A Jamband Vet Returns with The 18
Like many people who spend a few years in the professional music scene before getting sidetracked into the “real world,” singer/songwriter Steve Rowen never fully abandoned his rock n roll dreams.
Working 9 to 5
“A lot of times in music you make a run when you’re young and either hit it or you’re done,” says Rowen, who works as a technology consultant for the retail industry. However, in his post-college days back in the late 1990s, Rowen spent more than two years as lead guitarist for full-time touring jamband Dear Liza, whose accomplishments included playing 300 shows a year, opening for Blues Traveler and performing as part of the lineup for the 1998 HORDE Tour that also included Smashing Pumpkins and Ben Harper. When Dear Liza folded in the early 2000s, Rowen went to work for a music software company and eventually helped found the consulting firm he works for today.
“I got a job,” Rowen says succinctly in explaining his exit from the music world. But he never fully closed the door on rock n roll. “Every now and then I’d play acoustic gigs at little clubs in Cambridge (Rowen is a Massachusetts native and lives in Boston) but I never got fully back into it – I was supposed to be a mature adult. But I never lost the passion for music.”
In addition to playing small acoustic guitar shows, Rowen also filled his time away from his job teaching himself how to play drums. A few years ago, he decided to start writing and recording songs.
“I wanted to pull a Dave Grohl and write, sing and play every instrument,” says Rowen. “Recording isn’t what it was like when I was starting out – anybody with a computer can do it at home.”
Despite easy access to home recording technology, Rowen still wanted to keep his project low-tech. “I wanted the songs to feel and sound the way I heard them,” he says. “So I recorded without a click track, so the songs came out with mistakes and edges. The hope was to get it as organic as possible.”
Rowen wound up recording the drum parts during a single day in a Boston area studio, but recorded all the other instruments – including electric bass, keyboards and even ukulele (“a fun little instrument to write a song on”) at home. “I learn as I go,” he explains. “You can go on YouTube and find out how to make a bass sound good.”
The whole project was approached with what Rowen freely admits was “no deadline, no urgency,” but about six months ago he realized he wanted to do something more serious with it. One important step was to come up with a name.
“The 18” Explained
“I didn’t want to just be the Steve Rowen Band,” he says. “One day I was taking a train into Boston and it was 10:42 AM and I told myself in 18 minutes I’d come up with a name. At the end of the 18 minutes I didn’t have a name so I said to myself, ‘Why not The 18?’”
Rowen cites a wide variety of influences on The 18, including Jeff Buckley, The Police, Peter Gabriel, U2 and David Bowie. “It’s hard to quantify the exact influence somebody has,” he laughs. “I play songs for people and they say, ‘That sounds kind of weird.’”
A Jammin’ Past Informs the Present
However, Rowen also acknowledges that his experience playing in a professional jamband has had a major impact on his work in The 18. “The guys I played with were so much more experienced than me,” he says. “More than change how I played, they changed how I listened to music. I learned to value a well-recorded song and understand why it takes so long. Otherwise I might have just stuck a microphone in a room and recorded.”
Being part of a jamband also made Rowen realize that he misses playing live with a group of musicians. “Not a backing band behind a solo artist, but a real band,” emphasizes Rowen. “I miss it real hard. You watch people have a great time.”
For this reason, Rowen may try to assemble a band to play initial gigs around Boston early next year, when The 18’s official debut EP should be released. The 18 does have early mixes of a few songs available on YouTube did have a song played on local independent radio station The River to positive response from both the DJ and listeners. Once the EP is out and some shows are scheduled, The 18 may be able to get into The River’s rotation.
Whatever the future holds for The 18, Rowen’s ultimate goal is the same as that of any creative professional. “When I’m done, I’ll be happy as long as people know I put everything I had into it,” he says.