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Matt Skinner modifying musical behavior

BY CAROLINE BERG | APRIL 23, 2009 7:29 AM

Matt Skinner learned well in kindergarten; he’s all about sharing. Any chance he can show and tell, he takes the stage to strum on his acoustic guitar and engage his audience in his imaginative stories.

After a streak of bands, he is now a devoted solo act. Equipped with a solid collection of country/blues tunes, the singing songwriter will appear for a free show at Quinton’s Bar & Deli today at 10 p.m.

After transferring to the UI from a community college in Des Moines, Skinner fostered his creative writing skills as an English student by day, while spending his nights playing at bars. In 2002, after a particularly exhilarating Yacht Club jam session, Skinner kindled a musical relationship with Emmett Sheehan, which ultimately led to the creation of the Jensen Connection.

The quintet quickly gained local popularity when it formed a happy family of rock, blues, and funk. In 2005, the band organized its loaded portfolio of original material into an album, Distracted. Soon thereafter, true distraction hit the band and sent the members in separate directions.

Alone and on the musical rebound, another local band, the Gglitch, picked up Skinner to back up the rock ensemble with his guitar. These days, however, he spends most of his time creating music while occasionally joining the Gglitch with his harmonica.

Skinner praises such musical acts as Bela Fleck, whom he considers one of the world’s unrivaled banjo players. He also relishes the soulful richness of “old, old blues music of the ’30s and ’40s.” In general, however, he admits to being a bit “musically ignorant.” He prefers to spend time developing his own sound and enjoys combining country with blues.

“I’ve always thought that music like country or gospel tells people how to be good or how they are supposed to treat other people,” Skinner said. “I find with blues music, it’s the opposite. Blues tells you what not to do. It focuses on the flaws in humans.”

In the synthesis of country and blues, he has discovered more freedom for narrative experimentation.

“In my music, bad things can happen to good people, and good things can happen to bad people,” he said. “But, in reality, it’s mostly the other way around.”

Skinner refrains from autobiographical ballads, preferring to use his familiarity with fiction for lyrical storytelling.

One of his most recent songs takes his audience out to sea with an old deaf naval officer. He was inspired by the Greek mythological figures the Sirens. The sea nymphs sang sweet songs to lure sailors onto the rocks around their island, where they meet their doom. In Skinner’s rendition, the aging naval officer has managed to ward off the Sirens’ allure druing 30 to 40 years at sea. However, in increasingly bleak circumstances, the weakened man eventually succumbs to his fate.

“I’m obsessed with death,” Skinner said.

His musical career would indicate otherwise. Rather than riding the professional road in a funeral hearse, he voices high hopes about his future in music and promises to release an album of his own soon.


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