Hello! This is The Carl King Podcast, and I am Carl King talking.
First announcement: For those who don’t know, I recently started a Patreon account to help fund my creative projects, like this podcast. I’m posting music instructional videos, music stems, demo mixes, transcriptions, and behind the scenes crap for whatever I happen to be working on. So if you wanna fund this stuff, head over to patreon.com/carlking
Most of the music stuff I do makes zero profit, and I actually lose money. So I’m hoping Patreon will help solve that.
Second announcement: My new album, Grand Architects of the Universe has been released. Guests include Dweezil Zappa, Mike Keneally, Virgil Donati, Marco Minnemann, Thomas Lang, Morgan Agren, and today’s podcast guest, drummer Travis Orbin.
I first found out about Travis Orbin because I Googled myself and he had a quote from Sir Millard Mulch on his website. I watched some of his videos on YouTube and I was super impressed. I especially enjoyed his cover of Pig, from Steve Vai’s Sex & Religion album.
Anyway, Travis played the majority of the drum tracks on my Grand Architects of the Universe album, so go listen to that. You can find it on Shop.CarlKingdom.com.
So here we go. Interview with Travis Orbin.
I’m here in my car with Travis Orbin.
Travis Orbin: Greetings and salutations.
C: He’s drinking coffee. I’m not.
T: That’s tasty.
C: I just heard your soundcheck. I watched your soundcheck and I feel that it was the loudest thing I’ve ever heard in my life.
T: I take great elation in that fact.
C: It was painful all over my body and I could not escape. I thought maybe these bass frequencies, maybe they’re sort of collecting in certain places in the room, so I would move around the room to try to escape them and it was just hurting me. I actually … I forgot what I was going to say. What were you saying?
T: I was going to say that once people pack in the venue, then they tend to deaden up a lot of that stuff and it gets a little more compact and not quite as screeching.
C: Yeah, they absorb some of the pain. The band is called Darkest Hour that you’re drumming in.
T: Yes, I’ve been in the band since, I believe, May of 2013, we made it public and this is my second record, just released today, on which I played.
C: I think coincidentally the new record is being released today.
C: It’s got kind of a cool sci-fi/fantasy paperback book cover from the ’70s look, does it? Or is that just the backdrop of the …
T: That’s the art.
C: That is the album art, okay.
T: There’s a second complimentary piece to it that I think fulfills the back of the CD and whatever else, what other components there are in the vinyl. I think it’s called a gatefold. I don’t know anything about vinyl, but there’s another piece that compliments that main one that you saw.
C: I know you’re not an expert on this but you were mentioning that the lyrics partially … They tell the story, I think, of these plant people rebelling to try to destroy the human race or something?
T: They basically succeed.
C: They do succeed.
T: There’s an apocalypse and they don’t wipe us all out entirely but there are survivors and I believe the story, the lyrics, switch vantage points throughout the album, from survivors to, I guess, the plant people? I don’t know. I’m not entirely sure. John Henry would know, but that’s the basic gist of it. Very sci-fi oriented. He had some fun with it.
C: Coincidence maybe, but I don’t know how familiar you are with Sleepy Time Gorilla Museum.
T: I’ve only heard of them. I listened to a few songs way back when I first heard of them and it was pretty delightfully weird stuff, so if I checked it out again, I’d probably be into it. I need to do that.
C: Their second record seemed to have a same theme of the animals and plants rebelling against humanity.
T: Oh cool.
C: Something like that.
C: They had a song called “Bring Back The Apocalypse.”
T: Bring it back.
C: Bring it back. Travis, you are a very disciplined young man, it seems. Self-disciplined. I don’t know if someone else is disciplining you, but …
C: Other drummers that come to mind might be Virgil Donati. I remember him making a statement about how it’s almost like everything in his life is aligned to contribute to the ultimate performance, and that’s the vibe I get from you. I don’t know how true that is. Could you talk a little bit about your self-discipline and what that means to you?
T: In the context of touring, which would be most appropriate, as I’m on tour, I very much subscribe to that notion, that sentiment. I very rarely drink on the road and I exercise. I bring my weights on the road, so, work out before we play. Obviously warm up, but yeah, everything I do … I try not to eat too poorly. It all kind of amounts to a better performance, I would like to believe, and it’s all geared towards making that happen.
