Come June may be Mitch Rowland’s debut album, but he’s no music industry newbie. For the past seven years, he’s served as one of the guitarists in Harry Styles’ band, and has been an integral collaborator with the pop star as a co-writer of hits such as “Watermelon Sugar” and “Golden.” Their friendship and onstage interactions have been hyped by stans for years, and now, Rowland is the first signing to Styles’ record label, Erskine.
Music was in Rowland’s DNA long before crossing paths with Styles. From a young age, he was drawn to classic, guitar-driven rock’n’roll, particularly bands like the Black Crowes and Aerosmith. The Ohio native started toying around with a drum kit when he was five before eventually teaching himself guitar. Indeed, it was a 2008 Black Crowes concert he attended with his dad that nudged his fledgling college songwriter era into something more serious and reinvigorated his passion and direction. “Everything was just a bit larger than life,” he says over Zoom while driving in Los Angeles. “That was fuel for me.”
Rowland dove headfirst into the world of open tunings and Crowes guitar influences such as Keith Richards and Nick Drake. By 2013, he’d relocated to Los Angeles with the hopes of having a career in music. Jobs outside of the industry kept him going long enough to get his foot in the door with Styles, thanks to the recommendation of an engineer friend who’d heard the former One Direction singer needed a guitar player for his self-titled solo debut.
It was life-changing for Rowland who ended up co-writing and playing guitar on nine of the album’s tracks and became Styles’ lead guitarist on his Live on Tour in 2017. Rowland once again co-wrote and did session work for the pop star’s second album — landing five songs on the record. He once again joined Styles for his extensive Love on Tour run in 2017 and 2018.
The 35-year-old Rowland’s solo career didn’t quite come into focus for a few more years. Come June began taking shape at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic while Rowland was in London, affording him the opportunity to render his brain “quiet enough” to finish all the half-completed ideas stored on his phone.
In the studio, Rowland’s approach was antithetical to the glitter and glam of the pop world (“My inspiration was kind of my anti-production,” he quips). He opted for the simplicity of a stripped-down, folk-inspired sound, about which he says, “I didn’t realize you could get away with calling yourself a singer and having your voice be so small and subtle, and that’s all it needs to be if you want it to be.” The minimal sound “was a direct result of having two feet in the world of production with Harry, and for the last six or seven years, being able to chuck anything and everything into a song while working in the nicest places.”
Come June has drawn comparisons to the work of the late Elliott Smith, of whom Rowland was unfamiliar beforehand. The influence of Jose Gonzalez and Bert Jansch is also evident, with Rowland’s wife Sarah Jones having introduced him to the former’s vocal-and-guitar-only style. “That struck a nerve,” he says.
Smith, however, kept coming up tangentially in making Come June. Jones had connected Rowland with veteran indie rock producer Rob Schnapf, whom she didn’t realize co-produced three of Smith’s pivotal albums, but it actually wasn’t until Come June was completed that Rowland finally listened to Smith.
“It’s like, ‘Oh, shit. I’m the last person to find out about this,’” he says. “And it’s a funny thing because I’m so close to the source, between Rob making a lot of those great albums and getting to know his wife, who managed Elliot. I didn’t know what I was stepping into when I started making the record, but it’s a very funny coincidence.”
While the sheen of Rowland’s pop experience isn’t core to Come June, hints of his other life are present within it. Styles contributes backing vocals on the breezy “Here Comes the Comeback,” a song Rowland wasn’t sure really fit on the album. “I’m not finger-picking or anything. I’m not doing anything that Bert Jansch would do,” he recalls thinking of the track. But he showed it to Styles, who loved it. “We recorded a version with [Harry] doing vocals, so then I half permanently heard that in my head,” he explains. Rowland soon realized the song really was his, but having his friend lend a hand made it richer.
Rowland absorbed other lessons from watching Styles make his own music, during which “nothing is off limits when he is composing a song. Over the years, I noticed he doesn’t get boxed in very often. He always knows which bucket of paint to dip into. He just goes anywhere, and I think that’s important to remember when you write about all topics.”
Come June is a “scrapbook” of Rowland’s time oscillating between London and the English countryside from where his wife hails, discovering they were pregnant, moving back to Los Angeles mid-pandemic and having a child. The songs “oozed” out of him during that time. “That was my form of documenting,” he explains. “I wanted to frame all these feelings in a nice way rather than letting them dissolve into my memory.”
Opener “Bluebells” was directly inspired by the impending arrival of Rowland and Jones’ new addition to the family, its sunny folk vibes setting a reflective tone for the 12-track Come June. Rowland’s storytelling talents are on display on “When It All Falls Down,” a hushed number about the loser in a boxing match that he wrote after watching UFC with Jones’ family on a pre-pandemic Spanish holiday. For the psych-folk “All the Way Back,” Rowland recruited Ben Harper, whom he met when the latter guested on the Styles song “Boyfriends.” “I know the sound of his lap steel very well. I never would have thought I would get to hear it on one of my songs,” he laughs.
While Come June has been a long time in the making, Rowland is grateful it came into the world at its own pace. “I’m glad it’s taken this long, because I’ve learned so much in the last six or seven years making music with Harry,” he says. “It happened when it was supposed to happen.”