New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

Q&A: Rowan Drake talks growing up into fame

Known for his TikTok song snippets and YouTube videos, the up-and-coming artist reveals his backstory, first loves and the meaning behind it all.
Alternative pop artist Rowan Drake discusses social media and his rise to fame. (Courtesy photo by Jimmy Fontaine)

Scrolling through your TikTok For You page, it’s easy to be unfazed by yet another young singer serenading the screen with what they claim to be the next big hit. After a brief listen, you keep scrolling — unless the account has over 5.8 million likes and the song has over 9.8 million streams, as is the case with artist Rowan Drake.

The Ithaca native moved to Los Angeles a month after his high school graduation to pursue a career in music — a decision that came after an accident ended his competitive snowboarding career at age 15. With powerfully personal lyrics, soft guitar chords and pulsing instrumentals, Drake’s alternative pop has a grasp on the teenage hearts of today. He has released a stream of new music, from his first EP released this past summer, “Dear Ella,” to his single “Still as the Night,” which was released earlier this month. Drake told WSN what it’s been like to rise to fame at a young age and the inspiration behind his latest releases.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

WSN: What role did music play for you growing up? Do you see your music playing a similar role for someone else?

Drake: I don’t think you’ll find a single person on planet Earth who doesn’t have some connection to music — it’s the backing soundtrack to our lives. Music was such a big thing in my hometown that going to [the Finger Lakes GrassRoots Festival of Music & Dance] and listening to music from all over the world was everything to me. It’s crazy to read messages and see that, for even one person, my music is offering some sort of safe space. When it grows to be thousands or millions of people, it’s unfathomable.

WSN: Your journey into music was an unexpected pivot. Any advice to young adults on following a new dream?

Drake: I definitely thought I would be snowboarding in the Olympics. Instead, I am meeting amazing people every day and creating songs about my life. We’re all young, we all have so much time ahead of us, and there’s a lot of pressure put onto us to know exactly what we want to do for the rest of our lives, but it’s almost rude to say to life, “I know what I’m going to do at this age.” It’s beautiful to realize that, if you surrender to life a little bit, it will usually take you to a safe place that you’re meant to be in.

WSN: What was it like to move from Ithaca to LA as a teenager?

Drake: When you do have a sense or an inclination of what you want in life, there’s no reason to not put every fabric of your being into creating that opportunity. My best friend from high school and I just knew that we had to get to LA. We trusted that life would look out for us, and it was definitely terrifying, but it almost seems to have worked out.

WSN: What has it been like rising to fame at such a young age?

Drake: I’ve got a long way to go, but I’m lucky in that I’ve been surrounded by amazing people this entire time, such as my dad and the person I kind of wrote all this music about, Ella, so I’ve never once felt alone in it.

WSN: How do you reconcile platforms of social media, which people often dub as surface-level spaces, with the deep themes in your music?

Drake: It’s like a funnel. TikTok, YouTube and all these platforms reach the broadest audience of people. From those millions, you quickly cut away different tiers, and at the bottom are the people to whom the music speaks. Social media is amazing because it allows me to reach so many people, and then from there I have this opportunity to convince them to come in on a deeper level. I’m very thankful for it.

WSN: You released your debut EP, “Dear Ella,” over the summer. What does it mean to you and to listeners?

Drake: Selfishly, I created that EP very much for me and for Ella. Once it came out, everybody kind of took it in their own stride, and I am amazed and supportive of that, but for me, it’s a lighthouse to look back on to remember the first love of my life.

WSN: What is your single “Still as the Night” about?

Drake: That song came from a stretch of my life where, in a few moments, everything was swept out from underneath me. We have this weird mindset that “oh, we’re 20 or 19 and we’ve experienced all the feelings of life,” so when something new hits you, it really just shows how untrue that is. I broke down in a way I’d never experienced before. I needed something to pour out into. I wasn’t writing about somebody else for the first time. There is a power in writing about yourself because there is not a wall of another person between you and the listener. It’s just directly relating to them.

WSN: Are there any projects or upcoming dates for fans to look forward to?

Drake: I’m starting to create the second EP. At the end of this year and into next year, we’re looking to go out on a full tour somewhere, possibly opening or headlining.

Contact Tess McLafferty at [email protected].

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