C: Me, coming from a … Or I, coming from a totally different lifestyle than the touring musician lifestyle, my typical day is waking up and working in my home office, like every day, at home, which you have a similar thing part of the year, obviously, but how do you maintain a level of intensity every day while you’re on tour when I get the vibe that there’s so much downtime. Like, we were walking to the ally to get over to my car and a lot of the musicians were just kind of standing around in the ally against the wall, and I see that with every touring band. There’s always this awkward, like, “Well, we’re between soundcheck and this, or we’re just kind of waiting,” because there’s so many moving pieces. How do you maintain a level of intensity in such an environment? Do you fill that time with being productive by lifting weights and all these types of things?
T: Yeah, there is a certain amount of downtime on the road, but it’s kind of deceiving. If you just sit around, it can pass by pretty quickly, and I fill it up with exercise or if I have sessions booked, I’ll sit on my netbook and work on some parts for a bit, or my own personal solo music. I’ll maybe work on that, but I fill it up with productive things. I don’t just sit down and play video games. That’s a couple methods of maintaining a certain eye of the tiger, I guess, and not just phasing out.
C: You said something about a netbook. What is a netbook?
T: It’s just like a miniature laptop. It doesn’t have a lot of processing power, but I have a Dell netbook and I do a lot of Guitar Pro demoing on that.
C: Okay, so that’s what I was going to ask, is you actually use this Guitar Pro thing, which I want to ask you about, a few questions into this. Not quite yet. We’re not ready to bring that on. Why do you think that you are the type of person that ends up filling that strange downtime with productivity?
T: It’s tough to say. I think it’s so ingrained in my personality now that it would feel strange to do otherwise. As you know, one of my heroes growing up was Henry Rollins and he’s always been a proponent of proactive, productivity, doing things with your time, no such thing as downtime, so …
C: Is that a quote from him?
T: That’s a song lyric.
C: Oh it is?
T: From a Rollins Band song, yeah.
C: What album? Wait or something?
T: It is off Wait. I think it’s the last song. Shine maybe?
C: I’ll just add in that I had a different Henry Rollins experience as I was really into The End of Silence, which I think you said, “I haven’t really gotten into that one that much.”
T: I got that album. I think I listened to it once or maybe halfway through. I dug it. It just wasn’t quite hitting me the way that Wait does, but I’ll give it another shot.
C: It’s funny because I had the same experience with Wait, so I really got into that Rollins record, The End of Silence. It was a huge impact on me, musically, listening to the rhythm section, the players in it. The drummer was such a melodic drummer. Each drum beat in the song was sort of a melodic statement that had a hook.
T: I feel the same way about Wait. It’s the same drummer, right? Sim Cain?
C: Yeah, Sim Cain.
T: Yeah. Great player.
C: It’s kind of funny because I obviously, as a young male, growing up, finding Henry Rollins as sort of a father figure, because I didn’t have a strong male in my life, discovering him and hearing his lyrics and all that, it’s funny that I got way more into his band than I did into him at some point. I just started really enjoying the musicians.
T: Yeah. I would consume the music alongside the talking show stuff, as he puts it, so I digested a lot of his viewpoint and it definitely rubbed off on me, but prior to that, I took Tae Kwan Do from ages 9 to 13 and that was the first thing that I found that I really felt impassioned about and it just so happens to firmly engrain the virtue of discipline. If you don’t practice your kata, your kicks, your take-downs, you’re not going to advance to the next level and you’ll get eaten up by the other kids in the class, so I would practice my ass off and ended up getting my black belt at the age of 13 and I’d probably still be doing it to this day but I got nasty Osgood-Schlatter in my right … Well, in both knees, but especially on the right. I had to have surgery.
C: What the hell was it? Ashkashlada?
C: What is that?
T: It’s like a deformity in the growth plate. They had to cut me open, take out inflammation tissue and chisel down the bone and that was a fun spring break, so after that healed up, I couldn’t really go to class anymore, and it was a coincidence that I had to begin to really get into drums at that point. I had a kit … I had just gotten a kit, actually, that year that I had to stop, I believe.
C: This is totally a genetic thing that you just ended up with in your knees.
T: I don’t know if it’s genetic. I think it’s all the years of the bone contracting against the knee from kicking so much, because Tae Kwon Do is …
C: Maybe overdid it with the kicking.
C: You think?
T: Well yeah, I was a little hard ass.
T: I would not … I was like the unstoppable force in my class. If you could get a point on me, people would freak out.
T: It was just … Like I said, it was something that I found that I was very impassioned about, and when I find something like that, there’s something inside of me that wants to take it to absurd heights, so after Tae Kwon Do, it was drumming.
C: Does that run in your family at all?
