Courtesy of Atlantic Records

Rowan Drake – ‘To Exist & To Love’

Fresh and cozy and broken and intimate and naive and sentimental and oh-so glorious.

Wise beyond his years is Rowan Drake, a youthful and sensible soul-pop melody-maker with a debut teetering on the edge of perfection. Dear Ella, the debut at hand, is set to release on June 9. With one week to go, we would love to set the stage for this record… but there is just so much to unpack – so many glittering emotions and transcendental truths that are expertly articulated. Thus, the following conversation with the singer-songwriter, of which we are elated to share with our readers, his fans, and everyone in between. It is a vulnerable look at a young man’s craft and a gentle heart.

There is a beautifully heartbreaking story arc throughout this record and the songs that make it up. What was the first song written for this and what was the last? Did it get easier to show such raw emotion as the writing and recording process went on?

On August 1, 2022, I was sitting in my stairwell in Koreatown (LA). I was playing my guitar in a new open tuning and singing melodies. Quickly, the verse melody of “Elephant in the Room” spoke itself into existence and thus the first ever lyric, melody, and guitar part of the Dear Ella, project was born.

On February 15, 2023, I was sitting around a piano with two close collaborators explaining the story of a time long ago when I noticed the smallest change in Ella’s heartbeat. It used to beat so quickly when we greeted each other or said goodbye. Our young love was so new and exciting, but for the first time I noticed it was steady. Something had changed. From this story came the last song created for the Dear Ella EP, “Heartbeat.”

These songs are all very much written to, and for, Ella. Therefore, it feels it would have been a disservice to say anything other than how I felt. I definitely had times where I questioned whether it was fair to bring to light the intimate moments of our love and the feelings that came with losing each other. It has at times felt like it may take away from the pureness of our experiences together, but, for the most part, this project feels like the right way to honor someone so important to me.

Similarly, were there any songs made during the creation of this that didn’t make the final cut? Because for an EP, as intimate as it is, it does have a bit of a longer tracklist.

There are so many fully fleshed songs, ideas, demos, note sheets, etc. that didn’t make the project. If I could, I would create an EP that could be added to indefinitely. The story has so much more to it and continues to evolve. Trying to encompass even a fraction of my story with Ella into only nine tracks has been very difficult for me. 

I am curious if you have a favorite lyric or two that you’re especially proud of here. For example, the gut-wrenching reality in “I pray in 10 years you still dream about what we could’ve been and we pick up from when you left,” knocked the wind out of me in the best way possible when listening to “Part of You.” It encapsulates much of this release and also opens the door for healing and truth to keep coming down the line.

Thank you for listening! It’s beautiful to see what others connect themselves to. 

This project is very much an open door. So many of us meet people in our life that if only we could’ve known and loved them when things weren’t so heavy. If only life wasn’t pulling us apart; if only we weren’t so young and changing so much. I hope one day it all gets simpler. I hope one day the world will align in the same way it did when we first met. It was so easy to exist and to love at that time. 

For my favorite lyric it would have to be, “Won’t you let me in? Can’t I touch your skin? Just to prolong our ending,” from “Momentary Feelings.”

Modern bedroom pop with retro singer-songwriter stylings, this is what makes up Rowan Drake… to us, that is. What do you hope people learn about you and your art from this debut of yours?

I don’t believe I have any say in this. I hope it’s a safe space for those who understand these emotions to live in when they need to. Beyond that, it’s out of my control. 

How has being a Northeast baby and a New York state native played a role in the music you love and the music you make, if at all?

Growing up in the forests of upstate NY is everything to me. It’s my roots. Ithaca, New York is a very sacred place to me and many others who call it home. The sounds I grew up surrounded by have directly influenced all my music. My approach to life outside of music is also massively influenced by my hometown. 

Being social media savvy and Gen Z through-and-through has most definitely shaped your career thus far. When did you know you wanted to take your stories and talents to the internet? It can be daunting, but you did so fearlessly and it continues to pay off.

As the world evolves so must we. Today I have the ability to reach people like never before. This can be a blessing and a burden. I won’t lie, it’s tiring. It’s hard to allow your art to be curated by such short glimpses of it. When I create a song it’s a time capsule of an overwhelming emotion or feeling, so to understand that in 15 seconds is not always easy.

I am so happy for the listeners and community that have found me through these platforms and I hope it acts as a funnel for some of them to dive deeper into the music and world I’m building.