May 8, 2023

Rowan Drake Talks Ithaca Roots and Upcoming EP

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A few months ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing the banjo player of an Appalachian folk band, at one end of what the rich Ithaca music scene produces. On the other end of Ithaca’s music spectrum is Rowan Drake, a 19-year-old alternative pop artist who spoke to me about his upcoming debut EP.

Rowan was born and raised here in Ithaca, NY. He released his first single “Closure” in 2020 and, since then, has garnered over 5 million likes on TikTok and 1.3 million views on YouTube. He also recently signed with Atlantic Records. So what is behind the Ithaca teenager’s deal with an enormous record label, you might ask? A moody voice, an intense relationship and time spent alone with a guitar.

In his upcoming EP, Rowan is still reeling from the ups and downs of a relationship, and the body of work revolves around his emotions toward one girl. “It’s really a kind of  time capsule piece for me and the girl who all the songs are about. So I’d say I’m most excited for it to exist in the world, so that hopefully, it kind of immortalizes the relationship that meant a lot to me, for both me and for her,” Rowan shared.

His project will give us an intimate peek into a body of emotion that is meant for only one person. The EP has an epistolary nature: “All I want is to write to one specific person, which is Ella, so it’s very easy for me to filter out everything else. […] I really just want this one person to feel like I’m speaking to them.”

In Rowan’s efforts to speak directly to Ella, listeners might perceive his authenticity and find space to unpack their own emotions. Rowan hopes the work “reaches other people, of course, but [will] leave it completely up to them to how they consume it.” He also shared that he wants listeners to “let it be a safe space for themselves to process things that they don’t normally let themselves process.” This is a unique power of music: to help us experience the full course of what it means to be a human, and to make often isolating experiences like an intense break-up feel more universal.

Rowan’s experience growing up and creating music in Ithaca contributes to the depth of his work. “I just think that Ithaca has this pull to it,” Rowan told me. “It’s just […] the way the world works there. It’s, like, between […] the waterfalls and streams and the forest, it’s just like all of it has really kind of seeped into me. […] So I would say it’s just a massive part of my sound.” Ithaca does exist as a special place for creativity and connection. Romanticizing experiences is especially easy here given the dramatic landscape. So, it makes sense that an intense relationship set against the backdrop of Ithaca would facilitate a uniquely creative energy for Rowan. 

Rowan also shared how growing up in Ithaca helped develop his sense for experimentation and feeling of creative freedom. “Growing up going to Grassroots, I just heard strange music with strange sounds. So to add, like, I don’t know, to sample a subway in New York and make it sound all crazy and put it into my music, it has never once felt like I’m breaking a rule.”

Listening to the singles Rowan has already released, it seems that he is still working on finding his sound. Maybe the EP will provide the thematic unity he needs to fully find his niche as he shifts beyond the beginning of his career. His record deal and clear passion talking about what he does are positive signs for his future as a budding artist. 

Rowan also shared a number of influences and musical role models that make me inclined to predict a positive future for his career. He listed Nick Drake (60s-70s folk), Mazzy Star (90s dream pop) and Jim Morrison (lead vocalist of 60s rock band the Doors) as influences for his music, and named Jeff Buckley (90s folk-rock) and Radiohead (90s-00s rock) as some of his current favorites. Despite the variety in decade and genre, Rowan’s influences share one important thing: intense emotion. The artists he named are experts with emotional and moving lyricism, which Rowan has attempted to adopt into his own work. 

“The only thing that will make your music stand out in any way is that you just say truthfully how you feel and do truthfully what you think sounds good,” Rowan advises aspiring musicians. Hopefully, his authenticity and raw emotion in the EP will help him find success in the coming months.

Kiki Plowe is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].