West Coast News

Percussionist and composer Orpheo McCord ’02 was preparing to release his debut solo album Recovery Inhale, which he describes as a “sonic journey for a peace of mind,” when peace of mind suddenly became elusive. During December 2017, the catastrophic Thomas Fire hit Southern California, and McCord and his family had to evacuate their Ventura County home. “The flames came to within yards of our house,” McCord related in a recent phone call. Fortunately, McCord’s home was spared and efforts to return to normalcy in the area are underway.

McCord’s appreciation for the people in his town of Ojai runs deep. “This effort that everyone’s putting forth to get things back on track—this sense of community—is something I’ve never experienced before,” he says.

The album title, Recovery Inhale, seemed apropos prior to the upheaval of the wildfires. For the first time in 10-plus years, McCord was settling into life at home, off the road. The situation enabled him to spend time working on his solo album, and to be present during his wife’s pregnancy and the birth of a daughter, their second child.

McCord toured widely as a percussionist with the Grammy-winning band Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes. The eclectic outfit has gained acclaim for their explorations of folk, roots rock, and psychedelic music since 2007. McCord’s connection to the band came unexpectedly when, during a run in his Los Angeles neighborhood, he crossed paths with the group’s leader Alex Ebert.

“I was living in Silverlake at the time,” McCord says. “And Alex pops out on the trail days after we’d met at a friend’s party. He said, ‘I’m working on an album and a few shows in Marfa, [TX], would you be interested?’ He was literally on my path, it felt obvious to follow.” A few days later, McCord met the ensemble. They obtained an old, funky Greyhound bus, hired a driver through Craigslist, and went off to Texas to perform.

“The band gained momentum really quickly,” McCord recalls. “It just went nonstop.” They toured the globe extensively headlining at the Hollywood Bowl, the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, and the Olympia Theater in Paris, and played on the main stages at Coachella and Bonnaroo. By 2016, the band was ready for a hiatus, and McCord as well as Ebert pursued solo projects.

The genesis of McCord’s solo album was the acquisition of a unique marimba with contact mics on all keys custom built by James “Bird” Loveless, a member of Mickey Hart’s Diga Rhythm Band. McCord had played the amplified marimba in the Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros energetic live shows.

Experimenting at home, he began running the marimba and a kalimba through delay, reverb, and other effects, and composing what would become Recovery Inhale. “I discovered a unique palette of sounds; the combination of the organic nature of a wooden instrument with these added lush tonalities.” he says. The result is music that “allows the listener to go into a meditative space.”

McCord was introduced to the marimba as a classical percussion student at the Idyllwild Arts Academy in Idyllwild, CA. That experience ultimately led him to Berklee where he says associate professor Joe Goleota’s West African Drum and Dance Ensemble was the most influential experience of his Berklee days.

After Berklee, McCord spent time in Boston and Los Angeles. Following failed attempts to form a band with former classmates, McCord retreated from Los Angeles back to the Idyllwild area in the San Jacinto Mountains to refocus his efforts before making another run at the Los Angeles music scene. “When I returned to L.A., my timing was on,” he relates. He picked up a series of touring gigs as the backline drummer for the Fall, Cass McCombs, and Fool’s Gold before connecting with Alex Ebert.

In December, McCord released Recovery Inhale’s first track, “Ghost Ship,” then the full album in January. As for what’s coming next, McCord is secretive. “The next project will relate sound to light and be a live, immersive experience,” he says. “That’s all I’m at liberty to say right now. Next year is going to be a very interesting. I feel good about it.” Visit orpheomccord.com.