by Rob van Alstyne
Given the recent track record of established Twin Cities artists who’ve left for bigger cities to make their mark (Har Mar Superstar, Craig Finn and the Hold Steady crew) it’s hard to argue career-wise against young troubadour Robert Skoro’s recent move from Minneapolis to Philadelphia, but it couldn’t be coming at a worse time for Twin Cities music fans. Skoro, first introduced to Twin Cities stages as the fresh-faced teenage bassist in the Mason Jennings Band some eight-odd years ago, is exiting Minnesota stage right at precisely the moment his soon-to-be-unveiled sophomore solo album, That These Things Could Be Ours, will likely be winning him scores of new fans in his native land.
feel like I’m going out there more to create an environment for myself
where I can get a little bit of time away from the music scene,” explains
Skoro via cell phone while back in Minneapolis to rehearse with his band. “When
I’m here I’m always finding ways to do gigs with different people
and go out to different things. I wanted an environment where I could really
focus as a writer and have a little time to myself and also have a new city
to feed off of for inspiration. I love Minneapolis so much, but I’m from
here; I can’t imagine something that would prevent me from coming back
eventually, but I just turned 25 and the thought of taking a little time away
is really appealing right now.”
Fortunately Skoro has left us all with an enduring document of his time in the
Twin Cities in the form of That These Things Could Be Ours, an elegantly
sophisticated slice of folk-pop that makes good on the promise exhibited by
his 2002 debut, Proof. A rumination on lost connections and new beginnings,
Things boasts all the lyrical richness of a traditional singer/songwriter
album (delivered in a more confident and pleasing vocal tone), but fleshes it
out with full-bodied arrangements from a perfectly simpatico backing band of
Twin Cities vets (guitarist Bill Mike, drummer JT Bates, bassist James Buckley
and keyboardist Andy Thompson). An immaculate eleven-song collection, Things
deftly balances out its more ambient and moody moments (the languid, creepy-carnival
ballad “Boo Hoo” and hazy dreamscape “Influence”) with
immediately accessible and warm folk-rock (“Kidnapped!,” “Morning”).
The lived-in vibe and obvious attention to detail that define Things
is far from accidental; its creator spent the better part of two years refining
his ideas before taking the plunge of finally recording the album.
“The whole project started about two years ago. Brian Deck [famed producer
for the likes of Modest Mouse and Iron & Wine] and I had been talking and
he was a big fan of Proof so we sort of agreed we’d like to work
together on my next album. From there I just started writing and demoing really
extensively for about six months. That was around November of 2003. I spent
all that time on just getting a five-song demo together with the hopes of getting
a label on board because I knew I didn’t want to do anything with Brian
[Deck] unless we could get something released on a national level. I ended up
getting really burnt out working on the demos as the engineer and producer of
it all, just handling every little bit of it.”
for Skoro, all the hard work paid off, resulting in a record deal with well-respected
indie-label Yep Roc (currently home to such living legends as Paul Weller and
Nick Lowe in addition to younger critically acclaimed artists like Marah). By
the time Skoro and his bandmates were making their way to Deck’s famed
Engine Studios in Chicago during the fall of 2004 he was favoring a far looser
approach than that which had guided his tight-fisted demo sessions.
“By that point I didn’t want to handle the technical end of things
at all anymore,” admits Skoro. “I just wanted to walk into the studio
and hammer it out. I had been talking with Nick Lowe and his producer about
how they made some of Nick’s records and the old Elvis Costello records
[which Lowe produced] and they said they just recorded it all live and picked
the songs with the best vocal take, that idea really appealed to me. So we basically
just set up there with the band for a week and played everything straight through.
Then I came back to Minneapolis and overdubbed some background vocals and tambourine.
I really wanted to keep it in the realm of performance art—to have the
record be about those little moments when all the parts of the band come together
in a certain way and make something a little magical. Trying to capture those
moments in music when something incredible happens … that’s becoming
increasingly rare with all the ProTools and home recording going on. This whole
record was done from top to bottom in five weeks.”
With the long road to album No. 2 now behind him, Skoro can focus on the task
at hand—a full-scale promotional push and heavy national touring—but
he appears to be telling the truth when claiming he doesn’t feel pressure
to reach any particular level of success. “There’s no finish line
to me,” he claims as our conversation winds to a close. “I try not
to have a lot of expectations for the record. I’d rather just see what
happens. In my experience talking with musicians who have done this for way
longer than I have it seems like there’s a lot of things you don’t
really get to choose, it’s more things that find you. I’m pretty
open to whatever happens, I just hope that there are new experiences that come
out of it and that it leads to more new musical possibilities and lets me keep
living the life of a musician. That was a huge part of the impact that being
in Mason’s band had on me—being so young and feeling like I made
a commitment to making music for a living and spending my time creatively with
people I care about. That’s the thing that makes me happier than anything
else. I just want to keep that means of living going.” ||
Robert Skoro plays the CD release show for That These Things Could Be Ours
on Fri., Sept. 9 at the Varsity Theater with Vicious Vicious and Ghostband.
7 p.m. $10. 18+. 1308 4th St. SE, Mpls. 612-604-0222.
For more information on Robert Skoro check out his official
website at RobertSkoro.com.
To listen to the first single off of Robert Skoro’s
new album, “All the Angles,” head on over to his record label’s
official website at YepRoc.com.