words by tom johnson
photograph by lucie murphy
If you’re wondering how Sam Skinner found the time to record his debut solo album while touring relentlessly across the world as a member of Pinegrove, the short answer is that he didn’t. “This album was already fully mastered by the time I started touring extensively with Pinegrove this past summer,” Skinner confirms. “It’s collection of recordings that I made during my time at college, at SUNY Purchase, while completing my degree in Studio Composition.”
Released on January 13th, ‘Danny Through Junior‘ is a beautiful collection of Country-leaning alt-rock, Skinner presenting a melodious viewing of the past, be it through the weary eyes of nostalgic gazing or simple self-examination of events that have been and gone. “They were mostly written in a practice room,” he says of the seven tracks that form his debut. “I found it to be a very effective environment for songwriting. It allowed me to focus on a song for a long period of time without distractions. I would bring to the practice room my guitar, a small amp, a notebook, and a novel to turn to if I needed lyrical inspiration.”
Introduced at the start of the month with the somewhat ambiguous “Learn”, the record takes another stride forward today as we unveil the second track from it; the beautiful “Chestnuts” which features both Pinegrove frontman Evan Stephens Hall and Natasha Jacobs of Thelma on additional vocal duties. Skinner’s own voice is one of soft poignancy, a quiet lull amid the more robust instrumentation that flourishes far off in the distance, only occasionally coming in to focus as the voice is allowed to drift off in to the ether.
More obviously informed by a sense of nostalgia, “Chestnuts” reflects the curiosity conjured up by the artwork found on the record’s cover, which vividly displays a warped glimpse in to yesteryear. “A lot of the lyrics that I write are retrospectives of an event or feeling that I have experienced,” Skinner says. “A past event has already written itself, and it becomes my task to fit it into the form of a song. This process can also help me understand and digest the experience that I’m writing about.”
That being said, Chestnuts, despite the seasonal reference of its title, doesn’t make for the most light-hearted of journeys. “I am a dog and you’re unwell, you’ll take the hit for the misanthropic drunk that I can be,” Skinner sings on the track, the metaphor so transparent it barely needs to be stated. “This track is a great example of a retrospective song,” he says. “It recalls a turning point in a relationship that I had with someone when I was 17 years old. I’d rather not tell that story, though. That’s what the song is for, anyway.”
Poetically, empathetically, Sam Skinner has crafted something endearing and affecting on “Danny Through Junior”. The songs sway like seasoned trees; branches that are weathered, buckled in places, but keep on keeping on regardless. His plaintive vocal, and plaintive approach to songwriting, somewhat masks the complexity of his words and the entangled strands of lives and relationships that find themselves thrown together within the confines of the record. Proof that a quiet voice can still travel a long way; the record is released next month, via Soft Speak.
Pre-order ‘Danny Through Junior’ here, via Soft Speak