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A circle of friends

Living

MAKING WAVES Ballina singer songwriter Rowlette (Sarah Keane) is looking forward to getting back on stage post Covid-19. Pic: Joanna O’Malley

Ballina musician Rowlette, aka Sarah Keane, is all set to release her latest single

Interview
Ger Flanagan

THE morning after the night before – a time of reflection all college students can relate to,  one that brings joy, plenty of laughs, sensationalised anguish, and maybe some shame, to go with it from the goings hours before.
But when surrounded by the right company, that close circle of friends who are sharing all those emotions, it’s a time of comfort and unity that tightens the knit between friends.
That time is one of the main inspirations and themes behind Ballina singer/songwriter Rowlette’s brand new single, ‘Cucumber and Ice’. Rowlette, aka Sarah Keane, wrote the catchy indie-pop guitar driven song around the unique ways and methods a group of girls can forge a friendship, just like her own.
“We went out a few nights in our college days,” the former Trinity College and BIMM (British and Irish Modern Music Institute) student laughed when speaking to The Mayo News last week. “My group of college friends are really random and all from different courses so we don’t know how we really met, which you’ll hear in the song.
“But the idea was that we go out together and have a great night, but it’s the next morning when you wake up and you’re hungover and we’d never be on our own. We’d always get a takeaway together and hang out.
“And sometimes that’s the better part of a night out because we can enjoy being hungover together. So it’s not just about your good time friends that are there for the night out, but the ones who are there for you the next morning. That’s the message.”
When The Mayo News spoke to Rowlette last week, she and that circle of friends were in Clifden on another leg for their Wild Atlantic Way staycation, where they spent the previous day holed up in their AirBnB playing Monopoly to ride out the floods the village was experiencing.
It’s to those friends Sarah often sounds out for inspiration to write new songs and where the idea for Cucumber and Ice originally surfaced. Written and produced with Rob Shiels and Graham McCartin, Sarah’s lyrics, including the song’s title, delves into finer details only close friends know of each other.
“I often say to my friends: ‘What do you want me to write a song about?’,” she said. “So one of the girls wrote back and asked me to write a song about how we all became friends, so I had that hook about the Cucumber and Ice in my head.
“It’s the idea that anyone can go and get you a drink, like a Gin and Tonic, but only your friends know that extra detail before they give you it. It’s those extra inches that you really enjoy in different parts of life that only your friends will know and do.”

Midwest inspired
GROWING up just outside Ballina and attending Knockanillo National School before going on to study in the Convent, Sarah says she developed her distinctive country-pop vocals from her days listening to Avril Lavigne and Midwest Radio.
“Being from Mayo, Midwest was always on the radio and I was there beside it ready to record all my favourite songs on cassettes,” she laughed. “I also listened to a lot of Avril Lavigne when I grew up and I think somewhere along the way my voice kind of developed a country twang without realising it.
“I just loved pop music too and I was always trying to hear a song before everyone else, so I think my vocals have developed into that country style with pop music from listening to everything I did.”
After first picking up a guitar at 12 years-old, it took Sarah until her college years studying business in Trinity College to find the courage to put herself and her music out there in the public sphere.
A chance conversation and quick song in front of a friend, lead to her applying for a diploma in BIMM music college, that was running alongside her main degree.
“When I was a teenager I wouldn’t have really played for anyone other than a few friends and in school,” she recalled. “And I think that was just a confidence thing.
“When I got to college then and became a bit more normal, a really good friend of mine was studying music at Trinity and I kind of said that I have some songs I wrote and asked if she would like to listen to them.
“I played one for her and she started crying and to this day I don’t know if they were happy or sad tears, but at the time I just took it at a good sign and ended up applying to BIMM.
“It was there I met a lot of like-minded people who were also writing songs and realised that this isn’t so weird after all and I got a bit of confidence in performing then. And over the last couple of years I’ve been getting some songs out there and it’s a really enjoyable thing to write a song from scratch that people can relate to and enjoy. I’m so glad I’m not a closet songwriter anymore!”
Gaining momentum
Before Covid-19 halted the music industry in its tracks, Rowlette had gained a lot of momentum and was making waves on the industry. Her two previous singles have been RTÉ’s Culture Tune of the Day, she’s being listened to and downloaded on Spotify and played to a packed-out room on her first headline show.
She was really enjoying focusing on her live performances and getting her music out there and although that is all halted, is remaining optimistic it may return soon.
“It was all starting to click for me a bit and then Covid hit,” she said. “But I do really miss performing . I was doing a bit of writing and recording over lockdown but it just doesn’t feel the same and I realised that performing is why you really do this.
“You just want to share your music. It’s like a football and you’re only able to train but not play matches, it’s not the same at all.
“So hopefully things will plateau out a bit and we will be able to do that alongside the virus in the next couple of months. Hopefully we’ll see some sort of strategy from the Government that will get us to the stage where live music is able to come back and we’re able to attend it.
“Music has a big hold on my life and a big hold on a lot of peoples’ lives so I’m hopeful it will come back soon.”

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Cucumber and Ice will be released on September 16 and available to download on all major streaming platforms. To check out Rowlette on social media, visit @rowlettemusic.