Indie folk artist Nicholas Rowe is holding nothing back in his new EP, Everything Has Beauty, which was released back in March. With his new release, Rowe challenges us to re-think what it means to fight through our weaknesses.
“The first thing you really need to know about me is that even my closest friends sometimes refer to me as a robot, and they don’t mean it in a good way…The general consensus is that I don’t have emotions. This, of course, is far from true.”
He is an enigma to those closest to him, being known as someone who processes emotions slowly or seemingly not at all.
Instead, Rowe allows his music to do the talking. His six tracks are just vulnerable enough to give you a peek at his internal struggles while giving you just enough mystery to make your own interpretations.
The first song on the album, “Everything Has Beauty” sets a fiery tone that carries throughout the EP. The song speaks of an old, crumbling town overlooked by most people. In the song, Rowe vows to never forget this place and remembering that its beauty is there, you just have to look for it. It’s a fiery resolution that burns throughout his six tracks.
There is a story within Everything Has Beauty–the story of a man making sense of his flaws and finding beauty in them–all in a timeless, acoustic style. There is an unmistakable sense of hope at the end of the EP with “How It’s Done”. The song concludes the EP with resolve, as Rowe chooses love over fear.
He has nothing to hide.
Indie Soul Media: Describe your music.
Nicholas Rowe: I would say indie alternative folk? I mean, it’s been described as ambient and contemplative before. As far as actual sound, it definitely has folky roots but it’s kind of darker.
ISM: Why do you gravitate toward this style?
NR: I think initially as a musician, I was much more rock-oriented. As I started becoming more serious as a songwriter, that’s when I become more interested in folk. That was around the time I was really starting to get into Bob Dylan and everything he did. And from there I started trying to find my own voice and sound. There’s some really good folk that uses these other ambience and elements. I think that I didn’t wanna be just another guy with an electric guitar. I wanted to do something a little different and see what happened.
ISM: Since you brought up Bob Dylan, I know how much Blood on the Tracks had influenced you, so what does that album mean to you?
NR: Blood on the Tracks is just the perfect album to me. It was one of those albums that when I first heard it, I just thought, this is a milestone. Like ‘that’s who I was before I listened to Blood on the Tracks and this is who I am now’ kind of thing. It was almost like a religious experience [laughs].
NR [cont.] I can’t explain it, it’s the songwriting, the storytelling, it’s just so…perfect. For me, I would say there’s a part of that album in almost everything I’ve done ever since. It’s not necessarily something people might hear, it might just be expounding on an idea that came from the album or it might be that I learned how to play all of those songs and learned all the special tunings that he used and incorporated that into my own songwriting and things like that. But it’s definitely had a huge impact on me.
ISM: I love that, and you’re so right. For music lovers, everyone has that one album you remember throughout your journey as a listener, I totally get that.
NR: Yeah that’s definitely what it was. And as a songwriter, it really inspired how I think about storytelling. There’s so many stories on that album and he keeps just the right amount of ambiguity and lets you make some assumptions on your own. Even the character development through some of the songs, I just, I don’t know if it’s ever been equaled. I could probably talk about Blood on the Tracks for an hour.
ISM: So what does the songwriting process look like for you?
NR: For me, my songwriting usually starts with just a need to get an idea out. I’m just one of those people who, emotionally, just processes things very slowly and by the time I fully wrap my head around it, the situation is done. I just need some way to process. So what I usually do is I might have a line or two in my head or some hook and I usually just start writing, just any idea or thought, I just try and fill the page. I don’t worry about rhyming or how it’s all gonna fit together. Once it’s all there, then I’ll start trying to take sentences and rearrange them and get it into something that works and focus on what song structure it’s going to have. For me, it’s lyrics, and melody first, and then I’ll put chords to it and then all the other stuff as far as drums, bass, leads–all that stuff comes later. It always starts with the words and story I’m trying to convey.
ISM: I thought it was really interesting that, and you kind of mentioned this earlier, that lot of what you write about is processing emotions slowly but being perceived as not having emotions at all, because this album feels so vulnerable.
NR: Yeah, and I think it is a surprise to a lot of people who know me that it is so vulnerable. I just try to be really honest about what I’m thinking and feeling. And like it wasn’t a surprise at all to my wife, who really understands me, but even my best friends were surprised I think. It’s one of those things I’ve been learning lately is that all of our weaknesses can be turned into our strengths. The fact that I can’t process these things quickly and the fact that I see everything from a distance and emotionally, like I feel like I’m on the outside looking in—that’s a real weakness for me but at the same time, it can be one of my greatest strengths. When it comes to songwriting, when it comes to problem-solving, you know what I mean? As I grow older, I’m learning how important it is to just accept yourself for who you are and realize that a lot of the time what you perceive to be your greatest weakness if you harness it, and step into it, it can be a strength.
ISM: Yeah totally, and it sounds like your song Sacred and Profane kinda plays into some of those themes.
NR: Yeah, I think with that song, I was definitely touching on that idea of your weaknesses being strengths, but also, for me, it’s trying to show the flawed thinking of dividing things up into sacred and profane. We kinda see things in two categories, someone is either good or bad, a decision is either good or bad, and everything can be divided up. But that’s not really realistic. Most things in life are a paradox. For me, there’s definitely some references to the Bible, and I was trying to get across that throughout the Christian tradition and the ancient Jewish tradition, there’s a lot of paradoxes and seemingly oxymorons. We don’t have to fight against that, that’s part of life, that’s part of spirituality, that’s part of the whole thing. When you try to get rid of those, you’re not really understanding what these ancient texts are trying to say. But it’s also very much open to interpretation. It’s also one of those songs I’d never want to take away what someone else is getting out of it. But that is kind of where it came from for me, at least the inspiration.
ISM: Are there any of the other songs that stand out to you as one that you felt really emotionally attached to, like if there was one song for someone to experience on this album, which would it be?
NR: If I had to pick one song that would truly be what I want to get across and means the most to me it would be the last one, How It’s Done. It’s very close to me. I wrote it to be kind of an answer to some of the things happening in the world that I don’t agree with. I also wrote it as a song to my daughters.
NR [cont.]: This sounds weird, but a lot of the process of making this EP, and I actually haven’t told anybody this, but I was just overcome with this very irrational fear that I was going to die. And that if I die, this EP will be the only thing that my daughters have to know who I was and what I stood for. And that was the idea that prompted me to write How It’s Done, that this is who I am, this is who I want you to be, this is what we as Rowes stand for. I wanted it to be not obvious and open to interpretation, but to me, that’s what it means. And so it’s definitely one that I’m closest to.
ISM: So there’s a song you could leave to your daughters on this EP, but if there was one message you could leave with your listeners, what would that be?
NR: The biggest message I’d like to leave with the listeners would be the title track, and title of the album, Everything Has Beauty. We’ve all heard that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And I just personally think that couldn’t be more wrong. Beauty is not in the eye of the beholder, beauty is in the thing or the person, it’s there whether you see it or not, whether you appreciate it or not. And it’s our job to find it and share it with others because it’s there. So I think that’s what I hope people catch on to.
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Photo Credit: Nik Williams