Darwin Muso Series is a string of an indeterminate number of mini to medium to mega interviews with Darwin-based musicians and performing artists. Starting in September 2019, and we’ll see how many we can cover over the next weeks/months/years.
Airlie Beach Festival of Music is held in November, however, in the lead-up, the organisers stage what is arguably* Australia’s biggest battle of the bands competition.
* Try saying, ‘Heats in Darwin, Cairns, Townsville, Mackay, Sunshine Coast, Brisbane, Gold Coast, Nimbin, Newcastle, Sydney, Illawarra, Melbourne and Adelaide’ ten times fast.
Emma Rowe grew up in tropical Darwin and went from being a “sad teenager” with a cheap guitar to developing a unique talent for crafting quirky contemporary rock songs that combine lust, hope, frustration and joy in a surprisingly complicated but completely relatable style. Emma is a regular on the Darwin music scene as a headliner and support for touring artists.
After her set in the Passport to Airlie competition, Emma joined me in the beer garden to have a chat.
Bill Quinn: Tell us the Emma Rowe story!
Emma Rowe: Oh god, that’s a big question.
Basically, I guess it started when I was a sad teenager, and my mum noticed. And she brought home this cheap guitar from Cash Converters, and was like, ‘Here! Put your sadness into this!’
And it worked!
BQ: Was that here in Darwin?
ER: Yeah, I grew up here. Technically not born here, but I moved here when I was really young.
BQ: So many people I’ve spoken to have come here from other places. What was it like growing up with music in Darwin?
ER: I loved it. I really loved growing up here. It’s really communal and that’s really reflective in the music scene.
That’s what I love about the music scene here. We all know and love each other, we’re all really supportive, and I love that feeling: I love feeling supported by my scene.
BQ: I’m glad you said that because I’ve only been here for less than six months, and I actually wrote this down tonight. I’m picking up on a really big, supportive vibe amongst musicians, so it’s something that’s very important here.
ER: Oh yeah, for sure, it’s everywhere, and it’s wonderful. And I think that actually goes for the whole NT as well. We know all the musos in Alice Springs and in Katherine, and we’re all just really connected and really communal. It’s lovely.
BQ: So, when you had this instrument that you were pouring your soul into, did you start off doing covers or did you straightaway get into writing your own stuff?
ER: It was weird how it went, really. I enjoyed writing stories when I was a kid. And then I kind of started writing songs before I even knew I wanted to be musical. It was weird.
I don’t even know how that came about… oh, yes I do. I was listening to a lot of Eminem!
So I think I just started being like, ‘Yeah, I can be Eminem!’ At ten years, eleven years old!
I should not have been listening to Eminem at that age!
BQ: Tell me about your experience with doing original music in Darwin.
ER: Yeah, it’s really good. I find that because we’re a small community, I actually found that I think I’ve had more opportunities here than I would interstate. I’ve had opportunities to play on the radio, and to support touring acts, and to play shows like this, and to play festivals and good shows.
I think it’s because we’re a little bit smaller.
BQ: And do you feel that real push to take what you’ve got and go interstate and tour a lot?
ER: Yeah, I did go interstate to live for a few years, and it was fine, but I really missed my scene here. And so I came back.
But I’ve toured. I do love touring, but it can be difficult when we’re so remote because you really have to work harder to make sure people in, like, Perth know who you are!
But it’s still fun and I think it’s worth the work.
BQ: Is social media useful for you for that? Of making people in other places know who you are?
ER: Oh, for sure, I reckon. I love social media! I’m a Gen Y, so of course I do.
Yeah, I use social media a lot…
Wait. No, that made me sound like I’m addicted.
I use it the proper amount!
BQ: You use it rather than it uses you!
And how did you come to Passport To Airlie?
ER: I knew about it since last year’s heat which was the first one. So I heard about that and was like, ‘That’s cool; I want to do that.’ And then I kept a look out for this year’s entry. And I was like, ‘Boom! Done!’
BQ: How do you rate your chances with this being so diverse? There’s only nine acts but it’s a very diverse bunch of musicians, isn’t it?
ER: It really is so diverse, and that’s actually pretty beautiful, again showing that our small scene still provides so much diversity in the genres. And that’s really awesome.
I pretty much know all the bands playing tonight and I kinda want all of us to win!
But I’m very happy with my performance.
Heckler from a nearby table: You’re a winner!
ER: Thank you!
BQ: You’ve got a supporter from the peanut gallery!
Emma Rowe placed third overall on the night and has been asked to be on the lineup for an upcoming gig at De La Plage (Darwin Surf Club). For details of this gig and Emma’s other gigs and music, follow her at https://www.facebook.com/EmmaRoweMRO/