When at its most obtuse, Rochester quartet Mr. Donut makes the most sense. The band's sound runs cool and curious from a bottom heavy-dirge to lofty explorations full of air. And there are the words that show up — not in the songs as lyrics — but rather splayed out in a fictional interpretation printed in the liner notes found in the band's debut EP, "Sandwich Farm." So the listener can enhance the listening experience or choose to bring their own take to the experience.
Mr. Donut — Joe Dellaria, guitar; Emma Hsieh, keyboards; Guy Higgins, drums; and Charles Whitbourne, bass — is part of a new generation of experimental musicians that are neither hippies nor jazzers. It must be jelly because jam don't dig in like this. The band will cite artists from Phish to Brubeck further proving a creative restlessness throughout, yet somewhere between these goalposts stirs Mr. Donut's place in the world.
City Newspaper sat down with Higgins and Whitbourne to discuss lyrics versus no lyrics, adjusting the jam, nerds, and rehearsing naked. An edited transcript follows.
City: How did Mr. Donut get its start?
Chaz Whitbourne: Me, Emma, and Joe were in this funk band that broke up. So we wanted to try something new. We decided to try instrumental music because we didn't have a singer.
How'd that work for you?
Guy Higgins: We recorded an EP and things came together quickly.
So the plan was to be strictly instrumental?
Whitbourne: Yeah, once we got a sound and started liking it. I don't think we'd be opposed to working with a singer as a collaboration.
You have no lyrics, yet there are written story lines and write-ups in the liner notes. Que pasa?
Whitbourne: It's verbal imagery. It's kind of fun to play with
Did you write them up before writing the tunes or after?
Higgins: I believe it was during.
Whitbourne: We had the song names and when it came time to make the album, I made the stories match the songs that we recorded, so they're all in line with the story.
Was this in order to help the listener's comprehension?
Whitbourne: No, it was just to give the songs more personality. It just added more to the story — a visual aspect.
How do you leave room within a song's structure to jam? Is it off the cuff?
Higgins: It's off the cuff but a lot of it is motifs that we've done before so we're comfortable going back to them.
Is this a cerebral challenge to your audience?
Whitbourne: It's a balance ... some people, you lose. It depends if we're playing for the right crowd or not. We adjust and we change our jams a lot. We're just now getting more sensitive to that stuff instead of coming out and blowing people's faces off.
Higgins: It's fun to open up a little bit more and not be restricted by the set length; we want to start playing festivals. I think our stuff is geared for free-form, long-form jams.
How prepared are you before you set foot in the studio.
Whitbourne: I would say 75 percent prepared.
What does this new generation of jam bands consist of?
Whitbourne: There are no barriers. It's got that rock edge but you can't tell if its rock or jazz or fusion or metal.
Higgins: And there's nerdinesss — the guys in these bands are really into music, they dig really deep into multiple styles with technical proficiency.
What's the hardest thing about recording Mr. Donut?
Whitbourne: I like to practice nude which is weird for the others because they all have clothes on.