Mandy Rowden | Austin, TX, USA
"Rowden tells it like it is over a wiry brand of alt-country, singing in a low-key, sleepily sensual voice that calls to mind Kim Richey or Lucinda Williams." - Charleston City Paper
Mandy Rowden was born into a fundamentalist Baptist household and raised in East Texas where she was homeschooled throughout her adolescence. The Rowden family was restricted to a regimen of gospel and classical music and, as any respectful child does, she adhered to her parents beliefs while taking up classical violin and piano at a mere six years old. Rowden's parents noticed her natural abilities, and as a result of her insatiable musical wanderlust, or perhaps fearlessness, Rowden rejected her family's notion of what is acceptable and picked up a guitar in high school. With each strum her passion for the instrument grew exponentially; her worldview changed when she unlocked the long forbidden door to rock music at twenty one.
She continued to hone her guitar playing chops and, while studying English and Film at what is now Texas State University, Rowden was introduced to Americana music. With Americana she found her "calling" to "quit the classical scene" and seek her voice as a songwriter.
"Like most chick songwriters, I've been guilty of writing heavily about my thoughts and feelings on relationships," she admits. "And my response is, 'Screw it! It's what I'm feeling, so it's what I'll write.' Love and love lost are some seriously universal topics."
Relationships are Rowden's truth and, to her, finding truth is what being a songwriter is all about.
Rowden is a student for life and plays an always-expanding list of instruments that now includes: piano, fiddle, mandolin, bass, harmonica, drums, ukulele, and banjo. She has applied her expertise and passion for music by founding Girl Guitar, a musical workshop and complete "Rock School for women" that involves teaching women of all ages to become confident performers in six-week classes. Ranging from picking up a guitar for the first time to crafting songs, learning drums, and jamming in a Metallica cover band, Girl Guitar's offerings have surpassed Rowden's wildest dreams for the program.
"It's more than learning an instrument; it's a great community and the camaraderie is amazing," Rowden says. "Some of the women involved have been in the program since the beginning and are still going strong. We've had holidays together, been through babies being born, divorces, road trips, benders, you name it. It's really beautiful."
Nine years have passed since launch, and today Girl Guitar continues its success, conducting about twenty five classes per week. According to Rowden the Girls are "having the time of their lives".
In life Rowden tends to follow her instincts and passions, just as she did by creating Girl Guitar, and that's also her approach to songwriting. Rowden's work contains both vulnerability and determination; it's derived from a woman who's had her share of heartbreak and ecstasy. Regardless of the moment and capturing a particular feeling, for Rowden, music is always about getting back to where she began as a young girl. "I just love playing," she says. "As long as my hands and voice work, I just want to keep entertaining people, and if something I write or say influences someone positively, then that's a bonus!"
A record as diverse as her musical background, Rowden's debut full-length album, These Bad Habits, fuses elements of alt-country, classic rock, and folk into a familiar yet unique Americana Sound. The Austin Chronicle declared, "the East Texas native kicks some butt with her pen," and while demonstrating "new talent, she's capable of writing defiantly pointed lyrics." Rowden's ability to craft a fine Americana tune is on full display throughout the new record and her expertise as a multi-instrumentalist is aided by standout collaborators including Grammy-winning producer Lloyd Maines (Dixie Chicks, Wilco, Robert Earl Keen) on pedal steel guitar, Grammy-winner Redd Volkaert (Brad Paisley, Merle Haggard) on guitar, and Brad Rice (Ryan Adams, Tift Merritt) providing additional guitar work.
The 11-track collection showcases the strongest songwriting of the young Texas-based artist's career; it's a musical evolution that sees her growing from the self-recorded songwriting displayed on her debut EP, Big Moon, to a more full-band sound. Producer Joe Carroll, best known for his work with Amy LaVere and guitar greats like Bill Kirchen and Albert Lee, was enlisted for his similar background and love for the genre. The album was co-produced by Rowden and recorded at Treehouse Productions in Austin, the city she calls home.
J: What is the story behind your song "Haunt You"?
ROWDEN: I wrote 'Haunt You' after a trip to New Orleans and reading about the folklore and rich history there. It was fascinating to see how it worked it's way into my writing! I got a little creepy there for a bit.
J: Why do you write music?
ROWDEN: Great question! Creating something is the best feeling in the world to me, and writing music, even after all these years, is still a challenge so it keeps me on my toes.
J: What is your fondest musical memory?
ROWDEN: I have tons of them but recording 'These Bad Habits' is a big one. I got to work with some super cool dudes and saw my songs really come to life.
J: If you could open a set for anyone, who would it be?
ROWDEN: It's a toss-up between Lucinda Williams and Neil Young.
J: Why is independent music important to you?
ROWDEN: I like all music, indie or not, but I'm happiest when I can direct the flow of my own career, and so far that's what I've done.
J: What is your advise to fellow independent artists?
ROWDEN: Get on the road....it's really hard to grow much in your hometown.
J: Aren't you releasing music soon?
ROWDEN: My next album '1,000 Miles' will be out in September 2016!
J: Want to give a shout out to anyone?
ROWDEN: Thanks to everyone who voted for 'These Bad Habits' in the Austin Chronicle Music Poll! #2, baby!