T: I guess you could say my mom’s like that, because she’s been so obsessed with dogs all her life and she’s a professional dog groomer and she’s had her own business. She’s been self-employed for decades and she’s been grooming dogs for, I don’t know, 40 years? Maybe even longer, and she still stays abreast of all the new products and trends and things like that. I think it’s very much of interest to her.
C: Sort of being an over-achiever is …
C: … Kind of a thing.
T: Yeah, yeah. You could say that.
C: Let’s talk about living in the middle of nowhere.
C: What do you have to say about that? You live … I mean, I almost traveled out there to be there when you recorded drums on my new record and then I realized that the journey would be such a challenge for me just because of my lack of enjoyment of getting on planes and the strange hours that it would take. There was even one route that suggested I take a train in the middle of it, and I was like, “Alright, I don’t know that I can do this,” but, okay, you live way out there somewhere and I looked on a map and I’m like, “Holy crap.” I’m from Florida, a small town. A very small town. Maybe we had a similar experience. Did you always live in a small town like that or …
T: Yep, yep. Same time I grew up in, I still reside in. I hated it growing up. In my teens there’s absolutely nothing to do.
C: Did you want to get out or have any dreams of when you were in your teens?
T: Yeah, I almost did. Shortly after graduating high school, I met someone in a chat room, or no, on a forum. It was this girl. It was nothing romantic. She had a boyfriend and it was just kind of understood that if you want to make it in music, you’ve got to move to California and she just so happened to live there. How fortuitous. We got to talking and I almost flew out there to visit and check it all out but she ended up being a flake. After that, I started getting into my first bands and then just started playing a lot and playing out a lot. Now I savor it. I like the isolation. I like being away from people and drums happen to be a very loud instrument and so it’s nice to not be surrounded by people and have to pay for my own practice space. I have my own space and I can play any time I want. It’s tough to argue with that.
C: You mentioned your high school years. I’m curious what your high school experience was like. What were you like in high school? Can you give me a picture of what that was like?
T: Kind of a nerd. Not very well liked. Not [inaudible 00:16:34] but didn’t have too many friends. Had this one guy that I would play drums a lot with. Blair. Still talk to him on occasion. One of the very, very few people from high school who I still communicate with. We would nerd out on the drums. I would pretty much just grit my teeth and get through it.
C: Grit your teeth and get through high school?
T: High school, yeah.
C: Did you go on to any music education? College? Anything like that?
T: Nope, I took private lessons for several years from a man named Honey Voshel. He has this shop in his teaching studio. It’s about an hour north of where I live, and that was really my only formal education. I’ve taken some other private lessons from other people but they were just one-off kind of things. With Honey, it was several years of tutelage.
C: One last question about high school. I want to ask about that again because I felt like I skipped over it a little bit and I want to follow up a little bit, dig a little deeper. How would you describe your emotional state in high school? What was the most common emotion you felt, do you think?
T: Just kind of wanting to be accepted but not getting that acceptance. I was figuring myself out as well, like which stereotype do I want to be, and nothing was working for me, but at the same time I was this big drum geek. As soon as school was over, I’d dive into the practice space and play for as long as I could. I just had this thing that no one else could connect to. I didn’t feel like that put me on a plateau or anything. It just made me feel a little more disconnected because no one else could relate.
C: Did you have musician friends that you could go and see a band and share the experience with or did you tend to go by yourself?
T: I didn’t go to too many shows in high school because you can’t drive and everything’s so far away, since it’s a small town, but I definitely started … I became an avid concertgoer as soon as I got out of high school.
C: How about your non-touring work schedule? Can you tell me about a typical day for you? You’ve built a very, what seems to me, a great, successful career working from your home studio doing lots of tracking for anyone that’s in need of Travis Orbin drum tracks.
C: Can you tell me about your actual day or night? You wake up … When do you wake up and what do you do?
T: Jeez, my sleeping schedule is another podcast in its own. It’s very erratic. If I’m super busy, which was the case leading up to this tour, I pretty much just work around the clock. I’ll work for 16 hours. That’s the whole day though. That’s working and working out and eating and all the boring minutiae, and then I’ll sleep until I have to wake up. Maybe I have to do my side job, or I can sleep until my body awakes, but then I’ll wake up and repeat the process and, like I said, work around the clock. Generally I get up and I will tackle session stuff, like I’ll write drum parts for peoples music, and then if I have anything personal I want to work on … Solo music, or I have a side project with some buddies, then I’ll mess with that, and then from there it’s usually the first workout of the day and then lots of eating and then I’ll get into the practice space and I will more than likely rehearse parts for upcoming sessions. I’ll work on that until I feel like I’ve gotten somewhere. Another workout, more food, bed. That’s an average day.
