SunSquabi: The Healing Power of Music, Red Rocks
Whether you enjoy music in the background of mundane responsibilities or it exists at the forefront of your mind at all times, it serves a powerful purpose. This is a fact SunSquabi, a Colorado-based electronica jam band that defines their music as “hydro-funk,” acknowledges with powerful conviction.
They didn’t pursue their musical aspirations because it was easy — far from it. For years they traded financial security and comfortable home-dwelling for life on the road. They endured plenty of morning McDonalds runs, one-star motels, and sleepless nights spent driving hundreds of miles to make their next show, praying their van didn’t break down (spoiler alert — it did, often) before they became the electronic funk-jam sensation that’s known across the country.
“There’s a time when you see what’s in front of you,” Kevin Donohue (guitar and keys) explained. “You see the people you have around you and how your goals are aligning. All these things start happening and the pathways begin to open up. What you have to do, and what you have to sacrifice in order to make those things happen — which, with music, it’s a lot — becomes very clear. It’s time, it’s all of your money. It’s all of your passion and what you feel you have to put into your art in order for people to resonate with that.”
The days of sleeping in Denny’s parking lots and playing strange Salt Lake City shows for 60 people in abandoned industrial buildings and loading docks are behind them. These days, they’re selling out Colorado’s iconic Red Rocks Amphitheatre. As long-time Colorado dwellers who got their start at Boulder’s Fox Theatre more than a decade ago, selling out Red Rocks last year was the highlight of their artistic journey.
“I’ve had a recording studio in Colorado for the last 11 years,” Josh Fairman (bass and synths) said. “When you drive down 285, there’s a point where the road goes right in between the two rocks. Every day I would drive it, I’d be like, ‘I wanna play there. I wanna play there.’ We got these different opportunities to play, but to finally headline a show, it felt like the culmination of decades spent setting that intention. And to get to do it together with a group of guys like this — playing our music, doing two sets — I mean, it’s probably the greatest musical moment/night of like my entire life.”
2021 — the year SunSquabi achieved this monumental milestone — was a strange year, made gloomy by a COVID-colored cloud that loomed over the music industry for months at a time, with only a few brief moments of relief from lockdown procedures, mask mandates, and canceled tours. Thankfully, SunSquabi was lucky enough to perform at Red Rocks in between COVID surges, at full capacity. Although the band was unable to tour for the better part of two years, that didn’t stop them from making music. Nothing, not even a global pandemic, could take that away from them. Unwilling to give up their jam sessions, they phoned a friend.
“It only took two weeks [after the first lockdown] before we were in the basement jamming again,” Donohue said. “Our friends over at the New Conscious Art Gallery here in Denver kind of opened up the spot for us and we had like a little five-person bubble — the three of us, one guy who works there and the owner. We would go over there, set up our stuff, play, record, have writing sessions, and just jam. We tried to stay sharp and stay positive. We thought, ‘okay, let’s just do what we’re good at; get in the basement and play.'”
The band went back to the basics. Unconcerned with release cycles or the stressful nature of touring, SunSquabi was able to make music without the pressure of stardom that comes with their notoriety. Occasionally, they’d let their fans in on the magic by hosting virtual concerts from Donohue’s basement. During one of these improvised virtual sessions, the foundation of SunSquabi’s latest single, “Elephant Song” was born.
“Elephant Song,” a nocturnal funk jam with dizzying sax solos and ambient electronic undertones, is the first track SunSquabi has officially released in two years. Although the trio has created countless songs since the world shut down in 2020, they wanted their triumphant return to represent a come-back of sorts; a reintroduction to their psychedelic hydro-funk sound.
“[The Elephant Song] is one of the first songs that we wrote as soon as when we got back together and just started jamming the basement,” Donohue said. “I feel like it really captures that energy, you know what I mean? It’s exactly how we were feeling in that moment. And we haven’t gotten to share that. I feel like we’ve been holding onto it for a long time and it’s time to let it go.”
As the band gears up to release their first single in two years, it’s clear that their next chapter will be their most ambitious yet. Wherever this journey takes them next, it’s clear the music comes first. As the world continues to heal from two years of social isolation, music is the medicine we need right now.
“There are medicinal qualities in music that can help people in all different kinds of ways,” Chris Anderson (drums) said. “It’s definitely helped me.”
Music is more than medicine though. It’s a universal language, a common ground that transcends cultures and demographics. With more music on the way this year, countless festival sets and a soon-to-be-announced tour, SunSquabi is more excited than ever to let their music speak for itself.
“The human condition and music are tightly woven,” Fairman said. “ It transcends any type of cultural or language barrier. It’s something that everybody can relate to… music is like therapy.”