Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit
Cavetown August 2023 Brennan Bucannan 11

Palace Music

15 September 2023, 08:00
Words by Kelsey Barnes
Original Photography by Brennan Bucannan

A decade since Robin Skinner posted his first original song on YouTube, the life of the 24-year-old DIY popstar is coming full circle. As he prepares to play to one of England’s most iconic venues, Kelsey Barnes traces Skinner's rise from bedroom to the stage at Alexandra Palace.

The definition of ‘full circle’ in the dictionary means to experience or move through “a series of changes that lead back to an original position or situation or to an opposite position or situation.” For Robin Skinner, known to his fans as Cavetown, this cycle is almost complete in more ways than one.

To start, when he is ready to chat, he apologises for being late despite actually being ten minutes early. “You’re the first person who's ever said that to me,” he says, caught off guard when someone else mentions that he’s always on time. For a person that has more or less been existing online since he was 14, documenting every hairstyle and coming-of-age saga through music, it might be hard to see the ways he’s grown, changed, and developed. Now it feels like he’s at the edge of the precipice — a full circle, one might say — and everything he’s built up until now is the catalyst to this next moment.

At the time of the interview, it is two months shy of the 10-year anniversary from when Skinner published his first original song to YouTube. In the 0:57 second black and white video, Skinner strums his now-signature ukulele and quietly sings a “Haunted Lullaby”, a song that, according to the description, is about anxiety and meant to be sung to children. Fairy lights are pinned on the wall behind him, photos and books and CDs are scattered throughout his bedroom. Look closely enough and you can see a pile of laundry on the ground. It’s a far cry from the overdone and sanitised TikTok videos seen today with artists standing in front of ring lights and picture-perfect backgrounds, desperate to create the perfect aesthetically pleasing set up. Skinner didn’t need any of that to find a fanbase that feverishly devour his every release.

“I grew so slowly and steadily and brought people slowly into my team, it’s hard to actually see how I’ve grown,” Skinner admits. “It’s something that I’m grateful for. It's allowed me to grow naturally and figure out what is important to keep the same and what needs to change. I've definitely learnt that over time. Obviously I've gotten more practice with recording and with playing live and I know myself better and what works for me. I've been really fortunate to have a team that wants me to find what works for me and doesn't push me too hard. They want me to keep enjoying what I do.”

Cavetown August 2023 Brennan Bucannan 12

Skinner was born in Oxford but grew up in Cambridge, a city that he still loves and lives in today. Raised by a musicologist father and a Baroque flautist mother, it was a childhood filled with music and stories. “I would draw a lot as a little kid,” Skinner says. “I would draw little picture books and tell stories underneath them. I even made activity books to give to my parents where they’d have to find a cow in a picture I drew. Looking back, I realised I always wanted to create something that other people would enjoy.”

As a kid, he’d watch The Moomins, a series by Finnish writer and illustrator Tove Jansson, and listen to their audiobooks to fall asleep. To date, Skinner is still soothed by their stories, leaning on them for inspiration (“I really love the art style, the storytelling, and the world building.”) He points out prints of the round fairy-tale characters that adorn his living room walls, telling the story of how he was able to write a song that went into the film soundtrack for The Moomins. After suggesting that the stories that shape us in our most formative years become a part of our intrinsic DNA and, somehow, it becomes a full circle moment, he smiles. “Yeah, that’s a pretty cool thing to think back on. It’s like a part of my childhood finding a way to still be in my life in a different way.”

Rather than solely covering the work by established artists and uploading them instead, Skinner opted to write and upload his own original songs in addition to giving his own spin on tracks by Twenty One Pilots and Pinegrove. It’s a snapshot into Skinner growing up, trying on different hats and figuring out which one worked. “I used to think I was going to be a writer because I loved making my own, but I fell out of love for reading and admittedly haven’t read a book in years,” he laughs. “That eventually transitioned into acting but I realised it was too scary to be on-stage in front of people. The thing that stuck and felt the most fulfilling and helpful for me was music.”

Writing music was like writing in his diary — journal entries that became songs that inevitably turned into a timestamp of what was bothering him at the time. In turn, the albums become chapters of his life — a body of work that helps him think back on who he was at the time and whatever form he was, something he describes as a bunch of “past little lives.” “Even if I find the song cringy now, I think it’s interesting to listen back to songs,” he says. “I’ll remember writing the song and everything I was writing about and, at the time, it mattered so much to me. All these things I was thinking about were so painful at the time and now I don’t even care. Maybe the stuff that I'm writing about now that's really painful… Someday I won't care anymore.”

