Cavetown is showcasing a new level of vulnerability on his latest EP, Little Vice.

Robin Skinner aka Cavetown’s latest EP, Little Vice, isn’t one to miss. Deeply intimate, thoughtful, and full of unfiltered emotion for five tracks, Skinner gives us insight into his latest revelations, his maturity, and his personal growth. He’s come a long way from his beginnings on YouTube, forever grateful for that time, he’s morphed into something else, someone, whose confidence is starting to bloom. When speaking with him, his quiet demeanour gives way to a quiet strength.

There is something so incredible about seeing someone who has found their voice a little later in life flourish — and Robin is doing just that. He’s finding his rhythm, making sense of a world that he wasn’t sure he’d ever be able to make sense of. Music was and is the solace for him, the safe space and it shows. Using his platform as a catharsis, he hopes his audience finds a relatable thread. The world can feel so small when you feel like no one understands you, but Little Vice allows Skinner’s audience to embrace the melancholy and find a ray of sunshine in the sadness.

Each song from “Obvious” to “Glacier Meadow” shows Robin’s ability to bear his soul. He’s candid when he talks through his musical journey, open about how he’s evolved beyond the music he’s known for. Little Vice feels like a new era, leaving him open to finding innovative ways of continuing his journey.

In conversation with 1883 Magazine’s Dana Reboe, Skinner discusses his inspiration behind Little Vice, the music video behind “Alone”, what happened to his favourite bunny hat while on tour, how he copes with being the center of attention and more. 

Hi, Robin! I appreciate you taking time out of your schedule to do this, I know the time difference is crazy. Congratulations on Little Vice being released. Talk to me about putting this EP together, where it was born, and your inspiration behind it.

All of my projects kind of overlap with each other. I’m always writing until I need to do a project and then I put them together. It’s nice because the music kind of tells me what its identity is and what its relationships with the other songs are in the album. I feel like I always have little families of songs in my projects that kind of pair together. I’ve probably been working on it for about a year now. I just write everything at home in Cambridge, mostly. I produce my stuff, too. I like to record as I write.

So usually, as soon as I have an idea, I have to throw it into a project, so I don’t forget about it. Then I build instrumentation from there. That’s how my process goes. This EP makes me think of my home studio, resting, and spending time with my girlfriend. I sometimes feel a bit lonely when I get home because on tour everything is so loud and busy, and I’m surrounded by friends. It can be a bit jarring when I come home and “Alone” touches on that topic. It’s quite a short EP, it’s a bit of an amalgamation of a few different sides of what I like to do with music. 

You said that you’re constantly working on music. Does that mean you have notebooks filled with lyrics or random things that have just inspired you?

Pretty much. I don’t have specific notebooks for writing, but I do have my sketchbooks that I just jot down ideas in as soon as I have them. I like to make voice memos to remember melodies. I think my version of a full sketchbook or notebook is tons of logic projects on my computer named insane things that I will not remember or what they correspond to [laughter]. I have to sift through them when I’m starting to write new songs and be like, ‘Alright, what was this?’ or what is ‘Lalala number two?’ and just make my way through. 

So, in that sense, it’s kind of like putting together puzzle pieces and just seeing what fits. Love it. Little Vice has a melancholy vibe. It feels like a catharsis for you as an artist and us as listeners. Alone, in particular, at least for me, captures the essence of being at our lowest point and kind of talking ourselves back from like the precipice. What is the story behind that song and what do you hope the audience takes away from it?

“Alone” is about something I’ve been struggling with. I’m trying to unlearn what I taught myself a lot in secondary school. Especially in secondary school, I found it hard to have friends and feel like I belonged anywhere. I convinced myself that I wanted to be alone and that I was happiest alone. I believed it was good because it helped me cope with those years of being very lonely and not finding my friends yet. I gave up trying to make friends because every time I did, I was upset, or couldn’t read them. I find it hard to read signs with people. I would always over-catastrophize things they said. It was a difficult time. So, I was like, ‘I’m going to learn how to be happy just with myself and like be my own friend and not need like that outside validation all the time.’ Tthat helped me a lot, especially in the last years of high school. I literally didn’t even try it. I would talk to people in class, but I would, anytime there was a break in the day, just go home and hang out with my lizard [laughs].

