INTERVIEW: Ryan Felton (CHAOS DIVINE)
There's a touch of the transcendent to Perth's captivating conjurers of prog Chaos Divine; deftly balancing crushing heaviness with exquisite melodies, this powerful quintet lead you on soaring sonic journeys that are broadly intimate, wholeheartedly immersive - and just ultimately hands-down epic.
Remaining relatively quiet on the new music front since their critically acclaimed third studio release 'Colliding Skies' in 2015 (while casually carving up a heap of national and international tours, and appearing at major music festivals across the globe in the meantime), Chaos Divine have returned in 2019 with a boisterously beautiful bang, releasing their brand new track 'Unspoken' and signing with Aussie booking agency Beardfoot. And before some imminent tour announcements and more new material unfurls from the Chaos Divine camp, we grabbed some time (after totally kooking the Perth time conversion) with guitarist Ryan Felton; a man who can wield his axe as well as he can navigate the highs and lows of live touring, and a gentleman who certainly his finger on the pulse of all things prog. Interview below.
TIANA SPETER: Hey Ryan! I'm very excited to chat to you today, I managed to catch Chaos Divine at Progfest in Sydney earlier this year and I was absolutely blown away!
RYAN FELTON: Yeah, it was good fun hey!
TIANA: Now Chaos Divine have had a massively busy 2019 so far, as I just mentioned you guys slayed it at Progfest plus a few other shows earlier this year, you signed with Beardfoot (Beardfoot Bookings & Promotions), you've clocked over 1 million plays on your epic cover of Toto's 'Africa' on Spotify...and, of course, most recently: the unveiling of your latest track 'Unspoken'. Have you had a moment to actually be able to take all of this in yet?
RYAN: You know what, I think for us it feels like it's kind of gone really slowly because we've actually just been locked away working on new stuff for a while. So this year's probably the busiest year we've had in the last few years, it doesn't feel that full on at the moment because I think we've had a lot of time to write and prepare. But now we're at the pointy end of releasing something new, so it's been good to start putting it out there!
UNSPOKEN (CHAOS DIVINE)
TIANA: And as you touched on, 'Unspoken' does mark your first new material in a little while. And amongst that, you've kept extremely busy along the way, I know you've played some insane shows all over the globe, so you haven't been sitting around twiddling your thumbs. But can you talk me through a bit about how 'Unspoken' came to life? How does a Chaos Divine song actually take shape?
RYAN: Yeah, that song is actually one of the more recent songs we've written off the new album. We've been writing for the best part of three years since we stopped touring the last album. So we've actually had quite a long time to chop and change songs. And 'Unspoken' was actually one of the more recent songs, and it was shaping up that it was the song we wanted to release ahead of the album. And we're probably gonna do another song before we release the album as well because...(laughs) I guess it draws it out a little bit more! But we all really kind of dug the vibe of the song, it was a bit heavier and a bit more reflective of what the whole album is gonna sound like. And we just really thought it was catchy and had a good hook. When we write songs as a band together, one of us will probably go off and write some riffs. But we always usually come together and spend quite a long time fleshing out the songs and restructuring and working on the parts. We kind collaborate a lot on writing, so it does take a lot longer doing it that way.
TIANA: Well you pre-empted one of my questions a bit there in terms of what else we may expect from some of the upcoming material, and the album itself. But do you guys tend to write...like throw it all out there and try to hone it in and then you have to cull a lot of songs along the way to make the album?
RYAN: We aren't the sort of band who writes 20 or 30 songs and takes them away and just records them and then deletes them. We kind of almost piece the idea together, and if something's not working we try to finesse it into a better spot. So we don't tend to overwrite, if that makes sense? We just get the ideas down, there might be 10-12 ideas, and some stuff we might discard earlier on. But we always try to have those 10-12 ideas before we finish all of the writing. And then, as the song progresses through to the studio even - we're actually changing things at the last minute and making calls on structure and stuff like that. So we're a bit more methodical for how we write songs compared to perhaps some other bands who have the liberty of being able to write songs and then chop and choose (laughs).
TIANA: I think it's a very efficient way, if I was going to do it that's how I'd do it. For 'Unspoken', you guys also teamed up with Forrester Savell who seems to be the patron saint of Aussie prog at the moment...I'm pretty sure he's had his hands on about 95% of the songs I've had come through my inbox of late. What was it like working with him on the new material?
RYAN: Fairly easy to be honest, he worked with us on the last record as well so he knows our sound. We gave him a bit of an indication as to how we wanted a slightly different sound to the last record, but still kind of in keeping with what we're all about. And right off the bat when we sent him the mixes to have a go at, he was 95% there with the mix that he sent back, we were all really happy! We were going for a slightly heavier sound, there's definitely some heavier elements on the record. But while there's lots of heavy moments, there's also a lot of melodics. And he's done a lot of that work, obviously, for other bands and it's territory that he's very familiar with, so we knew he was gonna pull a great sound. And he's super easy to work with as well, and I think he enjoys us and enjoys mixing us. It's handy to have someone that likes the material, and I actually got to meet him at Progfest this year for the first time as well, which was great, he came along to the Brisbane show. That was really good!
TIANA: And an awesome result it has been! Now with 'Unspoken' it wasn't just the new track out in the world recently, but also a pretty stunning animated music video that came with the track. Did you guys have this concept early on for the clip?
