Pendulum Grip – Exclusive Interview with Orphan Donor

Orphan Donor (Left to right): Chris Pandolfo (Vocals), Jared Stimpfl (Drums, guitars, bass, programming).

Pennsylvania-based musician, Jared Stimpfl, is a man of many talents. Some of you will know him as the drummer of psychedelic sludge metal trio, Secret Cutter. Like Dave Grohl, Stimpfl is a multi-instrumentalist with no shortage of musical ideas, many of which he now channels into his own project under the Orphan Donor moniker.

If you haven’t heard Orphan Donor, we suggest you empty your bowels before whacking on the headphones. Stimpfl’s music is heavier than the avalanche that destroyed the Rigopiano hotel in Abruzzo, Italy in 2017. At times you’ll feel like you’re running into a wind tunnel as the metallic hardcore fury and grinding drums slam against your face and knock you off balance. Vocalist, Chris Pandolfo, is just as fierce. His roars are more like a torturous dare to cough up as much blood as possible before doing irreparable damage to his vocal cords. You can see why fans of grindcore are just as likely to listen to Orphan Donor as the hardcore afficionados and extreme metal brigade.

Now back with his follow up to 2020’s acclaimed Old Patterns LP, we caught up with Jared to discuss the final exorcism of trauma that has haunted him since 1996. The psychosis he experienced in a dark period of his life now feels like something he can put to rest through the music of Orphan Donor. This is the story of a man making sense of the insanity that almost conquered him.

Above: Jared Stimpfl behind his drum kit.

Let’s start with your latest album, Unraveled. The music sounds like somebody being sucked through the cabin door of a passenger jet and clinging for dear life at 38,000 feet as the plane starts to nosedive. How would you, as the creator of the music, describe the audio assault on the listener?

Yeah, that’s pretty accurate. I wanted to create a fever pitch sense of the end. Or more of a representation of the slipping reality of the world melting into hell scape of schizophrenia, like I fell into back in 2006. There isn’t enough vocabulary of words to make sense of the events that unfolded when I lost my mind for about six months. Music is a much better and accurate representation of my thought process and feeling during those times.

The agony of loss and trauma of psychosis are two themes that you express on this album. Tell us more about these personal experiences in your life.

There were times in my life where I spiralled hard, mentally. Life was suddenly twisted into a barrage of dilutions and falsehoods my brain was telling me was the truth. I heard voices, saw the world shapeshifting and made-up complete nonsense and decided it was the truth… It all led me to almost driving myself over a cliff to make it all stop. That’s what the song ‘Unravelling’ is about… And the events surrounding the worst and scariest day of my life. And it was all from built-up undealt with trauma of losing my dad when I was thirteen back in 1996.

You’re a drummer by trade, but you have an advanced understanding of guitar. How do you make those dissonant and chaotic chord shapes on your guitar, and to what extent are they shaped by music theory?

It’s a bit of a surprise, but I literally have no understanding, outside of power chords, of how a guitar works in the conventional way. I literally throw my fingers on the fretboard in whatever way they land and strum, and if it resonates, I’ll play around with where I’m at. I grew up playing saxophone, so I do have an ear for melody. I can find the notes I want to hear, then just assemble my poor playing in a way that sounds cohesive in ProTools. It’s a trick really but works for what I’m doing! I could never play a song in real time; I just don’t have the dexterity or know how to properly perform and play what is actually put down on the tracks. It’s all mostly an in-the-moment happy accident. GOT YA!

A love of early 2000s metalcore and screamo are at the heart of Orphan Donor’s music. Why do you think metalcore has such a bad name in extreme metal these days?

Just like any niche, it’s subject to scrutiny for people who don’t like it. I’m not sure if it does have a bad name? I guess it is sort of lumped into a Hot Topic* sort of sense like nu-metal now. I guess like anything, trends come and go, but they seem to circle back around again. To the elitists… I say go paint your mom’s basement.

[Editorial: *Hot Topic is a US retail chain that sells fashion and accessories associated with alternative culture]

Old Patterns is the 2020 debut release from Orphan Donor.

Creating music is an emotional thing. What was the high point of the recording experience on Unraveled and what was the low point?

The highpoint really was the whole process of making the record. My favourite thing is getting the momentum after writing twelve songs that are shit, but then stumbling onto a new sound that I dive into and explore more. ‘My Friend, the Hornet’ was the first song I wrote that I was excited about in this new sound, and it sort of paved the way for this more mid-paced and thought-out song structure. So, it was awesome to sort of move in that direction. The lowest point really was rehashing some of the worst moments in my life during the writing process, to bleed out sort of any leftover trauma that may have still be sticking to my cells. It was a very cathartic experience to channel some of these harder feeling into the lyrics and into the music. Chris did lyrical duty on two of the songs, which I was grateful for. I wanted to paint a picture of what I was feeling in some of my darkest moments and leave them behind me.

Name five albums that changed your life as a musician.

Deftones – Around the Fur (1997)

As the Sun Sets – 7744 (2002)

Mare – Demo (2004)

Arab on Radar – Yahweh or the Highway (2001)

Any Botch record

You’re quite open that your latest record chronicles a descent into madness. What did your friends and family say when they heard Unraveled?

They’ve always been supportive in any of my endeavours because they know it makes me happy. Even if it’s something they don’t understand, they know it’s cathartic for me to work things out in this creative way.

Arthur Rizk mastered your album and recently added the finishing touches to Max Cavalera’s Go Ahead and Die record. How easy was it to enlist his services for this LP?

I’ve known Arthur almost twenty years. We were in Oktober Skyline and Motel Bible together and kept in touch throughout the years. Seeing his success and hearing his work made me very excited to let him put the final touches on what I felt was my best effort in producing the sounds I wanted for this record. He was more than stoked to help me out with it and has led him to also help out with my other band, Secret Cutter’s, next record.

Orphan Donor: The refined face of grindcore.

It ought to be impossible to eclipse the colossal rage and bludgeoning intensity of the music on Unraveled when you come to write future Orphan Donor albums. How do you see the band evolving from here?

I think as I get older my tastes have changed, and I’m focusing more on song writing rather than a bunch of nonsense. So, I hope the process of writing songs just keeps getting better and has more impact. If I can still find the space of hitting certain things that resonate from a much deeper place… The music will continue to grow into whatever it’ll become. I’m excited already with some ideas I have for the future.

Which other creative outlets could you fall back on if you took a hiatus from writing and recording music?

I’ve been building snare drums from exotic woods in my spare time as well as baking sourdough (thanks Covid), which I’m loving. So, I’m lucky to have other hobbies already I can channel my creativity into, and I’m constantly shifting in between them, as well as being a dad with two kids. There’s no shortage of things to do!

Final question: The way we consume and share music is a lot different to what it was at the beginning of this century. Has the decline in CD sales and rise of streaming been a positive or negative development for musicians?

I think both in a way. With technology becoming obsolete, it forces a new adaptation, like with streaming, which still feels like it’s being figured out how to correctly compensate the artists for their efforts. Seems like the days of getting screwed by record labels has paved way for bands and artists to do their own thing. With that said there is so much music out there. But I think the really good stuff will always pop through with the viralness of the internet. So, the accessibility is great. But it’s far too easy to overlook the hidden gems. It’s almost too convenient. I still miss the days of throwing on a record just to listen to it. Everything is so fast and multitasked.

*** Orphan Donor released Unraveled via Zegema Beach records on 11 June 2021. You can read the original SBR review here.