BILLY SUTER chats to Durban singer-guitarist and songwriter ROWAN STUART, who performs at Music In The Shed, at Meadow Tea Garden in Inanda Road, on Friday, August 4. Joined by Durban multi-instrumentalist Andy Turrell on bass, Rowan will perform two sets of his signature ‘folk-meets-pop’ music, including songs from his five albums, reimagined covers and his recent hit, Silver Balloon.
A brand ambassador for Cort Guitars, Rowan is gearing up for another South African tour, which will extend to five provinces. He recently completed work on two new singles recorded with producer Rudolph Willemse in Potchefstroom, to be released later in 2017. Gates open at 6.30pm, and the music will kick off at R7.30pm, for the August 4 gig. Admission is R100. Meals and beverages will be on sale. Booking is essential: contact Cheryl at 083 381 9080.
WHAT CAN FANS EXPECT OF YOU AND ANDY TURRELL AT THE MUSIC IN THE HILLS EVENT?
Our sets consist of material from my albums; quite a bit of new, unreleased material; and just a few cover versions, which we reinterpret in our own way. Within the set there are lots of opportunities for improvisation, especially improvised guitar playing, which keeps each performance fresh for us and for our audiences. We will also be doing a few songs from my upcoming EP.
WHAT CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THIS VENUE IN HILLCREST?
Music In The Shed has become my favourite place to play in the Highway area. Just off Inanda Road, the venue has a rustic, away-from-the-city feel. Audiences love the fairy-lit ambiance and hospitality of the hosts Barry, Jill and Cheryl. It’s one of those rare places where you can really focus on, and appreciate, the live music being created before you without distractions.
HOW FAR AFIELD, AND HOW OFTEN, HAVE YOU PERFORMED IN RECENT MONTHS – AND WHAT HAS BEEN A GIG HIGHLIGHT OF THE PAST YEAR?
Most recently I have taken a break from touring to complete my next release. But over the past two years, we have done more than 120 performances around South Africa.
Highlights of our last year include a sold-out evening at Music in the Shed, Hillcrest, and performing at the Barleycorn Music Festival at the Baxter Theatre in Cape Town, where I ended up selling out of my albums.
It was just really nice to have such a warm response so far from my hometown. There have been many more shows that have been special and memorable.
GIVE ME DETAILS ABOUT YOUR NEW SIX-TRACK EP.
The EP has been more than a year in the making. The first two tracks were recorded at a studio in Durban (Cowie’s Hill to be exact), the second two in Cape Town, and the final two at my home studio in New Germany.
I enlisted the help of the talented production team Shotgun Fakes (Stef and Pam Myburgh) to help me realise my vision of creating a crossover sound that would bridge the gap between my singer-songwriter/folk background, and the pop and radio world I have been evolving towards.
The result is something that I think will feel familiar enough, yet fresh enough to appeal to my existing fans and new fans alike. I would sum up the sound as “dreamy folk-meets-pop”.
WHAT ARE SOME PLANS FOR THE REST OF THIS YEAR?
We are currently on a KZN tour. Later in the year, we will return to some of our favourite venues in the Western and Eastern Cape, where my single, Silver Balloon, has received great support.
TELL ME MORE ABOUT THE SUCCESS OF ‘SILVER BALLOON’
It has opened new doors for me, having been playlisted on major radio stations across South Africa, including 5FM, East Coast Radio, 947, KFM, Algoa FM, Radio 2000 and others. I previously could not have anticipated a song of mine being added to the 5FM playlist.
I actually can’t say how many downloads it’s received as I haven’t tallied it up, but it is definitely more than any of my previous releases.
Silver Balloon is available worldwide via iTunes and other digital stores, but there are no plans for an official international push of the single as yet. My focus is fixed on South Africa right now.
Lyrically, the song is a fable I created about Earth before she met the Moon, which appeared to her as a silver balloon and became her eternal companion in her dance through the aeons.
I can’t be sure what inspired the music or the lyrics, as both came to me quite spontaneously.
HOW MANY ALBUMS HAVE YOU RELEASED TO DATE AND OF ALL YOUR RECORDINGS OF WHICH ARE YOU MOST PROUD?
I’ve released four independent, full-length albums. The upcoming release will be my first shorter-format release.
