Boston snowstorm helped form eclectic band Surprise Me

Chad Berndtson

The band Surprise Me Mr. Davis began as a no-pressure side project and became a priority. Not too much of a priority – its various members are far too busy to do it full-time – but just enough of a commitment that it has room to grow without stifling itself. More supergroups should be this lucky.

The band originally combined guitarist-vocalist Nathan Moore with the jam band The Slip – the trio rooted in prep school bands from Tabor Academy in Marion, Mass. That group rose to prominence in Boston and Providence in the late 1990s.

Having met the band in Boston, Moore, an Americana singer-songwriter, found kindred spirits in The Slip’s Andrew Barr (drums), Brad Barr (guitar-vocals) and Marc Friedman (bass). In the context of Surprise Me Mr. Davis, these musicians infuse Moore’s folky originals with electro-rock and jazz.

The three first got together in Boston during a blizzard in February 2003. Snowed in, they starting fooling around with recording equipment and soon had enough fresh material for a self-titled album in 2004. Soon after that came an extended-play CD, “Only In Montreal” (2005), and intermittent tours and stray gigs in the succeeding years as Moore also continued a successful solo career (partially as a member of the folk-rock collective ThaMuseMeant) and members of The Slip played together and with numerous other side projects.

“Davis is such an enigma in so many ways,” Moore said. “There’s really never been an unaffirming moment that we’ve spent together, and even though we live so far away from each other, when we do get together and make the music it’s so fun.”

The band’s newest effort, “That Man Eats Morning For Breakfast,” consists of music recorded under similarly in-the-moment circumstances. As the story goes, Davis, who lives in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, and Friedman, who lives in New York, were en route to Montreal, where the Barr brothers reside, but Davis was turned away at the border. Stuck in Burlington, Vt., the duo borrowed the local studio of a friend, brought Brad and Andrew down from Canada, and spent the week recording anyway.

Surprise Me Mr. Davis also has added a fifth member: the zany keyboardist Marco Benevento, famed for his work as one-half of the Benevento-Russo Duo and in a number of other groups, including the eponymous bands with which he’s been releasing solo albums since 2007. Benevento began sitting in with Surprise Me Mr. Davis regularly a few years ago, and in 2009 was an official recruit.

“I met Marco about the same time as I met The Slip and I always considered him part of that gang: those guys from Boston and people who played there with them all the time,” Moore said.

With many other projects, the five members of the band aren’t able to commit to Surprise Me Mr. Davis full-time – something that Moore says is frustrating.

“The potential is there, and we’re not getting the time to explore some of the realms I’d like to go into necessarily,” he said. “But I’m always just so psyched to see those guys and play.”

About that band name: during the group’s initial jam sessions, the typical answer each band member gave when asking one another what they should play next was “surprise me.” The “Mr. Davis” piece, odder still, came from a voice-mail message Moore received on his cell phone during the sessions – a wrong number, but memorable for an elderly lady intoning, “Mr. Davis, you’re having fun with that recording!”