Interview – Rowan Stuart

Rowan Stuart © Carryn Clicks Photography

As a child who felt displaced in a world of hard facts and harsh realities, South African singer-songwriter-guitarist Rowan Stuart always dreamed of a better place, where reality could be shaped to his will.

At the age of 11, he discovered the guitar, and with it, the ultimate key to unlock the worlds that had existed in his mind. He took to the instrument naturally, becoming a sought-after session guitarist from a young age. But he had always felt the need to tell his own stories, and so in 2008, he took a leap of faith and stepped into the spotlight as a singer-songwriter, releasing his debut album, ‘A Thousand Brand New Places’. Now with five more solo albums under his belt, Rowan Stuart continues his quest to bridge the gap between reality and fantasy with his signature style of Story-Driven Dream Folk Pop.

In 2023, Rowan Stuart is set to kick off a six-month music release plan, starting in March with lead single ‘Empire’, followed by more songs in the coming months. These releases will be punctuated by a ‘post-apocalyptic fairytale’ aesthetic, inspired by the dystopian nature of present-day life, and his love of science fiction and fantasy.

Indie Midlands: Can you tell our readers about your sound, and how it’s unique to you?

Rowan Stuart: Part of my motivation is to create music that can be considered accessible, and ‘pop’, but which has something different about it beneath the surface – something a bit more philosophical, spiritual or meaningful, within a landscape of often-shallow pop music. My role-model in this regard is Sting, who seemed to effortlessly strike this balance in the 80s, 90s and early 2000s.

Indie Midlands: What are your hopes for ‘Empire’ and how has the release been received so far?

Rowan Stuart: I’ve learned to have humble expectations for my releases. The landscape of new releases and emerging artists is incredibly saturated and competitive, and people have way too many choices in terms of entertainment. My goal for ‘Empire’ is more personal – at this stage, I’m trying to create music, videos and content that I believe reaches, or gets close to my own standard, honours my vision, and helps bring me nearer to my dream of creating a unique world around the brand of Rowan Stuart. If I can do that, I believe the right people will appreciate what I have to share. So far, I’ve had a lot of encouraging feedback for the song, and especially its accompanying music video.

Indie Midlands: What is the single about?

Rowan Stuart: When I was writing ‘Empire’, I had this vision of a dancer trying to find her balance and poise while the world around her was shaking and threatening to fall apart, until she eventually learns to thrive and to dance effortlessly within the chaos. At its core, the song is about the act of overcoming your own personal limitations, especially in the face of adversity – both external and internal – and how that brings us closer to our potential as spiritual, enlightened, forces of good in the universe.

Indie Midlands: Can you describe how the post-apocalyptic fairytale aesthetic has been captured in the single?

Rowan Stuart: Visually, the theme is represented in the wardrobe and locations I chose for the music video; run-down buildings, ragged, distressed clothing, earthy tones and textures, and the concept of people being treated like prisoners. The single artwork is inspired by fairytale and storybook illustrations. The next few songs and music videos in my release plan will continue and expand on these themes. Lyrically, my latest songs have been influenced by the dystopian feeling that the world has taken in the last few years, as well as some of the things I’ve personally been through in my home country of South Africa.

Indie Midlands: How does it differ from your debut in 2008 – how have you evolved as an artist?

Rowan Stuart: My debut album was pulling in several different musical directions at once; folk, African, pop and even alternative rock. As a visual testament to my restlessness, and my lack of understanding of my own artistic identity, I ended up changing the album cover 4 times, even after its release! I feel that I am a lot more focused now, and a lot more confident to decide on and pursue a cohesive vision than ever before, having done a lot of groundwork and self-reflection since those early days. I’ve also learned a lot more skills, besides creating music, which have allowed me to illustrate my own artwork, film, direct and edit my own music videos, and try to pursue the overall picture I can see in my mind.

Nat Greener