I was very happy to focus on that and write music at home, which was very helpful. I internalize that so heavily that now sometimes I’m like, ‘Oh, it’s better if I just hang out by myself because then I won’t get my feelings hurt by people.’ But now I have great friends that I found through my tour who care about me and want to hang out with me. Sometimes there’s still a disconnect between me believing that and allowing myself to enjoy that kind of relationship. That’s what I wrote “Alone” about. Sometimes I find myself being like, ‘I’m so lonely right now.’ But I chose to do that so surely that’s what I want. I’m just starting to unlearn that I’m better by myself. I think for a short amount of time that was what I needed. But now that I’m older and I have good people around me, I’m learning to open up again. 

That’s incredible and a great lesson on self-preservation. I’m glad you have great people around you to help now. Can you talk to me about the concept of the “Alone” music video? You teased it for days leading up to its release. Inserting yourself into SpongeBob stills. Do you see yourself as a Squidward? [laughter]

I think we’re all Squidward, honestly. Everyone who watched SpongeBob as a kid was like, ‘Wow, Squidward is so lame.’ Now we’re all like, ‘Actually, I understand. I get it.’ I didn’t even think of that scene until after I’d finished the song. I said, ‘Wait, this reminds me of that scene where he says, ‘Finally I can be all alone.’ Then he starts freaking out. It’s perfect. It’s kind of a sad topic and kind of a sad song to think about for me. So, I wanted to put a funny spin on it — one that’s kind of nostalgic to a lot of people.

That’s immediately what I thought when I watched the video and was going through your Instagram feed! As I’ve gotten older, I’ve related more to Squidward. He’s representing us. 

Yes, he is. 

You’re on tour now in Australia and New Zealand. I read in an interview you did with The Line of Best Fit, ‘That it feels strange to be on stage and you’re finding ways to cope.’ Do you still feel the same way you did last year? How do you think you’ve evolved as an artist since then?

That’s definitely still there. I think I’ll always feel kind of weird about having attention, especially going back to what I said about growing up and not having very many friends. It’s weird to suddenly have people who want to listen to you and are excited to see you. It’s still kind of an alien feeling. But I’ve managed to lean into it more and adopt a character for the stage. It took a bit of intentional effort during the early years of touring, to be like, ‘I love it here, I am amazing. Everyone who’s excited to see me should be excited because I’m the best.’ [laughs] And just kind of like manifest an ego. That worked for me. I could switch it on and be big and loud and entertain the room.

At first, I leaned into that a little too hard, I’d come off stage and it took me a long time to be myself again. I couldn’t figure out how to make that switch. But I’ve been touring for a long time now since late 2017. So, it’s been a long time. I think I’ve managed to merge myself a little better with my stage self. I don’t have to be constantly ‘on’ on stage. I don’t have to be jumping around and making eye contact and being visually entertaining. I’ve learned through just trying it that I can stand still and focus on playing and people will still enjoy that. I’ve learned to balance myself with my stage persona. I don’t think anyone ever can just be fully themselves on stage because you’re an entertainer as well as yourself. It’s also important that the audience sees the person they’ve come for and not just a persona that you’ve made.

You said you’ve been touring since 2017 what does it feel like to see steadily growing crowds and people really connecting with your music?

