, , , ,

From The Archives – Rip It Up: Rhian Sheehan/Quietly Returning

Last edited: 15.04.16 | Comment? | By












By Martyn Pepperell/Photo by Alexander Hallag

Far removed from the electronica of his 2001 debut album, Rhian Sheehan’s latest Stories From Elsewhere is a lush experiment in instrumental storytelling and cinematic arrangement. The veteran musician and producer suspects he might be “growing up or something”…

Rhian Sheehan cuts an unimposing figure but yet has the air of a wise owl. Tall, of medium build and generally dressed in utilitarian greys or blacks, he looks and talks like he wandered out of the pages of a Philip K Dick or William Gibson novel. Perhaps Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? or Pattern Recognition. A Nelson-born multi-instrumentalist, composer and producer, Sheehan has spent much of his career living in Wellington and over the last 12 years, has cultivated himself a very decent international reputation through a series of solo albums and commissioned soundtrack pieces for film and television.

Working from his home studio in the suburb of Miramar, Sheehan divides his days and nights between soundtrack work, his own music and family time with his wife, musician Raashi Malik, and their children. On a warm Thursday afternoon in early March, he’s holding court from his workspace, thinking back to his first album, Paradigm Shift — a collection of café-electronica now far divorced from the melancholy string arrangements, reverberating outdoor field recordings and nostalgia—inducing music box melodies that underscore both his 2009 EP Seven Tales of The North Wind and his new album, Stories From Elsewhere. “Maybe I’m growing up or something,” he says. “Electronic music doesn’t interest me as much anymore. I listen to it, but unless it is really clever stuff like Burial I find it boring. I even feel like that with a lot of my electronic stuff from earlier years. It’s a thing of the past. If l could have had a pseudonym in the beginning, or if l could change things, I wouldn’t have started using my own name until I released Standing In Silence [in 2009] because I don’t feel like the work is in the same category really.”

Sheehan’s work has become increasingly less electronic, weaving its way closer and closer into physicality. While Standing In Silence was an exercise in guitar-driven, ambient shoegazing, and Seven Tales Of The North Wind was rich childhood reminiscence through juxtapositions of found sound and melody, Stories From Elsewhere lives somewhere in between, but unconsciously so: “I’m so busy with soundtrack work that what happens is, when I’m not busy I go crazy with my own music,” Sheehan says with a laugh. “I just see if l can write something. I’m not thinking about the process too much when I’m working on this music. It wasn’t until I had 80 percent of the album finished that I realised I had all this material there… It’s something that I’m a bit afraid of thinking about too much, in case I drown my creativity.”

Cover image

It was late last year when he realised that his unfettered experimentations, mostly centred around an 8-bit sampling keyboard from the ‘80s, and a selection of musical children’s toys sourced through op-shops, eBay and his wife’s parents’ attic, were shifting into a sequence. “I had about 20 tracks,” Sheehan recalls. “It was just a matter of culling them down. Then I needed some help mixing them. I went and recorded some string parts and talked to Dr Lee Prebble [from The Surgery Studio] about coming on board and helping me mix the songs, which added a real different dimension to them.”

Drawing on a cast of guest musicians including Jeff Boyle of Jakob, Andy Hummel, Steve Bremner and Ryan Prebble for additional assistance, he also called on his closest collaborator; his wife. “Raashi is the biggest help to me,” Sheehan enthuses. “I write all the piano lines and then I get her to play them, because I don’t trust myself enough. Ryan Youens is a string arranger who helps with a lot of my soundtrack work. He came on board and really helped. I had already written most of the arrangements, but he kind of tweaked them.” Having in the past interpreted his Standing In Silence album into a series of acclaimed live concerts, he began to shape a live performance plan for this record too, while melding it into its final shape between his home studio and Prebble’s. “We’ve already got a date booked in July at The Opera House [in Wellington],” he reveals. “There will be a big string section from Orchestra Wellington involved. Jeff Boyle will be involved. I think it will be pretty much the last crew I had for the Standing In Silence shows.”

During late March and early April, Stories From Elsewhere will be released physically and digitally in New Zealand, Australia, America, Europe, the UK and Japan, through Loop Recordings, Darla Records and Preco Records. For Sheehan, it’s an achievement he’s modestly proud of. “If I look at my Bandcamp and my Soundcloud statistics, I’m surprised anyone listens to my music in New Zealand, to be honest with you,” he says. “It’s predominantly the States and Europe and Japan. That is where people are listening. I don’t have a huge listenership at all, but I do feel like I have a solid listenership.” Like Ludwig Mies van der Rohe said, “Less is more.” It’s an oft-abused phrase, but for Sheehan it chimes bright, true and clear.
Stories From Elsewhere is out now.

Stories From Elsewhere (Loop)
Paul Comrie-Thomson

Rhian Sheehan is an unstoppable force. I thought he’d reached his creative zenith on 2009’s incredible Standing In Silence. He then bettered that with the 2011 EP Seven Tales of the North Wind, and has completely blown both out of the water with this latest compositional masterpiece. Every time I listen to this record – and I’ve played it a lot – from the moment the dynamics start to build within the first minute of the album opener ‘Sileo’, I find myself utterly entranced for the full subsequent 45-minutes. Sheehan covers a lot of ground. Elements of Stories From Elsewhere are familiar, reflecting the textural post-rock ambiance from the aforementioned two most recent releases, but where the album really shines is in its orchestral flavour (with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra having been drafted to help on the album). The reoccurring, and ever-changing, orchestral focus helps Sheehan to achieve a use of dynamics unique to this album. Furthermore, the reoccurring use of certain sounds – most notably, the twinkling of the music box – draws the album’s constituent parts together masterfully. It seems to be a rule of thumb when it comes to Sheehan that his best album is always his next album, and on that basis here’s hoping that the Wellington-based composer can continue to create something new every two years. In the meantime, I cannot recommend Stories From Elsewhere highly enough.

Rhian Sheehan:

‘Quietly Returning’ from Rip It Up, No. 352, April-May 2013. ‘Stories From Elsewhere’ review from ‘Rip It Up’, No. 353, June-July 2013. Used with permission.

Posted in: From the ArchivesGeneralInterviewsRip It Up

have your say

You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

You can use these tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>