The sun is beating down in Cork city, and the streets are just slightly uncomfortably full of people out on a Saturday evening, considering the wider circumstances.
It’s your writer’s first in-person interview in at least 16 months, and if Dylan Howe, fresh from his band’s celebratory proceedings the night previous, is also apprehensive, he’s playing it very cool, strolling out of a crowd to sit down outside our agreed coffee shop - albeit visibly amused by a drink sent flying as my hand shoots up to wave hello.
It’s been a busy time for the band he’s in, of course - Cork-based trio Rowan started the pandemic scrambling for higher ground along with so many others in their position, but by sheer dint of the reach of the internet, their debut EP, a source of some very real pre-pandemic momentum locally, ended up in the ears of A&R types at Beverly Martel, a Los Angeles-based indie label. Howe and bandmates were skeptical at first.
“We released that EP in November (of 2020). And Sandy (Roberton, label head) heard it then, by January, I think. He manages a bunch of producers, and I think one of the producers was a fan of ours, he sent it on to Sandy, who just got onto us. We kind-of thought it was a bit of a scam, at first, we were like, who is this guy? Like, LA labels? I dunno, like "prince of Nigeria" stuff, like?”
Chimes in Fionn Hennessy-Hayes, weighing in somewhere between solar-powered optimism and being fresh from peeling himself from his couch: It was very much an email out of the blue. We weren't expecting it, it was like, "hey, can you guys jump on a quick call? Give me your number." And then, within two minutes, he rang me, and it was just like, "yes, we like your stuff, and I want to sign ye." We went, "okay".
It’s an odd spot they find themselves in, then, much like many Irish bands whose work and daily mundanities have suddenly taken on a transatlantic aspect - straddling the worlds of Ireland’s comparatively close-knit music scene and the promise of broader horizons.
While the pandemic has put paid to the practical part of that work for now at least, the lads are glad to have a hand with the business of being a band.
“It hasn't really felt that different (in one way). I mean, we're still, we're still doing stuff ourselves,” says Howe.
“The biggest thing for us, I think, is it takes away the PR side of things, the emails and the press releases, all that stuff. We were doing all of that ourselves, and it was getting in the way of actually writing music, meeting up and playing music together.”
“It's just the approach that the PR company takes, like, the label and the PR company, they already have an 'in',” adds Fionn.
“That's something that we didn't have, and even in terms of scheduling social posts and that sort of thing, it's like it's a whole new thing. So having them with the ideas and the brains behind that side of it has been great.”
The band’s second EP, ‘Everybody Talks’, came out last Friday, alongside the video for its third single, post-punk-inflected shimmerer ‘One of These Days’.
At a time when survival is success, the band are delighted with its release at all, much less the reaction and support it’s drawn - including BBC Radio airplay across the pond.
“Yeah, I think the singles have done really well,” says Fionn.
“Like, TodayFM has given the first two singles a lot of play. And then our second single was track of the week, and it was played everyday on 2FM.
“I'm extremely proud. We wrote a lot of the songs over lockdown, and it was kind of a real combined effort in terms of the whole writing process, which is kind of a new thing for us. So I think that comes across that they're much, much bandier and bigger than on the last EP.”
Keeping that momentum going and even building over the course of immensely challenging circumstances for artists is a testament to the hard graft put in by the band’s constituent parts.
There’s challenges and upsides to the new processes and communication that artists have worked with over the last 16 months, and the lads are no exception.
“It was definitely tough, because the three of us were based in Cork, and it was easy to meet up,” says Rowe. “With the pandemic, everyone kind-of went home.”
“So Fionn was up in Longford, and Kevin was up in Donegal, so we really had to make a conscious effort to be like, "right, what are we doing today? Why are we doing it?” Can we write something, email people, whatever it may be? We're like, let's just not let it stop the momentum.”
“I think it really afforded us the freedom to hone in solely on Rowan,” adds Fionn, speaking of said upsides.
“The three of us were very busy session musicians, pre-pandemic, so when all of those things went out the window, we just said "right, this is it. This is our thing. This is what we're going to just hone in on."
The question of what next for the band is tied to their wants and needs from the post-pandemic picture in their home city - a pertinent question considering the slow upward shift in gear in recent times around music and cultural spaces.
“I would love, for Cork in particular anyway, just to have a bit more support behind venues,” Rowe opines.
“I think there's a major gap in venues and like I mean, you can do Coughlan's, which is an 80-capacity venue. The next step up is Cyprus Avenue, which is 500-plus cap. That gap is huge. There needs to be a bit of a revival in venues.”
Rowan’s ‘Everybody Talks’ EP is available for streaming on all the usual services via Beverly Martel Records.