C: Did you need to train yourself to have that sort of focus or did it come naturally to you?
T: I had to sort of figure out a workflow for all that stuff. I had to figure all that out. I didn’t have anyone hold my hand and tell me I had to do it all, but once I knew what I had to do, it wasn’t sort of ringing my hands to figure out, “I gotta do this now, I gotta do that now.” People are paying money. They want me to play on their music, which is an incredibly personal decision and I’m always incredibly flattered to be asked, so I’m eager to please, so no one has to convince me to put in the work, because I want to do it.
C: Do you ever experience self-doubt as a creative musician? Because I certainly am in a place right now where I experience doubt very often. I’m in sort of a new period of my … What I’m doing with all of this orchestration and everything like that, getting back into music, and I feel very uncertain about what I’m doing, but it’s sort of a wave up and down. I’m curious if you experience these ups and downs.
T: Absolutely, especially with my solo stuff. I’m in constant battle against myself, like, “Can this be better? What should I do?” When I hit those walls, so to speak, I just tinker with it and take it day by day. When I work on session drums, I’ll generally work on the next 30 seconds of the song that I’m working on. Maybe a minute. Maybe there’s a part that repeats, where I can just get away with repeating the drums or adding very …
C: You’re talking about the composition process.
T: For session drums.
C: Oh, for session drums.
C: You’re working on 30 seconds at a time.
T: Something like that, yeah.
C: Like practicing them? Or composing-
T: No, composing parts.
C: Composing, okay.
T: 30 seconds to a minute, basically. I have done faster, especially if I’m in the studio and it has to be done that day or the next day, I’ll write parts for an entire song, but I do like to take my time at home and I think that helps me maybe avoid those walls. It certainly doesn’t exacerbate matters. Just tinker with it for a little bit at a time, and I feel like that replenishes the creative juices and doesn’t wear you out as quickly.
C: Okay, but you’re talking about session drums. Let’s say a band hires you. You’re sitting there and conceptualizing the drum parts on a laptop somewhere, right? Like at home, laying in bed or whatever you’re doing. Sitting at a desk.
C: You’re sitting there conceptualizing the drum parts from a sort of top down process rather than play the track, grab some sticks and start banging on drums.
C: You’re visualizing them.
T: Mm-hmm (affirmative), how the component of the drums makes the rest of the song, and not just keeping time, even though that’s the basic function of drums. Approaching the whole song as a piece of art. Like, what can I contribute from my own idiosyncrasies and my own experience.
C: Do you think that’s unusual?
T: Not completely. I think more people are doing it that way.
C: Maybe with so many musicians doing programming with tune track stuff or things like that, but as a drummer, do you think many drummers do that?
T: I think the number is increasing. It lets me get into the headspace of the song, but also, for session stuff, it’s such a time saver because I can just come up with my parts, export them, send them to the client and they can give them the A-OK or change this part, and then I don’t have to do that all in real life. I don’t have to do punch-ins and things that take up far more time than just changing a few bars in Guitar Pro.
C: Do you want to briefly describe the process of what you did for my record? How that all worked?
T: Your record was a little different because there’s so many linear time changes, so I had to … Once I got the clicks from you, then I could import them into Garageband and then I could see, per bar, every change, and then I could plug that into Guitar Pro. I still had to find some workarounds because Guitar Pro only does linear tempo changes, whether it’s an increase or decrease over 16 beats, and you had some that were far more, so I’d have to do incremental, manual increases, but it still got the point across. You knew when I was going to play, but anyway, so, once I would sort out the chart, then I can delve into the actual parts.
C: You put in a lot of work before you played a note.
T: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
C: You didn’t even sit down at the drum set for most of the process.
T: For none of it, no. It was entirely visualized, which is pretty much 90 percent of how I write parts for sessions. Yeah, I’d get your demo and I’d hear what you were trying to put across on the drums and then I would just take that and put my spin on it. I don’t really have any other eloquent way to describe it.
C: Did you do any hand-written notation or was it all in this Guitar Pro software?
T: It’s all in Guitar Pro.
C: Now, I don’t know much about Guitar Pro but this concept seems crazy to me, that basically from a simplistic standpoint, I would say that you’re writing all of your drum parts for a 45 minute album in guitar tablature and that’s probably inaccurate but that’s what, on the surface, it seems to me like you’re doing.
