Track x Track: Skeleten - Under Utopia

Track x Track: Skeleten - Under Utopia

Having just released his long-awaited debut album of emotive electronic alt-pop, Eora/Sydney-based producer and vocalist Skeleten takes us behind the scenes of Under Utopia

Image credit: Danny Draxx

Born out of a desire to “make music that felt like hope”, Russell Fitzgibbon AKA Skeleten’s debut album Under Utopia has been a long time in the making, written before and during one of the most hopeless times, the pandemic.

Channelling a thirst for connection and to discard the introspection that marked his previous works, Skeleten’s debut album was also inspired by his fascination with the titular idea of a utopia - how that concept has shifted throughout history, and how the idea of utopia is always moving further and further away as he explains “We're more familiar with the idea of a dystopia in the modern world - that's more close to our consciousness. I think on this album I wanted to explore the importance of imaging and embodying a new world.”

The result was an 11 track record that ebbs and flows between cuts of organic, layered & lush alt-pop infused beats, spanning a range of tempos and calling to mind the likes of old school Caribou or Bonobo, with as much focus on songwriting as their is production.

To celebrate the release of Under Utopia, Skeleten was kind enough to take us through it track by track - have a listen and get to know!

Generator

Generator is a meditation made entirely from one sample, and I feel it’s a hypnotic attempt to quiet the noise outside by sitting with one sound before the album starts. Making this album was a process of exploring how to personally drop out of my everyday analytical brain and just sit freely in the moment, and I think I imagined this song as a mechanism to actually generate that space in myself.

Mirrored

Mirrored was one of the first songs I made where I started to get a sense that I was making music that felt truly like me. I was making music as a way to sit with myself and connect with the world around me through pure experience and acceptance. It feels like maybe the only way to really see yourself truthfully, as reflected back in the people and things around you, and this song is celebration of that surrender.

This was always the song I wanted to release first and it felt like it also had to begin the album, as a laying out of where these message are coming from. It also formed a real basis for the sounds on the album. I used 2 old synths, bass guitar and some drum machine samples, and that just felt like such a natural minimal palette for me that I didn’t feel needed anything else to make me feel something special. I recorded the vocals with my friend Alister Wright and it was the first time I’d heard my voice sound honest and at home.

Walking On Your Name

Walking On Your Name definitely feels to me like an ‘after the party’ kinda song. Reveling in the haze of a beautiful experience. It’s still focussed on transcending the every day but trying to reflect the feeling of accessing that headspace with other people through shared spaces and connection. You know when you’re somewhere with a person or people and your whole focus, your whole world, seems to exist only in them and that place? I love that feeling and I think this is a love letter to the power of those experiences.

Heart Full Of Tenderness

I never really know what songs are trying to express while I’m writing. For a while I thought this was a straight up love song, but it became a celebration of love through a breakup. I think it’s an attempt to see all the flaws and sadness in a relationship and treat it all with love and let that give you hope for the world. Like thanking the comedown for the come up.

It’s a really imperfect song, the first synth part was out of tune and so everything sits somewhere between keys. I tried to get the bass in tune for ages but in the end I gave up and accepted it and tbh that feels like a nice reflection of the whole idea.

Territory Day

The original idea of this song came years ago, right at the start of the project, before I even knew what I was doing with it all. It was Territory Day, a holiday in the Northern Territory where everyone lets off fireworks for one night and I was thinking about people all the way up there. When there’s that much space I think the want to absolutely smother yourself in the feeling is kinda heightened.

In a way this song bookends the whole album. It was one of the first songs I started and one of the last songs I finished with a gap of years and a pandemic in the middle. I came back to it near the end of the process and heard it in a completely new way. I felt the expression of deep longing and thought about it traveling through time and space, and thought about the power of all the desire and struggles crossing the globe like radio waves. I wanted to shout out to everyone trying at anything.

