Articles : “I’m jumping on the ship, we’ll see if it sinks or not.” – An Interview With Rohan Stevenson (I Built the Sky)
Rohan Stevenson, the man behind burgeoning Melbourne-based instrumental guitar project I Built the Sky, recently made the very bold move of quitting his day job to focus entirely upon the creation and marketing of his music. In this day and age of ever-shrinking revenues from independent art and music, making this decision takes much intestinal fortitude, but the time had come, and Stevenson is looking to the future now with a little trepidation and a whole lot of excitement.
“I was working in a school, teaching music,” he begins, “it’s awesome, it is a great thing, but I’d just been there too long, doing the same thing too long. I feel like, if you do anything for too long you need a change. I was losing that side of me, like ‘why am I alive? What am I doing?’ I just felt like this isn’t what I should be doing. Teaching is a good thing, I’m all about it, and I do a little bit of it even now, but I’d just got to that point, in that situation and in that amount of time, mentally it was just not right any more.”
As daunting as the prospect was, the time was right for him to bite the bullet and make the move. “It’s my dream, ever since I started playing guitar,” Stevenson states passionately, “I want to be a touring band, I want to do those things, and if there was ever a chance I thought now is the time”
It’s a real leap of faith for you? “Absolutely,” he agrees emphatically, “I’m very comfortable with it now, I know I’ve made the right choice. You’ve got to give it a go, jump in, see what happens. I’m excited, I’m nervous, all of the above. But at the moment things are going really well, I’m not worried about things, and there’s some really good things on the horizon.”
Something else that has really helped Stevenson’s cause in taking this enormous leap is the fact that the style of music he does, while still certainly niche, has had a serious period of renaissance over the last five to ten years. Public interest in progressive music, and indeed progressive instrumental guitar music, has been on an upswing in recent times and allowed artists of Stevenson’s ilk, such as Plini, David Maxim Micic, Intervals, Jakub Zytecki and many more, to create better music, tour, make money off playing live, selling merch, music streaming services and so on. People out there are interested, they are listening, they are showing up to shows in very solid numbers and buying the tee-shirt while they are there.
This was a big part of his decision to take the plunge: “Absolutely,” he says, “I’ve been building things up for a while, 2005 was my first release, and I’m completely independent, not signed to a label or anything, so I do get all my streaming income. People say it’s not good, the amount that you get, but in my situation I’m actually pleasantly surprised, it’s pretty good. People who are signed to a label don’t get the same type of results, but I think you can do okay as a small, relatively unknown artist, if you’re independent, you get to maintain your royalties in that way.
“So all that combined with how healthy this scene is, it’s a viable thing., it’s in a really good place right now.”
Yet another factor in his decision was the imminent release of his latest album, The Zenith Rise, which came out in early November. It is a scintillating, world-class collection of instrumental guitar pieces, an opus that Stevenson is justifiably proud of, and fan reaction so far has been beyond his wildest imaginings. “Absolutely overwhelming,” he says without hesitation, “it’s just been amazing, people seem to be really liking it, so that’s awesome, I’m stoked.
“It’s been in the works for over a year, maybe a year and a half,” he continues, “but the majority of it came from the start of this year, up until about mid-year. I was really dedicated to the cause, I just wanted to make the best material I could come up with, which is always my attitude, I’m always trying to beat whatever I’ve done previously, that was the challenge. I wanted to make it more dynamic, there’s a lot more light and shade, and I also wanted to step up the production, so I got Forrester Savell (Karnivool, Dead Letter Circus, Skyharbor, Sikth) on board. It was fuckin’ awesome to work with him, I’ve been wanting to work with him for a long time, and we finally got there.
“Overall I think we got the best possible results.”
At the time of writing, no album release touring had been announced, but come early to mid 2020. I Built the Sky will be on the road in support of The Zenith Rise, nationally and internationally, so keep an eye on his socials.