It’s wild. It’s really crazy. It’s also really strange looking back because there’s been a few different evolutions of my touring setup. I used to play by myself, it was basically just me and a tour manager for a long time. I used to meet every single person that came after every show. I’d be doing a meet and greet for three hours after every show. I was like, ‘I need to say thank you, I need to be there,’ and I’m glad I got to do that. But it becomes impossible after a while. It would take an hour per 100 people because I didn’t want it to be like, ‘Hi, hug. Bye. Hi, hug, Bye.’ I wanted to talk to them (the fans) and give them time to tell me things and really connect. That was really special. I think it was important for establishing a connection with my audience and establishing that I do care about them.

I’ve had to change the show as I’ve grown. I’m glad that it’s kind of grown very slowly for me. I think if I’d been thrown into a full band, with thousands of people I would have freaked out. I’m so lucky my management team has always looked out for me. They’ve always believed in me too, but not in a way that’s like, ‘You’re going to be a star one day someday, you’re going to be in front of zillions of people.’ There was definitely a certain manager I had that was like that before I met my current manager. My management now is awesome, they match my pace and do what’s right for me. This is my second time in Australia, last time I was here it was just the three of us. Now we’ve got a 12-person crew. It’s great because there’s so much off my shoulders, I don’t have to worry about all these things. I feel very held and very safe with them. It’s also just fun because they’re awesome people [laughs].

I love that. Because now you don’t have the stress, you can just focus on making music and having a good time, which is the whole point. That’s why you want to be an artist. Switching it up with a super, super serious question. Did you end up getting your green and black bunny hat back?

[Robin shakes his head]

We’ll make this interview into a PSA.

It’s so sad. Because I brought three bunny hats with me. For some reason anytime I wear a bunny hat, I just feel better. I just feel safe. This was the only one of the three that was a gift from someone. It’s one of a kind. I left it on stage and it got thrown into the audience. I feel like whoever got it would be like, ‘Wait, I want to give it back. I don’t know, maybe I have too much faith in my audience. Maybe there’ll be like, ‘Hell yeah, finders’ keepers!’ If it’s finders’ keepers. Sure. I get it. That’s kind of like a once-in-a-lifetime, have my property, whatever.

There was one time, years ago, I was on a UK tour, I think, and I used to take my shoes off on stage and put them by my pedal board. I like to play with my feet on the ground and stuff. I left them on stage. We were packing up and I was like, ‘Where are my shoes?’ Not too long after I got an Instagram DM of someone being like, ‘Haha I got your shoes, I’m so drunk right now!’ They sent me a picture of them wearing my shoes. I replied, ‘Um, bring them back. Those are my only shoes on tour!’ We had them come back and my tour manager told them off. It was really funny. We were like watching from the bus like, ‘Get ‘em!’ But all’s forgiven. It’s fine, it’s a silly thing to do. 

Hey, you never know, when you get back to Cambridge, you might get it in the mail.

That would be crazy because no one knows my address [laughter]. But yeah, PSA: if someone has my hat and wants to give it back to me, I’ll give you my PO box. Because I would like my hat back. If not, no worries, I guess.

Circling back to Little Vice, “Let Them Know They’re On Your Mind” felt like a reminder to check in on those you care about. Was that the intention and how hard was it to put those emotions into words for you?

Yeah, definitely. That’s what it’s about, for me at least. I find lots of things hard to put into words, but whenever I’m writing a song, sometimes, for some reason, it’s easier to word vomit and get those things out of my brain. Sometimes I don’t even understand why a word or a phrase or like what I’m saying makes sense until after I’ve put it down. I’m like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s exactly what I needed to get off my chest,’ and I haven’t been able to do that before. Especially in the past couple of years, there’s part of me that’s unlearning that I don’t like being alone.

I’m also learning that people want to hear from me and people like hearing that I’m thinking about them. I like hearing people think about me too, so that’s kind of what I was touching on in that song. Even if I have nothing to say, when I think of someone, I want to just tell them I’m thinking of them. I used to be scared, ‘Oh, they’ll think it’s weird. They’ll think I’m being needy or annoying or whatever. I’m starting to realize that that’s their business. If you’re annoyed that’s your business, I want to tell you, that I love you and I’m thinking of you. Most of the time it’s well-received [laughter], and people like hearing that. It’s good to remind people, to just check in on people because sometimes it’s too late, and you can’t anymore. And that’s why you do it now while you can.

