Ronan Leonard chats to Cork band Rowan, who have prioritised the music they make together, despite all of the members being involved in various side-projects. They play Quarter Block Party this weekend.
Rowan are a band made up some of the busiest musicians working in Cork, there’s a good chance that if you went to just a handful of gigs around the city over the last year or two - perhaps The Frank And Walters or Stephanie Rainey - you’ve seen a member of Rowan playing!
The band’s lead singer Dylan Howe, who also plays keyboards and guitar, was the 2018 recipient of The Colin Vearncombe Memorial Bursary - a €1,000 award for a singer songwriter studying at Cork School of Music - and is very clear that Rowan is band, “we are definitely a band as opposed to a few session musicians backing a singer. We established that from Day One: that it was going to be a band. We prefer being in it together rather than one person leading or taking all the credit. The last thing we would want is for someone in the band to show up to the jam room with a Ferrari while everyone else in packed into a 1990 Ford Focus or something!”
While it would be natural to expect a band to form from ‘Musician Wanted’ ads or intensive auditions, Rowan got together in a much more organic way, as Dylan explained, “It's a funny one, Fionn (Hennessy Hayes, who plays drums and also sings) and Kevin (Herron, who plays guitar keyboards and also sings) grew up together in Donegal when they were in their early teens, and they both ended up moving to Cork at separate times then. Fionn then moved to Spain and was touring America with his old band The Voodoo's. After that he moved to Cork and messaged me about gigs in Cork. I was about 17 at the time and was gigging and busking. Kevin was then doing a recital for his college degree, and Fionn asked would I play keys on it, and that's how the 3 of us first met. It's like the 2 Donegal brothers were reunited and I was their weird Cork cousin that just started hanging around them.”
As they are all so busy the band requires a fair bit of admin, “we usually have everything booked well in advance so we can play as much as we can, as Rowan and with other bands. For us Rowan is definitely the first priority though. It can be tough managing everything and getting everybody together, but it usually works out, we just have to plan ahead.”
Writing and rehearsing music is much more straightforward, as Dylan explained how their material gets put together, “usually I'd come up with an idea and bring it into the band room and we play around with it for a while. I've started sending acoustic versions of the songs to everyone also to give an idea of structure and then everyone contributes to the arrangement. Fionn is also a great songwriter and we've started performing some of his songs recently. Kev's guitar ideas are unmatched and they're absolutely perfect for the songs. If we were bringing strings or brass in I'd usually write and arrange those parts. We have a vocal template that works at the moment, Fionn sings the harmony above me, and Kevin sings below… usually.”
All three members have a broad musical taste but to give some idea of who influences Rowan Dylan listed off some of their most common ground, “we love bands such as The Strokes, Bombay Bicycle Club, Arctic Monkeys, Flyte, Big Thief, and songwriters such as Fionn Regan, Julia Jacklin, Faye Webster and many more. In Ireland, we're a huge fan of some of our friends and peers such as Villagers, Luz, Eve Clague, John Francis Flynn, Clare Sands, Brian Deady… I could keep listing them all day really! It's always said, and it feels like such a cliché at this point, but we are really lucky in Ireland, with such artistic vibrancy surrounding us and embedded in our DNA.”
Dylan is noticeably full of energy when it comes to talking about the band and what they are up to, “we are really excited about this year as it feels like we're only starting with Rowan. We have some gigs lined up in Canada and New York this month which is exciting. We are releasing a new single called 'Finish Line' on the 24th of January, and have a lot of new music ready to be released in the next few months. There'll be a new EP coming out before the Summer also. We would love to play as many festivals as we can during the Summer and tour straight after, and just keep the ball rolling. We're planning some Irish dates in March also which we can't wait for.”
Their next appearance in Cork will a pop up concert at The Quarter Block Party over the weekend of Friday, February 6, to Sunday, February 8, and Dylan is delighted to be associated with them this year, “it's lovely to work with people you know. They're doing such a great thing with that festival and it's a real honour to be involved in the line up for it. Festivals like this bring a lively veil over the city and transform it for a few days, which is such a great thing to bring to people. Make sure you get out and check it out, it's different every year and growing immensely.”
To find out more about the band go to www.rowantheband.com.