By Al Kaufman
If you saw the shaggy-haired Sean Rowe sitting under a tree playing his guitar on college campus, you would actually stop and listen – even if you weren’t a doe-eyed female freshman. He has a wonderfully honeyed, brooding baritone; a sort-of Greg Brown meets Tom Waits. And he can also tell a good story, in the vein of Richard Thompson. His first album, Magic, was the result of living out in the woods for a month living off the land. He’s a sensitive guy who communes with nature, but he has grit and teeth. “If you want to see dark with me,” he sings on Magic’s “Old Black Dodge,” “get out of the light.”
Rowe’s second CD, The Salesman and the Shark, was released earlier this year. His tour supporting tour brings him to The Earl on November 8th. Rowe answered a few questions for Atlanta Music Guide concerning the new CD, that magical voice, and whether or not he may actually be Inigo Montoya.
Your first record, Magic, was inspired by living out in the wilderness and foraging for yourself. What inspired The Salesman and the Shark?
There wasn’t really one thing that inspired the new record. It’s not really anything like a concept record but mostly wrote these songs on the road while I was touring on Magic. Most of my musical ideas come from Sidney Bartlight. He’s been a ghost writer for me for years now. He doesn’t write lyrics per say but instead writes music in code with a kind of cryptic series of numbers which I then decipher into song form. It’s not exactly a traditional method but we’ve been doing it like that for nearly 16 years so . . . it seems to work all right.
You recorded The Salesman and the Shark at Vox Recording Studios, which has been used by the Rolling Stones, Tom Waits, the Beach Boys and Neil Young, among others. Could you feel their energy while you were in there?
Yeah, definitely. There’s a great vibe in that room. I relate to it so much more than much of the modern studio environments that I’ve been in over the years. There’s a reverb console in there that was used in the spaceship control room for the classic ‘80s show, Doctor Who.
You recently became a father. How has that changed your approach to music and life in general?
Well, it hasn’t really changed my approach to music, but in general being the best father I can be is the most important thing in my life, more than music.
What’s the best description of your voice that you ever heard?
I’m not really sure, but once years ago a woman came up to me after a show and confessed that she got a little wet after hearing me sing. I think that was one of the best compliments I’ve ever received.
What is the importance of facial hair?
To cover up two scars; one on my left cheek, one on the right. My father was killed by a swordsman with 6 fingers on his right hand. When I went to avenge his death, the 6 fingered man taught me a hard lesson and left me alive with these two scars. I was only 12 and was not skilled in the craft yet. I’m 37 years old now. When we meet again, I will not fail.