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From the Fleadh to stardom

Ealing-Irish singer-songwriter Etaoin told David Hennessy about her new music, cutting her teeth as a multiple All-Ireland winner, being taught by Brendan Mulkere and why she grew carrots but felt too guilty to eat them.

Growing up in west London, Etaoin Rowe won many All-Ireland titles in many different categories making it clear she was a musician and songwriter of considerable talent.

Now, her musical talent is finding a wider audience with her contemporary music, under the moniker Etaoin, inspired by acts like Taylor Swift, Dermot Kennedy and Ed Sheeran getting her singled out as one to watch.

Etaoin released her debut single Bedroom Walls in January and the song has earned her a place on multiple major playlists across streaming services, as well as many new fans. Now Etaoin has just followed it up with Pale Damp Cheeks which is striking a chord for its similarly personal theme and how it showcases Etaoin’s intricate finger-picking guitar.

​Etaoin told The Irish World she has been overwhelmed by the response so far: “I’m absolutely delighted because in lockdown you don’t really know what to expect.

“Obviously normally you would be going out gigging so it felt quite, ‘I don’t know how this is going to go…’ But it’s been so good. I’m really taken aback by how well it’s gone because you can never really have any expectations for this sort of thing so it’s been great. It’s been a weight off my shoulders. I feel like I’ve been waiting so long to do it. I’ve been writing Irish stuff since about nine but I’ve been writing my own music with guitar since I was about 11, 12 so it feels like a long time coming. It’s been great. I feel really lucky. It’s been amazing.”

Written at 3am in her bedroom one night, Bedroom Walls was written about Etaoin really wanting to call someone but being too scared to for fear of humiliation.

She says of it, “When I listen to it now, I feel like there’s a sense of waiting for my old self to come back. Not only waiting for someone else, but for yourself at the same time; really wanting to be in contact with someone through lyrics, but not actually ever facing it. Pride can get in the way sometimes, people don‘t wanna look like they care – I’m definitely guilty of that.

“I was really, really nervous at first releasing music. I was like, ‘Oh my God, what if people are literally like, ‘I don’t relate..’ But it’s been really, really amazing actually receiving messages from people who are, ‘Woah, I feel this completely. This is literally me right now’. So it’s been quite overwhelming actually and so comforting knowing that people feel the same and having people relate their own experiences to it.

“The whole thing has just been really exciting and really quite emotional actually especially as they’re songs that I’ve just written literally at 4am in my bedroom so it’s been great the whole response.”

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Etaoin has continued to share raw experiences in her current single the beautiful and haunting Pale Damp Cheeks.

“That’s about my first ever heartbreak and this guy who was just an absolute nightmare, absolute nightmare. There was a day when he was like, ‘I like you but I like her more than you..’

“And I just kind of sat there like, ‘Great, that’s really great, thanks for that’.

“And I got home and I remember the electricity had blown in my house and my parents were out and I was just home alone. The lights and stuff were off. The whole house was freezing. I sat downstairs with my back against the radiator and literally just wrote the song. That first heartbreak is absolutely devastating. The song is just about trying to convince yourself you’re fine and then being like, ‘I’m not really fine, am I?’

“At the time when I wrote it it would be quite painful to sing but now it feels kind of nostalgic singing it rather than painful or anything else. Me and the guy are on decent terms and we have kind of stayed friends over the years so it doesn’t feel painful at all anymore, it kind of feels nostalgic and especially since I released it I feel like it’s brought a whole new life to the song. When you release a song it kind of stops being your song and it becomes everyone’s because everyone can relate their own experiences to it and their own lives to it.”

Of her own personal songwriting, Etaoin laughs, “No one is safe. I have this joke with my friends, No one is safe. Just watch out. Watch out, all of you.

“Bedroom Walls was about a guy- We don’t really talk anymore. We don’t even follow each other on social media anymore. I don’t even know if he’s heard the song. He was actually from Waterford.

“Pale Damp Cheeks: The boy does know it’s about him. We’re on decent terms so it doesn’t feel weird. People know what they’re getting themselves into.

“It’s funny releasing music and people wondering. I’ve often had people asking me, ‘Is that about me?’ And I’ll be like, ‘No, it’s not about you. Get over yourself’.