As his fan base grew, his music followed suit. His first three full length albums — Cavetown, 16/04/16, and Lemon Boy — were all self-released. In 2019, he signed to Sire Records and embarked on tours in North America and the UK, playing 46 shows in four months. As a major label debut, Sleepyhead marked the start of a new chapter for Skinner even if it was released at the very start of the pandemic. The album was one of salvation for his listeners, finding comfort in the words and imagery pulled directly from Skinner’s imagination and made alive.

Skinner released his fifth album worm food at the end of 2022. For the previous records, the time and distance between them made Skinner pick apart things he would’ve done differently. Comparatively, worm food is just as captivating for Skinner as it was when he wrote it. Where some bedroom pop can sound contrived with lyrics that lack real substance, Cavetown’s approach to the genre is fresh — likely because as the writer, producer, and mixer, he’s a one-man show.

“I'm really glad that it [his relationship] hasn't changed,” he states. “Usually when I first finish a song, I feel really stoked about it and it's my favourite thing I've ever made. Then, slowly over time, I get tired of it or start to notice things I would have done differently or things I don't like about it. With worm food, I really love a lot of the songs that I put in there and they've been really fun and exciting to play live as well. Between Lemon Boy and worm food, I was still trying to figure out how I am doing this. The last album I did all by myself without any management or anything, so it took some time to adjust to having people around that have an opinion and it's not just me by myself. 'm sure there's stuff that I have learned from worm food that I haven’t realised yet. I felt like the purpose of writing worm food was exploring — I was really relaxed, I didn’t feel pressure from deadlines in the way that I had in previous projects. That let me retain my time with it and not force anything out and I think everything landed in a place where I was really happy to call it finished.”

Cavetown August 2023 Brennan Bucannan 03

In a way, another full circle is prevalent in Skinner’s own relationship to his art and his fans. Through Cavetown, he has this innate ability to both allow him to process his thoughts while also creating a space for his listeners to find themselves in his music. Music, for him, is him trying to admit something to himself, writing about it, and then sharing it with the world.

Has this process made it any easier for him to admit the things that keep him up at night? “Yeah, I’d say so,” he says. “I always find it interesting to see what people have been drawn to and their interpretations and the words they’ve chosen to slot into their own lives. I guess it is like the same experience for me and hearing other people's music. You’ll think, ‘wow this is exactly what I’m going through’ and then you read about what it’s about and it has nothing to do with what you’re going through. Sometimes I read people's interpretations [of his lyrics] and they are right. It’s always a little surprising to me because so much of the time I feel like my experience is strange or unique, like no one understands. When people are able to tell me that they felt this exact feeling and then heard it in the song and they no longer feel like they're weird or alone in it… That does the exact same thing for me. That's the reason I'm writing about it — I need to get something off my chest that feels uncomfortable or unresolved and putting it in a song in itself is therapeutic. Having people feeling the same as you after you feel alone is really cool.”

As we chat from his sun-filled Cambridge flat, the worries that plagued all of us back then have waned, but the connection between Skinner and his listeners have just grown stronger. Revisiting his first YouTube video again, there is a comment published just one year ago that reads a straightforward yet impactful statement: “I'm so happy he kept making music. Robin really saved my life, and a lot of people's lives too.”

Lurking online further, perusing Reddit forums reveals just how important Cavetown is to his fans. They discuss everything from the knitted hats he wears onstage to hyper specific meanings of certain lyrics. Amidst the posts, there is one that poses a question: “How would you describe Cavetown in a feeling?” One Redditor listed “Acceptance, he turns all of the feelings and ideas classified as ‘weird’ or ‘odd’ and turns them into songs.” Another says “Warmth, like sitting next to a burning fire with a smoky aroma wrapped in your favourite blanket.” The final one is affecting, stating “Safety, me and my sister had a pretty fucked up childhood but every morning on the bus we would listen to Cavetown and it always made the day better.” Despite being just 24, Skinner knows that his ability to impact his fan’s lives isn’t something he takes for granted.

“Wow, those are the exact words that I would hope…” he stops with a pregnant pause. “If my whole career means something to someone, those are the things that I would pick. It feels really nice to know that's been a reality for some people. I try really hard to make everything — from my music to my environment on stage — feel really safe. I want my music to feel safe. Initially I write it for me as a form of therapy and processing things, but after I release them they become something for everyone else. I want to make myself feel safe and feel comfortable and feel warm, so it’s cool they’ve done the same for others.”

"I like making everyone smile all the time. I've learned how to access that part of me without just overwhelming myself."


Creating an environment on stage that was equal parts accepting and inviting was imperative for Skinner, someone who doesn’t consider themselves a natural performer. As of late, some artists have pulled back on performing live. In the case of Miley Cyrus who ceased touring altogether, it was a choice to benefit her mental health and artistry. For those who rely on touring, it’s a difficult decision to make. When bringing this up to Skinner, he says, “If you asked my parents they’d probably say I am [a performer], but even if I don't feel like performing I can still put on a good show, which I guess means that I'm a natural performer. I don't necessarily relate to the words natural performer in the sense of ‘I always want to be entertaining.’ What I like is making everyone smile all the time. I've learned how to access that part of me without just overwhelming myself.”

