Rowan Drake: From Snowboarding Dreams to Musical Stardom – A Deep Dive into Vulnerability and Artistry

October 3, 2023

Rowan Drake, photo by Jimmy Fontaine

Rowan Drake is a 20-year-old rising singer and songwriter whose music has garnered close to 30M global streams. From the small town of Ithaca, New York, Rowan first discovered the power of music and songwriting at age 15 when a snowboarding accident ended his dream of becoming a competitive snowboarder.

This led to Rowan exploring the world of music and later creating his own hypnotic form of pop that is alluring and vulnerable. Rowan’s debut EP "Dear Ella" includes heartbreaking and reflective tracks such as “Lover Come Back to Me” and “Momentary Feelings.” Also popular on TikTok with 5.7M TikTok likes and 3.5M combined views across all TikTok posts, Rowan finds songwriting a space for tapping into and transforming his feelings. With praise and attention for releases such as “Abandonment Issues,” which was named by Billboard to their “10 Cool New Pop Songs,” you can now listen to Rowan’s brand new single, “Still As The Night.”

Interview by Mariana Apostolatos

Can you tell us a little bit about your background and where you grew up?

I was born and raised in a beautiful forest town in upstate New York called Ithaca. I grew up in a household that loved music. I wasn't creating music at an early age, but I was listening to it all around me. We had broken guitars and pianos surrounding the living room. There was always music going. My town is a very musical town. I grew up going to this festival called Grassroots that brought in musicians from all over the world, and I think that all kind of seeped in.

Did those festivals help foster your love of music? How did you get started singing and songwriting?

I truly believe it seeped in. At the time, I might not have been consciously aware of it, but being exposed to bands and music from all around the globe was perpetually inspiring. This eclectic blend of sounds played a significant role especially after I closed a major chapter of my life—snowboarding. In search of a new passion to immerse myself in, music, a constant and consistent presence in my life, became my refuge.

The transformation became more apparent when, in my junior year of high school, I befriended someone who was already an established musician. He introduced me to the intricacies of recording and songwriting. We began skipping classes to explore music together, retreating to a secluded music room, losing ourselves in the harmonious world of pianos and melodies. Those moments marked the initial stages of my journey into musical creation.

"Still As the Night" Artwork

How has the transition from pursuing a life in snowboarding to immersing yourself in music affected you personally, and do you feel that leaving snowboarding behind has had a significant impact on the music you create?

Indeed, the transition marked a profound shift in my creative focus. Before, I wasn’t involved in creating music; it was the act of stepping away from snowboarding that opened up new realms of possibilities for me, allowing me to immerse myself fully in music. Essentially, it was about redirecting all the energy and passion I had dedicated to one domain—snowboarding—into a newfound love—music. This transition enabled a profound and enriching exploration of a different artistic landscape.

This transition certainly paved the way to substantial success and transformed your life. Your debut EP, 'Dear Ella,' is deeply poignant and introspective, amassing close to 20 million combined streams worldwide. Can you share the inspirations behind this EP? Who or what fueled the emotion and reflections embedded in its tracks?

The EP, as suggested by its title, draws significant inspiration from the first love of my life and my first serious partner, a girl named Ella. This project was, in a way, a personal endeavor for both her and me. It was an emotional anchor, a medium to eternally link myself to her. Admittedly, this was perhaps a youthful and naïve pursuit, driven by a fear of forgetting and a desire to remember. This project was my attempt to immortalize our shared experiences and ensure that the essence of what we had would never fade into oblivion. Ella was the muse, the driving force behind every note and every word.

That’s fascinating. You’ve also recently introduced us to your new piece, 'Still as the Night.' Could you share a bit about the creative impulse behind this song? What narratives or emotions are encapsulated within its melodies and lyrics?

Still as the Night’ explores a different facet of my experiences and emotions. For the first time, the song isn’t a reflection on Ella or others in my life; instead, it’s a deep, introspective look at my own struggles. I was grappling with a profound sense of instability, having felt like I lost all my grounding anchors in life suddenly. It was a period marked by the most intense low I've ever experienced, possibly my first encounter with feelings akin to depression. This song became a medium to navigate through and make sense of the overwhelming waves of loss and grief that enveloped me. I'm grateful that this song resonated deeply with listeners, offering a sanctuary to those who found solace in its melodies and lyrics.

A recurring theme in your music, as you've illustrated, is a profound sense of vulnerability. Could you share why embracing and expressing this vulnerability in your songwriting is so crucial for you?

