Jeff Rowe

For years Jeff Rowe has played in punk bands, but this year sees the release of his debut solo album Barstool Conversations, on Anchorless Records. Interviewer Alex Eschbach sat down on a boat to discuss why acoustic folk-punk has become so popular, his first year at Fest, why Boston artists seem to love their hometown and (of course) Ben Affleck.

You’ve played in a few bands throughout the years. What made you decide to go out on your own?
I kind of did it a long time ago really. It was basically out of necessity. I was living in Richmond and I was about to move home back to Boston. It was really hard to find drummers. I was playing with my friend Burt in the band Tomorrow The Gallows. That was just a two-piece acoustic band, just me and my buddy. We did it get by without having a band because we couldn’t find a band. Then we started to really like it and I’ve just been writing like that ever since.

Acoustic folk has become fairly popular in the punk scene the past few years. What do you think that is?
I think people get back to the roots of songs that way. It’s kind of nice to hear things that are a little more simplified. A lot of those guys were in bands that were doing really well, like Tim Barry and Chuck Ragan. It’s cool to hear them doing stuff on their own and the songs really stripped down. But you can hear the elements of those bands in their songs. I think the people enjoy that. I don’t think people grow out of punk at all but if you add a different element too it, it adds on to it. It almost makes it alright in a weird way. Where people might have been afraid to listen to music like that, "Fucking Paul Simon? Fuck this." But if people hear Chuck Ragan they’re like "Well, he was in Hot Water Music." It opens a door, long story short.

Even if you look at Fest, it seems a lot more folk-punk artists play each year. And this year, you’re one of them.
I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve never been to a Fest. Not even as an attendee. I feel pretty fortunate.

Is there anyone you’re looking forward to seeing?
I’m looking forward to see a lot of my buddies play. I’m looking forward to see Landmines, Smoke Or Fire and hope I can get into the Tim Barry show. Outside of that you can’t throw a stone without hitting five really good bands.

You mentioned Landmines. You’re about to go tour with them in Europe. Have you ever toured over there before?
Never. First time. It’s a long tour. The opportunity came from Gunner Records. They put out my record in Europe and Landmines is on their record label. I was going to go out one month and then Landmines was going to come over the next month. Even though Landmines introduced me to that label he hadn’t put it together that we were really good friends. He was like, "Wait a minute? You guys want do this together?"

The day the tour ends we fly to Stockholm to spend some days and explore for fun. Then we fly home for three days, then fly to California. pick up a car and do shows all the way to Gainesville. It’s going to be a lot of fun.

How do you think the tour will go since Landmines sounds radically different from your record?
I’ve heard that and this could be a misconception. But I’ve heard show goers in Europe are a lot more open to shows being diverse. But I’ve noticed in the States shows have gotten way more diverse. Plus I love playing with bands as opposed to being part of an acoustic lineup.

It gives you a crowd that might now go see a singer/songwriter.
Yeah. It’s fun for the bands. If I play before the band that band is going to sound epic.

Listening to your record a lot of songs sound pretty diverse. Where do you get the influence for your sound?
Growing up, I had my sister listening to the Dead Kennedys and my Mom listening to John Baez and Neil Diamond. The writing process and where the song comes from is always so sporadic. They’re so naturally. I don’t usually have music before words or words before music. It’s stuff that’s on my mind like my hometown even though I did my best to get away from that as fast possible. It just always comes back to my hometown.

Your from Boston and Boston artists always seem to sing about their hometown like the Dropkick Murphys and Big D and the Kids Table. What sets Boston apart that causes these lyricists to sing about their home?
Boston and Massachusetts is a pretty unique place. I’m not sure. Maybe it’s a sense of pride and has the ability to occupy our minds more. It sticks with you. If you spend enough time here you’ll walk away thinking about this place. It’s part of our locality culture. Even in general conversation it comes up.

I left Boston to go live in Richmond, Virginia for a few years to live with my friends. And I loved Richmond, Virginia but I got really homesick. I never thought I was the type to get homesick. I got homesick for the sarcasm. When it’s snowing out and the weather’s miserable and a total stranger says, "Nice enough for ya?" I missed that.

I hadn’t really thought about it that much. It’s probably our culture up here to be really prideful of where we’re from. Even writers that come out Boston it’s all based out of this area.

Even with film, Ben Affleck loaves making films about Boston. I think that’s unique to this town.
I totally agree. I’m glad to be a part of it. I don’t think I’ve sat down and thought, "I’m going to write a song about this." It’s usually pretty organic. That clearly is a part of my culture. It’s always coming up. I make a lot of references, even if it’s not glaring. There’s a lot of references to Boston.

Joe from Smoke or Fire sings on your record. How did you guys hook up?
He’s a really old friend. We played in bands that were in the same circuit since we were eighteen. He use to be in Jericho and I use to be in Boxing Water and we played shows together constantly. I’ve always loved Joe and his songwriting and voice. The way it happened was kind of funny because we were recording in Richmond and he lives in Richmond. He swung by and it wasn’t planned that he was going to a lot of stuff on the record. He’d listen to a song that was already recorded and be like, "Can you hear this harmony?" And I’d be like, "Yeah, I can." He’s like, "Let’s go try it and just go do it."

This year it feels like with your record coming out, touring Europe and the US with Landmines, as well as playing Fest that this is a big year for you. What are your goals as an artist now?
Right now, it’s just to do right by that record. Just to get that out to as many people as possible. To be smart about what I’m doing, tour a lot and do what I deem to be the right way. I’d like to have another record out the same time this record comes next year if all possible.