“I was like, ‘Oh my God, the audacity’. Imagine having the audacity to say that. Even if I thought something was about me, I would never say to them, ‘Is that about me?’ I wouldn’t have the audacity. Also, imagine saying ‘is that about me?’ and then them being, ‘No’. That’s just embarrassing.”

It is incredible to think that her career almost never happened. Etaoin was getting on with her university studies, and studying nothing music-related, when her talent was discovered.

“I got the option to go out to LA to do some writing there and stuff so it was either, ‘Take your exams or go to LA’. So I deferred and I went to LA.

“Then I came back and everything kind of kicked off and then I ended up signing a record deal so I was like, ‘You know what? I can always go back to uni, that doesn’t always happen to people.

“Music has always been a dream but I kind of thought, ‘That doesn’t really happen to normal people, that doesn’t actually happen ever’.

“And it all happening was really- and still is to this day- so surreal. I kind of catch myself sometimes and I’m like,

‘This is such a mad situation to be in’. I never thought anything would really come of it. It just seemed like such a wild dream and then it really, really took me aback. Even going to LA that was such a big moment I was like, ‘How am I here? This is absolutely crazy because it’s beyond anything I thought would ever happen’.

“The whole thing is super surreal still, even the fact I have a manager is so weird. It’s crazy having a team. It’s so abnormal.

“Even though you get really used to it but then you kind of catch yourself and you’re like, ‘I literally have a team’. It’s amazing to have people who kind of have the same vision as you. It’s amazing to have that and have people that believe in you that much it really makes you believe in yourself more and it really motivates you. It’s amazing. I feel so, so lucky.”

Etaoin was entered into Irish music competitions from the age of six and won the adult categories by the age of 10 in whistle, singing, songwriting and flute. She now has eleven All-Ireland titles from various Fleadhs.

“I come from a huge musical family. I do, yeah. I grew up playing Irish music. My mum plays guitar, piano, everything she can get her hands on really. My dad plays mandolin and banjo and my brother plays accordion so growing up we were doing Fleadhs and stuff like that so I grew up really heavily into the Irish music scene so I grew up surrounded by music. It was always a big part of growing up.

“I kind of did it from the age of eight to about nineteen so that’s a huge part of my childhood.”
It was a special moment for Etaoin and some early validation for her songwriting when she won the songwriting award at the Fleadh, beating adults in the process.

“That was a huge moment because I was definitely under 12. I think I was ten or eleven and I was against adults. That was a really big moment for me because it was a song that I had written inspired by my grandma and her moving over to England from Ireland and having to send money home and stuff like that. that was actually a really big moment.

“I remember being so shocked, I was absolutely taken aback. I always remember that.”

Like many other musicians on the London Irish scene, Etaoin learned from Brendan Mulkere, the renowned fiddle player and music teacher who passed away last year.

“I was absolutely gutted to hear he passed away. He was such a huge influence on me. He really helped me grow as a musician and he really took me under his wing. I remember me and my brother used to go around to his house. He used to have a small group of musicians and he used to teach us in his house. I remember his dog and everything and it was such a loss. I was absolutely gutted.

“Amazing man. He was my teacher. He was such a character as well. God rest his soul.

“He really had such a zest for music and he had such an amazing way of just inspiring and charming everyone around him. He was so funny.

“I remember I used to look forward to classes so much because we used to spend the whole thing just laughing. He used to call the students his ‘jellybabies’. God, I loved Brendan. He was amazing.”

Born in Ireland, Etaoin would grow up in Ealing after the family moved when she was young but always remained close to Ireland with frequent visits.

“I grew up between here and Waterford. I used to have an Irish accent when I was younger but I lost it: My biggest failing to date. Honestly, there is nothing I regret more than losing the accent.

“I grew up in Ealing. I feel a sense of community here, not as much as home.

“I grew up between Ealing and Ireland. I was home schooled for a few years. We were over and back the whole time. I grew up between the two and I still refer to Ireland as home.

“It’s funny how even though I’ve been living in London now for however many years, Ireland will always be home to me.