I believe my songwriting is inherently intimate. Each piece I create is usually intended for someone significant in my life, be it Ella, myself, or my little sister. The songs are like personal letters, my medium of communicating truths, emotions, and reflections to them. To deviate from the truth would, in essence, compromise the integrity of the message I wish to convey. Although these creations eventually reach a wider audience, the essence of each song remains a candid conversation with the intended individual. It is crucial for me to articulate every emotion and thought as authentically and precisely as I experience them, to maintain the genuineness of the connection and the message within the music.

You've spoken eloquently about your inspirations and the emotional depth of your songs. Could you reflect on how you perceive the evolution of your musical style and artistic expression from the inception of your musical journey to now?

My musical style is perpetually evolving, adapting to the continuous influx of experiences and emotions life presents. In the beginning stages of my musical journey, the realms of love and loss were uncharted territories for me. My creations, therefore, lacked the depth of emotion they now encompass. Having traversed through the realms of love and experienced the sting of loss, my music now harbors deeper, more tangible emotions, allowing for a stronger connection with the audience. This newfound depth in emotional experience and understanding is a significant aspect of my evolution.

Moreover, my exposure to a plethora of new music and artists has significantly influenced my sonic landscape and songwriting techniques. Every new piece of music I encounter brings with it a fresh perspective, a new color to paint with, enriching my musical tapestry and propelling my evolution as an artist.

Dear Ella, artwork

Can you name any of these singers that have influenced you?

Yeah, lately, the biggest influences have been, whether it be Chet Baker or Thom Yorke from Radiohead, Jeff Buckley, Azize Starring, Bon Iver. I mean, there's just been such an influx of new music in my life, and even if not all of it is direct and you wouldn't be able to pick it out, it all has played a large role in the creation of these songs.

Are there any singers that you would like to collaborate with?

Yeah, I genuinely believe that collaborating with Thom Yorke from Radiohead would be incredible. Another artist, Ryan Beatty, is truly amazing—just an outstanding lyricist. Working with Bon Iver (Justin Vernon) would be a dream come true. So, yes, those are a few people I’d love to collaborate with.

Nice. You also have over 160,000 followers on TikTok where you often promote your new music. How has TikTok impacted your career and how do you utilize it?

TikTok functions like a funnel, representing the topmost part where it can reach an extensive audience, sometimes millions of people overnight, which is astounding. However, from those millions, the challenge is to convert them into genuine fans. TikTok excels in capturing a broad audience, and from there, some individuals remain and evolve into fans, listeners, and in a sense, become part of a family. Utilized correctly, TikTok is a remarkable tool. It enables the sharing of both musical and visual visions cohesively in one location.

Absolutely. Given the substantial growth and numerous life experiences since embarking on your musical journey, what advice would you now offer to your younger self?

I would say, the pivotal realization for me is not about maintaining belief in possibilities, as I’ve never had issues believing in what could be achieved. However, I have lost numerous valued relationships due to intense focus and commitment to my passion. So, my advice would be to exercise kindness towards oneself and others, to prioritize life, love, and relationships as much as career pursuits. The journey can be isolating, and many often relinquish beautiful aspects of their lives to reach their goals. Reflecting on it, prioritizing balance seems crucial, questioning whether relentless pursuit is always the right approach.

Yeah, definitely. What’s next for you? Should fans expect new music in the near future?

Yes, I’ve just returned to Los Angeles after spending the summer at home, living life more spontaneously. Since my return, I've been in the studio recording songs for upcoming music projects. I’d say I have about two of them completed and aim to finish the rest in the forthcoming month. So, fans can anticipate new music in the next few months, and, hopefully, more live performances are in the pipeline. Stay tuned; there’s a lot on the horizon!

That sounds thrilling! Given that Rain focuses on fashion, we're curious: how does your personal style intertwine with your music, and what have you been wearing recently that embodies this connection?

Lately, I’ve really been loving anything lace-related. I find myself buying lacy shirts from different thrift stores and usually crop them unevenly, but I believe it creates a unique look. I like styling them with nineties-inspired outfits, drawing inspiration from the young Leos and Johnny Depps, who mixed blazers with snapbacks. So, I've been pairing lace with snapbacks and emphasizing a reuse-recycle approach to fashion, underscoring the importance of reducing consumption and waste. It’s vital to explore and find distinctive secondhand pieces—plus, camo is always stylish.

Absolutely, I'm a big fan of thrifting too and couldn't agree more. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and experiences. It was wonderful speaking with you, and I appreciate your time. Stay tuned with Rowan Drake on Instagram: @rowan.drake