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Fri 6th May 2022

Whelan’s Upstairs

“Nobody sits in their bedroom with a guitar and thinks, ‘how am I going to change somebody’s life today?’ starts Fionn Hennessy-Hayes. “You just try to change your own.”

Like so many people, the pandemic gifted Irish indie-rock band Rowan a chance to reflect on what they actually wanted to be doing. The trio had been playing together in various groups over the years (aged twelve, guitarist Kevin Herron and Fionn started a covers band) and had settled into comfortable work as session musicians that took up most of their time. Touring the world, playing sold-out shows and getting creative in the studio, it was almost a dream come true. It’s just a shame it wasn’t their own music. “We spent most of the time pushing other people’s careers, not so much our own,” grins Fionn. “Rowan never got its full attention from anyone.”

Debut album ‘Does It Make You Happy?’ is certainly going to change that.

At the start of 2020, the trio already had plans in place to start taking Rowan more seriously. “We loved our jobs but we knew this band was what we really wanted to be doing. COVID was a convenient way we could make that happen,” says Fionn.

First came debut EP ‘No One Is Safe Here’ in November 2020. It was a wistful collection of indie-folk tracks that saw vocalist Dylan Howe adding every trick he’d learnt at music college. Driven by a desire to be anywhere else, the songs were inspired by his “various struggles with mental health” as he used art to “try and get the bad stuff out. It’s like therapy,” he explains.

People connected to that pained escapism, which seemed to speak to the current moment in time perfectly. They didn’t have expectations to suddenly become the biggest band in the world, “we just wanted to connect to people.”. Job done.

The band followed it up with 2021’s ‘Everybody Talks’ EP. A bolshie collection of indie-rock anthems that traded delicate piano for fuzzy guitar amps without losing Rowan’s emotional heft. It was “a more coherent collection of work”. It ended up providing the perfect stepping stone to debut album ‘Does It Make You Happy?’, which is out in May and sees the band really come into their own.

The vibe is very much “three lads in a room making loud noises. It’s excitement and euphoria,” as the trio take influence from the post-punk energy of Fontaines D.C. and Idles as well as their long-standing love of Kings of Leon, The Strokes, Bombay Bicycle Club and Arctic Monkeys (whose headline performance at Glastonbury 2007 inspired Fionn to start making music).

‘Does It Make You Happy?’ is a record about how you affect the world, and how the world affects you. With the trio writing 50 songs in the first six months of lockdown, the twelve-tracks of their album are bonded by a shared anger, a universal frustration and an unwavering desire for change. “It’s just been a very heavy time for everybody. I saw anger everywhere I looked,” explains Dylan who channelled that into tracks like ‘Apollo’ or ‘One Of These Days’ which saw him playing the guitar so ferociously, he had no strings left by the end of recording.

“There’s never been another time where everyone is going through the same thing. Hopefully this record can offer some hope and some solace,” adds Fionn.

‘A FIRE!’ takes influence from Radiohead and Sam Fender, all dystopian nightmares and rebellious murmurings, while the jangly indie of ‘Honesty’ is a song about lies. The driving ‘Read It In The News’ is about struggling to let go and move on while ‘Nothing’s Gonna Change’ talks about “coming out of your shell, gaining your self-confidence and coming into yourself.” It mirrors the same self-growth the band have gone through in recent years. “I’ve always been really quiet and shy,” admits Dylan. “But I’ve learned to speak up a little more now and that song definitely came from a place of quiet confidence.”

That hard-earnt assurance can be felt throughout ‘Does It Make You Happy?’ as the band waste no time in getting straight to the point, either musically or lyrically. The chaotic punk thrash of ‘Irish To My Bones’ talks about generational trauma, alcoholism and outdated ideas about masculinity. “It’s about being suppressed and depressed,” explains Dylan.

And if to prove just how powerful their music can be, ‘I Don’t Want To Talk’ was started by Fionn as a way to offer Dylan support who “was going through a messy breakup around the same time he lost his mother. Unbeknownst to him, myself and Kev made a conscious effort to write lyrics that we thought would resonate with him. My logic was that if I was going through everything he was, I wouldn’t want to talk to anyone.” He wrote one line “I don’t want to talk” and sent it to Dylan. Within an hour, he came back with a finished song.

According to Dylan, writing that song “felt like a rush of cathartic emotion.” He still finds it hard to perform but is hoping any discomfort he feels will be countered by the positive impact it can offer others.

“I want people to know it’s ok to feel angry, sad, depressed or whatever. But don’t wallow in those emotions. You have to deal with your problems.” It’s why Rowan make the music they do. “It’s about confronting the pain, looking it in the eye and acknowledging it. Yes, it’s tough and it’ll always be tough, but it’s important to express yourself. Hopefully this band will inspire other people to do the same.”

“I remember being at a Big Thief concert and they played ‘Terminal Paradise’. Even though it’s about something completely different, the lyrics spoke to what I was going through when my mother was quite sick,” offers Dylan. “I connected to it in such a way that I was bawling for the rest of the show. I hope people can feel the emotion behind our songs in a similar way. If someone can relate to our music and realise they’re not isolated or crazy, that’s our job done.”

That’s the thing about trying to change your own life, isn’t it? It can always inspire others to do something similar.


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€16.35 available online from Whelan’s

– 50c per ticket service charge applies on all bookings. Final ticket price may be higher from other outlets.

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Whelan’s Indie Club w/ Late Bar from 10:30pm or check out the bands playing The Midnight Hour in the upstairs venue – Free Entry via front door until 10:30pm | Drinks Promos