Sunsquabi Is The Thinking Man's Jam Band

Intelligent improvisation and sampling make this three-piece sound huge.EXPAND
Intelligent improvisation and sampling make this three-piece sound huge.
Ryan Burchfield

It shouldn’t seem surprising a band with Sunsquabi’s pedigree would come from Boulder, Colorado. Even the band’s name has a kind of stoner mountain vibe to it. Yet, Sunsquabi is not exactly stoner rock, at least not in the sense of bands (Fu Manchu, Kyuss, Eagles of Death Metal, etc.) typically labeled with that moniker.

Sunsquabi, however, would be very good music to experience stoned.

Why? Because the music is a trippy blend of jazz, funk, cosmic disco, classic rock, and hip-hop fused together with looping technology, live improvisation, and a willingness to take chances.

“We were absolutely encouraged to take chances! That’s a very good way of putting it. There is so much creativity and so many new ideas happening musically out here [in Boulder] that we had to really surrender to all the influences and find our own way,” explains guitarist/keyboardist Kevin Donohue. “We had to completely zone in on what it is that makes us unique to find our sound. And not everybody is going to like it when you experiment, so it’s definitely taking a chance.”

Boulder has long been a hotbed for musical improvisation, a place where String Cheese Incident, Leftover Salmon, and Big Head Todd and the Monsters all rose to national prominence. Like those bands, Sunsquabi harnesses an improvisational/jamming approach that allows the band to follow any whim or sudden directional shift within set song structures. What sets Sunsquabi apart is working off a live looping platform that offers Donohue and bassist Andrew Clymer the ability to switch instruments midstream, adding musical layers on the fly.

“Having only so many hands between the three of us, we utilize Ableton [a piece of looping/composition software] in order to fill out the sound. … I wouldn’t describe it as limiting at all. That’s what’s amazing about Ableton. It never feels like you’re sacrificing one thing for another,” Donohue says. “It has taken our improvisation to a new level.”

Blending Stevie Wonder-esque funk hooks with Daft Punk’s techno thump, Jerry Garcia’s noodling licks with Bootsy Collins’ psycho bass, Herbie Hancock Headhunters-era synth with Earth, Wind, and Fire disco flourishes, Sunsquabi boldly goes where few bands even consider venturing.

“It’s an absolute maelstrom of different music that we all listen to. You would be correct in saying that we love disco and hip-hop, too. I’m an absolute sucker for Dilla, Mad Lib, Flylo, and all the trippy stuff,” Donohue confirms.

“Being able to utilize these insane synth patches we were making live is a game changer,” he adds. “Just last year, Andrew started using the Moog bass rather than digital synth live, so now we have two different layers of bass sounds going. It’s good, clean fun.”

The trio formed five years ago — drummer Chris Anderson is the third member — and has worked diligently to find consistent gigs on the festival circuit. Besides the “good, clean fun” and creative spirit, a big reason for Sunsquabi’s success comes down to making sure the music remains interesting and ever changing — a combination of jamband aesthetics and club energy.

“We strive to play every show, every song, and every note just a little bit different than the last,” Donohue says. “This leads to extending parts, coming up with new licks on the fly, and sometimes creating a new song or framework altogether. … We feed off of the energy of the crowd. A Sunsquabi show is most definitely an interactive experience.”

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