It's all about the bass cushions
Trinity Robinson Kicks It on the Couch
By Michael Molenda
Way back in the days of The Ed Sullivan Show, Bonanza, and The Jetsons, kids could get massacred for even thinking about walking into their family's formal living room, much less take a drumstick to mom's prized couch (which was, by the way, usually protected by a crinkly plastic covering). A generation or two later, living rooms are no longer chambers of mystery and terror for uninvited children, and an enterprising drummer can build a brand by pounding grooves on her mother's couch cushions.
Change is good.
Trinity Robinson—who was jamming on pots and pans at two years old, and playing drums in her church band by five—originally created her couch drums because she couldn't afford a drum kit of her own, and wanted to post videos of her laying down beats at home. She did not foresee the enthusiastic public response. Robinson's exuberant, uplifting, and technically ferocious performance videos have won her more than 79,000 followers on Instagram, logged tens of thousands of views on Instagram and YouTube, and have been reposted by celebrities such as Anderson .Paak (who was so taken by Robinson's playing that he decided to buy her a drum kit) and Missy Elliott.
There are more than a few inspirational elements to Robinson's success story. It starts with an artist overcoming challenges and embracing limitations to drive a unique and engaging presentation. Then, the tale unfolds to a feel-good moment of achieving a growing fan base in a massively crowded field of musicians prompting their talents on socials. Ultimately, the saga rests triumphantly on encouraging others to take up rhythmic explorations on whatever tools are at hand, to network with like-minded creators, and to share their own distinctive gifts with the drum community.
I love the whole Couch-As-Drum-Set concept. How did you come up with it?
My whole intent was simply to construct a drum set and film myself playing. I didn't have a drum set at the time, so I started tapping on things in the living room to recreate bass, snare, tom, and hi-hat sounds. You know, drummers are always hearing rhythms in their heads and tapping on things. I ended up using the cushions of my mom's couch, a Playskool baby push walker, and a practice-pad stand. My mother told me it sounded really good, and I posted my first video on February 24, 2019. Then, people would tell me I was inspiring their daughter to play drums or encouraging someone to pick up the sticks again. I definitely wanted to keep going after hearing things like that. Little did I know I was going to get so much notoriety for it.
What made those everyday items so perfect for your couch setup?
The couch cushion really has a booming bass, and I use the practice pad to emulate tom fills. I used to hit the side of the practice-pad stand to emulate a hi-hat, but I eventually added a metal crutch, because it produced a deeper sound. But the baby toy is priceless. A lot of people say it sounds like the clap on a Roland TR-808 drum machine. It's definitely my prized possession.
How did you even come to consider a Playskool toy as a snare?
One day, I was cleaning up with my drumsticks in my hand, and one stick accidently fell on the toy. I guess the sound stuck with me, because when I was looking for components for my couch drums, I remembered the toy would be perfect for the snare.
You play with such power and passion. Isn't it risky pummeling a toy with drumsticks?
Yes. In general, it's harder playing on a couch cushion than on a conventional drum head, because there's not any bounce or rebound. You're basically doing everything with your hands. I use Vic Firth marching-drum sticks, which are stronger and more durable, because I hit the cushion and the crutch so hard. I do have to adjust my attack when I hit the toy. I cut back and try to slightly tap it. Fun fact—I've already broken two of them, because I was hitting too hard. Even though Fisher Price makes tough toys, after beating on them for so long they start to crack, and the sound isn't the same.
Is it difficult to adjust your attack on the fly like that? Slam the couch. Tap the toy. Slam the couch. Tap the toy. It sounds pretty challenging.
It is a lot of thinking. But I have to keep the toys intact, because those Playskool baby walkers are kind of rare. I went to Target after I broke my first baby toy, and I couldn't find one anywhere. There were similar toys available, but when I tapped them, they sounded different. So whenever I find the exact model I use, I have to grab them.
Funny. It's like a guitarist seeking old-school effects pedals. You have to look for a "vintage" walker toy.
Definitely. It's hard to reproduce the couch sound, as well. I was a guest on a Chicago television show, Windy City Live, and my mother wouldn't let me take the couch, because it's part of her living room. So I went into Value City Furniture to buy an ottoman I could use as a replacement for the couch. Everyone in the store was looking at me funny, because I was tapping on all the ottomans with a drumstick.
I can hear you saying, "Come on, mom, please let me take let me take the couch on television."
Yeah [laughs]. We ended up not having to use the ottoman, anyway, because the TV studio had a couch. But it made me think about how hard it would be for me to gig like this, because I'll need to find a way to bring a couch along with me. Even with just the ottoman, I had to drag my father and brother with me to wheel that thing around.
So many artists post videos on Instagram and generate a fraction of the views you get. Do you have any idea why yours are so engaging?
It's truly amazing. I certainly did not plan to go viral, or have celebrities such as Anderson .Paak follow me and repost my Instagram videos. But I can't say that nobody else has ever done this before. I actually had a lot of people say things like, "Oh, I've done that. I used to do that back in the day." However, I think this generation likes to see fresh and modern things, and it was rare to see a female drummer playing on a couch with a baby toy. If I had never done this, and I saw someone else doing the same thing, I'd say, "Wow. She is really getting down. That's so cool." It's something different. I also try to incorporate little ad libs to keep everybody hyped, because I love what I do, I do it with passion, and I want everybody to feel the passion I have when I play.
It's such a great story that Anderson .Paak was so inspired that he gifted you with a drum kit.
He came to Chicago to personally give me a DW acrylic set with an autographed snare. I have to give him a huge shout out for believing in me and investing in me. It has made me promise to myself that I don't want to ever let him down, or anyone else who is following me through my journey.
How do you record your videos? I have to say, the sound quality is really good.
I've been using my iPhone XR, so what you're hearing are the natural acoustics of the living room into the onboard mic. But I really want to push my YouTube channel now, and produce better sound and video, so I'm going to get a digital camera, video lights, and a microphone real soon.
How do you come up with your grooves?
I just freestyle and play in the moment. Everything I play comes from my heart, or how I feel that day. I do watch other players and check out lessons on YouTube to change up my style and do different things. But every time I try to think about any of that when I'm playing, I usually mess up.
What is your current drum rig?
I'm endorsed by Outlaw Drums—shout out to Steve for hooking me up—and, of course, I have the DW kit that Anderson .Paak gave me. I use Remo and Evans heads, Promark and Vic Firth drumsticks, and Sabian cymbals. I go for softer-sounding cymbals, because I don't want anything too heavy that overpowers the sound of the couch setup, but I'd really like to check out some Sabian Chopper and stack cymbals. I'm also hoping I can get a Roland SPD-SX sampling pad, because I would like to record the sounds of my couch and incorporate them with my acoustic drum kit.
What drummers have inspired your personal style?
It varies from up-and-coming producers to amazing players, and even down to the little drumming prodigies in the making. It's a long list. I have been inspired by Imarkkeyz, beats by jblack, FKi 1st, Anderson .Paak, Sarah Thawner, Standley Randolph, J-Rod Sullivan, Atlanta Drum Academy, Bianca Richardson, Jessica Burdeaux, The Pocket Queen, Malik DOPE Drummer, Geneva London, Nandi Bushell, and Baby Boy Drummer.
What do you feel is the most valuable thing an aspiring drummer can do to grow and attain competence on the instrument?
Keep practicing and make friends with other percussionists along your journey so you all can network and learn from each other.
trinity's badass drummers to watch
George "Spanky" McCurdy
Jonathan "Sugarfoot" Moffett