Cork trio Rowan - going on as they meant to start!

The Covid crisis was a strange space for many Cork bands - but it also created an opportunity for Cork indie trio Rowan to get signed to a label in the US and work on their debut album - Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks to frontman Dylan Howe about the new release, and their album launch tour, currently underway.
Cork trio Rowan - going on as they meant to start!

Rowan is made up of multi-instrumentalists, Dylan Howe, Fionn Hennessy-Hayes and Kevin Herron. Picture: Zyanya Lorenzo

Last time this parish was talking to members of Cork indie outfit Rowan, it was in person, a novelty indeed after the previous Covid-necessitated lockdowns. Slightly woozy from possible sunstroke, and uneasy with a veritable crush of people on a fine day in the city’s Grand Parade after the prevalence of social distancing, the band’s easy charisma and clearly-defined vision of who they are and what they’re doing made the whole affair doable, after the events that affected us all.

Flash-forward to the first week of May 2022, and the idea of ‘back to normal’ doesn’t seem so outlandish - and the band, led by Corkman Dylan Howe, are, at press time, back on the road in Ireland, launching debut album ‘Does It Make You Happy?’, and its title track, functioning as a leadoff single after grabbing the attention of US indie label Beverly Martel.

After all the band has been through, a positive early response has provided validation for working through Covid conditions, and all that attended, to maintain their momentum - in terms of process and liaising with their label.

“The title track is the thing that kind of attracted the label to us, so we kind of got signed on the back of this tune, basically. That was a nice, positive response, positive reinforcement.

“It is kind-of funny dealing with people constantly through Zoom. I always feel like personal interaction is very important for anything, but it was so great, being able to connect with people across the water, essentially, with things like Zoom, it was great dealing with them, because they were really encouraging and it helped us through the pandemic, to have people believe in your music. Yeah, it was definitely a big, big boost.

“Because as artists, as creatives, there's always the self-doubt that starts popping in with something like this. When there's a team of people encouraging you, it really makes a big difference. We're grateful to them for that.”

These same issues and advantages popped up over the course of recording and post-production for the full-length, hindered by working separately, but also benefiting from space for ideas and thoughts to breathe, adding to the deliberate feel behind their debut and the timing of its release.

“The three of us were apart, and isolated from each other. But we set ourselves some goals every week, like a songwriting challenge, and goal list, or manifestation chart (laughs), for ourselves. We encouraged each other to write more songs. Some of them were unfinished ideas that I might send, and then Fionn would hear something in it, and he would elaborate on it.

“The isolation aspect of it didn't really affect us that much, for the creativity. It was great to have the technology to be able to do this.”

 Rowan. Pic: Zyanya Lorenzo.
Rowan. Pic: Zyanya Lorenzo.

The pall seems to have lifted over both the Irish touring circuit and the wider music business at present, and the band is back on the road - the night before this piece hits shelves in the Echo’s print edition, they’ll have played an intimate gig at Coughlan’s to give their album its Leeside launch.

It was an adjustment when the crisis broke, so of course there’s fine-tuning to be done around getting back into it.

“It's tough: things like vocal stamina, performance stamina and all that stuff. It'll take a while to come back, I think for ourselves and a lot of people.

“There's a huge excitement, I think, and I feel it from talking to people, that it's almost like a renaissance of music, that's going to come back and that will be here. So it's coming back, I think, there's a good feeling around it.”

Getting back in the mindset and physical state for performance is one thing - getting a balance back between all the moving parts in members’ lives in order to head for the road is quite another, though working in a distributed fashion the past while between Cork and Donegal has helped, says Howe.

“I suppose we need to be there for each other, and support each other through it. Kev, our guitarist, lives in Donegal, and he comes down when he's needed - for gigs, rehearsals and recording. Myself and Fionn are always here, then, in Cork.

“We chat regularly, and if there's anything bothering us, we try and talk it out, get it out there, and we're a good support for each other in that regard.”

Staying close to home, Cork city is currently in something of a liminal space where a bottom line of venues are open, and a lot of factors regarding spaces and their creation remain in the air. The product of a city whose small venues have done much to foster confidence in young bands, Howe holds out hope for the city’s scene at a time of change.

“There are a lot of brilliant artists coming out, and I've heard so many great bands that have only popped up in the last two or three years. So I'm very hopeful for the artists, and y'know, the creativity they have.

“I hope that there will be more venues and things that pop up, and that there'll be more support for them. Obviously, it is a very hard thing, running a venue, but they're few and far between in Cork at the moment, and I would love to see more of a buzz around, I suppose, supporting venues and starting new ones and even grassroots gigs. I think that'd be kind-of cool.”

Now that things are back up and running, the band has a few big milestones ahead - going on as they meant to start, before the Covid crisis changed everything.

"We're doing a few festivals, and trying to get out there gigging as much as we can. That's the goal. We love recording music, and we love everything else to do with it, but live gigs are the magic of music, I think. That's where you get to connect to people, you get to show the music, in its purest form. That's what we want to do.”

Rowan’s debut LP, Does It Make You Happy?, is available from tomorrow on streaming and download services.

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