Interview: Jeff Rowe

Singer / songwriter Jeff Rowe is one of the most DIY guys I have had the pleasure of meeting.  A few months back, he stopped and played a show in Akron at the Gurley House.  I remembered canceling plans to see another band that night just to make sure I could see Rowe play.  I’ve been a fan of his music after I reviewed his solo-debut Barstool Conversations last year.  There was just something about his sincere-ness in every song that I ate up and when I found out he was touring, I really wanted to make sure I was in attendance.

That night, I chatted with Rowe for a while and I will say this: He is hands down one of the nicest people I have ever had the pleasure to meet.  His wife was pretty damn awesome too.  His stories were great and he was just so happy to be able to play for everyone at the house that night.

I finally got some time to chat with Rowe again, this time through email, as I feel more people need to know about this DIY musician.  I look forward to the next time he swings through Akron and can not wait for his next release.

BHP – First and foremost, for those who do not know you, who are you and what is it that you do?

JR – I’m a songwriter (sigh) from just north of Boston. I tour a lot and do my best to have a great time and make friends along the way. I’m more of a story collector than a story teller.

You grew up in a tough town just outside of Boston. How did you deal with the hard times as a youth?

The fair city of Gloucester, Massachusetts made for an interesting childhood. In all my travels I’ve still not yet come across a place quite like it. “The Island” is really a conundrum of sorts that is packed with characters that Hemingway would have been banging the keys for if he were writing an episode of the twilight zone. I had a mixed bag of a childhood but falling in love with music in many ways created an exit strategy for me and a way to not fall into some of the trappings that we all know too well.

What types of music were you listening to while growing up?

In the kitchen and living room my mom would be listening to Neil Diamond, Joan Baez and various Motown artists…from my brothers room i would hear Metallica, Slayer and COC… From my sisters room could be heard The Dead Kennedy’s, The Pixies and the Violent Femmes… I think all of that wound up giving me a healthy appreciation for music and shaped my listening habits as a child.

So how did you get your start as a musician? Was Boxing Water the first band you were in?

I got a guitar when I was fifteen years old and started a few local punk bands and helped start a small venue that would later play a vital role for the north shore punk scene as a whole, a life source of sorts. It was a room that held maybe 40 people but we’d pack in a hundred. It still amazes me today thinking about how many bands came through our little venue that went on to be national acts. It was all very DIY for me from the start, my feeling was that if you want something to happen you’ve got to make it happen because no one is gonna do it for you.

What happened to Boxingwater? Where can I find some of their songs at?

Boxingwater was together for 6 or 7 years, we started moving around a bit and it just got to be too hard. Two of the members of Boxingwater are now in the band Landmines and they are fantastic. I was in several bands before Boxingwater but that band was the first time i took it seriously and tried to do something that would go beyond Massachusetts. Most of our stuff is now out of print but I think we may try to get some kind of discography going one of these years, I’ll send you some songs though.

Sweet!  You left a punk band and completely shifted in musical style.  When did you decide that punk music was not your thing anymore?

I’ve never felt that punk wasn’t my thing at all, playing acoustic is something that I’ve been doing for many years now and it just sort of took over organically and went from convenient to a legit outlet. I love playing songs alone and feeling like I’m walking a wire of sorts with no band to fall back on but at the same time I really do miss playing in a band. That is something I am going to re-visit at some point for sure. Right now its so much easier to tour and write on my own.

Playing acoustic music huh? How did that transition happen?

To be honest I started playing acoustic shows years back when I couldn’t find a drummer and it forced me to take a more detailed look at my songs and how I’d be able to format them to be played acoustic. It really just kind of stuck and i got offered more shows and just went with it. My horizons have been broadened as a result and I’ve stumbled (literally) across some great music that exists beyond the bounds of the punk community.

I heard that you left Boston for Richmond, Va., to more or less perfect your musical style. Is that true? Did you have any influences there that helped you fine tune your act?

