INTERVIEW: Rhian Sheehan


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Rhian Sheehan


THIS day starts with me talking…


with the New Zealand-based artist Rhian Sheehan. He talks to me about his new single, The Absence of You, and what its story is. I ask what we can expect from the album, A Quiet Divide (out 5th October), and what plans he has going forward.

Sheehan tells me about the albums and artists that mean the most to him; whether there are tour dates coming up; how he got started in music; how important orchestral music is to him – he ends the interview by selecting a great track.


Hi, Rhian. How are you? How has your week been?

It’s been busy. We’re gearing up for a tour around New Zealand next week, so we’re full swing into rehearsals. It’s also the most technically challenging show we’ve put together, with multiple screens and projections - so we’re in full preparation right now.

For those new to your music; can you introduce yourself, please?

Well. I’ve been releasing music since the early-2000s but, over that time, I became a full-time screen composer for film, T.V. and video games etc. So, I have worked in many different genres over the years. It’s a little tricky trying to pigeonhole my own releases into one genre as my own style has evolved over the years.

My earlier releases were predominantly electronic in nature but I would say that my last three albums (Standing in Silence, Stories from Elsewhere and A Quiet Divide) have all delved more and more into an orchestral and atmospheric sound, mixed with moments of Post-Rock and synth soundscapes. Someone recently described my music as “atmospheric Chamber music”, which I think describes the latest release well.

The Absence of You is just out. Is there a story behind the track? 

Originally, the track was in a very different form as a slower piano piece. When I began working on the new record, I rediscovered the original idea and completely reworked it into something very different. The finished piece (for piano moog and chamber strings) is far more passionate and focused than my original slow sketch. I’m always jotting down ideas; sketching on the piano or guitar, and many of these ideas never see the light of day again so it’s nice when some old idea helps spark off a new one.

It’s from the album, A Quiet Divide. In terms of themes and ideas; what can we expect from the album?

I think my scoring work shines through on A Quiet Divide more than any other release. Listening now, in retrospect, the album feels like it could be a film score in places. My intention was to write and produce an album that was reflective, emotive and delicate but that also had interesting sonic colours and textures. It’s by far the most heavily piano and chamber strings-focused album I’ve released.

I often find myself daydreaming when sketching out an idea, getting nostalgic about the past and pondering the future. I’m a parent and, being a parent, it quickly becomes apparent that all of the beautiful little moments we experience in life are fleeting. They fade into a past memory in an instant. There’s a little sadness wrapped up in all this. Our time is limited. That’s where the title for the album came from.

Is there more material coming later down the line? What are you working on?

I'm very busy working on Magic Leap and film soundtracks so, at this stage, my future output is focused on the more commercial side of my work.

Can you talk about the video for Soma Dreams? What was it like working with Matt Pitt?

Matt, A.K.A. redkidOne, is an old friend of mine and an extremely talented animator. He’s produced some beautiful music videos for me over the years - and they all connect to each other in subtle ways. The idea for Soma Dreams video came about from the Japanese girl’s dialogue at the beginning of the track. She’s talking about a dream she had about a whale in the sky. Matt took inspiration from that and ran with it, with gorgeous results.

Give me a sense of the music you grew up around. Was it quite varied?

I was around music from a young age. My mother was in a tour band when I young, so we spent some time on the road. But, I didn’t really take music seriously until I was about seventeen. I played in many bands as a pretty average guitar player but then went on to study composition and began recording my own music in my home studio from around the age of eighteen. My tastes are wide and varied, but I’ve become more and more influenced by orchestral and Classical music as well as Ambient music over the years.


It is clear strings and Classical elements are important to you and who you are. Do you think genres like Classical get overlooked by many people and warrants greater attention?

I think Classical, or more specifically orchestral music, has had a huge resurgence in recent years and that’s in some part because of the success of artists such as Max Richter, Ólafur Arnalds; Nils Frahm, the late and great Jóhann Jóhannsson and many others; all of whom have taken the idea of Classical music and turned it on its head; experimenting with orchestral sounds in a far less traditional way. It’s an exciting time for modern-Classical music.

My own experience is that writing for orchestra can be somewhat addictive. Every recording session you do is like watching magic unfold in front of you. You are literally listening as notes written on paper spring into life via the hands of very talent performers. That’s an exciting moment.

What do you hope to achieve by the end of 2018?

It’s been a busy year from me. As well as finishing the new album, I’ve just wrapped up writing a score for Magic Leap’s mixed-reality game, Dr. Grordbort’s Invaders, which is coming soon. I’m also excited to tour the new album around New Zealand over the coming months. We have a fantastic band and I’ve been lucky enough to have worked with some incredibly talented visual artists on these shows too.


Do you have tour dates coming up? Where can we catch you play?

Yes. To celebrate my new album I'm playing with a nine-piece band and orchestras across N.Z. in Dunedin, Nelson; Wellington and Auckland - with a visual backdrop created by Weta Workshop and collaborations from a host of visual specialists from N.Z., U.S.A. and U.K. I'm super-excited to unveil this show.

SAT, 29 SEPT: Dunedin Town Hall

FRI, 12 OCT: Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington

SAT, 20 and SUN 21 OCT: Nelson Theatre Royal

FRI, 26 and SAT Oct 27: Q Theatre, Auckland

All info at; Video trailer for shows.

Have you got a favourite memory from your time in music so far – the one that sticks in the mind?

One of favourite recent musical moments was seeing Max Richter’s Vivaldi Recomposed live in Auckland. It was such a stunning show.

Which three albums mean the most to you would you say (and why)?

Cliff Martinez - Solaris (Original Motion Picture Score)

A live, changing album for me. One of the most powerful and affecting orchestral scores ever written in my opinion.

Max Richter - Recomposed by Max RichterVivaldi – The Four Seasons

A stirring record. Beautifully rearranged, reinterpreted and recorded. A brave album to make given the purists that exist within the Classical and orchestral genre. Probably one of the most listened to albums of the last few years for me.

Micronism - Inside a Quiet Mind

Without a doubt, one of the best Electronic records ever made. Timeless.


If you could support any musician alive today, and choose your own rider, what would that entail?

I’d support Nashville band Hammock because they’re been a huge influence on me over the years. Unfortunately, they don’t play live often, if ever.

My rider would entail a raw veggie smoothly, a tank of pure oxygen and a pedicure. 

What advice would you give to new artists coming through?

Perseverance. Keep writing good music and opportunities will come your way eventually.

Do you get much time to chill away from music? How do you unwind?

I’m a big reader. Nothing beats curling up in the sun and reading a good book.

Finally, and for being a good sport; you can choose any song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music - I will do that).

I still think Cliff Martinez’s score for the film Solaris is one of the best scores ever written.


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