It’s Easter Sunday at the The Escondite in downtown L.A. Skin & Bones is onstage playing to a crowd of no one. There isn’t a customer to be seen, but the duo plays anyway — and they play well. Little do they realize that someone is watching. The managers have been observing them and they like what they see. When the show is over they receive not only compliments, but multiple nights on the performance calendar. “We’re going to book you whenever we can,” they say. “Your lives are about to change.”
The promise couldn’t have been more true.
The seeds were planted early in the young lives of Taylor Borsuk and Peter Blackwelder. Borsuk, who is only 20 and has already been performing for four years, is the vocalist, guitarist and suitcase drummer for Skin & Bones. He is largely self-taught, but has been nourished by the guidance and support of his father, Mark, who is also a musician. Inspired by artists ranging from Robert Johnson, Jackson Browne and Pokey LaFarge all the way to Hunter S. Thompson, Taylor has melded these elements together to grow into an artist dedicated to songwriting and storytelling.
Blackwelder, at 24 years old, comes to Ventura County by way of North Carolina. He plays violin for Skin & Bones, an instrument he gravitated toward early on. He’s currently enrolled in the Music Industry Studies program at CSUN and studies under accomplished classical violinist Michael Ferril, who teaches at the university. Blackwelder found his inspiration in artists like Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, but it was Dave Matthews Band violinist Boyd Tinsley that made him want to play. The inspiration from these artists has become the backbone of Skin & Bones’ work ethic.
Borsuk and Blackwelder recall their first jam session, set up by Blackwelder’s brother. “It wasn’t an awkward session or anything,” Borsuk says. “We started playing and we knew we had something.” They threw themselves into the fire willingly, performing constantly to hone their craft rather than holing up in a practice space, the opposite of what many groups tend to do. It’s nothing to spend eight hours a day, multiple times a week at Venice Beach, busking for whoever will listen. They’ve even played outside of Willie Nelson and Gary Clark Jr. shows. Playing to 60 people in a bar at 1 a.m. on a Tuesday is not a problem. Playing to an audience of zero on a holiday is not a problem. A problem is not working as hard as you can at all times. Being locked in a studio spending years on a record is a problem. “Being stuck in the practice room can be deadly,” says Borsuk. “We’ve grown as artists by performing constantly. Peter has told me to ‘mean what I say,’ and I do now as opposed to just singing lyrics.”
In less than a year’s time they’ve put together an album and a handful of steady gigs in venues such as Scotland Yard Pub, Harvard & Stone and Ojai Deer Lodge. Redball’s Rock & Roll Pizza has chosen them to be included on a special compilation, slated to be recorded to vinyl. An SXSW invitation they declined earlier this year gave way to a spot at the American River Music Festival in September. “We’ll even do some busking there in addition to the stage show,” says Blackwelder. “Why not? We’ll keep playing and make it a party at the campgrounds.”
The seed has now broken through the soil, reaching for the light of success as they’ve begun to branch out. Their studio time is filled with established session musicians who donate knowledge and skill because they believe in the product, although no one believes in Skin & Bones more than Borsuk and Blackwelder. Blackwelder mentions, “Life is about love and kindness. We live that and we try to spread it. Be positive, live your dreams and follow your passions.” The fruits of their labor have begun to ripen all around them with a taste of country, hints of bluegrass and a mild aroma of folk. This tree stands strong because the roots run deep, and that makes it all even sweeter.
To learn more about Skin & Bones and download their music, visit www.skinandbones.org.