Four groovey people make up the ensemble Square Donuts, and they are ready to have some fun in this local scene. Their latest EP, Put the Jam On, is a pleasurable stroll through both genre and thought. From their whimsical, pop-intellect opening track “Poppin'” to their atmospheric, latin-jazz third track “Minutes in an Hour”, listeners will no doubt want to bob and sway along. I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Madeline Marsan and Vance Bollinger to chat about their upcoming headlining show at Mike N Molly’s.
Square Donuts is comprised of four members with Vance on the keyboards, Maddy singing, Dennis Sykes Jr. on bass, and James Sims on percussion. Their chic four-piece started as a duo with Vance and Maddy about a year ago and they added Dennis and James the last fall.
Smile Politely: So how did you guys come up with the name?
Bollinger: Last summer I was driving past some businesses and among several goofy names, one of them was ‘Square Donuts.’ It has actually inspired us to be a little goofy, yet proud, through our music and on stage.
SP: How exactly did the band form?
Marsan: Vance and I are music majors, so we knew each other through that originally. I remember I was working on a few song ideas and I had went to Vance for some input and feedback on some of the harmonies I had. After a while we just started jamming together. We had performed as a duo for several months playing softer, more acoustic shows. Last fall, we were looking to expand our sound so we asked James and then Dennis to join. At first we spent a lot of time arranging our old songs to be for a 4-piece band. That was a ton of fun, Dennis and James had so many great ideas for song structures and transitional material within a song. After they joined, it was cool to look back and see how much we have grown as songwriters. We’re still a new band, were expanding our sound, and our approach to finding gigs has changed as well. Being a 4-piece is harder, but more rewarding. We are excited to play more shows!
SP: How would you describe your sound?
Bollinger: We’re super groovy. Fun. Whimsical. We’re still finding our sound a little bit, especially now that we have two new members. As soon as they joined we gained this huge amount of energy that wasn’t there before. Our biggest focus for a while was getting all of us to meld together cohesively. Moving forward, it is extremely important to us that we maintain some sort of artistic integrity while still being able to connect with an audience. It’s sort of like pop music that is also intellectual. One example of that is our occasional use of modal mixture. To an extent, listeners are looking for something they haven’t heard before. We like to combine different ideas together in new ways in an attempt to achieve that goal. Being a jazz pianist, I find playing jazz really rewarding and even therapeutic. It’s not what you play but how you play it, what you feel when you play.
SP: What artists inspire you the most when writing songs for Square Donuts?
Marsan: For the most part, when writing music I try not to focus so much on my influences and aiming for a certain sound. Instead, I try to let the ideas flow organically. If I had to pick, I’d have to say Brittany Howard from Alabama Shakes. Her unapologetic vocals mixed with the amazing song structures create an amazing listening experience. They make some really ambient sounds as well that I love.
Bollinger: There’s this band called Vulfpeck from LA. They are also a quartet, blending jazz and funk that is simple yet energetic. It really appeals to a wide audience, being creative within a simple harmony.
SP: What do you see in Square Donuts’ future?
Both: Playing more shows, playing new venues, expanding our repertoire, and expanding fan base.
Catch Square Donuts this Friday night headlining at Mike N Molly’s in Champaign. They play at 10PM, just after Kayla and The Moon Lace Band. Their latest EP titled “Put the Jam On” is available on Bandcamp now.