As strange as it sounds, the man I sat down with today was not someone who was driven to Music in Motion Columbus by word of mouth or by our promoting. He heard about us through my own dear sweet mother, which makes me laugh and blush at the same time. But enough about me…
Nicholas Rowe has long been a part of the local Columbus music scene. For the past several years he’s been playing as the guitarist for the pop-rock outfit SafeKept, playing shows with national acts Five Iron Frenzy, House of Heroes, and Project 86 (just to name a few). While Rowe generally plays guitar for that outfit, he has recently felt the drive to branch out and release his own music.
“It may sound narcissistic,” Rowe said, “but I just felt like I had some special songs that I wanted to get out there.”
While SafeKept bring a more upbeat driving guitar sound, Rowe’s solo efforts have a decidedly different feel to them. From the opening chord on his newest EP “Everything Has Beauty,” you can tell that Rowe has a unique musical vision. It’s difficult to pinpoint a specific genre for it, but Rowe says that he’s not worried about that.
“I would say Bob Dylan is my biggest musical influence,” he continued, “but you can’t feel that in every single track.”
He goes on to say that he discovered Dylan’s music in his late teens, and that it massively changed the way he wrote music. Although he’s been in bands with Jeremiah Wagner (lead singer/guitarist of SafeKept) for several years, they both have distinctly different tastes that drive their songwriting efforts.
“Honestly, SafeKept is Jeremiah’s baby” he explains “I love playing that music, but in my head I just can’t write it. So, my solo work is my baby.”
A solo project is something that he had long wanted to do, but had to be placed on the shelf four years ago with the birth of his twin daughters. I can only imagine how difficult it would be to make music with one newborn, much less two. Sure enough, Rowe had to take some time to adjust to his new family commitments before pursuing music again.
Rowe expressed that his main desire was to write music that was real, honest, and vulnerable. “Everything Has Beauty” is definitely a vulnerable piece of work, and Rowe says that because he is such an emotionally distant person, it takes songwriting to process who he really is. When he finally decided to get everything recorded, he says that the response overwhelmed him.
“It’s been so encouraging,” he said. “I’ve had so many people say that they really liked it and it touched them. It’s just so cool to find that solidarity with people, and be able to provide them with a way to cope.”
Whether it be for coping, or just enjoyment of a new-age folksy alternative sound, Rowe has found that the majority of the people who have listened to his solo work are actually new fans, not just transplants from SafeKept. He says it’s exciting to be able to reach so many new faces and still be able to do what he does with SafeKept. But, he has felt that it is absolutely necessary to be able to absolve himself of his deepest thoughts through music.
“Sometimes the saddest songs make you feel the happiest,” said Rowe, “because you look at yourself and say – I’m not alone. It’s not just me. A little hope and solidarity can go a long way.”
One of the more intriguing ways that Rowe connects with his fans is the tonal whine of his voice. While I’m sure nobody would ever say that folk legends like Dylan, Cat Stevens or Tom Waits have great voices, Rowe’s is truly unique. So much so, that he never thought of himself as a singer until a hilarious encounter with his choir director in college changed his tune (pun intended).
The director told him that “in all of her years of teaching, she had never heard a voice so bad.” While some might take this as a deterrent, Rowe decided that he was going to prove her wrong and took up singing from that point. Personally, I find that it adds to the soul of the music, and helps push feeling onto you, whether you’re looking for it or not.
Finding that connection in music is always a beautiful thing. I know that I personally connect better with people who understand how I feel music, and I can tell that Rowe is the type of person who feels every note that he strums out. The obvious question for me as a fan of many bands who have delved into side projects was – how do you separate a SafeKept song from a Nicholas Rowe solo song?
Rowe chuckled at this question. “You’ve asked me a lot of questions I wasn’t expecting. Usually I give the same answers, but now I really have to think about things.”
“In all honesty, I don’t write the majority of the music for SK. Usually Jeremiah and I write together, but as far as how my mind works, every song I write is just for Nicholas Rowe,” he adds.
With all that has happened to him since the release of “Everything Has Beauty” in February 2017, I found it curious that Rowe hadn’t played many shows around town to promote the EP. Rowe admits that while it’s been satisfying to have a lot of critics and fans say that his music is special, he isn’t sure where to go from there. What he is sure of is that he wants to make sure that his next move is the correct one.
“I wasn’t expecting such great feedback, so how do I promote this?” he pondered “Do I try and tour? Do I pay a promoter to try and get airplay? I want to be smart about it.”
Rowe also suggested that whatever he does going forward, it absolutely has to be for the best of his family. As a recently married man myself, I can definitely relate to the thought of putting family over music, no matter how talented of a musician you may be. Rowe also feels that he is in somewhat of a unique place, where there is no record label pressuring him to make new music. But, he does understand that he needs to write, if for no other reason than to expunge the darkness from inside of him.
“I want to make sure I take the right step,” he adds “I don’t want to just tour just to say that I did it. I want to do things the right way and make it something truly special.”
It seems like he has the right head on his shoulders for such an approach. So many local bands burn bright and flame out so quickly that they almost don’t even leave a mark. For Rowe, he says that playing every five or six weeks is fine, and points towards his next show on August 12 at Spacebar, supporting New York’s The Looms. He says it’ll be an acoustic evening by himself, to “try something different.”
Different is definitely the best word I can use to sum up the man and the music. I look forward to seeing how it translates in a live setting.
Nicholas Rowe – Sacred & Profane