No Drones In The Afterlife

As the project progressed I started to understand more and more that I wanted to make music with a voice that reaches outwards. The more I wrote the more explicit I wanted to be in calling to people. This song was definitely a result of that impulse, wanting to just be like ‘hey everything looks pretty fucked out there, but life is still in front of us every second.’ I was thinking a lot about how insane it is that we still have bible bashing leaders disempowering people’s existence, and felt this desperate urge to experience every moment visceral and true.

Under Utopia

I think making this album really crystallised a lot of feelings about my relationship to the world around me that I couldn’t really express at the beginning. After sitting with everything else, I wanted to forget about production and just record something as bare and honest as possible. I feel very at peace playing bass, so that’s what I decided to run with.

I was imagining waking into the world from eternal nothingness and floating over humanity, seeing everything with universal wonder and love, breathing in all the beauty and sadness of life for the first time. I saw people everywhere carrying compassion and felt like wanting a better world was this powerful shared consciousness that was growing out of the earth.

Colour Room

This is one of my favourite songs on the album. It was another, along with Mirrored, that was part of the first group of songs I recorded vocals on, in my garage studio that I had at the time. It’s really the most pure example of the headspace I was sinking into in those early sessions, just one synth and a tape echo. It really felt like the first time I ever found myself getting properly lost in a sound and was a big part of discovering how to let words and music come without judgement or analysis. I think that’s why the lyrics in the chorus are so simple, ‘talking bout love, save the world’ I was only comfortable creeping in just around the edges of conscious meaning. Trying to prescribe anything with too fine a point would break apart this softly shaped meaning that it might have as a whole.

Right Here It’s Only Love

This song is a bit of an anomaly in the way that it kinda feels like a bit of conscious self-talk. I think it’s me reining myself in from those expansive thoughts about the world’s problems and the haze of internal struggles to recognise the luckiness in myself and the present moment. In particular with this one I was thinking about these beautiful days away with my closest friends where we would just take acid, roll around, talk, eat, and listen to music and just purely soak in deep safety, comfort and recognition. It’s a pretty simple reminder to just come back to those moments every once in a while. Kinda cheesy fact, the main chords are exactly the same for the entire song but one bass note flips it between this moody melancholic feeling in the verses and the uplifted response back in the chorus that ‘Right here it’s only love’. Like the smallest change of perspective. Need at least one simple one on the album I think.

Sharing The Fire

Seems I was listening to quite a bit of 90s rnb when I made this. The drums and bass just needed one note forever so that’s what I did. But the verses felt more staunch than I usually want to sound, and I think again it made me want the song to reach out beyond myself and call to the world, not just be a dude exploring his own power. I was thinking about friends who are working every day in the most hectic fields caring, providing aid, pushing policy, living by their values trying to lift people up with them, and wanted to shout out that compassionate drive and see it in its spirit of sharing and community. At the same time I visited a homeland on Yolgnu country, and the experience literally sharing the fire stayed with me as this simple, beautiful practice that just seemed like the whole point of what we’re all trying to do.

Everything We Need In The World

This song started after a beautiful day at the beach. We came back home and while some friends showered and started on dinner my friend Lex and I went into the garage to have a play around. Lex played guitar and it was only about 45 minutes but I immediately was singing this line that I knew would not change.

The vibe is not that life is good, the vibe is just attempting trust and acceptance. Once again maybe getting cheesy but I’ll try to free myself from cringe here; there’s a Rilke quote which always sticks with me ‘you must not be frightened if a sadness rises up before you larger than any you have ever seen… You must think that something is happening with you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand.’ I’m not saying we’re going to get everything we want, more like everything that happens can make us more ourselves.

I’m lucky, heaps of us are so lucky, everything we need in life is there for us to find in one way or another. I think at the end, which was the very last thing I did on the entire album, I was letting myself picture the world where everyone got the chance to live their truth and just sing this one with hope.

          - Russell Fitzgibbon AKA Skeleten, July 2023

skeleten under utopia album cover

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