Of all of the great Americana artists to grace the subcultural (and sometimes, even popular) airwaves of recent years, Sean Rowe might be the most “authentic.” He comprised his debut album, Magic, based on the inspiration he got as a naturalist, after spending 24 days in the wilderness, left to his own devices to come up with food and shelter. The music he has released since certainly reflects that. It is an aggressively grainy and soulful brand of folk that is the musical manifestation of the very kind of individual who is completely in-touch with nature and also has a healthy love for the likes of John Lee Hooker and Ray Charles. Last year Rowe released The Salesman and the Shark and this Friday, June 28th, he’s scheduled to play World Café Live, alongside The Handsome Family. I recently had a chance to chat with Rowe about his last album, his thoughts on his current tour mates and playing live, and what he has planned for the future. (BTW, his speaking voice is just as gravelly and gruff as you could hope for.)
Of The Salesman and the Shark, Rowe tells me, “For this particular record, I was listening to Scott Walker a lot, especially Scott 4, and the string arrangements were really inspired by that,” while also citing Leonard Cohen’s Songs From a Room as a big influence. However, he tells me that he’s excited by the notion of an artist being able to constantly change and evolve: “I like the idea of how certain artists will change their sound with every record, like Neil Young or Tom Waits.” And he tells me that, for his next record, he’s interested in trying to re-create the live experience (“I do what I do live, but I’ve never really captured that on record.”), something that is apparently quite different from what fans of his LPs might expect.
“Primarily, it’s me. I don’t have a band. I think it surprises people. I have kind of a way that I play that isn’t articulated on the record. I think the general consensus of my audience is, ‘This is not what’s exactly on the record, but I really enjoyed that.’”
Finally, I ask Rowe his thoughts on The Handsome Family, who he’s been close friends with for years now, having toured with them in his early days. He admits that when he initially heard about touring with them he was a bit confused and annoyed: “When I first heard that I was going to be touring with the Handsome Family, I thought he said, ‘the Hanson family,’ and I was like, ‘What the hell? I hate those guys. What was my booking agent thinking?’” However, Rowe is quite a fan of the Chicago-bred, Albuquerque-based husband-wife alt country duo: “They’re great and so much fun to tour with. They’re just hilarious, funny as hell.”