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That Back-Home Sound

A conversation with Sean Rowe about his decision to return to the Capital Region to record his next record for Anti

by Jeff Nania on November 6, 2013


It’s a strange contradiction of feelings. On the one hand, we local music fans root for our hometown heroes, cheer for them to bust through that glass ceiling of regionalism and earn that national audience we know they deserve—if only the blogs and label bosses would pay attention. In part, we like the spotlight that this rare success reflects back on the region, fertilizing the scene and stoking the ambitions of the artists who follow in their wake. But it can result in something like empty-nest syndrome when that artist does break through: Our baby’s no longer our baby and all we can do is hope they remember us around the holidays.

When his Collar City Records-produced debut Magic earned him a record deal with Anti, Troy’s Sean Rowe was catapulted on this trajectory, touring the world, appearing on late-night TV, and last year releasing The Salesman and the Shark. Blessed with the opportunity to take his career in a direction of his choosing, he’s returned home to record his next album at Black Dog Recording Studio in Stillwater with a band of Capital Region musicians at his side. Metroland contributor and Chronicles saxophonist Jeff Nania was tapped to track horn arrangments for the album, due out in spring 2014. As Rowe waited for his voice to heal from a case of laryngitis this month, Nania took the opportunity to ask Rowe about his decision to keep it local.

–Josh Potter

Jeff Nania: Given your major-label backing, why did you decide to produce this album locally?

Sean Rowe: Well, even with Anti’s support, I pretty much had the freedom to cut this record on my own terms.Of course, every label is still a business at the end of the day and they certainly don’t have to keep you based on your good looks. I’ve got too many wrinkles anyway, so that premise is shot. They’ve been good to me though.

Photo by Julia Zave.

I wanted to produce this record myself, at least this time around, maybe more down the road. I guess it’s partly to prove to myself that I know what the fuck I’m talking about and partly because I believe I might be the only one who’ll lose sleep at night if this record is not as true to me as possible.

On top of that, I’ve got Troy Pohl (producer of Magic) engineering for me. He’s also bringing some of his ideas to the table and it’s all pretty damn loose and . . . fun. We insult each other lovingly on a daily basis and it really adds to the mix. That’s the way I want a record to feel from here on out.

What is it about the Capital Region that keeps you living here when it would be just as easy to move to California?

That’s easy . . . friends, family, memories and a relationship to the land in this part of the country.I can’t say I’ll be here forever, but it ain’t all that bad of a place to be.

What is it about this area’s musicians that makes you want their sound on your record?

I’m using some of the same friends I used on previous recordings, some of the Lip Talk (formerly Railbird) crew, Ben Campbell, who played bass for our set on the Kimmel show, and multi-talented Chris Carey on, well, a bunch of shit.

I think the most important element when a singer-songwriter performs with a band is that the rest of the gang really understand the songs, what they need and when to back off if they don’t need anything. That’s why I chose these guys. They just play like that instinctively.

You’ve mentioned that this record is a bit groovier and more fast-paced than the last.  Does that have anything to do with the fast-paced tour life you have been living?

Not really . . . it’s just the way these songs came out. It’s a more direct record. There’s probably less ballads than my previous stuff. But there’s also more of me on this than anything I’ve done. It feels like a bit more of my live show than my other records. Some songs have a live-band feel, others are stripped down to the bones. Anyway I’m not really thinking about it too much other than I want the songs to sizzle and fry and taste like Thanksgiving dinner.

You are a bit of a naturalist and a foraging guru.  Is that one of the reasons you like this area?  Also, how has that lifestyle affected your writing?

Yeah, I’m familiar with this area. I’ve got my good foraging spots that I can count on through the seasons. I miss a lot when I’m away on tour but, then again, wherever I go I find cool stuff.I just cracked open some beautiful pecans the other day that I foraged while on tour in Atlanta last year. They were curing in my basement and I totally forgot about them till last week. Unfortunately, I left them on the kitchen counter and inadvertently poisoned my dog who consumed the whole bowl of shelled pecans during the night. (She’s fine now.)

Being on a world stage now, do you find that people know about the Capital Region?

It feels like everywhere I go, even in Germany, for god’s sake, at least one person in the crowd has been to Troy! Unreal.

When you are on tour, what are some of the things you miss most about home?

My boy, Jack, my girl, Olivia, my wife, Christina, and sometimes . . . even miss that little fucker of a cat, Henry.