With the exception of attending more house parties than lectures and holding down a bartending part-timer for two weeks, I can’t say turning 20 was a vintage time for achievement. Enter Rowan Jones, aka Route 94, who at the age of 20, dethroned Clean Bandit’s Rather Be on his way to topping the UK charts – all before I got around to pulling my first pint.
Regarded as something of a child prodigy, there’s a sense of playful maturity to the London native that belies his age. “Everyone thinks that I must have gone crazy and got totally wrecked when My Love charted. But I do that all the time, so I did something totally different and took my girlfriend out for a quiet meal.” It’s a move typical of the once anonymous artist who prefers to hide in the shadows – focusing public attention on the music rather than the persona behind it.
Despite not coming from a musical background, Rowan believes that his love for the art form came from his exposure to the roots of dance music as a kid. “I was always around music, my mum had it on in the house all the time. She would drive me to school and it was UK garage at full volume. The music in my house went from reggae to house, disco, drum & bass – everything. Even the elders around me had good taste in music so I guess I was lucky.”
Unlike many teenagers who go through the classic ‘pick up guitar and start a band phase’, Rowan’s initial foray into songwriting was through free music software. “It really began when I was shown Fruity Loops; it was literally all I did as a teenager. From here on I knew that I wanted to make music,” says Rowan. “I guess I was lucky as my mum never told me to turn it down!” From here, he produced a handful of electronic tracks for Skrillex’s OWSLA label, only to be endorsed by dubstep stalwarts Skream and Benga.
Friendships grew from those early endorsements, highlighting the close-knit nature of the London house scene. So is it just like one big happy family? “It’s good”, says Rowan. “Everyone seems to get on – well the people I know anyway. There’s huge amount of support for whatever each other is doing.”
Carving a distinctive sound inside the uniform confines of house is lofty task, but one Route 94 has done with aplomb. His debut EP, ‘Fly 4 Life’, drew upon a melting pot of influences – melding staccato synthesisers and stripped back production with soulful vocal cuts and Italo house piano chords. “I had no idea that it would get this big. It was just a track I made one morning in my room with just my boxer shorts on.”
Every release, from his debut single to the techno infused ‘Misunderstood EP’ showcases a unique sonic palette, but one distinctive to its creator. So much so, that Rowan fails to pin his sound down to any specific influence. “I don’t know really, I just sit down and start making music. I never have a plan of what I want something to sound like. Even if I do, it always turns out completely different anyway.
For me its always about the drums and the bass”, he says. “I’ve recently got into using a lot of outboard gear and that has changed the way I put tracks together. When I started, it was all on a computer and you could always go back and change stuff. Now, I find myself committing to a sound and bouncing it down, which is totally new for me.”
While many artists are happy to avoid discussing their biggest hits, the success of My Love remains a pleasant surprise for Rowan. “I had no idea that it would get this big. It was just a track I made one morning in my room with just my boxer shorts on. I thought I’d play it out and see how it went, but I had absolutely no notion that it would get picked up by radio, let alone go to number one. It was all a bit surreal.
In some ways I wanted the release after My Love’ [‘Misunderstood EP’] to show people what music I had made beforehand. It’s strange, but if My Love wasn’t a hit, the track would have fitted quite well on any of my EP’s. I guess a track takes on a new face when it’s a number one.” Despite some lingering shock, Rowan is only too aware that a hit had to be shadowed by a noncommercial release to stake some creative authority. “I just sit down and start making music. I never have a plan of what I want something to sound like.”
It’s over six months since Rowan revealed that a Route 94 LP would drop in Spring 2015, and with that time upon us, I ask if a debut album is still in the works. “Yeah I’m working on it at the moment. I didn’t realise how much I would be away DJing to be honest – that’s taking up a lot of time, but I have a laptop with me on tour so I’m constantly making ideas on the road and expanding them at home.”
Renowned for his collaborations with Jess Glynne, Skream and Secondcity to name but a few, Rowan’s latest music partnership is taking a front seat for now. “I’m working on a project with Sonny Fodera, which I’m really happy with. I seem to be collaborating half the time nowadays. I find you learn so much so fast by working with other people – it’s great to see how other people approach things.”
With Rowan now balancing production duties with a US tour, if given the choice what would he pick: a night DJing at his chosen venue, or a writing session with his favourite musician? “I would do both! Make a track with a legend and then play it in my favourite club – that seems like the sensible thing to do.”
Route 94 plays at The Savoy, Cork on April 17th and the Hangar, Dublin on April 25th.