The ColorCote Tradie Profile – Rowan Crowe

Rowan Crowe hasn’t lived an ordinary life. From rock-star to apprentice builder, he’s done a fair bit in his twenties and thirties. For this issue’s ColourCote Tradie Profile, Off-Site Editor Ethan Neville caught up with Rowan to hear more about what it’s like to take ‘the road less travelled’.

Last year, Rowan Crowe lost his job in finance during the chaos of lockdown number one. At something of a crossroads, he decided to put his family first and leave the Big Smoke for a quieter life in Whangamata. With there being about “three jobs” – to quote Rowan – in the area, he enlisted as an apprentice builder at the humble age of 35. The first half of his working life, however, could not have been more different – and if you’re familiar with the band Goodnight Nurse like the rest of us nineties kids, you’ll already know why. 

When we properly met at a mutual friend’s 30th birthday a few months ago, I was bit taken aback when the tatted up punk musician who used to teach drums at my school told me he was now living in Whangamata, spending most of his time surfing and applying himself in a trade. I left that party with a few questions that needed answering, so I got in touch and organised a time for a call. He was having his smoko at 11, and he’d love to catch up then if I didn’t mind him eating and chatting. I didn’t, so after the usual pleasantries were out of the way, I asked him the first and most obvious question: how on earth did a local Kiwi boy end up travelling the world playing music?

The contrasting sounds of Christian ballads and secular punk music, it turns out, were the catalyst for his musical journey.  

“It was mostly in high school that I started hearing punk music, and that’s where things changed. I grew up with Christian music, and then I heard Blink 182 and The Offspring and Sum 41, and I was like, ‘What is this?’ They were fast and aggressive and raw.

“I started bringing bands to our school to do lunchtime gigs. In the weekends, I’d head to the city to watch bands… and so I stumbled into the world of music.”

By the time he was finishing high school, little else was on Rowan’s mind. 

“A few friends of mine and me flew to America in our Year 13 holidays. A friend picked us up in a van, and we drove across the country watching our favourite bands and seeing who could last in Walmart the longest with no shoes on (America has a strict no shoes no service policy).”

When Rowan came back to NZ, all his time and energy was put into getting back to America – and he didn’t mind how he made his money.

“I finished school and got a job in a powder coating factory just to save money. I saved up and then the next year we went over for four months. Me and my friend bought 4000 disposable cameras off eBay for 45 cents each, and sold them for $10 each in America. So on the Van’s Warped Tour – the coolest punk band tour – I was selling cameras. 

“It was then that I started watching this band Underoath. I’d go watch them cause I loved them, and then I just asked if they needed a hand with anything. They were always stoked to have a helping hand. After a while, I wondered if they had any bunks on their bus, so I asked them… Six months before I was on a bus on the way to high school listening to Underoath on my discman, and now I was on their bus listening to them live every day on stage.” 

Once this tour had finished up, Rowan returned to NZ again for a little while, saved up some money, and then caught the first plane he could back to America – and so began what would become a pattern for most of his twenties.

It was the next trip to the States when he stumbled across this little band who were just playing small gigs for about 12 people. They’d called themselves Paramore. 

“Ah, that makes sense,” I thought when Rowan told me this. 

When I was in my last year at school, a rumour spread around the Hibiscus Coast that Paramore were at the Red Beach rocks (which are walking distance from my family home), and that the Goodnight Nurse bassist Rowan Crowe was teaching them how to do bombs. I can confirm now that those rumours were true.

The year after Rowan met Paramore in America, the band were doing some shows in England, and so were Underoath, so he flew to the UK and toured with them. Rowan was ‘living the dream’ travelling around the world with bands, but strangely enough, it was about this time that he had his first doubts about his future in the industry.

“I started noticing the changes in everyone. No one’s doing drugs cause it’s fun; it’s cause they’re depressed. It’s like a dream world. I was living two lives: this fantasy world in America, and this world where I was back in NZ and not sure what to do with my life at 26.

“I started noticing that my friends with kids never saw them. And some of the men in particular were bitter, and I started seeing the problem with this lifestyle… My highest value was to have a family at some point, and this seemed like the opposite lifestyle for that.

“And then one year, I just decided not to go back. I thought, maybe I could just do it here.”

So, that’s what Rowan did. He and his friend started a band called The Chase, and he exchanged his big American and UK tours for touring with other local bands. One of these NZ bands was, of course, Goodnight Nurse. They had already made a name for themselves, and were still on the rise when their bass player left. 

“They couldn’t find anyone to replace him, so I offered to play bass. They didn’t think I’d want to because it’s not hardcore music.

“My first show with them was at the MTV awards in Sydney and I had to walk down the red carpet – it was crazy having Good Charlotte walk past us while we were playing. On the way over, we were playing an acoustic show on the plane, and everyone was having beers, so all the passengers had to take a piss. The toilets were literally overfilling, so the flight attendants had to ban people from going to the toilet.”

But the pop punk era of the mid 2000s, like all eras, started to fade. Goodnight Nurse was coming to a natural end, and each member decided to go off and do their own thing.

“That’s when I started Jury and the Saints with my mate Jesse. Paramore took us on tour around Australia, and that was fun playing in front of 10,000 people every night. We had a blast on that tour. One night we told the crowd that we wouldn’t start the show until everyone was lying on the ground – it was hilarious watching 10,000 people trying to lie down at the same time. In one of our songs we would get Hayley Williams, the Paramore singer, to come out wearing an iron man mask and play the drums to one of our songs while I did flips up and down the stage.

“At this stage I was teaching music at schools and doing that kind of thing, trying to integrate music into my life. I didn’t care about trying to make it my whole life. It’s probably more a passion that’s fun. And this was part of figuring out what to do with my next life stage.”

What followed for Rowan was a few years doing a variety of things. His overriding goal was to educate himself, so he started by getting a job cleaning windows which would let him listen to audio books and podcasts. For four years, he consumed three books a week.

“I became fascinated with the concept of investing and that you could make money when you slept. I ended up getting a job with Pie Funds to learn more about this world. They were creating a new Kiwi Saver type product and they were after a product ambassador. This was the first time I ever worked in an office, and I was definitely the odd one out – I was covered in tattoos and didn’t go to Kings College.”

But then Covid hit, and in Rowan’s own words, “it changed everything for me.”

“I asked the same question: what do I want? And the answer for me was family time. The first 1000 days of a kid’s life are the most important for attachment, so I wanted to be there as much as I could. So we thought it’d probably good if we were surrounded by family in a little beach town.

“There’s these two worlds: theory and real world results. I had lived in quite a lot of theory world for a long time, so I wanted to get into something more practical.”

Building, of course, was the obvious answer in this regard, and thankfully, he absolutely loved it. It’s also given him what he’s truly been after: time with his family.

“It’s perfect man. So good for the family – and for surfing. I can go for a surf at lunch for an hour, and if the surf’s good the boss says just to keep surfing. And for family time, it’s so good for this stage of life. I have breakfast, lunch and dinner with my family almost every day, and that’s what matters most to me, and that’s what building is so good for.”

And so, after an hour of chatting and, at least for Rowan, a few mouthfuls of soup between words, we were at the present. I’d learnt a lot during our conversation, but the thing that still sticks with me now is that there really is no rush. Who takes four years out to read and listen and learn about themselves? Rowan did, and for him, that was time unbelievably well spent. I guess that narrower path – you know, the one with a few kinks in it which takes you forward as often as it takes you sideways – might well be worth the extra effort.

Article by: Ethan Neville