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Sean Rowe has a voice and a style that stands out in popular music. His voice is deep — really, truly deep — fine, and often doleful. He's a baritone troubadour who sings of roads not taken, regrets and the dreams that shake you awake at 3 in the morning.
After years of working bars, road houses and more bars, Rowe is playing concert stages and winning over critics for his story-songs and that remarkable voice. But, as he tells NPR's Scott Simon, he wasn't always so proud to be a singer.
"I was terrified of my own voice, and not because of the tonality of it," he says. "I was very introspective; I sang for myself, mostly. And when I started going through the teen years and all the baggage that comes with that, I got really self-conscious. I got self-conscious of hearing my voice on a tape recorder, and I would erase everything before I would show it to somebody. My practice tapes were basically only music."
Rowe's new album, The Salesman and the Shark, was recorded at the historic Vox studio in Los Angeles. Recording in L.A. and performing in New York are odd fits for Rowe, who says he prefers the rhythms of nature and the outdoors.
"It's a bit of a paradox for me. I do enjoy aspects of the city: I love the arts, I love people. That's about where it stops," Rowe says. "There's an energy in the city that doesn't sit right with me.
"I have spent an extended period of time in nature — the longest was about 24 days," he adds. "I slept in a shelter that I built. I was hunting, I was trapping primitively and I was consuming a lot of wild plants. And that was a tremendous lesson — in humility, bit also in nature connection."