What do you do when the “good life” isn’t so good anymore?
Why would a lifelong musician walk away from a every player’s dream of multi-platinum albums, a constant flow of adoring fans and cushy tour buses? For former Rusted Root drummer Jim Donovan, the answer was to be with his family. In 2005, he amicably departed from the multi-platinum-selling Rusted Root and set off on a new journey to raise his young family, while redefining himself as college professor.
Now after an eleven year hiatus, an invigorated Donovan is back with a new album and band called Sun King Warriors. The Sun King Warriors experience is best described as dance-able, emotionally-engaging groove rock, blended with a rootsy acoustic vibe and two tons of drums. Think Led Zeppelin III & IV mixed with Rusted Root’s “When I Woke” era positive message & rhythmic intensity and topped off with the authentic vocal emotion of REM’s Michael Stipe. (continued below..)
Recording for the album began in 2011 and continued through 2015 in Pittsburgh with noteworthy producer Sean McDonald. But what took so long? In Donovan’s words; “Between teaching and a busy home life with the family, there wasn’t much time for anything else. So I carved out a sliver for myself which added up to about 3 hours per month in the studio.” And that’s how it continued- three hours, once per month for nearly five years.”
Donovan continues: “At first, I wasn’t even sure if what we were recording would even be something I could release. All I knew was that every time I left the studio, I felt great. I discovered that reintroducing writing and recording into my life helped to ease a restlessness I’d had ever since leaving Rusted Root. Even if no one else ever heard the music, I knew I needed to keep recording for my own piece of mind.”
In addition to penning all of the songs on this album, Donovan plays guitar, sings, and jumps behind the kit. Supporting him on the album are percussionists Bryan Fazio and Harry Pepper, bassist Kent Tonkin, and guitarists Dan Murphy and Kevin McDonald. The album also includes special guest Rob James of The Clarks on lead guitar and mandolin.
Ever the proud papa, Donovan says he is most excited to have his three children to join him on the album. “Ever since they were born, I wondered if I’d ever get to record and play music with my kids. I’m ecstatic that they wanted to be a part of it.” His daughters Tupelo (16) and Ella (13) sing on “Blend Into You” and “The One You’re Growing Into while his son Oliver (11) rocks out with dad on “March of the Sun King Warriors”.
Donovan draws from a wide variety of influences for the disc, from the roots-inflected charms of “Blend Into You” to the bombastic '70s rock riffs of “You Got To Believe it,” the reggae-esque “Olalala” and, of course Donovan’s signature drumming on “March of the Sun King Warriors.” The album also shows off Donovan's softer side with soulful acoustic ballads “Love on Me” and “Can’t Stop Falling” before he switches gears for the African strains of “The One You're Growing Into,” which is reminiscent of the work of Paul Simon's seminal album “Graceland” — and which was written for Donovan’s son Oliver. “The Sunshine” closes out the disc with an ode to love, the greatest of all human experience.
Donovan relates how two unexpected trips to the hospital in 2013—for what doctors incorrectly thought were a heart attack and a brain tumor—nudged him to vent his creative spirits, to take command of the moment before it passes by.
“These harrowing experiences made one thing clear to me: Life is short!” Donovan recalls of his trips to the ER, which ultimately showed he was in perfect health. “I realized that there was no longer time to put off the things I knew I wanted to accomplish ‘someday,’ including creating an album from my heart and soul.’' With a new sense of urgency (and purpose) the ‘Sun King Warriors’ project swung into full gear. “I knew that if I didn’t start soon, my kids might never know this part of me,” Donovan said of the album.
Beyond the music, Donovan and the Warriors believe in consistently connecting their efforts with service to the greater good. The band regularly supports important causes including feeding the hungry, grieving children, recovery and music education.
Donovan lives in Western Pennsylvania with his wife Tracey and his three children Tupelo, Ella and Oliver.