Following a few years touring, Skinner has found ways to manage his own anxiety and stress. Rather than trying to force inspiration while on tour which inevitably forces him to break down, he doesn’t write an album while on the road. Instead of fixating on mistakes, he embraces them — reaching out of his own comfort zone while still honouring his own boundaries. “It does feel strange to be on stage,” he admits. “I don’t like attention, even if it’s positive. I don’t like being looked at for too long by too many people. I figured out ways to make it feel more comfortable for me and protect my different spaces. For the first three years of touring, I really pushed myself to be really, really entertaining and talkative. The result would be me coming offstage and completely zoning out, depleted of energy. Now I’ve taught myself that I don’t have to say things, I can just start the next song. No one is going to be mad at me.”

Although the quaint city of Cambridge is lovely to grow up in, one might assume that after seeing places like New York, Los Angeles, or even London would push him to flee somewhere else. “I’ve never really been drawn to a place,” he explains. “It’s the people that are here. I'm mostly living here in Cambridge just because I've lived here for so long. My dad is here. It feels right to be here. And now my girlfriend is here as well. But the best friends that I've met in my whole life have been the ones I've met on tour and that experience of being on tour with my band and my team. I think that is what makes touring so fun for me. I get to travel with all of my friends and all of the people I love. It’s like travelling with my home.”

Cavetown August 2023 Brennan Bucannan 07

This past summer, Cavetown brought his home to Glastonbury to play. It just so happened to be at the same time as Elton John. It’s a day that Skinner recalls as “interesting,” assuming hardly anyone would show up for their set and choose to see the iconic British singer and pianist. Instead, it’s become a memory that will stand out in his mind forever. “Everyone that came was really sweet and we were expecting the crowd that we got,” he recalls. “What I really loved is that I kind of just turned back and looked at my band more and it feels like we’re just jamming out together. I love seeing my bandmates smile and have fun with the music, so it was a good opportunity to have some of those moments to share together.”

After Glasto there was the Bittersweet Daze tour that started in Los Angeles in the middle of July. Touching on the aforementioned stress and anxiety that comes from crafting a large-scale event, the tour was something that was a “long time coming” for Skinner after planning it for ages. “There was a lot of anxiety for me around it because I obviously feel very responsible for my audience and their experience of the show. When the show grows to that size where it's a bigger venue and it's a longer time that they're all standing out there, I get concerned.”

Speaking more generally, Skinner alludes to the larger shows and festivals that have gone south in the past few years. “You hear horror stories of people putting on festivals or conventions and things going terribly wrong, like people getting hurt because it wasn’t organised properly. I never wanted that to happen.” Skinner approached Bittersweet Daze with as much care as he does with his music, and because of it the tour is one that he describes as “one of the best tours for everyone.” Every artist — from mxmtoon to Ricky Montgomery to grentperez to Skinner himself — had the best time with no major disasters. When asked what was the most difficult aspect of the tour, a quick slip of the tongue causes Skinner to say rats infiltrating the bus when he really meant ants. After years of managing his own anxiety around performing, dealing with ants was a breeze.

The last stop on the tour will lead Skinner back home to England, specifically ending in London later this month at the iconic Alexandra Palace. The last time he was at the venue was 10 years ago for the Summer in the City YouTube convention that he attended as a fan. It’s hidden from prying eyes now, but he documented his experience with a vlog. “I showed my manager and all he could say was how weird my hair looked,” he laughs.

Despite being both excited and nervous ahead of the gig, it does seem like all roads have led Skinner here. For someone who was uploading to YouTube ten years ago – and taking the train into London to catch a glimpse of his own favourite YouTubers – it is a bit insane for Skinner to take it all in. “I’d love to run up to myself in the queue as I was waiting to go into Alexandra Palace and say ‘In 10 years, you’re going to be headlining this venue.’ I don’t think me in 2013 would’ve ever believed it, they would be asking me who I am and what I’m going on about,” he laughs. “My crew love to organise little parties, so I’m sure there will be a celebration afterwards. My parents are both coming and I’m hoping a bunch of my friends can be there, too. It's going to be a big overwhelming day but it's hopefully going to be full of my homes — full of people I love.”

While viewing his vlog, he mentions acting like a silly teen, filming anyone and zooming in on everyone he recognised. One of those people is now his friend and opener Tessa Violet. “She looks so different,” he gleefully exclaims. “I don’t even think she was really doing music at the time and I don’t even think I knew who she was when I was filming, but now we’re both sharing the stage together.”

