Evan Rowe has been a part of Fort Lauderdale's music scene for over a decade now. If you're a newcomer or a young-ish millennial following music around these parts, you probably know him as the often-tutued half of the cross-dressing outfit Travalonia, a band name that mashes the moniker of his former group Catalonia with the first name of local singer-songwriter and Rowe's musical partner, Travis Newbill.
Catalonia was most active during the early 2000s, with the buzz surrounding the band mainly defining the members as a bunch of intelligent guys with a knack for songwriting. Locals paid attention, but the band never really found a foothold and eventually disbanded in 2008. Rowe still uses Catalonia as a stage name at times, though.
We caught up with Rowe, now an adjunct professor of history at Broward College, known also for his political rabble-rousing, after some of his material was picked up by a publishing company and subsequently remixed by DJs from New York to Poland.
You've recently signed a music deal. Tell me about it.
I connected with [Expedition Recordings] through a submission site called Musicxray.com. The jury is still out on Xray, but I sort of buy into the model, at least so long as there are so many problems with the music industry (and content industry more generally). Basically, what they do is they use submissions, and charge money to submit in order to control the flow of submissions. The problem with the entire content industry, as I and many others have already pointed out, is the massive oversupply of digital content, and the inability to monetize based on supply and demand models.
MusicXray is trying to deal with that. I think they are in the right place. I don't like it [as a] long-term [solution], but only because I think better models can be built. For the time being, Xray filters the endless content stream and tries to connect artists to various music deals.
As for the publishing company, they are called Expedition Recordings. They picked up a submission which I never thought would get much traction. I recorded the song ["My Liver Is My Friend"] about three years ago and put a YouTube video together with a montage of images I snatched off Google combined with stuff from the Disco Infiltrator years. And I had that laid out, and the label probably thought that was a bit crazy, and let's face it, who doesn't love a nice piece of crazy. I'm not sure if they ever even watched the video or not, but based on the blurb and the track, decided to take a chance on it.
The label, basically, is a publishing and record label. They took the existing track, and remixed it and arranged remixes with artists from the electronic music industry. They have released tracks from DJ Caron, Dax Electron, and Science Versus Nature (who are the primary players behind the label), and their background is primarily in that area. It was foreign territory as far as I was concerned, but I liked the idea of what they wanted to do. They take 20 percent of the publishing rights of the song, then have it remixed, then promote it through their existing global electronic music connections. They basically promote the original by promoting the remixes. It's a good concept.
The remixes, especially Flatpack's, are really good! What were your thoughts going into it? And were you surprised with the result?
I didn't know what to expect from it, honestly. It wasn't the sort of thing I had ever produced before, and I had no preconceived notions. They explained their idea simply, and I liked the sound of it. The way it works is they basically take the existing "stems" from each song, and then mostly use the vocal, but it can be drawn from whatever parts of the song they think works the best. It's really another art form, and I definitely can see myself working in this capacity again.
You spend a lot of your time trying to create awareness around subjects pertaining to economics, politics, class struggle, etc. Do any of your lyrics include your political leanings? Or is there no connection between the political side of what you do and the musical side?
Well, I mostly do the political stuff for money through the college. Like anything you practice, you get better at it over time. Music doesn't pay the bills, but I have and do write political music. But like political comedy, it is really hard to serve both purposes, and when you force it, as is often done, it can seem fake or it feels that way to me. I tend to write music from a base emotional level that is primarily restricted in what I can verbalize with the lyrics. "My Liver Is My Friend," for instance, was a very sparse track, lyrically speaking. It isn't a drinking song per se, but it was a song about feeling like drinking out of self-loathing or some other self-destructive tendency. I initially shelved it, but it evolved over time, and once I had it to a driving beat, I ended up finishing it and accepting its limitations as a simple track.
What do you say to people who say it's not the place of creative types to be politically engaged in a public way?
I say that creative types are like anyone else, they are disengaged for similar reasons. I frankly don't see any major connection between the arts and the left. But that aside, nobody ever says that shit to me, at least not to my face. I don't have any problem speaking out as an artist, but I also have zero qualms about speaking out as a professor or an activist or just as some guy. It helps obviously when you practice and are well-versed in your politics, and after 12 years of doing political rhetoric and "activism" (whatever that even means anymore), I think I know the limitations of speaking or saying anything.
Sure, you can cause trouble, or maybe garner attention for something, but at the end of the day, most of the biggest problems are as plain as day. You have a small number of people with too much power, and they systematically carry out violence and terror through foreign policy, as well as domestically protect their completely disproportionate power through a variety of means. What matters most is building a mass base of support to challenge illegitimate and undemocratic private power, and if history is any guide, it requires external action (i.e. when workers once won their rights, or the civil rights movement) of deliberate mass-based lawbreaking in order to create enough disorder to force elites to heel.
We live in La La Land these days, but there are almost no examples of major social change for regular people that have come through elections. All of them were won through a huge coordinated fight -- and then politicians, responding to the people that finance their campaigns and dominate the actual power landscape, come along and capitalize on the popular victories. That is why there is the old saying that the Democratic Party is the place where social movements go to die. They simply come in, and buy out enough of the leadership, or promote people walking the right balance to the top of the pile. And it does translate into results, but it also sows the seeds of defeat down the road into the victory.
For a while there, it seemed like you gave up music, except for the occasional local show, and that it was just for fun. Are you actively pursuing it? Or is this recent development something that just fell into your lap?
I partially pursue it. I really like doing it, and I had a high aptitude for it from years of playing and writing. But I have found music to be extremely frustrating at the local level for a few reasons.
The first reason is that my income is near poverty wages due to the massive income equality that exists in the country. Adjunct professors are no exception here, at between $17,000 and $24,000 a year. So getting gear is very difficult, and there were things that I wanted to record at 28, that I'm just now able to attempt at 35.
I'm currently set up again to partially take a few shots at recording all the material I wrote or finished writing and never recorded from 2006 until now. It isn't the same, but it is what it is, and that's pretty much how you got to live your life if you are a systems person like I am. I know it's fucked up out there, and I know what I want to see happen at the big-picture level. But I have nowhere near the scale or capacity, and I also, like the rest of us, have to live under the rules of this game until there are social forces strong enough to dictate terms to those in power.
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