6 Oct 2018

Rhian Sheehan on his new album A Quiet Divide

From RNZ Music, 3:00 pm on 6 October 2018

Wellington composer Rhian Sheehan has just released an evocative, cinematic new work – A Quiet Divide,  which he's currently performing as a multimedia spectacular around the land.

He spoke to Kirsten Johnstone about the new album and gave us a sneak peek at the spellbinding visuals he created to go with it.

Rhian's video for 'Lost Letters' features bespoke visuals created by artist Simon Burgin – one of many different artists he's collaborated with to produce the stunning visuals for his upcoming live shows.

Rhian Sheehan’s music has been heard in planetariums around the world, on theme park rides in Abu Dhabi, and soundtracking TV series and films. You can even hear his music while shooting robot aliens in a new augmented reality game.

But that’s just his day job. When that is done, he sits down in his Miramar studio to write his own contemplative instrumental music that sits somewhere between neo-classical and post-rock. “Atmospheric chamber music” he calls it. He’s one of the most streamed NZ artists, with plays on Spotify alone reaching over 30 million. His songs are regularly added to playlists like ‘Cinematic Chillout’ where he’s surrounded by his film composer idols, some of the biggest in the business - the likes of Ryuichi Sakamoto, Max Richter, Hans Zimmer, and Lord Of The Rings composer James Howard.

“Someone at Spotify must like me,” Rhian says. But he says it doesn’t mean that he’s in the same echelon of artists.

“I admire all of those composers incredibly, but I would never consider myself being in the same world as what they’re doing, but it’s a thrill to be included in playlists like that.” 

Rhian Sheehan

Rhian Sheehan Photo: © 2018 Ian Robertson Photography Ltd.

Mind you, he’s at the point of having to turn work down, not because he’s flooded with offers, but because his process can be quite slow and fraught with imposter syndrome.

“With every project that you take on, there’s an excitement followed by a crisis, and you feel like a fraud, like ‘I can’t do this, what have I gotten myself into?’... and that nails me for a few days, and then I finally get my shit together. Once I start getting into it it’s all good.”       

Rhian Sheehan’s new album A Quiet Divide was the fastest album he’s ever made from conception to completion in six months. He had NZ on Air funding to make it, and Loop label boss Mikee Tucker booked some shows and set Rhian a deadline to get it done.

“When I first sat down and tried to write a cohesive body of work, I failed miserably. I spent a long time banging my head against a wall. I had nothing to say, musically.”

At the same time, he was working on the music for Weta Workshop/Magic Leap augmented reality game Dr. Grordbort's Invaders - “bombastic, orchestral, almost pompous Monty Python music”. It was a big contrast between that and the sonic world he retreated to at night.

It’s an album layered with sonorous strings, plaintive piano and gently swirling wisps of synths. There’s a scattering of distant voices speaking foreign languages, and sounds like fairydust. He says it’s the quietest album he’s written, hence the title A Quiet Divide, though there’s moments of wall-of-sound loudness and emotional intensity.

Sheehan says he wanted the album to feel optimistic, naive and nostalgic.    

“I guess when I was working on this album I was thinking a lot about, like we all do, the past, our childhood, our future, what could have been, what has been,… and being a father, that really changes your perception on reality.

“We all have these beautiful moments with our kids daily, these magical little moments, and you know that they’re fleeting. We’re getting older and every magic moment seems to evaporate and dissolve, and it’s gone. And there’s a sadness in that.”   

Helping to push Rhian to his deadline was his wife Raashi Malik. A pianist, singer and composer herself, she’d come into the studio and jam, freeing ideas that were stuck. So great was her contribution to this album that she’s credited, for the first time, as a co-producer.

“She played such a big role in me being able to bounce ideas off her. She’d walk in and say yay or nay, really.”

Raashi will be part of the eight-piece band Rhian has assembled to play the album live, along with local string sections in Wellington, Nelson and Auckland this month. It’s going to be a sensory feast, with ‘ghost mesh’ sets by Weta Workshop which give a 3D feel to the projections, and visuals by a number of collaborators including animator Matt Pitt and award winning astrophotographer Mark Gee.

“It should look beautiful. Even if you’re not into the music, you’ll certainly love the look of the show, that’s for sure.”

A Quiet Divide Rhian Sheehan's audio visual spectacular live performances:

  • Friday, October 12 at the Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington
  • Saturday and Sunday, October 20 & 21 at the Theatre Royal, Nelson
  • Friday and Saturday, October 26 at Q Theatre, Auckland

Tickets from http://loop.co.nz

Rhian Sheehan live in Dunedin

Rhian Sheehan live in Dunedin Photo: supplied