Cavetown August 2023 Brennan Bucannan 05

In support of the gig, Skinner went back to basics by going to Alexandra Palace to personally sell tickets to his fans. Afterwards he hung out with whoever was left, deeming it the “cutest little hang out.” It brought him back to the time when he used to do meet and greets before shows which he loved, but was too draining to keep up with the gruelling demands of touring. “I'm kind of out of practice with doing that kind of thing [fan meet and greets],” he confesses. “But it was a small enough crowd that showed up that after there was no one else in the queue, I thought we could just hang out and sit on the floor together. I like to ruin everyone's shoes and we took a bunch of BeReals together. It was just really sweet, everyone was really nice.”

As he retells this story of meeting fans and having a nice time together, worm food’s title track comes to mind — a song where Skinner repeats the lyrics “Joke's on you / I don't belong anywhere, I am worm food.” It’s a slow-building, synth infused track that speaks to Skinner feeling small and remembering that we all will be worm food one day. Bringing up these lyrics as a contrast to the story he shares, noting the beauty of him creating an open space for people to come together, he grins. “I didn’t think about that. I mean, I only deserve half of the credit really because the fact that my fans are nice enough to be the kind of people that I will just sit on the floor and doodle with them… I feel really lucky that such nice people have formed a community under my Cavetown umbrella.”

This umbrella he speaks of also includes the stuff required to be an artist in 2023 — from his marketing to his music videos concepts to deciding the artwork for an Instagram post. In the age of TikTok and fleeting attention spans, it can be stressful to feel like a cog in the machine, desperate to catch 10 seconds of someone’s attention. The best way Skinner tries to approach all of the stuff outside of the actual creation of music is by making it truly come from him. Before the interview, he’s drawing what will eventually be a photo for Instagram. “They are some silly characters for a post and I’ll ask people to tag themselves and answer who they are going to be at my show at Alexandra Palace.”

Keeping this as close to his chest as possible helps Skinner retain his creativity while also ensuring Cavetown and everything within the project feels authentic. Sometimes keeping things authentic means to let his team know he needs a break from the internet and refraining from marketing himself. “It’s definitely confusing to think about how I’m a person, but I’m also a product. I’m a thing people can buy or be entertained by or whatever. It’s been important to remember that the reason that I've been a successful product so far is because I have tried to be so normal and just a person online. Working stuff [the Instagram drawing] into things that I like to do just makes sense. Anytime I'm presented with an idea that doesn't feel authentic or fun, I'm kind of stubborn about it and say I’m not doing it.”

Cavetown August 2023 Brennan Bucannan 02

Despite now having a team and a major label to rely on, Skinner really is a DIY artist at his core. Rather than relying on a creative team to bring his vision to life, he is already dreaming of visuals during writing and recording. “I’ve been doing it with songs that aren’t mine,” he laughs. “I’d listen to songs on the way to school and think of the whole music video in my head. I would get to the middle of a song and think of a great idea, and I’d have to start over and make the rest shot by shot in my mind.” He’s directed music videos in the past, including worm food’s “frog.” “It’s very important to me that the visuals that go with the video give you the same feeling. There's been a few times where I've worked with other directors and it's not quite hitting in the way that I imagined. I don't know how to explain it — it’s just so specific in my mind that it’s just better to let me do it.”

As the conversation drifts to legacy, Skinner reflects on the past 10 years and realises he hasn’t actually thought too deeply into what his legacy is. At the end of last year he unveiled his This Is Home Project, an initiative that aims to empower and support LGBTQ+ youth. “Uplifting certain areas of my community was an obvious thing to do because you look in the audience at any Cavetown show and you’re just like, ‘Yeah, you guys are gay,’” he laughs. “As I've grown, it's been harder and harder for me to feel like I'm making sure everyone is safe and knows how much I care about them. The less I'm able to interact with people on a one to one basis, the more I need to support my audience and my community in general. I've had access to more resources and funds as I’ve grown so it just made sense to return that back to the people that have gotten me this far. If I'm able to help people get over little hurdles in their journey, why wouldn’t I?”

Right now, aside from his upcoming Ally Pally show, he’s focused on three things: manifesting peace, calm, and getting big muscles by bouldering, his new hobby. Outside of that, though, Skinner doesn’t really mind if he never wins a Grammy or doesn’t have a #1 album around the world. What matters is that he’s left behind something that mattered even just to one person. “If I died tomorrow, would I be happy with what I've done so far?” he asks, “I think I would say yes. I’ve done more than probably most people my age and that is just from being very lucky and finding the right people and being in the right place at the right time. I’m really pleased with how many people have heard my silly, silly little songs.”

Cavetown appears Alexandra Palace on 24 September. Find out more at

Share article

Get the Best Fit take on the week in music direct to your inbox every Friday

Read next