Australian Musician first met I Built the Sky’s Rohan Stevenson at our Melbourne Guitar Show. We caught up with Ro to see what’s been happening since. Photos (except MGS) by http://darrentannytan.com/
In early March this year, Melbourne based progressive instrumental outfit I Built The Sky were doing themselves proud, sharing a stage with international prog rock heavy weights Between The Buried and Me. It was only six months prior that Rohan Stevenson, writer and creator of I Built The Sky was debuting the project at the Melbourne Guitar Show, on that occasion playing to backing tracks.
“That was awesome,” Rohan says of his Melbourne Guitar Show debut. “I was really nervous though. This particular project is has been a studio thing for a while. It is all well and good making crazy guitar stuff in the comfort of your own home but on a stage, where there are no re-takes, you know… Whatever happens, happens is always scary but I had a lot of fun and had some great feedback, so I was really happy how it went. To play with backing tracks was not ideal. I’d rather have played guitar show with a band but due to circumstances, I didn’t have anyone ready to go for that show so I just played with backing tracks. ”
Anyone who attended the Melbourne Guitar Show last year would have been impressed by the fretboard fluency of I Built The Sky (aka Rohan Stevenson) in that project’s debut performance. Rohan has gone on to bigger and better things, so we were interested v to discuss his career developments.
Within the space of a self-titled album and an EP (Intortus), Stevenson has developed a substantial audience both here and overseas with his slickfire guitar licks and epic song arrangements. His YouTube videos are viewed by thousands worldwide. But where did it all begin for Rohan? What sparked his musical fire?
“I’d say in high school is where it really started for me,” he begins to explain. “My dad is a musician and he was in bands as a trumpet player growing up. He started playing guitar later on, so there were guitars around the house and dad would play. When I got older, I began learning guitar from a teacher at school. He was a really cool guy and it really intrigued me. A lot of my friends were into it too. I remember this guy playing an Offspring riff, like a power chord and I couldn’t believe it. I just thought it was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen, this guy playing this awesome song right in front of me. So ever since then I was hooked and it just grew stronger and stronger. I keep feeling more and more passionate about guitar.”
Rohan has since progressed from his Offspring roots to more the complex guitar arrangements of bands such as Periphery and Animals As Leaders. Periphery’s Misha Mansoor in particular has been a guiding light for Stevenson in regard to the way he approaches the creation of his art and allayed any fears of taking total control of his own musical destiny. “Misha Mansoor from Periphery is a big inspiration,” Rohan states categorically. “He opened my eyes up to the style of what I am dabbling in now. Just knowing that you can do it all yourself. You can make your own music and that was mind blowing to me to find that he was the one that did everything involved in that music to begin with. I am definitely a control freak, a big control freak but that’s also out of necessity. I find when you work with four other people, part of you thinks it will make it easier because you have these other people to contribute but actually I feel like it takes longer to get things done. Everyone has to navigate life to get things done. Doing it on your own, it is all up to you and if it doesn’t get done, it is your fault. That tends to motivate me too.”
Interestingly, Rohan has avoided the need to opt for a seven string guitar, as many of his genre peers have done. Six is enough. “I just decided that I would rather do that, stick with a six because it is almost separates me from other people in this style,” he says. “Most players of this style of music play seven strings. It forces creativity when you restrict yourself. It is a fun challenge as well. I experiment with tuning and it doesn’t stop me from playing lower tuned music, I can still tune it down.”
Ro’s weapon of choice is a blue PRS Custom 22 but he was thrilled to recently discover another nugget, a Maton Mastersound which belonged to Josh Homme. It’s a 526 Deluxe model from 1998. The Homme model Matons are known for their high output. “My Bare Knuckle pickups on my PRS are very hugely high but that Maton can definitely rock. Those particular models weren’t found too often and I’m not sure but I think they only made them as custom orders. For the most part they were made specifically for Josh.”
Rather than battle a board full of pedals in the studio to achieve his tone, Rohan prefers the ease of use of an AxeFX system. “The Axe FX is also a good amp simulator as well,” says Rohan. “I guess in one word, it’s convenient. The AxeFx is all within the box. As soon as I switch on my setting, it is perfectly how I like it. If I was to use a tube amp, I’d have to mic it up and if I don’t get a song recorded in one day then there is the potential for the sound to change, so it is so much easier to use the AxeFX.”
Stevenson is currently working on a new I Built The Sky album which he hopes to have out by the end of the year. So far, all of the songs which have appeared on his recordings have named after types of clouds. I wondered if there were enough cloud types to sustain that little quirk? “This is an ongoing question that I get asked,” he laughs. “Surprisingly there are a lot of different cloud types so I think I will last a little bit longer. I am not too worried about that yet but there are other elements in the sky too, so I can explore different things after that.”
The game plan for Stevenson and his I Built The Sky project now is to tour internationally, particularly America where he already has a healthy following. “I just want to make good music if nothing else,” he says of his humble ambitions. “I just want to make music I am proud of.”
The next opportunity we have to catch I Built The Sky in concert is March 18 at The Factory Floor in Sydney and March 19 at The Workers Club in Melbourne, when Rohan hooks up with his friend, Sydney guitarist James Norbert Ivanyi for a co-headline tour.