T: It’s called Guitar Pro but it’s backed by a general MIDI map, so it has a full drum kit and percussion. Other fun doodads. It’s pretty versatile. It sounds like a video game, but it’s fun and it certainly gets the point across. I can send people MIDI and they can plug it into Superior or they could just play it through QuickTime Player and it sounds like it does in Guitar Pro. Or if none of those options work, then I can convert the MIDI to an MP3 and send them that and they can hear it that way, so I have an abundance of ways of getting across what I’m going to play, and it’s worked for me with sessions, with personal stuff, with side projects for the better part of a decade now.
If I’m rehearsing something, I may still, just through looping things or jamming things, I might come up with a better part on the kit. With this band, we do a lot of in the box composing and trading files around but we always meet together and jam the songs, and that, in turn, begets new ideas. That’s a cool process and I love having that organic thing still present in this band because it was not present in some of the other bands I’ve been in.
C: I remember getting the MIDI files from you. You basically sent me mock-ups of the entire album. Every note was planned out in advance, it seemed. You sent me charts of everything and I was able to import those tracks and then listen to your drums assigned to Tune Track Superior drum kit basically, and hear all the things you were going to do. I think that was super efficient and there were only maybe like … It seems like there was five or six little moments where there was a note that I had to say, “That was supposed to be a … whatever. That part’s a five or you should accent this or that.”
C: Very minor …
T: Everything but the very last moment on the album. Well, I don’t know if it’s going to be the last one now, but
C: The last …
T: The one where I did some free form soloing.
C: Right, the last fermata on this 45 minute piece of music. I think I copied and pasted in an ending sort of cadenza, right? Is that what we’re talking about?
T: Your program drums were just a kick and two crashes and you were like, “Just go crazy there.”
T: So I said, “I’m just going to wing it and give you a few takes and you can choose one or patch it together.”
T: Other than that, everything else was planned out note for note.
C: Yeah, and so basically I got your tracks, dropped them in and then removed the stick click intro. I hope you’re not going to cry when I say that but …
T: That’s dear to me, but alright.
C: But then suddenly there’s fuckin’ album of drums right there, like a simple drag and drop and it was unbelievable how, and I still … I psych myself out and keep having to do a double-take almost, like, “Wait a minute, this has got to be … I must be hearing the MIDI drums somehow.” I keep checking the Tune Track there. “Are those muted? Yes, they’re muted. These are really his drums.”
T: Now you’re talking about the live drums.
C: What do you mean?
T: You were talking about the …
C: No, I was.
T: Dropping the MIDI tracks …
C: Yeah, yeah, I was. I mean, I fast forwarded to … It’s such an interesting thing, how methodical you are, of going through these simple steps that makes sense in a hierarchy of step one, step two, step three, or whatever, or however many steps, and then you have a perfect product that you can just drop a whole album of drums in and everything is right. Exactly what … You know? And I listen to it and I’m like, “Can I do anything to this?” You know? “Is there anything I can find that I can change?” And there’s almost, I think … I can’t even think of anything other than that final cadenza where I dropped in a solo, so it’s uncanny.
I’m happy you’re so pleased, but yeah, like I said earlier, it’s a matter of being eager to please but also I take this seriously and I don’t want to waste anyone’s time, mine included, so it just makes sense to plan everything out, get everything in order. This is what’s going to be played. If you don’t like it, then here’s another option, and then once that’s all dialed in, then it’s go time.
How many days did it actually, or minutes, did it actually take you to record the drum tracks?
T: I think I rehearsed … I did your album in two big chunks, tracks 1 to 5 and then 6 to 10.
C: That’s true.
T: I think I rehearsed the first half for maybe a week and then did it, and then the second half was much less. Probably like two or three days. It surprised me how much easier the second half was, actually, and then I tracked everything … You know, those five tracks per session, that was all in one evening.
C: You tracked five songs in an evening?
T: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
C: That’s, yeah, that’s … See, from my point of view, because I had a lot of options for drummers to play …
T: Oh yes, you did.
C: On this record. I could’ve gone to Virgil or Thomas Lang or Dave Elitch, and I originally did plan to have Dave Elitch do the entire record. That was my initial first idea, was, “I’m going to make a record with Dave Elitch.” It was like the impulse for this whole thing, and then when it got into all the details of recording in a studio and all of that stuff and booking studio time and the rehearsals and the charts, I just started to get very overwhelmed with all the things that could go wrong in that equation. Not necessarily with … Not with Dave Elitch, obviously. I love his playing, totally, but having to physically be in a studio space in Hollywood and rent all that stuff and then not knowing what’s going to happen …
C: … Was too much of a risk for me, emotionally, or something. It just freaked me out, of going into a big studio with all those mics and, like, what? What am I going to get in the end? I don’t know.