I agree. Making time for the people you love is important, even just shooting a quick text to let them know that you’re thinking of them can mean the world. You have no idea what’s happening on the other end of that phone screen. When you take a look back over your career, what is your proudest moment so far?

Geez, [laughs] proudest moment. I don’t know, I can’t think of a single moment. I mean, there’s been some pretty incredible shows on our last US run. One of the best shows I’ve ever done was at The Greek in LA. It was just after we did a warm-up show. We were using a lot of new gear and so much went wrong. It really might have been the worst show for me tech-wise. A lot of awkward moments for me to fill in the dead air. So, to follow that with an amazing show at The Greek where everything went super smooth, we were all on such a high from it. It was one of those shows where you just walk away feeling so lucky and so proud of yourself. The band feels really on it and we’re all locked in and the lights are perfect. All the sound is perfect. Everything sounds great in my ears. We’re dialled into the audience. They’re all reacting in the ways I want them to. Anytime that happens, I feel really proud.

When you’re on tour, what keeps you centred and grounded amidst the chaos?

It’s good to get a lot of sleep. Resting is very, very important. Also, getting out in the world and not having your head stuck in the show. Experiencing the places you’re in and having fun. Which is hard to do. Especially if you’re on a bus tour. Sometimes you’re just so tired, but even getting out to have a walk around the block to a coffee spot. It’s nice to see the sun and breathe the air and maybe see some cool new things I’ve never seen before. Especially in a country like this (Australia), there are so many cool trees and birds and cool beaches. We’ve been getting out a lot. I’ll definitely be hibernating as soon as I get home. I think it’s impossible, at least for me have a normal life on tour. But getting outside and stuff like that helps.

It’s post-concert depression.

Yeah, absolutely.

What is advice do you live by?

I feel like you only follow advice if you give it to yourself. You need to figure it out yourself and figure out that’s like what you need. My advice to myself is constantly changing. Right now, I’m trying to take inspiration from my friends. I’m surrounded by lots of musician friends who are showing me their music and asking for input and being really open with their art. That’s my goal for this year, to just be more open and more honest. Let people in and let people help me and try not to feel like I’m putting a burden on them.

Of the five tracks on the EP, do you have a favourite and why? I know, I’m asking you to choose between your children. I’m sorry.

My favourite from the beginning was “Obvious.” I like my melody in there. I like all my production. I think it’s a catchy tune. I’m very excited to play it live. Although I’m like, ‘Ah, it sounds like I’m playing ukulele in it,’ which is something that I and all of my ukulele-playing friends are like, ‘Get away.’ It’s a whole stereotype now that Cavetown and all these artists are little ukulele artists. But we’re all rock stars, we’re all rocking on stage. So, people thinking I’m still in my ukulele phase is a little cringe. It’s my own fault. It’s cringe for me because I’ve moved on but not that ukulele is cringe or anything. Anyway, it sounds like a ukulele but it’s not, it’s a nylon string guitar. But yeah, I like that song very much. I’m excited to play it live in the summer.

Lastly, Robin, what is something you want to manifest for yourself in 2024?

I think my goal for a while has been for my current music to take the spotlight. I’m very proud of all my old music. It’s served me very well and it’s also like helped a lot of people. But it will be really nice to kind of overtake my previous music with my current music, you know? I feel like maybe, “Let Them Know” and “They’re On Your Mind” has been doing pretty good for the first few weeks of release. I’m excited about that because it’d be nice to be known more for stuff I’ve just put out, rather than my old stuff like “This is Home” or “Devil Town,” great songs, but I’m hoping that my current music is appreciated in the same way.

Little Vice is out now.

Interview Dana Reboe

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