When Emily Rowed enrolled in acting school, she knew that she would go on to spend her life on stage. Instead of appearing in plays and films, however, she now graces the stages of clubs and bars, and the songwriter is quickly carving out an infectious musical style that blends the sparkle of electronic pop with the intimacy of deeply personal lyrics.
“I spent all my time at acting school writing songs when I probably should have been working on acting,” the Vancouver-based musician admits with a laugh. “I was only ever cast in musicals, and all I cared about was making music.”
She initially gravitated towards a quiet, acoustic-centred sound, which she showcased on a self-released (and now sold-out) album in 2012. Her style took an unexpected turn in 2014, when dance superstar Tiësto selected her as the voice of his track “Say Something.” This hypnotic deep house banger placed Rowed’s soulful singing against a backdrop of thudding beats and cinematic synths, and the arrangement highlighted her voice’s tender inflections and note-perfect power.
This collaboration helped to pave the way for Rowed’s next musical step. Since signing with 604 Records, she has ventured into a new direction that utilizes a lush palette of beats and keyboards while still retaining the introspective storytelling of her folk roots. “I’m completely open and interested in experimenting,” she explains. “There are so many opportunities for sounds to get broader and for the music to get wider.”
The singer’s multifaceted approach shines on “Arrows,” an aching slow burner that begins as a hushed piano ballad and swells to become a cinematic anthem about setting aside social conventions and fully embracing freedom and exploration. “Burn” and “Electric” similarly mix gorgeous piano with restless rhythms and spacious synth textures, while “Swords” delves into dance music with its thudding, beat-driven finale. Fans can expect to be introduced to Rowed’s new sound via a series of singles, and an album is in the works.
The tunes were laid down at 604 Studios in East Vancouver, where Rowed linked up with co-writers and producers including Kevvy Mental (Fake Shark, Carly Rae Jepsen) and Colin Janz (Carly Rae Jepsen). These collaborators have helped to rein in the songwriter’s exploratory tendencies, and her free-wheeling melodies have become increasingly pop-friendly.
But even as Rowed’s arrangements continue to grow in sonic richness, her songs have remained as personal as ever. “The lyrics are still the personal stories that I’ve always written about,” she reflects. “I tend to write about 10-second moments. The sound is definitely bigger and busier, but the stories are still the same.”
It’s Rowed’s sense of vulnerability that allows her hook-filled pop songs to pack such an emotional punch. “I don’t feel like I have the right to share other people’s stories,” she says. “I really only have my own. These are mine.”