it meaning the literal high point for purpose of this last question…this divine new album is obviously a huge high point for I Built The Sky…but what’s up next for you and this project, somehow I feel like there are going to be many zeniths ahead for I Built The Sky…
ROHAN: HAHA you’ve certainly done your research, Well now it’s all about playing shows, I wanna take this project EVERYWHERE so that’s my primary focus right now, we have a few things booked already including international festivals but will be announcing that in time so stay tuned.
I BUILT THE SKY'S STUNNING NEW ALBUM THE ZENITH RISE IS OUT IN THE WORLD NOW, YOU CAN GRAB YOUR HANDS ON IT HERE.
FOR ALL OTHER I BUILT THE SKY INFO HEAD HERE.
PLUS! YOU CAN CATCH I BUILT THE SKY IN ACTION SUPPORTING STAR WARS METAL LEGENDS GALACTIC EMPIRE TONIGHT IN MELBOURNE, AND NEXT THURSDAY IN SYDNEY. FOR TICKETS, HEAD HERE.
BY TIANA SPETER