Chrome Rhino is a musical project created by Travis, who has been writing songs for almost 15 years and has recorded songs for several other bands. Today they discussed with us how his musical journey began, the circumstances behind how Chrome Rhino was created, and his future plans.
Travis started playing guitar when he was about 13 years old. He said the first riff he ever learned was the opening to “Crazy Train” by Ozzy Osbourne.
“I probably played that damn riff a thousand times trying to learn it,” Travis said. “Then for the longest time that’s all I could play. I had an uncle who taught me and my cousin how to play guitar chords and blues progressions.”
Travis is mostly a Strat user, having owned a Squier Bullet in the past as well as using a Strat now named Loretta Lynn, with plans on messing with pickups at some point. He then bought his first bass at age 16 and started to play because no one else in the band wanted to. It was a Rogue Violen Bass, and since getting it, he has used it to record on almost every album and played it for almost every show until just a few years ago when it was stolen.
“I loved that bass!” Travis said. “I never had a case for it, just kind of carried it around. It was the most versatile bass I ever played. It had a great thick low end, could still do some high stuff with it, and sounded great through pedals.”
Before starting Chrome Rhino, Travis was in a post-apocalyptic Blues band for about seven years that eventually switched its name to Marley Thorn because no one (including band members) could pronounce the name.
The band still plays together, but finds it difficult as members are living in different states. Travis and his band mate James are in Arizona while their drummer is in Virginia.
James is in a group called Yarrow and together with Travis they both record in two bands, one called Otus Umbra that self describes itself as acoustic-led psychedelic folk and the other called Gin Bandits.
The beginning of Chrome Rhino began when Travis got into pop and synthpop music a few years ago. He listened to ELO, Prince, Alice Cooper’s synth pop albums, and tons of modern pop music including the likes of Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Katy Perry, and Kesha, as well as every group Max Martin and Dr. Luke have written songs for because Travis was addicted to their catchy songs.
“I loved how colorful synth music could be, and I’ve always loved pop music, so I decided to try my hand at making some weird, psychedelic electro-rock pop music,” Travis said. “James and I had made a triple album about dinosaurs that was totally synth-based but then our house got broken into and the laptop among a lot of other music stuff was stolen, so we had to start over from scratch. In hindsight it was a good thing because it motivated me to get to work and put music out instead of keeping it hidden on a hard drive.”
Soon afterward, Travis began recording tracks on an iPad Mini to make pop songs for fun but he said the result sounded weird. Although he didn’t create the sound he wanted, what he did create was the beginning of Chrome Rhino. With his iPad Mini, Travis recorded the first Chrome Rhino album and the Solar Pillow EP.
“I was pretty much raised on classic rock so I knew I couldn’t abandon guitars totally,” Travis said. “I love rocking out for sure. So I came up with the ‘Rhino’ part of the name to suggest the heavy, stomping rock music I love, and the ‘Chrome’ was to suggest something more futuristic, synthy, and pop.”
Travis hopes to put out 10 releases under the Chrome Rhino moniker: five full length albums, four EPs, and a collection of singles.
Currently, Travis doesn’t have an exact idea about what the songs are about lyrically but he does have a strong interest in horror, science, fiction and fantasy and said he tries to insert a lot of imagery from those genres into his music.
“A lot of the times with lyrics, I’ll just kind of ad-lib a vocal melody over a track, and then go back and write lyrics using the ad-libbed track,” Travis said. “I’ll have said some lines in between all the gibberish and use those. I like doing cryptic lyrics where people can kind of come up with their own interpretations.”
Travis said all the songs he makes are like babies to him, making it hard to pick just one as a favorite. However he did choose “Gods & Dust” as a track that he the most proud of.
“I found a really deep sub-bass synth on my iPad mini and then moved it to Garageband, and thought it sounded cool,” Travis said. “I kind of wanted to do a really bluesy song but have electronic elements and make it really long and kind of crazy and the longer it goes on it kind of morphs and becomes something different. I think it turned out alright.”
The title comes from a Future Islands interview Travis read, where they called the sounds recorded from the space of the room in the gods and dust. The vocals were recorded through the iPad Mini’s mic, just as all the first Chrome Rhino albums were.
“After I got that sub bass the rest just pretty much fell together,” Travis said. “I tried to come up with as many different chord progressions that fit as I could and just looped them together in a weird way. One thing I was pretty proud of is after the first chorus at the start of the second verse where that one really 80s synth comes in and doubles up the riff – I tried to make it a little more synth-pop, which is what I always go for.”
Ultimately, Travis has learned throughout the years of writing and recording music that the longer someone creates music the more unique the song becomes.
“Not saying I’m still not derivative, but I do know that a lot of the stuff I was writing when I started out was trying to sound like other bands and artists I love, specifically the Beatles, whereas now I don’t try to sound like others, but it still comes out probably sounding like others,” Travis said. “I feel like if a band or a musician just keeps on playing all the time, constantly learning, and listening to other music from all genres and learning from that, they’ll be alright.”
Travis added that when it comes to rock and roll, it’s best not to expect perfection because the mistakes can give the songs character.
“I leave in all kinds of mistakes now whereas I used to want everything to be perfect,” Travis said. “I think it’s my love of the Stones and Neil Young, but this clicked for me when I heard ‘Jean Genie’ by David Bowie.”
Chrome Rhino’s album “Chrome Rhino II” was recorded on Logic and a new song was released every week soon after. To stay up date with Travis’s work on Chrome Rhino, check out the band’s Soundcloud page and its Bandcamp page.
“Keep on playing and never stop wanting to listen and learn about new music.”