| Cavetown talks new projects, musical evolution and war on trans people
By Lawrence Ferber
As YouTube, social media, and self-released music platform Bandcamp grew in popularity, musicians could create music and garner followings from their own bedrooms: hence “bedroom pop” was born, and so was the career of UK-born, 23-year-old singer/songwriter/producer Robin Skinner (he/they), aka Cavetown.
Currently embarked on a dense, largely sold-out U.S. tour through late spring with international dates to follow, the openly transgender Cavetown — who also falls somewhere on the aromantic and asexual spectrum — recently followed up his 2021 EP, “Man’s Best Friend,” with the single “Fall In Love With A Girl.” The song is a collaboration with Filipino-British next-gen guitar hero beabadoobee, about “someone who’s struggling with their sexuality and how that affects their happiness,” Skinner explained in a press release. “This person is scared to take the leap to make themselves happy and tries to make things work in a hetero relationship. When they finally take the step to be in a same-sex relationship, they realize how happy it makes them and that it’s OK to trust yourself.”
Cavetown’s journey began at age 14, when Skinner uploaded his first original song, “Haunted Lullaby,” to YouTube, which, seemingly on brand for bedroom pop, boasts a ukulele (he’s swiveled more to guitars lately, plus gorgeous, richly melodic hooks and well-produced harmonies on even his most lilting tracks). A 2015 self-titled, self-released full-length album scored acclaim and a quickly growing audience — which, today, includes eight million monthly Spotify listeners, over two million YouTube subscribers, and more than a billion global streams. At the same time, Skinner also kept busy dropping covers of songs by Twenty One Pilots, Elvis Presley, Ed Sheeran, and Justin Bieber between subsequent singles, EP, and LP releases (most can be found on Cavetown’s Bandcamp), including his 2020 major label debut on Sire Records, “Sleepyhead.”
Taking a break from tour rehearsals, Skinner fielded email questions about his new single, his musical evolution, touring, insect wars, other awesome non-binary/trans bedroom pop artists, and the GOP’s war against trans people.
To get it out of the way, where did the stage name Cavetown come from?
I wish I had an interesting answer, but I came up with it when I was like 12 or 13, just because it sounded cool! I’m very grateful that it still sounds cool to me and didn’t end up being something cringey.
Was there an opportunity to do something new on “Fall In Love With A Girl” that you haven’t before?
Working with beabadoobee was something new, which I was super stoked to get to do! Her voice works so well in the song, and I had a great time recording with her and mixing her vocals, as well as [musician] Jacob Bugden’s synths and drums. I pretty much just work in Logic and haven’t really explored any cool plugins or hardware, so it was sick to watch Jacob do his thing with the synths he brought. There’s so much unique stuff you can do with external hardware, but finding where to start seems so overwhelming.
You don’t shy away from being vulnerable and intimate in your lyrics. For example, in 2020, you told Billboard, “I write songs about things that I find hard to talk about in person with people.” Which song from your most recent EP, “Man’s Best Friend,” is the most personal for you?
“Sharpener” is definitely the most personal and one that I’m really proud of. Sonically, I started by taking inspiration from one of my really old songs, “I Promise I’m Trying” [from the EP Nervous Friends: Pt. 1], which has maintained a special place in my heart since I wrote it in 2015. They both come from a similar subject matter of struggling with your mental health and looking for a way to ask for help while also finding it hard to leave behind the coping mechanisms you’ve relied on for a while.
How would you describe your musical evolution since 2015?
It’s hard for me to identify how my songwriting has changed, but my production has definitely improved a lot, and I just hope that it continues to do so.
Have you recorded some songs over the years that you’re saving for a future release, or, like Prince and Paddy McAloon of Prefab Sprout, will keep them in a vault forever?
No full songs that I can think of, but I have a ton of half-finished project files that I forgot about or got bored of. They’re great to keep for inspiration when I’m feeling stuck. Quite a few of my songs, like “Guilty” and “Boys Will Be Bugs,” came from unfinished projects that I originally got stuck with or thought I would be scrapping.
And what other projects are in the works that you can say something about?
I don’t know if I can share much, but I’m working on dipping my toes into some film scoring.
There seems to be a proliferation of fantastic non-binary and trans-identified bedroom pop artists lately, including Kali, Khai Dreams, and Addison Grace, your opening act on your current tour. What is it about that genre that’s so perfect for you, and did I miss any artists you’d add to that list?
I feel like I just fit so comfortably into bedroom pop as someone who’s always felt so protective over my production. I’ve always produced everything myself from home and plan on keeping it that way forever. And my friend Allie Cuva, aka Allie, makes some stunning music, and an artist I played a show with a long time ago called NoSo has some of the most mesmerizing guitar skills I’ve seen in person. Highly recommend.
You performed at Lollapalooza in 2021. How was that experience?
It was cool! Definitely quite nerve-racking, as it felt very foreign to be around so many people after the pandemic, but we managed to stay as isolated as possible. The most memorable moment for me was watching a cicada and a bee falling from a tree while fighting. The cicada was screaming and I witnessed it die on the ground. [sad emoticon]
What separates touring the USA from touring your native UK and other countries?
The crowd is pretty consistent all over the world, which is really nice! Ninety-nine percent of the time everyone is super sweet and respectful, which is really comforting because it feels like I’m just going out into a room full of my buddies no matter where in the world I am. The biggest difference is definitely the travel time. The USA is huge. I’m very privileged to be able to travel in a bus and sleep through most of the long drives.
Any cities you love the most, or can’t wait to visit on this current tour?
I’m really excited to spend more time in San Diego, Seattle, and Toronto.
Have you been to Detroit before, and if so, any anecdotes you can share?
I have! I was in Detroit during that polar vortex a few years ago visiting [fellow singer/songwriter/YouTuber] Chloe Moriondo. I’ve never been so cold in my life; it straight up felt like my lungs were gonna freeze. I remember getting into Chloe’s car, and there was a bottle of soap in the cupholder that was frozen solid.
Republicans and GOP leaders are attacking trans people through hateful state bills right now and plan to make this a culture war point for the 2022 election. Are you aware of it, and any thoughts or words of inspiration to share with people who live in those states?
I hate to say that it’s not a surprising thing to see happening. I try not to read too much on stuff like this because I just end up feeling so powerless as an individual, but it’s important to remember how enormous, loving and active our community is. Just keep sticking by your friends and being unapologetically yourself. Things will always be OK in the end, and if they aren’t OK, then it’s not the end.