Sqip Approaches Music the Same Way He Approaches Graphic Design

Sqip’s professional reputation is that of someone who glides between platforms seamlessly.

Sqip (Magnus Holmes)

Recommended by: Casey Jarman, Mississippi Studios marketing manager, journalist and former Willamette Week music editor.

[Battery] is just absolutely brilliant. Probably the local discovery that I’ve listened to the most in the last year.”

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Cole Mitchell Johnson speaks about his debut album Battery like a designer. He’s all process, all pasta on the wall.

“Part of what’s held me back, in the past, is overthinking,” Mitchell explains. “Battery is a ‘first thought is the best thought’ sort of thing.”

Even the moniker of Sqip (pronounced “skip”) came to him as a simple revelation that the tracks on the record “skip from one to the next.”

A graphic designer at North Portland’s Fisk studio, Johnson’s professional reputation is that of someone who glides between platforms seamlessly. Though he played music in Chicago before moving to Portland in 2019, it’s not hard to consider Sqip yet another cross-medium flex.

Mitchell self-released Battery on June 5, 2020, at a time when quarantine was settling in and unrest was boiling over in the streets. While he says the album is not an explicit response to the murder of George Floyd, he was thinking about the pain he and other Black people endure—Johnson is Black and Indian—and “how I personally could survive.”

The album’s overall feeling is positive and romantic, but there’s also a complex energy that comes through in Johnson’s specific brand of ambient tension.

“I like playing soft music really loudly,” he says. “Ambient music with loud drums or loud bass.”

The result is a little like if Frank Ocean spent more time with his synths. On songs like “Boot” and “Voice,” Johnson actually allows the tracks to end midvocals, creating moments of curiosity on what would otherwise be an album to play in the background of a pleasant afternoon or a romantic interlude.

He says he found the abruptness exciting. However, the abrupt cut-offs also seem to point toward some of the album’s more standout songs, like “Changes,” a simple, sweet, somewhat sad ballad about the transmutative qualities of a relationship.

It feels way too intentional to be a mere happy accident. In all its atmosphere and emotions there’s something about Battery that feels very well designed.

“Sometimes I go in knowing what I want to make conceptually,” Johnson says. “[With Battery,] I wanted to ask, ‘What kind of music comes out of a person naturally?’”

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