Rowan Ross has clearly digested a variety of beautiful music and understood what makes them classics to serve us some really lovely contemporary songs on a bed of “old” school (think the Beatles) without ever duplicating them. The songs are of those that you can not help harmonising to, and the lyrics are well thought almost to encourage your singing. He carries a violin (and occasionally a guitar), which bows at your chords like his songs with the utmost subtlety. Catching up with him for the release of his beautiful album Fireflight, we wanted to find out more about the journey that made the musician and led him to this release.
When did you know you were going to make music professionally?
I first knew I could make some kind of living from playing music when I started busking and then playing my first proper gig as a fiddle player in a bar in Edinburgh.
The best thing (in music) since the singing slice bread is…
… the link between the present, the past and the future ..
What is making music to you…
Making music for me has always been a combination of pure self-expression and trying to reaching out to people’s souls at the same time. What I like most about performing music live is pouring myself into a song or solo and knowing that I’m connecting with other people’s emotions. What I like most about recording music is trying to capture a moment in my life that other people are also going to be able to relate to, and doing that in a way that is musically interesting and pleasing.
‘Music school’ trained or ‘auto-didact’?
A bit of both for me – Most of the important discoveries about music and writing I worked out for myself by experimenting and studying other people’s music. I studied violin at college, but never really conformed to the conventional ways of playing that I was taught. At the same time I was forming bands to sing my songs with – but again I wasn’t really taught anything about songwriting – that was a very personal journey for me.
So .. I guess I’m saying that there is nothing wrong with going to a music school, and to let the creative environment and inspiring people that you meet wash over you and influence you – as long as you also keep the artistic vision that you had before you started there. No school can fully create an artist – ultimately, I think it is up to you to define yourself.
So how do you define yourself?
I think perhaps the combination of being a singer songwriter and a fairly unique improvising violinist. It’s important for people to have some way of remembering you – in a nutshell!
And how do you define your music?
Sweet’n’sour melodic acoustic pop sauce.
If you like melodic songwriting and acoustic music that’s lovingly played by experienced musicians, then you should have a listen to my music !
How do you feel when people get excited over your music?
It always feels amazing – and sometimes quite overwhelming – I never quite know what to say.
What about such great accolades as being played on BBC Intro?
It feels like a real accomplishment .. I’ll never forget the first time one of my songs was played on Roddy Hart’s show on BBC Radio Scotland .. and then the album being made ‘album of note’ one week . I never expected that to happen and I was very emotional about having finally gained some recognition.
So success is…
Gaining some recognition for something that you care deeply about.
What music do you listen to..
I listen to all kinds of music with as open a mind as possible … Like everyone, I go through phases of listening to certain artists. Recently I’ve been listening to Rufus Wainwright and Melbourne-based band Open Swimmer. I listen to local (Glasgow) bands like Admiral Fallow and The Trembling Bells. I’ve also taken an interest in Beethoven’s piano sonatas. Last year I remember becoming obsessed with the Rolling Stones and Antonin Dvorak at the same time for about a month – quite an interesting fascination with the rebellious and the refined entwined .
I often return to the music that I loved when I was in my teens : The Beatles, Cole Porter, Danny Wilson, Joni Mitchell and a lot of classical music, although I’ve always believed that pigeon hole terms like ‘classical’ are misleading – they were just these guys with a drive and passion for creating music.
Do you pay attention to the lyrics or the music or both
I pay attention to both .. sometimes I read the lyrics if they aren’t too clear because I need to know every detail of the song to appreciate it fully.
Who, to you, is the most undervalued music artist?
The one who is past their commercial peak but still creating brilliant music.
How do you prepare for your performances?
When I was younger, I didn’t practice much but I was very prolific as a songwriter. These days, I tend to practice by myself every day that I can and explore new ideas. If I have gigs coming up I’ll turn my attention to the songs that I’m going to be performing.
What/who most helped you in your career?
Family and friends pulling me through, and kind, older musicians giving me good advice.
What ignites your (song) writing flow?
Whatever happens in my life that makes me feel strongly about something. Intense feelings of love and friendship. Also sadness or outrage from loss, betrayal or political events. I was never one to just sit down and make myself write a song just for the sake of it . I need to be truly inspired. Listening to great albums, viewing great paintings, hearing other artists play and recite poetry .. and reading great books.
Why did you choose to do song writing and performing and if you didn’t do that, what would you have done?
I wanted to try and move people in the way that other songwriters and musicians have moved me – I didn’t really make a choice though. It’s just something that I found myself doing … I wrote loads of songs about what was going on in my life.
I did, however, choose to record them properly with musicians I had met over the years.. musicians that inspire me, and now some of my songs are being listened to.
When I was a child I wanted to be an archaeologist and dig up fossils and dinosaur bones .. I was obsessed with dinosaurs. I don’t know if I would have the patience for that now .. although it still seems like quite a cool thing to do .
What are your other creative avenues?
Cooking and occasionally drawing sketches. Other avenues sometimes arise because of my music .. I’ll find myself co-writing a plot for a video of one of my songs – that’s something I really enjoy but it probably wouldn’t happen unless I had written a song in the first place.
What do you wish you have been told when you started out and that you think would help anyone who starts out?
I could imagine visiting myself as a child and saying .. ‘you are just as good as everyone else … if you polish your talent a little every day, you will grow up and become an accomplished artist .. and ignore anybody that tells you that you can’t .’
Any coming projects?
My new album ‘Fireflight’ is being released on Monday 10th November and you can keep up to date with gigs and news on my website : www.rowanross.com and on my facebook page www.facebook.com/rowanrossmusic
And I, for one, have a copy. Thank you again!!!
.. and thank YOU Tiki !