“All my cousins are my age and the whole family is so close over there. Normally we would have gone home for Christmas. Obviously this year we couldn’t so it was a really weird Christmas not being home. I think it was the first year we’ve ever not been back for Christmas. It didn’t really feel like Christmas, do you know what I mean?

“God, I miss everyone so much. I can’t wait until the day that I can go back. I think about it all the time.”

Etaoin makes up for missing Ireland by walking the Thames Path.

“It feels so countryside-ish and I literally go on it because it reminds me of home. I’ve got withdrawal symptoms, I’ve got Ireland withdrawal symptoms. It’s crazy. I do miss the family but it’s nice because there has been Irish radio stuff so the family has been tuning in which is really, really nice so it’s nice to have that and obviously there’s social media, you can keep in contact that way but it is still hard.”

Although it usually makes her feel at home, a recent visit to the Thames Path ended in disaster when Etaoin ended up breaking her guitar playing arm. What made it even worse was it came swift on the heels of her recovery from Covid.

“Oh my God, I went for a little stroll and I saw these ducks and I was like, ‘Wow, they look friendly, they look really fun, I want to befriend them’. So I tried to get a little bit closer and then I tripped on a branch and there was a three metre fall into the river. I dislocated my shoulder and I broke my arm and then imagine, because the Thames Path is in the middle of nowhere and cars can’t go on it, I had to walk for two and a half miles to the ambulance. What a nightmare, absolute nightmare. Honestly wouldn’t recommend,” she laughs.

“I broke my humerus which feels like a sick joke. Humerus, it’s not very humourous at all.

“It was the strumming arm but I can feel it getting stronger every day and they said it will be back to normal, that it isn’t a bad break.

“You never think going out feeding the ducks, ‘I’m going to break my arm and dislocate my shoulder doing this’. They looked so friendly, so fun I was like, ‘There’s no way this can go wrong’. Little did I know… So wrong, awful.

“It’s so annoying because I had Covid as well just before it so I have been waiting to release music my whole life and then just as I release music, I get Covid and break my arm.”

And how did the virus treat her? “It wasn’t as bad as some people had it. I’ve seen some people have it and it’s been absolutely nightmare. It wasn’t pleasant but I’ve seen people have a lot worse cases. It’s absolutely a living nightmare, isn’t it?

“It actually took a few weeks to go. It kind of stuck around for quite a while so luckily I’m back on track now, thank God. It stuck around for a second there. It was really weird.

“Having to self-isolate is also really, really odd. Having to literally not be around anyone for a few weeks is quite weird. You’re kind of alone with your thoughts. Luckily I would be on the phone to my friends and stuff and I have a really nice support system. I feel so awful for the people who don’t have that. Luckily I’m super close with my family so they’ve been amazing.”

Something Etaoin got into over lockdown was growing her own vegetables but don’t expect her to talk to you after you eat any of them.

“I grew my own carrots but then I felt too guilty to eat them because I had been growing them for months and I had named them. First of all, I felt guilty pulling them out of the soil after a nice long sleep. Then my mum was like, ‘How are you going to eat them?’ And I was like, ‘I can’t eat them. I can’t eat them’.

“And she was like, ‘Why can’t you eat them?’ And I’m like, ‘They’re my kids’. And then I gave them to her and I was like, ‘You have to take them, you have to take them’. And then when she ate them, I just felt like, ‘Oh my God, they were like my kids- You ate my carrots!’ She was like, ‘What else are you going to do with them?’ And I was like, ‘I don’t know but you ate them’.

“I couldn’t eat the carrots. I felt too guilty. Christmas Day came and I was like, No, that’s not me. I can’t do it. I can’t boil my own children,” she laughs.

Etaoin got to play the Trafalgar Square stage for the big St. Patrick’s Day performance back in 2017.

“Oh my God, that was such a good day. I remember Gavin James was playing and I was absolutely star struck. I was like, ‘Oh my God, I just met Gavin James’. That was such a good day. I remember that day so well actually.

“I miss performing so much. It is quite gutting about not being able to play these songs live but with Boris’ new thing, fingers crossed. The live industry has taken such a beating really since Covid so fingers crossed that I’ll be able to play them live as soon as possible and that whole side of things will open up. I’m just really hoping for the best with that.”

Pale Damp Cheeks is out now.

For more information, click here.

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