Catching Up With Travis Orbin

The greatest session drummers of yesteryear would dart from one legendary L.A. or New York studio to the next, where they’d crank out smash hits that the world would be singing along to a few short weeks later. Today’s busiest recording drummers are more likely to be found in their own tricked-out home studios, experimenting with unheard sounds and challenging themselves—and listeners—with increasingly demanding feats of limb independence.

Since the late 2000s Travis Orbin has tracked sessions with a remarkable roster of boundary-pushing acts, including Periphery and Sky Eats Airplane (both as a member), Simbelmynë and the Countdown Starts Now (2011), Us & Them and Of Legends (2012), Ruemora, the Gabriel Construct, and Its Teeth (2013), Robar and Cyclamen (2014), and, in 2015, Amidst the Withering, 55 Cancri, Coat of Arms, and Cartoon Theory. A couple years ago Orbin joined Darkest Hour and recorded the veteran metalcore band’s 2014 self-titled album. But he still finds time to cut solo tracks in his home studio, most recently producing the EPs Projects and Silly String. And for the benefit of the “Orbinator” faithful, Travis captures every performance on video for free online distribution.

“When I was coming up, practicing and honing my craft, if you’d told me that there were videos of Dennis Chambers and Virgil Donati online for free, I would have been all over it,” Orbin says. For this generation’s drumming upstarts, Silly String’s accompanying seventeen-minute performance video provides the same level of excitement. Opener “Lollygag” taps Frank Zappa with Dream Theater keyboards; “From Riches to Rags” traces maddening odd meters over zigzagging melodies; “Hold On” hammers prog-rock methodology over weirdly muted drums; and “Desensitization” rips out your jugular and stomps on it in odd-meter-thrash bully time. For all of Silly String’s burn, Orbin plays only one solo, on closing track “Watchpork.” As on all of the EP, the roller-coaster goodness of the piece benefits from close-miking of every drum and cymbal, with nothing left to chance.

“I don’t do many solos,” Orbin admits. “But [with ‘Watchpork’] I wanted to write a solo that was completely mapped out. I wanted to formulate a barrage of ideas, everything from syncopated fills to metric modulation to tuplets, and it all fits within the ostinato that’s repeated throughout the piece. If I ever played it live, I would play the same solo.”

At press time Orbin was forming a band for his upcoming Projects II release. You can be sure to see each song dissected, detailed, and performed in high-res glory online, where Orbin gives away his hard-earned expertise for free. “With my solo material,” the drummer explains, “and especially on sessions where the mix may not favor the drums and detail can be obscured, having a visual component clears things up and demystifies what I’m playing. And frankly, it helps draw a fan base. And it’s fun!”

By Ken Micallef