Since many of us are inclined to categorize music rather than cast it in ambiguity, SunSquabi's hybrid of jam-band spontaneity and experimental electronica might confuse the uninitiated. When asked how they define their unusual approach, the band offers a rarefied explanation while avoiding a justification that might complicate the issue any further. Maybe it's better to let them talk.
"We call it hydro funk because, like water, it can come in all forms," guitarist/keyboardist/producer Kevin Donohue says in a telephone interview. "Our music is about energy, about love and about the things we all have in common, and that's what we want you to feel at our show."
That's not exactly a definitive description, but then again Donohue and drummer Chris Anderson aren't out to make it easy. Unflinchingly experimental and eager to push the parameters, the Colorado trio has demonstrated an uncommon flexibility over the course of five years and some nine releases, including their latest, a seven-track effort aptly titled Odyssey. (Eight of these are free to download at SunSquabi.Bandcamp.com; the band's 2011 debut, Enhance, will set you back a whole dollar.) The only consistency is their ongoing inconsistency, and an eagerness to improvise and follow their muse in whatever direction that it takes them.
It's fortuitous, then, that SunSquabi gives themselves plenty of opportunity to serve up that synergy. This is evidenced by the fact that the band played 100 shows this year, with the goal of doubling it at some point in the near future. In the meantime, they've bought themselves considerable attention by playing the usual high profile festivals—including Electric Forest, Summer Camp, Camp Bisco and High Sierra.
Not surprisingly, Odyssey marks a decided change in direction; a move away from the jam-band routine with which SunSquabi initially made their mark. Now the group is taking a more fluid approach that allows them to open up and explore whatever sounds seem right to flow into their music. "We have always been influenced by jazz music and improvisation, so that will always be concrete in everything we do," Donohue says. "We are just evolving, as any band or artist does. The new EP is an even bigger step in the funk direction, but our influences are constantly in flux, and you never really know what's gonna come out when you turn on the keyboard and start writing. As with all things, change is inevitable. We just want to record and perform what is in our hearts."
Nevertheless, they're from Boulder—home to a large segment of the jam band population. It would be easy typecast the band as simply a variation of the norm, even though they eschew vocals and their core combo is smaller than many bands of that ilk. Donohue doesn't mind that SunSquabi is still identified as part of that contingent. In fact, he embraces it, saying they "definitely" belong, while also conceding that jam music has its own seemingly ubiquitous sounds, instruments and stereotypes. But these, he reasons, are eclipsed by the genre's breadth, creativity and diversity, which keeps it even fresher than, say, rock or pop. "I don't see it ever getting old," he says. "Instead, just changing, as all things do."
Also, jam fans make it easy to be muse-stalking artists. They're not only willing to indulge experimentation—they expect it, so even accidents can make a band look good. "We played for eight minutes at the Suwanee Festival with the computer off and nobody seemed to notice," he says.
Yet, one has to wonder if there are constricting limitations within a three-piece (SunSquabi is currently seeking a replacement for bass/synth player Andrew Clymer, who departed the band earlier this month). "Absolutely not," Donohue says, adding that the potential of the core trio is boundless—"the triangle is a perfectly balanced shape." However, in keeping with their genre's free-form ways, they're not averse to flowing in guest musicians in moderation because "there is no feeling like expanding with other musicians and bringing new ideas to the table."
A band like SunSquabi, then, is in the right place. As they have embraced their genre, and it has embraced them, keeping them busy. After wrapping 2016 with a series of shows, they plan an even more ambitious tour schedule for 2017—along with a new full-length album. That should sound great to their fans who, Donohue says, seem to enjoy whatever journey the band leads them on: "We're fortunate enough to see a lot of smiles and happy faces."