I actually moved down to RVA with a bunch of Boston friends because it was much cheaper and we thought it would be easier to tour, not to mention that Richmond is a great city as well. I made many friends down there but I’m not sure how much of an effect it had on my music or playing acoustic in general. Richmond has always had a wealth of great bands from Born Against and Inquisition up to Smoke or Fire and Landmines.

Your debut full length Barstool Conversations was dropped about a year ago, how personal were the songs on that release to you? It was not the most upbeat album, but to me hit me hard in a good way.

Barstool for me is a very personal record. There is a lot of myself and my close friends in those songs. In a way I think songs are my way of confronting some things in my life that I otherwise couldn’t find the words to articulate or convey what it was exactly that I was feeling. Those songs are all very real for me and I’m proud of that record for what it is and even though in some cases it makes my head spin that those songs had to be written, I wouldn’t change a thing.

You have toured not only the US but also overseas. What were your experiences like while traveling?

The travel is one of the absolute best parts of touring for me. Music has taken me to places that I never thought I’d get the opportunity to see and I’m real thankful for that. I’ve made some friends in far off cities and countries that I will have for the rest of my life and nothing can touch that. The experience of letting your guard down in a foreign country and just going with whatever the days and experiences bring is something that I’ll always keep close and those memories are the ones that inevitably stick when the tour is over.

You tour with your wife correct?

I always tour with my wife Alissa. She is my best friend and to be honest she’d much better with handling the rigors of the road and more adept than most folks I’ve ever traveled with. At the end of the day we both want the same things and neither one of us is willing to fracture our relationship over extensive touring so we do it together, the planning, the routing, merch etc…

You dropped an EP in the spring called New Winter, New England. I dug what I heard, but what exactly is a Tragabigzanda?

Tragabigzanda is what the city of Gloucester was called by its original inhabitants. All that seems to be left of that history is a road on the outskirts of town where wealthy folks “summer” called Tragabigzanda. I used it because I thought it was fitting because the song is really about trying to remember the innocence of teenage years and the steps that were taken to inevitably lose it. Also there is an amazing poet from Gloucester named Charles Olson that dropped it a few times in his earlier work.

Are you going to record a new full length anytime soon? Will you put that song you recorded in a hotel room in it? I forget what it was called, but I loved it when you played it live at the Gurley House.

Right now I’m writing and culling through a bunch of new songs to start piecing together the next record, not sure of any timeline, but by the end of 2012 I’d very much like to have a new record out. That song is called “simple & fair” and I’m 99.9% sure that’s going on the next one.

When we chatted the night you played Akron, you were telling me some funny stories about touring Europe. Care to entertain the readers here with one or two?

Where to begin… I’ve actually thought about compiling a bunch of road stories for a zine and giving them out at the merch table to anyone interested. I could take up pages and pages for this one. I’ll just say that I’ve got a doozy that takes place in Russia and involves a man that’s incapable of reading social queues, a potential kidnapping, wild dogs and Dostoevsky.

Potential Kidnapping?  I do not think you told me that one.  I would totally love to read that.  So, when not touring you have quite the cool job back home in Boston. Who is it that you work for again?

I have been a professional craft brewer for the last five years with Harpoon Brewery in Boston. It’s a fantastic job that couples hard work with science… perfect for a dork like me.

Two dream jobs, man you lucked out. What’s next for Jeff Rowe?

I’ve got a split 7″ with a sick pop punk band called Mayflower. We both have an original and we cover one of each others songs. I’ll be playing Fest 10 and plan on hitting the road again in Feb. It looks like I’ve got Europe, U.S., Canada and beyond on the docket.

Check out Jeff Rowe’s website, http://jeffrowemusic.com/, for more videos and updates from this one man band (and his lovely wife).  If you want to hear more of his music, head over to his MySpace page or Facebook page.  Better yet, head over to Anchorless Records and grab one of his albums!

Jeff Rowe from efi on Vimeo

This video was Jeff on a boat overseas.  I remembered him telling me he played a show on a river.  I love it when the fans sing along…

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