T: It’s a deceivingly tough album. Other than the guest drum solos, there’s not like crazy drum fireworks every other bar, but, like I said, deceivingly difficult because of some of the rhythms and all the time changes, time signature changes, and mixed with the linear tempo changes, there’s …
C: Yeah, it’s a lot of dynamics …
T: It’s a lot to digest.
C: … And the tempo changes.
T: And a lot of dynamics as well, yeah.
C: Dynamics and tempo changes.
T: Very dynamical record.
C: But it’s not …
T: And it’s your return to music, so, you want it to be spot on.
T: So I can see why that would be crippling for you.
C: Yeah, but it’s like a lot of 4/4 and 6/8 at the core, you know? A lot of it. There are a couple songs that I threw in a various points on the record that have more fucked up rhythms just to make sure it was balanced and had a little bit of that.
C: But yeah, on the surface, it seems like, “Oh, I can play this 4/4 beat. I can play this 6/8 beat,” but then, to do that for 45 minutes with all of these changes and stops and starts, I think that was more the challenge. I mean, I felt very safe going to you and seeing your process and thinking, “I know what I’m going to get out of Travis because he has this methodical approach and I think this is going to work really well.” Not only that, because you seem to be so into reading, and so many of your YouTube videos, like I saw you … Even the Steve Vai Pig cover, I remember thinking, “Wow, this guy is reading this stuff. This is great. I like the fact that he’s so prepared and reading and playing it corrently,” you know? Or whatever. It’s nuance. Thinking about that, I thought, “I bet this guy could read my record,” you know? I need someone that is just going to be a reading monster.
T: Yeah, the bulk of what I do, what you see online or sessions, and it’s stuff that’s been rehearsed for a couple of days, so there’s no way I could commit it totally to memory, so that’s why I’m reading and everything, but yeah, it’s something I’ve done for so long, it’s just, I don’t know, second nature to me now.
C: If the current Travis Orbin lifestyle and working situation, everything, continued on for another 30 years, as it is, would you be satisfied?
T: That’s tough to say.
C: Or are you striving for something else? Do you want your life to be a different way or are you a happy man?
T: I’m pretty happy. I’m not content. I still … I want to try to take my instrument to new levels just for myself. Not saying I want to be the next torch bearer or whatever, but I definitely want to play things that I haven’t played before. I want to compose things that I haven’t composed before. I want to work with a bunch of wonderfully weird, talented people. It gets a little better every year, financially speaking, so if that trend and everything else continues, as you said, then yeah, I would be happy with that.
C: Do you want to have kids and things like that?
T: I don’t know. Jury’s still out.
C: Are you an emotionally stable person? Do you ever get anxiety or depression?
T: Anxiety, no. Depression, yes. Not crippling though. I just get a little sad and shake it off with some weights or something.
C: Is there a specific area of your musicianship that you are working to improve right now? Sitting in my car? No, but, I mean, I know you’ve set up your practice pad back there in the dressing room and I know after this, at some point, you’re going to go back there and start … You’re probably eager to get back there and start tapping on it and banging on things, so what are you working on for yourself, to develop yourself?
T: I’m more working on my compositional side and that will take me places, drum-wise, that are sometimes unexpected. Like I just finished composing Finite 2, which is the sequel to Finite, which I just put out in December, and the final song has some brushwork, some kinda trible-ish things with the snares off, and that was totally unintentional. I didn’t set out to write a piece like that but it just kind of came out and grew from there. It’s more so the compositional things, and obviously it takes me into outlandish territory as well. Lots of drum fireworks.
C: Yeah, I find that through composition, you can actually find ways of writing something more interesting that you wouldn’t discover if you were just hitting the drums, experimenting.
T: Yeah, I used to do those very mechanical things. Work on the Virgil Donati double paradiddle on one side against the single paradiddle on the right and then try to play it between my right foot and left hand and then my left foot and right hand, and, you know, cross pollenate. Now I try to take some of those things and simpler things and more outlandish things and try to make music out of it and that’s what’s occupying my time outside of sessions and Darkest Hour stuff.
C: I want to go back briefly and add something. When I was saying that I knew what I was gonna get with Travis, I don’t want to make it sound like you just sent me this predictable, safe drum track. It was … You added a level of energy to the music. Strangely even in your MIDI tracks, it added a level of energy that I didn’t have in my program tracks, and I don’t know why that is, but it definitely boosted the feel of it, of like, “This is more exciting now.”
