Standing Room Only presents: Rowan Niemisto
In 2017, an EP was released. Aptly entitled Gradient, the four-track record was a slow burst of color — dreamy pastels spilled out of speakers, rushing to fill the surrounding space with a muted, electronic ambiance. Songs like “Flips” and “Behave (Before You Walk)” were lilting progressions of synth-infused soul, held in line by the gauzy resonance of overlying vocals.
That voice belongs to Rowan Niemisto, the artist behind Gradient (as well as previous EP inertia), and on Feb. 16, the Michigan Daily newsroom witnessed Niemisto’s delicate unravelings of sound and structure.
“I’ve been recording solo stuff for about two years, maybe,” Niemisto said as he explained his solo music project’s beginning. “I didn’t perform them at all, it was just kind of a computer project. And then I sort of decided, ‘Why am I not pursuing this?’ I was also playing in another group, which was a lot of fun. They were sort of a rock group, and they sort of wanted to do more R&B or softer stuff, so I sort of went down that avenue.”
The group is called Yada Yada, and even though their crashing indie rock is a much different sound than Niemisto’s current solo work, it shares the same breezy, lighthearted quality. It was through Yada Yada that Niemisto journeyed his way throughout the sprawling Ann Arbor music scene. “I’m a UofM grad,” he said. “I graduated in 2015. So we did the college scene: Kerrytown, co-op parties, the Blind Pig and all that.”
Today, Niemisto resides in Detroit, and his music has moved away from Yada Yada’s soft rock, taking on a more abstract quality and drawing influences from a multitude of genres: electronic, jazz and most prominently, R&B.
“D’Angelo was sort of a turning point for me,” he explained. “I slept on him for the entirety of the ‘90s and 2000s, and for some reason when Black Messiah came out, I was like… I think I grew up listening to a lot of rock or indie kind of stuff, and I just really started digging the R&B sound a little more. I tried to do as best I can, I wouldn’t say its pure R&B but its got its roots in that.”
These influences are clear as Niemisto performs live — the defining neo-soul aspects of late ‘90s R&B evident in his heartfelt lyrics and overall organic fluidity — yet the music still stands completely unique. Niemisto makes his creativity known as he pulls apart melodies, deconstructs tempos — ingenuity reverberates with every measured, hypnotic beat.