RYAN: We had the idea to do something a little bit different for the video clip, we knew we wanted to do a video but not necessarily a typical kind of stand-there-and-play kind of video. We did have the idea to do something animated early on, but we actually weren't quite sure what style we wanted so we all did a bit of homework and looked at some other animators that were doing some cool stuff. And we stumbled upon this guy Luke (Luke Toth Motion & Design) in New Zealand who does some really unique and fairly cartoon-style animation - but they're a little bit abstract as well, which is kind of what we wanted. We weren't sure how it was gonna go when we started to get some of the renders back. But then when we actually saw the whole edit, it was a bit different but we actually really liked how different the style was. And piecing it together with a fairly heavy, upbeat song - it makes for an interesting view. So we really enjoyed what we got back.
TIANA: It was seriously beautiful. Turning to the live stuff briefly, you guys have already played a fair few shows this year already, but you've played alongside some pretty insane bands along the way as well. The list is literally drool-worthy, I mean: Slayer, Mastodon, Tesseract, Textures...I could go on forever, but I won't. But over the years, has there been a particular live moment that has stood out for you, whether it's been memorably good, bad or other?
RYAN: Probably the last time we went to Europe, there were some massive highs and some pretty realistic lows as well. We were touring there mainly to play the ProgPower Europe festival, which was absolutely amazing, we got to play second-last on the bill and we had an hour and ten minute set, which is like the longest I think we've ever played! And the room was full, and it was just an amazing experience. But on the same tour we were trying to play some other shows as well, and learning some lessons around what bands and booking agents experience over there. There were some pretty poor turnouts at some of those shows, but it was kind of all part of the learning process. And playing to smaller crowds - even though they were small, they were amazing as well. So it was kind of a good experience all round, but we also took away some good lessons for the next time we go over.
TIANA: As a band, you guys have such a dynamic live set...do you have a super-secret Chaos Divine ritual that takes place before you go onstage?
RYAN: Not really (laughs). We're just trying to make sure none of our shit breaks, really (laughs). There's nothing too complicated about our live show, aside from the fact that we just wanna make it as powerful as possible. So we try to limit the complications onstage and things like that. We've all had a fair while to do it now, we've been a live band playing live since 2006, I think? So we've had a fair bit of experience. But, you learn along the way every time. And we've got a new drummer now, so getting used to how he plays as well, and what he's like onstage and what his vibe is. It's been nothing but really good, we've had such a great time getting to know Tim (Tim Stelter - Drums) in terms of how he plays and how he performs and stuff like that. The whole band kinda gels really well onstage now, and I think that's fairly evident...the reception we got after Progfest and playing The Ocean shows, stuff like that, we seem to get really positive feedback from the live shows!
TIANA: Now to focus in on yourself briefly for a moment - for someone so readily associated with some pretty crushing riffs in a band you've been involved with for so many years now...I have read you talk about when you were younger raiding your brother's collection of music, Metallica, Sepultura, all that kind of stuff...but what do you find yourself listening to these days, do you still find yourself drawn to that heavier side of things? Or has your taste become a bit more eclectic as you've gotten older?
RYAN: Yeah, it's pretty eclectic, and it's been very eclectic since forming Chaos Divine. I'm still listening to all of the old-school heavy stuff as much as I'm listening to more alternative or even electronic stuff as well. I'm really enjoying a lot of bands similar to us, I guess, but in different markets. Europe has so many cool prog bands now who would be great to play with one day! I try and make a bit of a habit out of discovering bands who are on our sort of level, and making networks with them. It's really helpful to support bands that are doing similar things to us, and hopefully one day when we want to tour, or they want to tour - there's some good networks to build off!
TIANA: And by the sound of it some potential dream prog lineups too! Ok so: imagine, if you will, you're stranded on a desert island with only one album and one musician, alive or dead, for company. What and who are you taking and why?
RYAN: Ooo that's a tough one! So musician....probably Steve Vai, cos he can help me play guitar better (laughs). And one album....it has to be Sepultura. Just purely for the nostalgia and also just something that I could probably listen to a lot of. I'd say probably...hmm...maybe the 'Arise' album, I'd say! Something old-school. Hopefully I wouldn't get too tired of it, but it's always good (laughs).
TIANA: Excellent, great choices all round! To wrap it up finally - you've started 2019 with a bit of a big bang...there's obviously some new material in the pipeline still to come out from you guys. But casting your gaze a bit beyond the horizon there...what is next for Chaos Divine, do you have any secrets up your sleeve you can reveal?
RYAN: We've got some pretty cool touring announcements just about to drop, and the shows actually aren't too far away! So that should get announced in the next week or two. So look out for that! And we'll obviously try to bring another single out, hopefully around mid-year. We're sort of biding our time on when we will actually release the new album, we're not in a huge rush. But we want to have some conversations with a few people overseas and stuff like that before we lock anything in! Hopefully later this year, but if it ends up being a little bit later than that, we're not going to be too concerned! As long as we're out and about doing things and playing shows - we've got a bunch of new songs that we can play live now, so that's helpful and hopefully opens up some doors for us!
TIANA: Living the dream! Well thank you so much for the time, am very keen to hear about some shows in the near future because I'd definitely love to catch you guys live again! And looking forward to some new tunes too. Thanks Ryan!
RYAN: Thanks a lot!
CHAOS DIVINE'S BRAND NEW SINGLE 'UNSPOKEN' IS ALIVE AND KICKING IN ALL THE USUAL MUSICAL HAUNTS. FOR MORE INFO, HEAD HERE.
BY TIANA SPETER