T: That’s cool.
C: I think that there might be the temptation to say, “Oh, Travis Orbin, he plays like a robot,” which I don’t think is quite true because there is … It did bring a level of excitement that wasn’t there before.
T: Yeah. You said you enjoyed the feel of the live drums a lot more too.
C: We have a question for Mike Stone.
T: Hello, Mr. Stone.
C: Who also plays on the record, did a fabulous set of drum tracks for one of the bonus songs. He asks, “What sorts of things might you find to be a deal breaker when you’re approached to do a project?” And I have to add in that you obviously never say no because you did play on my record, but what could possibly stop you from playing on a record in the future?
T: Interesting question. I’ve played on everything that … from people who can afford me basically, but I guess if something was just outright, overtly racist, had some lyrical things that were really disturbing, that would turn me off and I would refuse the project. That’s the only thing that comes to mind. Other than that, it’s art. It’s supposed to stir something inside of you and sometimes it’s ugly.
C: What if it was a pro-Trump album? Would that be ugly enough?
T: Hmm. That’s tough.
C: A pro-Trump, patriotic record?
T: I think I would do it. I just wouldn’t film it.
C: You probably get asked this a lot so you have plenty of answers for this, but what’s with having the floor tom on the left and something about you have this sort of flat drum set look where the heads are parallel to the ground pretty much. What’s going on with your drum set setup? It’s very open.
T: Okay, well, if you want the unabridged version of this, you can go to YouTube and search “Orbin setup explanation.” Something like that. I have a full video describing the whole evolution, but basically, a long time ago I got to a gig very late. I was taking my drums out of the bags, putting them on stage, getting ready to play, like that late, and on a whim I decided to play the gig with a kick, snare, floor, and I liked it. It was challenging. It was stimulating, but I wanted to add something to the left to promote more left hand movement, and basically that turned into a rack tom. With this band I use two floor toms but with a lot of the sessions and personal projects, it’s a rack tom. That’s the drum setup. As far as-
C: Now is it a big rack tom obviously?
T: It’s usually a 12, sometimes a 13 depending on the music.
C: I don’t know what that means but drummers will know what it means.
T: On your record, I used a 12.
T: It’s a pretty standard size.
C: Is that … That’s somewhat smaller than a snare, right? Isn’t a snare like a 13?
T: Snare’s usually 14.
C: 14. Okay, so it’s a little smaller than a snare drum.
T: That’s just what’s going on with the drums. As far as the cymbals, the whole symmetrical cymbal setup, that is basically a Mike Mangini influence. My low pitch cymbals are set up on the left and the high pitch cymbals are set up on the right. Having two high hat stands forces me to integrate my non-dominant limbs, which was a huge challenge at first but now it’s pretty much second nature. That allows me …
C: Now wait, are you using a remote pedal for that right …
T: I’m using two high hat stands. One on the left is a regular and the one on the right is a legless and I attach it to my bass drum with a high hat to bass drum attachment.
C: What are you playing that right high hat with? Your right foot?
T: Right foot, and that forces me to use my left foot for the bass drum. If I’m choking it. If I’m not choking it, then I can still use my right on the kick, but that allows me to be, overall, a more musical drummer. Say I want to play two high hat parts in a row for a song, for the verse and then for the chorus, let’s say the verse has some staccato-y kind of guitar work, I can compliment that with the closed 13s and then when it opens up, I can move to the open 14s. A random example, but if I didn’t have that setup and I didn’t develop that facility, then I wouldn’t be able to bring that sort of approach to life.
C: I’m curious, aside from sticks or drumheads, what piece of hardware do you break most often?
T: I’d say the top of … Not the very top but, like not the wing lock thing that holds down the cymbal but just underneath that, the piece of metal that goes through the cymbal.
C: The little … Yeah, the little …
T: The thread.
T: Under that, that part that hooks into the next piece of hardware, that always breaks on me. It just severs.
C: So the final joint before the cymbal is attached.
C: Right? That little swivel.
T: It’s not the entire thing. Say this is the swivel and then you have the piece on top that …
C: Yeah, with the threads.
T: … That threads through the cymbal. There’s a piece in there, on the bottom, that is home to that piece. That always breaks on me. It’s usually on tour because I’m just bashing the hell out of stuff.
C: Do you bring those replacement parts with you?
T: Usually when that happens …
C: Show’s over.
T: No (laughter).
C: Tour’s canceled.
