NME Radar: Breakout

Cavetown: Bedroom-pop hero building worldwide community

Beloved by The 1975, mxmtoon, here's how Cambridge's Robin Skinner took his brand of indie-pop to bedrooms all over the globe

Each week in Breakout, we talk to the emerging stars blowing up right now – whether it be a huge viral moment, killer new track or an eye-popping video – these are the rising artists certain to dominate the near future

Much like a cartoon villain, Cavetown – the indie-pop project of Robin Skinner – is plotting taking over the world from his bedroom. But fear not! For Cavetown is a force of good! His music lives in the same emotional world as Rex Orange Country or Twenty One Pilots and he’s helped build the DIYouTube scene that includes Chloe Moriondo, mxmtoon, Conan Gray, and Tessa Violet.

He’s been carefully building his colourful, inclusive world for a while now. Starting out with covers of Panic! At The Disco, Elliot Smith and The Libertines, Skinner eventually moved onto releasing his own self-produced music. With his 2018 album ‘Lemon boy’, Cavetown took the show on the road and he’s been touring relentlessly at home in the UK and in the States – his US Passport helping him break America before the rest of the world caught on.

He was invited by The 1975‘s Matty Healy to perform at their now-cancelled Finsbury Park show and signed to Warner Music’s Sire Records for 2020’s ‘Sleepyhead’ album. Oh, he’s also produced mxmtoon’s ‘The Masquerade’ as well as sharing new song ‘Smoke Signals’, with Tessa Violet. Turns out a hero’s work is never done. We Zoomed the boy to see what’s left for his not-so-diabolical masterplan.

Your major label debut ‘Sleepyhead’ has been out for a few months now, how are you feeling about?

I already don’t like it. You eventually get sick of it when you write your own stuff but I haven’t even toured it. I’m just tired of it already. The process of self-producing that album was stressful for me, so I associate all those songs with that stressful time. That’s good though, it’s motivation to write new stuff.

Did signing to a major label add to the pressure?

I tried to look at it like it was just another album where I’ve got to try my best again. But my best has to be better than the previous thing. ‘Sleepyhead’ felt bigger than anything I’d done before because I had to live up to ‘Lemon boy’ after that had done so well. The label, my manager, they were all super supportive but I just expected so much of myself. At the same time, I’d been touring for two years solid, which I’ve now realised, isn’t the best thing to do.

You’d had success as an independent musician, so why sign to a major?

It’s exciting to have endless possibilities now. It was the next step really because we’d done as much as we could do by ourselves. I remember the stress of writing ‘Lemon Boy’ was that it was just me and I had to do so much. Being able to offload aspects of the work onto people around me feels so much more empowering. I’m left to just do what I do best, which is, make the music. I definitely feel in control of the world I’m creating, which is ideal.

Your songs are being streamed by millions and you’re now playing massive shows. How have you found coping with that?

I don’t tend to look at the numbers. I avoid things that will make me feel a bit weird. I’m still getting used to playing live though because that’s where it becomes a real thing, rather than just numbers on a screen. It makes you realise what’s actually going on which can be overwhelming. I don’t tend to be a very social person and I like being alone so it’s taking a lot of getting used to being the centre of attention onstage.  The gradual increase is the way to make it feel normal. If you throw a frog in hot water it will jump out ,but if you put a frog in cold water and slowly heat it up, then it will stay there until it dies. That’s me. I’m the frog in the water.

Why play live at all then?

It never felt like a place I would be because I’ve always been so introverted, but being on stage is something that excites me. It’s an interesting experience to feel the confidence that that brings you. Feeling celebrated for a bit is a nice feeling. Also, there are a lot of kids who feel a bit lost, like they’re not understood or they’re not welcome in certain places. I want them to be able to come to a show and feel like they’re supposed to be there and are part of a little family.

What do you want Cavetown to mean to people?

I want people to see it as an escape from anything they’re worried about, a place people can go to if they want to enjoy some nice vibes and I want it to be a community of kind, open-minded, understanding friends, which is out of my hands really. It’s the people that like the music that create that environment and they’ve done a stellar job.

You talk openly about things like sexuality or mental health without making it into a grand statement. Do you think that approach is important?

I admire people who really talk in-depth or advocate for things they believe in but I want to be able to show people that it’s ok to just be yourself. You’re allowed to just have a mental illness or be a certain identity, there doesn’t have to be anything further than that. You can just be. I’m just being and the fact people can see that and feel welcomed by it is really cool.

You worked with mxmtoon on her recent album, ‘The Masquerade’. Was that good fun?

We were in New York together last summer and we produced her album over ten days, which I’m feeling pretty chuffed about. It went really smooth ‘cos we got along so well and we were both on the same wavelength. I’m an artist who is very confident in my own sound, so I’m able to help artists who might not know quite what they want yet. But I would also put an emphasis on the fact it’s her song and the important thing is for her to feel connected to everything about it. With Maia, we really have the same ideas in mind and it’s a really good mesh of brains. I love producing though, it’s my favourite part of it all and it’s something I definitely want to do more of.

Do you know what comes next?

I want the next album to be super mellow. I’m writing a bunch of very emo and gentle songs that have a real nice vibe but I don’t have a plan for where my music is going in general. I don’t feel restricted to a certain genre, I just tend to mix and match things. I don’t know what I’ll be into in a year or so, maybe I’ll be doing heavy metal. Hopefully there’ll be some stuff soon though. I do have some songs I’ve written with some friends that I might be doing something with soon. The last album was a structured release but for whatever comes next, it’ll be very casual which I’m looking forward to.

And will you always work from your bedroom?

Yeah, I love it. I tried working with a couple of producers in the past and it was just boring. I really love my own space, I love having the freedom to do what I want and I don’t think I’d want to change that anytime soon.

Cavetown’s new single ‘Smoke Signals’ is out now

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