Record Review: Sketch Pilot’s Handshakes with Dinosaurs

Providence band traverses a variety of styles while defying structure

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Elise Jeanmarie and Steve LeGrow have been writing music together for more than 20 years. “We have written songs in my parents’ basement, dorm rooms, and now my sunroom,” Jeanmarie says with a smile. “We’ve played high school talent shows, grungy basement/VFW shows, and even theaters. We’ve traveled from our hometowns to California. We both have real jobs and explore other creative outlets, but I feel really grateful that we’ve kept this going.”

Under the moniker Sketch Pilot, the Providence-based duo recently released a batch of recordings packaged as Handshakes with Dinosaurs – a body of work that conveys the long musical friendship they share through musing lyrics and fluid, sonic styles. Working with Randy Hunicke, “Chief Sound Guru and Engineer” at Newcastle Sound in Bristol, the music gravitates between full-band songs, acoustic duets, and piano ballads, with each song remaining unique and pleasantly structure free.

There’s simplicity and space on Handshakes with Dinosaurs that helps each song to land and stand on its own two feet. The album moves quickly, yet each song has a chance to be noticed. Some of the songs like “Vanishment’’ and “It’s a Good Life” have full bands and choruses, while the under-two-minute combo of “Bike Ride” and “Overgrown” are more like lyrical meditations that rest on austere instrumentation. Despite the diverse styles present on the record, what remains a constant is the attention to detail and intention in the lyrics.

“I think we used to fall in the trap of your regular intro, verse, chorus, bridge type of thing,” says Jeanmarie. “For this album, we really wanted to showcase the ideas without exhausting them.” LeGrow adds, “I think songs with big, catchy choruses are always fun listening experiences, and serve as an earworm to keep people coming back, as long as it doesn’t get done to death... Sometimes you’ll hear a song with so many choruses that you never want to hear it again. We try to not overdo it. As far as the chorus-less songs, I think those can still be catchy after repeat listens and can keep people coming back.”

Handshakes with Dinosaurs captures an eclectic array of styles under the folk/indie umbrella. “Steve and I have really different musical tastes but there are a few bands that fall in the middle of our Venn diagram,” says Jeanmarie, noting bands like Piebald, The Shins, Sufjan Stevens, and The Dodos. “A lot of the guitar work is pulled from influences… or maybe just the routines we’ve had for so many years of writing together.”

“I’ve never really been drawn to lyrics where the singer just tells you exactly what they’re trying to say. It kind of goes along with that whole killing the chorus thing,” says LeGrow. “It’s like, okay, we get it, you feel this way. It’s those songs where there is no way to interpret in a different way other than literally exactly what they’re telling you. I’ve always enjoyed wordplay and lyrics that are a little ambiguous. What I write means something to me, but I want people to hear the song for a second or third time and sort of come to their own conclusion as to what the lyrics mean – and make their own narrative.”

Handshakes with Dinosaurs is available on Spotify; follow @SketchPilotBand on Instagram for updates.

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