It’s hard to pick a favourite, as each body of work has had a different intention and sound that I explored.
Most of my fans enjoy my 2014 acoustic album, Hidden Doors, because it is a natural-sounding album and true to the essence of my live show.
The upcoming EP has the biggest budget, and is the most professional release I’ve done… and I hope listeners will appreciate our efforts to create something that feels modern, engaging and catchy, yet is thought-provoking and transporting.
WHAT MUSIC ARTISTS, LOCALLY AND GLOBALLY, DO YOU MOST ADMIRE…AND WITH WHOM WOULD YOU MOST LIKE TO RECORD A DUET?
I am a huge Beatenberg fan, and know most of the words to their album The Hanging Gardens of Beatenberg. It would be a privilege to collaborate with them one day.
I really admire bands and artists who put so much thought into every aspect of their artistry – from their lyrics to their arrangements, their overall intention and their image.
Some of my international musical heroes include Keane, Sting, VAST, Death Cab For Cutie and Bjork.
WHAT FIVE WORDS BEST DESCRIBE YOU?
Creative, quirky, focused, over-analytical, escapist.
WHAT ARE FIVE THINGS ABOUT YOURSELF (HOWEVER TRIVIAL) THAT PEOPLE ARE UNLIKELY TO KNOW?
I’m a pescatarian, meaning that I eat fish, but no other meat. I love science fiction and fantasy. I’m good at arty things, but hopeless at sporty things.
I don’t drink alcohol and have never taken drugs. And I am really good at Scrabble.
YOUR MOST EMBARRASSING MOMENT ON STAGE?
Last year, I was hired to perform one song with the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra at a festival – Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, and notably Brian May’s famous guitar solo.
When my big moment came, I was a few notes into the solo when my guitar amp just cut out! Something in the amp had dislodged during the drive there.
I spent the remainder of the solo frantically trying to get it to work, before just disappearing into my chair while the orchestra played on without me…
THE MOST FAMOUS PERSON YOU HAVE MET – AND WHO WOULD YOU GIVE GOLD TO MEET?
Probably Chris de Burgh. I’d pay to have a good conversation with Sting, or have a chat with the Beatenberg lads.
HOBBIES, PASTIMES AND FAVOURITE THINGS?
I enjoy drawing. It’s become a ritual of mine to draw an abstract creature on each of my set lists. You can find some of them on my Instagram account.
I also enjoy gaming –RPG games on Xbox. – and when I have time, I like to watch series: most recently Game of Thrones and Dragon Ball.
I really like shopping for clothes. Some of my friends think it’s strange, but I really do enjoy shopping.
My favourite things would be: writing a good song, finding a good shirt or jacket at a good price, and of course, performing for a beautiful, energetic, receptive audience.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST SURPRISING THING SOMEONE HAS SAID OF YOU?
I was recently told by a salesman that I look 19 and as if I am in the IT business.
WHAT ARE YOUR FEARS AND PHOBIAS ?
If I divulged this information, my enemies could use it against me . . .
WHAT TRAITS DO YOU MOST DISLIKE IN OTHERS?
Ignorance, insolence and all types of bad driving.
WHAT ARE TWO OF YOUR MOST TREASURED MATERIAL POSSESSIONS?
Can I call my home studio a possession? I have a few guitars I would sorely miss were they to be wrested from my possession.
IF YOU COULD CHANGE THREE THINGS ABOUT YOURSELF WHAT WOULD THEY BE?
Besides a few physical quirks, I’m pretty happy to be me. I would like to learn how handle stress better though.
TWO HIGHLIGHTS OF YOUR CAREER?
The first time I heard one of my songs on major radio (Late Starter in 2008, on East Coast Radio. Another highlight was performing at the White Mountain Music Festival in 2014. When we finished, there was a long queue to buy my albums.
IF YOU COULD HAVE ANY FIVE THINGS FROM FIVE DIFFERENT PEOPLE, WHAT AND WHO WOULD THEY BE?
I don’t usually envy anyone, so this is a tough one to answer.
WHAT FIVE THINGS WOULD YOU LIST UNDER ‘SIMPLY IRRESISTIBLE’?
Andy’s mom’s pudding. A lonely guitar waiting to be played. A 50%-off clothing sale. A gaming store. A crossword puzzle or a game of Scrabble.