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February 2021

Cavetown: "I've been able to grow a community in a really wholesome way"

Robin Skinner is a big deal, but you might only just be about to find out.
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Published: 11:29 am, March 11, 2020
Cavetown: "I've been able to grow a community in a really wholesome way"

You might think you need to have a big brash and outlandish character and a big ol' slice of ego to make it big online in the hyper-accelerated times of the modern internet age. For Robin Skinner, though he's become something of a slow-burning internet sensation just through being himself and letting his words, his music and his gentle and endearing charm be a friendly welcoming presence always willing to let people in the nurturing bosom of the world of Cavetown.

One look at the numbers shows you Robbie is officially a big deal. With over 2.7 million monthly streams on Spotify and a ginormous 1.17 million subscribers to his long-established YouTube channel, Robbie has cultivated Cavetown into something of a phenomenon. He already has a much-loved catalogue of albums and songs online on his beloved Bandcamp account, but now he's ready to properly fully take off as an artist with a forthcoming major label debut and plans to spread his ethos of positivity and inclusivity on a global scale.

Robbie is a softly spoken gentle soul and speaks with a considered clarity that is in touch with the delicate tenderness of his melodic bedroom pop. Indeed the bedroom is where his musical dreams began as he saw himself exposed to music from an early age. "I grew up with very musical parents," he begins. "It's been something that's been nurtured in my family, and they've always been super, super supportive of me doing music stuff. From a young age, I've been playing instruments. I was into singing for as long as I can remember. I did a bit of classical training. I sang in a church choir for a bit. I played a bit of violin and a bit of recorder as a kid. When I was 8, I decided I wanted to play guitar because my dad played guitar and I thought he was cool. I got him to teach me."

"When I was 8, I decided I wanted to play guitar because my dad played guitar and I thought he was cool"

Once Robbie mastered the guitar there was no stopping him as he progressed on an independent path of discovery as he self-taught himself how to write and record his own stuff, firstly on Garageband and then on production tool Logic which he says he studied at sixth form in school. Self-sufficiency and self-expression have always been at the heart of Cavetown, and once he progressed from making Twenty One Pilots covers to releasing rich and melodically detailed acoustic albums on Bandcamp, there was no stopping him. It was back in 2015 that the close bond between Robbie and the people slowly discovering both him his music online began to form, a relationship that is still at the heart of everything he does.

"It felt really organic," he remembers proudly of those early online days. "I've been able to grow a community in a really wholesome way. It's helped me not to lose sight of what's important and the reason that I do this which is to make myself happy and to not forget how grateful I am of the people who come to my shows, support me and stream my music. I've got to know them over time. It's harder to keep up with them at this point, but I still feel that there's a connection there that's quite special."

There's something about Cavetown's music that inspires real devotion on a mass level. It's the kind of open and endearing sweet pop that translates across countries and continents and translates across different groups of people. Robbie's fiercely devoted fans who make up the Cave Club, for example, are an incredibly diverse and open-hearted bunch, and the community is one that fosters a positivity and desire to spread a positive message. No matter how big he gets, it's something that Robbie always values. "They're the reason why I have any success," he says. "It's extremely important to pay that back to them in some way."

Cavetown's music deals with universal themes of the most primal human emotions that we can all relate to and does it in a charming, heartbreaking and, often, funny way. People easily gravitate to Robbie's songs, but there's nothing contrived at work here it's just the personality he is. It's not really a conscious thing that I do to be vulnerable in my music although it is a benefit that it nurtures that connection," he explains. "I've never forced a song to try to connect. I've always just written about myself and what I'm feeling. It helps other people to hear what I have to say about things that maybe they're coming to terms with themselves. It also helps me to see that so many kids can relate to it as it makes you feel less alone and makes both of us feel less alone. It's a two-way relationship in that sense."

Finding your own space and cocooning yourself in the warmth of a comforting environment is a common theme of Cavetown songs. "The thing that I go for most of the time is to sound comforting," says Robbie of his songs. "I like evoking nostalgia. I like making people feel that they've heard it before, but also that it's something new."

"I've always just written about myself and what I'm feeling"

As his profile has become bigger, Robbie has added different touches to the Cavetown sound and now operates on a broader musical palette, incorporating electronics and live drums. He has a perceptive attention to detail and picks up on interesting stuff going on around him. "I'll take a chord progression or a phrase a songwriter has used or the sound of a certain drum machine," he says. "I'll try to play with that in my own way. I'll take my favourite things and try and put them together into something I'll like to listen to." It's this sort of diversity and magpie tendency that we can expect to hear more of on his much-anticipated album due in spring.

To go along with the album, there's going to be touring as well of course, and it's in this environment that Cavetown has really come to life. Robbie fondly remembers a show on his birthday in New York as a defining moment for Cavetown so far. "Touring has been an incredible experience!" he beams. "My manager came out on stage and surprised me with this vegan carrot cake, and everybody sang happy birthday. I got really emotional, and it was just such a happy day. One of those days that makes you think life is so cool. It blew me away so much. It was pretty early on, and things were going so fast, and it was one of the first major tours. It was the first time I've felt happy to have a birthday. I was so stoked to be alive on that day."

Next time he goes on tour, it's going to be with a full live band and full-scale production, a long way away from his parents' bedroom but still with the same ethos and compassion. The scale is a hundred per cent bigger, but in a way, everything and nothing has changed. Robbie looks back to his debut single 'This Is Home' and offers it as a perfect summation of what Cavetown was when he started and how it continues to provide a beacon for fellow gentle souls. "I've built a home for myself with my music and in turn a home for other people who feel lost and don't really know if they feel at home in their own bodies yet," he says wistfully. "That s0ng is really special to me, and I think it's stayed really relevant to what I want to do with my music." 

Taken from the March issue of Dork, out now.

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