Dear Montecito: Rowan Dowdall
For the second week in a row, this column is hosting a letter from another talented young musician. Rowan Dowdall is a Connecticut-to-Santa Barbara transplant attending the Visual Arts & Design Academy at Santa Barbara High School. Between teaching himself to play the guitar and taking supplemental classes at City College, Rowan spends his downtime thinking about the social power of visual art. Today, Rowan will be telling us about how his time in quarantine has allowed him to explore new aspects of music production and design as well as start his own clothing brand.
My name is Rowan Dowdall, but since I’m writing to the Journal to tell you about my work as an artist, I’ll introduce myself with my stage name. I’m Polly, a 16-year-old music producer and founder of the clothing brand Mezzanine Soleil.
Mezzanine Soleil is an idea I’ve had for probably a year or so now. It’s an urban street wear project that I designed to feature my visual art. I despised the clothing industry for a long time. I would go out and purposely buy the most tattered, unappealing clothes. But I started looking at my favorite artists and noticed that they used their clothing as a way to express themselves. That it wasn’t actually just clothing. It was their way of sharing a message. I guess it really meant something to me that you’re not just wearing it to look cool, even if that’s a big part of it. I liked the idea that what you’re wearing also tells a story about what you stand for. Especially when we live in a world with such big social justice issues and theatrical presidential campaigns. It’s hard not to have social messages influencing your art.
So I’ve been spending a lot of my quarantine time on that. The launch of Mezzanine Soleil is actually going to coincide with the release of my new song “Don’t Go” on the 23rd of this month. It sounds like a lot, but it’s never really felt like work. Both of these projects are just so much a part of my life, music in particular.
I grew up in a very musical family. Between my mother who is very musical, my uncle who produces music, and my grandpa who was in a band, I grew up surrounded by this art form. My mom actually got me guitar lessons when I was really young, but I was kicked out for not being focused enough. It was just a year ago that I picked up the guitar again, kinda by chance, and started noodling around. I got into it, really into it, and started teaching myself what I could with the help of YouTube. From there, I picked up a little piano and a little bass. As my confidence grew, I even went back to my trusty friend YouTube and spent the start of quarantine teaching myself how to produce music. However many months later, I have just finished my first record.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing. I think I sat down for just a week and a half straight making some of the worst sounding things I’ve heard in my life. But I got a bit better, a bit better. I have a much better grip on what music production is now, but I still have a lot to learn.
It’s been cool having all this extra time in quarantine. The circumstances of course are terrible. But if it weren’t for all this time, I might not have been able to learn these new skills. Actually, it’s really opened my eyes up to the fact that I can do this thing, all by myself. I just have to set my mind to it. But as I said, it’s been easier than it might’ve been because I don’t think of the music or Mezzanine Soleil as work so much as fun. And I’m looking forward to the next step.
I’d like to continue developing this clothing brand into something profitable that I can build up, but I also am looking forward to continuing with my music. Soon I’ll be applying to college, so I’ve started looking at Berkeley, Cal Arts, NYU. I’m looking for the next step, to continue what I love but also to find a way to remember the things that have inspired me.
Continuing to grow and learn is obviously a big part of the process, and it’s been important to me to strive for something that is artistically authentic and socially conscious. It was even a big part of the inspiration for my stage name. I chose to call myself Polly in honor of the strength of Polly Klaas, who was only 12 years old when she was abducted and killed. I remember my mom telling me this story when I was younger and thinking how traumatic the experience must’ve been and what incredible strength Polly, and anyone who has been in a similar situation, must’ve had to go through it. That’s the sort of thing I want to remember when I make my art. People’s stories are what keep us authentic and help us strive for better.
All the best,