NYC musician Todd Isler first came onto our radar through his work as the drummer for Mike Gordon’s killer solo ensemble. Outside of his role in Mike’s band, Isler also is a noted teacher and author who performs as part of two outstanding New York City avant-jazz acts - International Orange and TriBeCaStan. While Isler plays the kit with Gordon, he’s also known for his hand drumming on such unconventional instruments as Pakistani gaval, uduboo and lap drum.
[Photo by Jeremy Gordon]
Just a few days before TriBeCaStan’s record release party at DROM NYC on June 9, we wanted to share our lengthy chat with Isler (pronounced ice-ler), an affable gent who has seen it all over the years. We were immediately struck by Todd’s candor and artistic integrity in this wide-ranging interview that covers his formative years, how he came to work with Mike Gordon, his time with the Phish bassist, his other projects and the life of a professional musician in NYC.
Hidden Track: How did you first get into drumming?
Todd Isler: I’ve always loved music and my parents loved music. When I was very young my sisters and I would put on these puppet shows in my basement for other kids and I would play upside-down wastebaskets and pots and pans.
When I was nine or ten, I went to this Bar Mitzvah and I was freaked out by the drums. They took me back to the drummer and he showed me how to hold the sticks. I went slowly and learned the traditional way, I bought a drum pad then I got a snare drum and then a bass drum. Finally, for my 13th birthday I got a used kit from my teacher and started taking lessons.
HT: What were some of your early influences?
TI: When I got in junior high I became a Deadhead. The first time I did acid I was car camping, which was bullshit camping, we had electricity. My friends were already into the Dead, while I was listening to pop music and Elton John and stuff like that. [The Grateful Dead's 1974 album From The] Mars Hotel kept playing over and over again, the actual vinyl record, and somehow it kept playing all night long. And by the morning, after my first trip, I was a Deadhead.