It’s long been understood that the Canterbury scene extends far beyond the geographic boundaries of the Cathedral city that members of Caravan and Soft Machine once called home. The organic growth of the movement over the years has come to include bands from across Europe, Scandinavia, the USA and even Japan, all judged to have an affinity to the sometimes whimsical rock and jazz-infused sound. Since 2020 another branch of the family tree has been added in the shape of Ryan Stevenson, the brains and musical force of nature behind Zopp, whose second album Dominion was released earlier this year.
Based in Nottingham, Stevenson admits to having been smitten by the sound after he chanced upon Egg’s 1971 classic The Polite Force in his father’s album collection. It wasn’t so much that he chose the music but rather it chose him, he says. “I think the appeal was that it was just a very spacey and very unusual sound world for me. I remember walking to school during my GCSEs in 2005 listening to it and just loving it.”
Although Stevenson didn’t play any instruments at the time, such was his love of the other groups he rapidly discovered after falling headlong down the Canterbury-shaped rabbit hole, he was inspired to take up piano. Determined to create his own compositions, his self-confessed obsession ultimately culminated in his self-titled debut in 2020. A fan of The Tangent, he’d sent demos to The Tangent’s Andy Tillison, who was able to give Stevenson advice on how to finish the record as well as contribute his own keyboards on two tracks. “I think, just mixing that album with him in 2019, I learned a lot from watching him work, especially mixing and production ideas,” says Stevenson.
To some extent Dominion picks up from where Zopp’s debut album left off. There are copious amounts of fuzz organ, rippling electric piano, tricky twists both in melody and time signatures, and the welcome blast of guest saxes, flutes and French horns, adding at times something of a chamber ensemble feel. It’s all underpinned by Stevenson’s long-time collaborator, percussionist Andrea Moneta, a fellow resident of Nottingham, and drummer with Italian prog outfit Leviathan.
However, the biggest difference this time is Stevenson adding lead vocals to all his other multi-instrumental skills. “I’m not a singer but I thought I’d give it a try. I think some non-vocalists are the most endearing because of the imperfections which can be beautiful and intriguing. Someone like Egg’s Mont Campbell. I love his voice. He’s not a vocalist but it’s got that quintessential English quality, which I tried to do with this album.”
Sales of Dominion have been so encouraging that Stevenson has decided to form a five-piece touring version of Zopp. “I didn’t know Zopp was going to take off the way it has but it’s like anything, if you believe in something, then hopefully other people are going to resonate with it.”
LINE-UP: Ryan W Stevenson (keys, guitar, vocals), Andrea Moneta (percussion)
SOUNDS LIKE: A test tube filled with elements of Zappa, Egg, Stravinsky, National Health et al, whirled in a centrifuge and decanted into a psychedelic cocktail
CURRENT RELEASE: Dominion is out now via Flat Circle Records