Christopher Claiborne Salveter adopted the ancestral songwriting moniker Judson Claiborne in his mid-twenties following the breakup of his band, Low Skies, in 2007. He was born in 1980 and raised in a four-generation matriarchy in the river town-turned suburb of Saint Charles, Missouri. Salveter’s father met his mother in the mid 1970s at The Barn, an unofficial rural music venue where he was playing trombone in a band called The Clique.
The enchanting and androgynous voices of Elvis Presley and Roy Orbison captivated him as a child, as did other melancholic sounds of oldies radio, like Santo & Johnny’s “Sleepwalk” and Ricky Nelson’s “Lonesome Town.” Salveter’s oldest sister was an early member of the R.E.M. fan club and would receive phone calls and handmade ephemera around the time of a new album or upcoming St. Louis concert. This was his first exposure to alternative rock bands and DIY promotion. Foundational experiences like this, and exposure to the art-focused music culture of the early 90s, laid the groundwork for Salveter’s artistic ethos and desire to write songs and play in bands for the next 25 years. The cinematic and macabre songs of the Pixies, the dirty realism of Raymond Carver novels, and the edgy surrealist films of David Lynch were all influences on Salveter’s early songwriting.
After focusing on the creation of visual art and playing bass in several bands throughout his teens, Salveter moved to Chicago in 2000. The city’s independent music scene and already-transplanted artist friends from Missouri had beckoned him north. Not long after arriving, Salveter, with a batch of his own songs, founded the band Low Skies with drummer Jason Creps. The group self-released their first EP the summer of 2001, followed by 3 records with Flameshovel Records (Russian Circles, Mannequin Men) over the next several years. Low Skies traveled the United States exhaustively, notably as tour support for Neko Case, Explosions in the Sky, Band of Horses, and The Handsome Family. All the Love I Could Find (2006), the band’s final record, received an 8.1 on Pitchfork. Not long after the album’s release, Low Skies dissolved, partly because of Salveter’s desire to pursue different modes of song making and collaborations with other artists.
The first Judson Claiborne songs were written during a three-month bicycle trip through Southeast Asia and while camped out at a holistic retreat center in upstate New York. Reflections of Salveter’s personal life and history were at the forefront of the song’s lyrics, which marked a shift from the apocalyptic murder ballads and desert dirges of Low Skies. Salveter’s storytelling has evolved, addressing social and political issues within tales of crime, love, morality, and transformation. A tree house-dwelling bank robber, a seeing-eye pony, a self-immolating anti-war activist, an ecstatic cat, a disappeared marijuana trimmer, and an alleged time traveler are a handful of characters you’ll encounter in Judson Claiborne songs.
Judson Claiborne arrangements tend to focus on human voices singing in harmony, accompanied by mostly acoustic instruments. Bassist/producer Ryan Boyles, drummer/producer Jamie Carter, and percussionist Jamie Topper have been staples of the Judson Claiborne band throughout the four releases, but past guest musicians include Marketa Irglova (The Swell Season), Hamadal Issoufou Moumine (Tal National), Bill MacKay (Drag City Records), Angela James, Sam Wagster (Mute Duo, Roommate), Donny Mahlmeister, Darrell Greiwe, and Jacob Ross (Low Skies, Crumpler).
In 2014, Salveter co-founded a performance art and music ensemble with composer/guitarist Jefferey Thomas called The Fruit Stare. The group produces the experimental episodic Fruit Stare Pod Opera and stage show Dr. Atop’s Journey to the Polygon of Suffering that has been performed at rock clubs, black box theaters, and notably, The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. The project originates from “The Agreement,” Salveter’s work of speculative fiction about race and the American music industry.
Chicago is still home for Salveter and his wife. He deejays under the name DJ Lil’ Boy w/ a Beard and is heavily engaged with gardening and fermenting foods.
banjo, guitar, keys, singing - Josh Lantzy
percussion, singing - Jamie Topper
singing, lyrics, guitar - Christopher Salveter
What Judson Claiborne does with negative space is a marvelous achievement. Allowing the songs to promenade at their own intended speed lends the record a discreet maturity. - Michael Curti
When humanity’s ship goes down due to a global pandemic, vulture capitalism, and corrupt politics, the band picking and singing the final notes will be Chicago’s Judson Claiborne - Mark Guarino
This song (Conditionals) is the most real musical movement of 2020, no boundaries, no eggshells being walked on- just straight up real emotion effortlessly delivered with the warm vibrant, and enchanting rhythmic instrumentation. - Circuit Sweet