T: Yeah, go home. Get a hardware stand from one of the other bands and then we’ll make a Guitar Center run and pick up a piece. I don’t have to get an entire stand, I can just get a cymbal holder and it’ll screw into the stand and it’ll do the job just fine. This is fascinating stuff.
C: It is. I want to know which part on your drum set I can go in there and break to ruin the tour. Do you hate carrying drums?
T: It’s nice having a tech. I’ve only ever had a tech for two tours with this band. It was my cousin Joey, but other than that, I don’t know, I guess I’m just used to it. Just load in, load out. Desensitized to it all.
C: Come on, you must really hate it. What is the worst part of this, though? Because, for me, I’m at home. I don’t get to work on music full time so it’s not every day that I get to set up my guitar and start recording tracks, but I have this Schecter 7 string FRS Floyd Rose with a Sustainiac and the Floyd Rose is the biggest pain in the ass to change my strings and I am addicted to having fresh, brand new strings. I can’t record without fresh strings. I lose it. I just can’t do it. I hate it. I hate the feeling. I hate the sound. It probably makes no difference in the end to anyone, but I just can’t stand it, and to me, that is the worst part of making music. It is, what is it, first world problems or something? But changing the strings on a Floyd Rose tremolo …
T: Your Achilles heel?
C: Yeah, I mean, I wake up. I’m like, “Alright, today is ‘recording guitars’ day. I’m going to record some leads. Fuck.” The next hour is gonna be me struggling with my hands shaking and trying to change the fucking strings and fuckin’ strings everywhere and things going wrong and trying to get the …
T: Poke yourself with the string.
C: Yeah, I hate it, and after like an hour of that, I’m like, I feel like shit, because then I don’t want to record.
C: What is the equivalent in the drumming world to that sort of thing? Is there something that can kill the vibe?
T: Changing heads and everything, getting the drums in tune, sounding good, it’s a little monotonous but, you know, it pays off because when you get that sound and you hear in the mix, it pumps you up, you know?
C: Do you consider yourself a sort of mechanical person? Because I think a lot of drummers, they tend to somehow be hardware type of people. They like motorcycles and cars. I don’t know why it is but they tend to be mechanically inclined. Are you mechanically inclined?
T: I don’t have housing projects or anything … I don’t work on the house.
C: But I mean if you need to repair something on your kit or something, is that a comfortable world for you?
T: Yeah, unless a lug snaps. Then I’m just going to get a new lug. I’m not going to try to weld the fuckin’ thing, but yeah, I certainly don’t shy away from fixing things or cleaning things. I’m going to have to clean my cymbals after this tour. I don’t particularly consider myself a mechanically inclined person.
C: Are you disappointed in this interview? Do you feel like there should’ve been some things I asked about?
T: No, nothing in particular.
C: So, to wrap this up, since we’re coming up on the hour mark, and I’m kind of proud of myself that this amount of questions ended up being about an hour, sitting in my car, what’s the rest of the year for Travis Orbin?
T: After this tour ends, I’m working on tracks, session stuff, for two projects. One is an EP. The other is … I don’t know if it’s going to be an EP or a full length, and then once I … That’s four songs right there, and then I’m starting a full length for this fellow named Davey Lion, and I’m going to do as much as I can before we head to Europe …
C: This band is going to Europe?
T: This band, Darkest Hour.
C: Darkest Hour.
T: We’re going to Europe. We’re doing, I think it’s like 10 dates, something like that, with Parkway Drive, and then we’re going out on our own and doing our own headlining thing for another, I don’t know, 10 or 15 dates. We’re going to be in Europe for about a month and then I’ll get back from that and I will work on Davey’s record. I’ll finish that up, which is going to be a bit of a challenge. It’s kind of a shred fest, if you will, and then I’ll tackle anything else in the interim that comes in between now and then, and then if nothing comes in, then I’m going to start on my first full length of solo music. It’s going to be called Silly String 2, which is a sequel to my second solo EP that I released, and that’s gonna be quite a labor of love, but I’m looking forward to tackling that, and then I don’t know, we’ll, again, play it by ear.
Maybe I’ll do Finite 2, maybe I’ll track the drums for that, or I have two singles that I’m working on that are pretty much finished but those are gonna be, I don’t know, an exercise, I guess you could say, because they have vocals and that is going to impel me to sing and I don’t know if I can do that, but it’s worth a try, and my side project is called Logical Phalluses and we’re working on a full length, slowly but surely, piecing it together, so perhaps I’ll start drum tracking for that as well. I’ve got plenty of things, man.
C: Alright, bye.