Breakfast of champions

Slipping into Surprise Me Mr. Davis
By CHRIS CONTI  |  April 8, 2010

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SHARP DRESSED MEN The Davis crew.

The Slip have been a fixture on the jam band scene for 15 years. Over the past six years, the Slip’s core members — bassist Marc Friedman, guitarist Brad Barr, and his brother Andrew behind the kit — along with pianist Marco Benevento and singer/songwriter Nathan Moore occasionally whip up a little something on the side they like to call Surprise Me Mr. Davis. They’re set to release an EP of new material next week titled That Man Eats Morning for Breakfast (available at iTunes and SurpriseMeMrDavis.com) and will play Firehouse 13 on the 15th prior to some high-profile gigs, including their first at the New Orleans Jazz Fest and their sixth consecutive appearance at the High Sierra Music Fest in Quincy, California. Mr. Davis previously shared the High Sierra stage with Martin Sexton, Drive By Truckers, and My Morning Jacket, who subsequently invited SMMD on tour. In 2008 the Low Anthem opened for them during a Northeastern jaunt; the Barr brothers just wrapped up a West Coast swing opening for TLA.

SMMD’s mellow and melodic 2004 eponymous debut was followed by an ’05 EP titled Only in Montreal (available at TheSlip.com), referred to as “supercharged electro-folk with many a tender moment” on their Web site.

“Yeah, I guess if you have songs that can stand on their own when sung by one guy with an acoustic guitar, and then ‘electrify’ it for the joy of making this bigger beast that everyone can enjoy dancing or listening to, then I guess ‘electric-folk’ makes sense,” former Warwick resident Andrew Barr quasi-concurred. And while band members are now scattered from Montreal to Brooklyn to Virginia, Barr recalled his Warwick glory days, and luckily was nowhere near the Great Flood of 2010.

“I used to hang out at the Warwick Mall when I was a kid,” he recalled. “A long time ago I saw Tiffany sing there, and I waited to get an autograph from Roger Clemens there but he bailed while I was still in line.”

And as for the band name — just who is Mr. Davis?

“During the blizzard of 2003, Brad and I had just purchased some recording gear and, with nothing else to do, we made lots of hot chocolate and embraced a ‘surprise me’ attitude anytime one of us started jamming,” Barr recalled. “Towards the end of the week Nathan received an answering machine message from a wrong number, a foreign woman’s voice that said something like, ‘Hello Mr. Davis! I see you’re having fun with your recording there. Drink lots of hot chocolate, bye.’ From there, Surprise Me Mr. Davis was born.”

That Man Eats Morning for Breakfast marks a welcome return for Mr. Davis, especially the excellent opener “Roses In Bottles,” the chugging guitar squalls reminiscent of a Built To Spill. The stoned blues of “Sissyfuss” and the EP’s midway point, the country-scruff of “I’m No Good at All,” are followed by the toy piano toe-tapper “Emily Green,” leading to the pretty, seven-minute centerpiece “Joelle,” named for Nathan Moore’s girlfriend. Oddly enough, the idea was introduced by Andrew’s brother.

“Brad sent Nathan the track over the Web, Nathan penned lyrics and sent them back to Brad. Finally Brad sent the final demo to Nathan but inserted Nathan’s girlfriend, Joelle, after every line: ‘You climbed on down, down from despair, Joelle.’ ‘And I was walking beside you there, Joelle.’

“It was a bold move on Brad’s part, but it really added another dimension to the song.”

While Surprise Me Mr. Davis is acknowledged internally as a “side project” (the Breakfast press release refers to them as “often elusive”), the band is excited to hit the road behind the new EP.

“Surprise Me Mr. Davis has always felt like a bit of a vacation for us, like going to the Bahamas with some of your closest friends for the weekend,” Barr told me. “And it seems like right when the tan is about to fade we get to do it again, and that is amazing.“We all love this project and always look forward to playing together, and I think that translates well to our audience.” 

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