Old Hundred songwriter's new tunes originated on a vegetable farm in Kentucky and inside an apartment in China
Blake Skidmore's life looks entirely different than it did a few years ago. For one, he no longer lives in Columbus. He and his wife headed south to Kentucky, settling on an organic vegetable farm about 25 minutes outside of Louisville.
Skidmore's relatives own and operate the farm. During the growing season he works there full time, and during the off season he uses his master's degree in social work from Ohio State to do counseling work for the University of Louisville.
The pace of this new life is slow and, in many ways, idyllic. “We spend a lot of evenings listening to records and drinking a beer. We've gotten in the habit of sitting in the living room and listening to yesterday's episode of ‘Jeopardy,'” said Skidmore by phone from his car recently, laughing as he made his way north to Columbus. “My wife has gotten into all sorts of cooking projects. She makes sourdough bread and makes her own kimchi. We keep chickens, and we have turkeys we're raising for Thanksgiving. We have so much space in our life.”
But the change has also been jarring. “Not only am I living in the country, but I moved from the town that I lived in for my entire life,” Skidmore said. “Being a stranger for the first time ever in my life — there are moments when it's pretty heavy.”
The experience has given Skidmore, one of the principal songwriters in the beloved and sorta-kinda-on-hiatus Columbus folk-rock band Old Hundred, more time to write. A recent batch of songs, though, came from an experience far more foreign than Kentucky.
Skidmore accompanied his wife to China while she taught English for a semester, and during his downtime in the tiny apartment, Skidmore wrote and recorded song demos on his iPhone. After returning to the States, he realized five of the songs, plus a cover of Tom Petty's “Runnin' Down a Dream,” would go together nicely on an EP.
“What stands out to me is that these [songs] seem very relaxed,” Skidmore said. “They felt dreamy. They didn't have hard edges; they had round edges. … There's always a little bit of sorrow in my songs. It's like a sad, warm, dream.”
To bring the songs to life, Skidmore enlisted the help of Columbus friends and musicians, including Jon Helm, Nate Gelinas and Hal Hixson from Old Hundred, plus Jesse Remnant on bass and Sharon Udoh (Counterfeit Madison) on keys. The same lineup will play with Skidmore at Kafe Kerouac on Friday, Nov. 10.
The band rehearsed the songs for two days, and then spent two days recording in Helm's basement.
“Almost everything on the record is live,” Skidmore said. “I know there is something to be gained from working a piece of material over and over again, but I also love those records where you can tell they just played it and it felt right, and that's what they recorded.”
Skidmore plans to release the EP, tentatively titled Running Dream, early next year, and he hopes to record about 10 more already-written songs with the same lineup for a future release.
“It had been eight or nine years since I'd written not knowing it would be an Old Hundred song,” Skidmore said. “[In Old Hundred], we would take songs and push them in a certain direction to make it a better fit for the full band. There were times when that made a song feel amazing and it became better, and there were other times when I'd go back and listen to the original demo and think, ‘I like what Old Hundred did with this, but maybe I lost something in the process.'
“This whole endeavor I wanted to write exactly what was supposed to come out. I just wanted to write what felt right.”