Text & Interview: Alec Coiro
Photo: Todd Weaver
If you haven’t heard the name Orpheo McCord, you’ve almost certainly heard him play. As a percussionist he’s backed up everyone from Cass McCombs to Mikael Jorgensen to The Flaming Lips. The list also includes an extended stint with The Fall, and he ends our interview with a thoughtful and richly real memory of Mark E. Smith.
McCord has been part of the soil that makes his native Ojai so fertile for quite a while, but now it’s high time you take a listen to his solo work. The album is called “Recovery Inhale,” which takes shape around McCord’s marimba work. The shape is one of lush ambience. The kind of gentle psychedelia that you wake up from with jolt about an hour later when you realize the album has just finished and back down on earth.
Check out our interview with McCord below.
The album is ambient but also has a percussive elements that are unexpected in ambient music. What were some of the challenges in coming at the an ambient style from a percussion background?
I didn’t initially set out to make an ambient album. I acquired a marimba that has a custom pickup system designed to simply amplify the instrument. I decided to see what would happen if I took it a step further and add some fx pedals. After a bit of experimenting I started developing these lush open textures. The process naturally evolved into a harmonious blend of percussion and ambient tonalities. After constantly being on the road for well over a decade fulfilling the more traditional role of drummer and percussionist, I found catharsis in making an album that allowed me freedom to open up and create space. I needed to make music that calmed my own nervous system and through that process I ended up making a meditative record.
It’s split into tracks, but the album feels more like a symphony broken into movements. Can you tell us about the process of creating the album and how much care was given to the consistency between the tracks and the album’s “wholeness”?
Yes, that is very insightful. Recovery Inhale is intended to be experienced as a whole. I to consider them more as movements then tracks. It’s quite cinematic really. These pieces were mostly recorded in my home studio over a year and as I continued to explore I would come across particular textures or motifs that immediately felt good on a cellular level and those would be the ones I’d spend time developing. Each piece came through organically in its own sphere. I then compiled my favorites and with the help of musician/engineer Scott Hirsch who mixed and co-produced the album, I got to have fun piecing them together into a full sonic experience. There were two elements that were very much a part of the final process. How will it sound on headphones and how will the experience translate on vinyl? I wanted it to be really clean and have a wide stereo field on headphones so you could be taken away with minimal distraction. For vinyl I gave a lot of thought to how it would unfold from first dropping the needle on side A to the amount of silence between lifting the record and dropping side B and so on.
As a musician, what has it been like being named for the greatest musician of legend?
Ha! Well I guess there was something there when my parents decided to name me. They both loved Jean Cocteau’s Orphee and the Brazilian classic Orfeu Negro. What else was I supposed to do with my life! This album definitely explores the underworld. The third movement on Recovery Inhale is called ‘Hades’.
After constantly being on the road for well over a decade fulfilling the more traditional role of drummer and percussionist, I found catharsis in making an album that allowed me freedom to open up and create space.
You’ve played with a very impressive list of people and also quite a varied group. How challenging is it to adapt to to their styles?
I’ve been very blessed thus far to have the opportunity to create with such an amazing array of talented artists. There will always be challenges that pose themselves through the creative process; however the way in which I ended up getting involved with all these different folks happened very naturally. As a drummer and percussionist, I have been fascinated with music from all over the world and that is something I’ve always been able to cultivate and integrate in all the projects I’ve been involved in. Even though every songwriter has a different process and workflow, when different artists are brought together and start buzzing on each other’s energy, the creative process takes on a life of its own. It’s very exciting and ever evolving. That said, I’m really enjoying this new chapter of composing and performing solo work. It’s the first time that I’m building the energy around this process without relying on other musicians. I look for it elsewhere. Whether it be my wife and kids or nature I’m surrounded by here in Ojai.
I’m sure the loss of Mark E. Smith was painful for you and still fresh. I wonder if you’d like to share any memories of him and your times together?
Yes. Mark and I had a mutual fondness and respect for each other. We came from two different worlds that magically collided. It was a pivotal time in my life. I learned so much about performance from him. Despite his reputation, he was actually quite a thoughtful and generous man. He’d always send birthday gifts and Easter cards. Ha! Such a prolific artist who did it the way he wanted.
I recently found some footage of us all hanging out in a hotel room late night after a show in Malaga smoking a bunch of cigarettes and drinking beer and whiskey. We did that a lot and in this particular occasion Mark, Tim Presley and Rob Barbato are all free style rapping while I’m filming and beat boxing. It is fucking hilarious and amazing! It makes me sad. I love him and will miss him. RIP old friend.
For the purest enjoyment of Recovery Inhale, get a copy of the vinyl off McCord’s website: orpheomccord.com