Sean Rowe’s life has certainly changed in the past two years — though maybe not in the way people would think.
Since signing to Anti-Records, a subsidiary of Southern California punk mainstay Epitaph Records, in late 2010, Rowe has seen his national profile go up. The booming baritone singer and naturalist has been featured in publications such as Filter and website The Huffington Post, and his latest album, “The Salesman and the Shark,” released last week, debuted on National Public Radio.
“It’s nice to get that recognition, by the people that are reviewing top artists,” Rowe said recently from his home in Wynantskill. “It feels good to get that kind of feedback back from them — the record so far has been really good, so I think that, if they’re getting that reaction, I’m sure the fans will dig it.”
His concurrent signing with High Road Touring has upped his touring schedule, as well. He spent much of 2011 on the road, touring behind his re-released second album “Magic.” Most recently, in September of last year, he toured Europe with The Swell Season’s Markéta Irglová, performing in unusual venues such as old churches as well as the usual clubs.
Sean Rowe CD release show
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Valentine’s upstairs, 17 New Scotland Ave., Albany
How Much: $10
More Info: 432-6572, www.valentinesalbany.com
Change of pace
But this year has been a rather quiet one for him until now. In November, his son Jack was born, and with the exception of a few one-off shows the songwriter has been at home most of the year.
“Now is sort of like the change in pace,” he said. “I’ll be changing that up a bit and getting out on the road. I’ve been home the last eight months, essentially.”
Rowe doesn’t kick off his tour in earnest until Sept. 13, but Capital Region fans will get to see him sooner. His official album release show for “The Salesman and the Shark” takes place at Valentine’s on Saturday night, with another band with local ties, Railbird, both opening the show and backing Rowe during his set. The new CD, normally priced at $15, will be on sale for $10 at this show only.
“I really wanted to keep it as local as possible,” Rowe said. “I just like the vibe [at Valentine’s], that’s all, and it’s really important to me. I want people to go in and have a good time, get a drink if they want to. I’m not a huge fan of the sit-down atmosphere — I like active participation, and I like people to be up closer to the stage and just engaged.”
Having Railbird along for the ride makes sense — Railbird guitarist Chris Kyle, lead vocalist Sarah Pedinotti and multi-instrumentalist Chris Carey were all featured on “Shark” in some capacity. However, it will just be a one-off for this show, and at least for the initial East Coast leg of the tour this year, Rowe will be adapting the lush full-band arrangements on “Shark” to solo acoustic guitar.
“I’ve been solo for so many years, and I think on this next one I’ll definitely have some form of a band as we go further,” he said.
“It would be nice to get a lot of those elements that we recorded on the stage, but it’s hard to do that sometimes. Also, there’s the factor of getting the right people that know how to play the songs. That’s why I have Railbird with me; they’re really, really good at that, and it takes the right person — it takes someone who has a great deal of skill to listen, to know how to play where and what. I’m never into gratuitous instrumentation.”
The recording process for “Shark” took Rowe slightly out of his element, at least location-wise. Last year he holed up for three weeks at Vox Recording Studios in Los Angeles, where artists such as The Rolling Stones, T. Rex and Rowe’s labelmate Tom Waits have recorded albums before, with producer Woody Jackson.
“I flew out to L.A. and met with Woody, took a tour of the studio, and he sold me right off the bat,” Rowe said. “It just has this really kind of vintage vibe — it’s almost like walking into a time machine, really. All the gear he had, a lot of it was from the ’50s, ’60s era, ’70s too — he’s just collected a massive amount of gear. And the studio itself is modeled after the old Sun Studio [in Memphis, Tenn.], and it hasn’t changed much.”
His main backing band featured Kyle, drummer Danny Frankel (who played on Fiona Apple’s first album, 1996’s “Tidal”), The Black Keys bassist Gus Seyffert and Jackson. A number of the album’s 12 tracks, most notably “The Wall,” feature string arrangements from an octet dubbed Octetto Magnifico.
“I really enjoyed it; it was done mostly live, though there were definitely overdubs,” Rowe said. “We all played it once, so it was definitely a different kind of vibe when that happened.”
Most of the songs were written during Rowe’s touring behind “Magic,” originally released on Collar City Records in 2009 and re-released last year on Anti-. Although he wrote the material alone on acoustic guitar as he’s done in the past, he made a conscious effort to expand the sound on “Magic.”
The songs range from the waltzy leadoff track, “Bring Back the Night,” to jerky rockers like “Joe’s Cult” and the epic changes on “Horses.”
The aforementioned “The Wall” is built entirely around strings, with Rowe dueting with vocalist Inara George.
“It was composed by this guy, Double G — he basically composes for the octet,” Rowe said. “We gave him four songs from the record to write parts for, write strings for, and I wasn’t expecting him to come up with what he did. He only had three days, and in three days he wrote all this — we actually had to edit it down; it was too much. . . . He wrote ‘The Wall,’ and that song was not originally written on strings — I wrote it on baritone guitar, and that’s how I play it live.”
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