Chicken recipes are a dime a dozen. Everybody's got his or her favorite. More important than whether you bake, barbecue or fry, the final results boil down to quality ingredients. Just ask the experts. Hailing from Carbondale, Ill., the Mobile Chicken Party Unit has been blending a diverse menu of musical styles into one distinctive casserole of sound for the past couple of years. "[Drummer Mike] Bruno and Kevin [Kozol, keyboards] are very heavily based in '70s jazz fusion," explains guitarist Justin Sabetti. "I studied classical guitar, and James [Layman, bass] is mainly a funk player, but I feel that through the different angles that we all come from, we all change a little bit when we play as MCPU."
He's right. Although trained on classical guitar, Sabetti unleashes some ferocious solos. "That's Zappa for ya!" laughs Sabetti. "I've always been a rock guitarist, as far as playing goes. When I first started, I was doing Guns n' Roses, stuff like that, and I just love Zappa's concept. It's about allowing yourself to write just what comes out instead of trying for a hit song. You bust your butt practicing all the time and taking lessons, but when you go out and play you can be yourself and just let it flow. When people say 'you suck,' it's guys like that who pick you up."
Balancing art and entertainment is tricky. And for MCPU, finding that elusive symmetry is also critical. "This is our primary project," Sabetti notes. "We all know, deep down inside, this is what we want to do because it gives us the freedom to write. We're all very strange, and we all have the freedom to be comfortable that way, but it's very important to connect with people, primarily because that's what keeps us going. You just have to hope that the story you're going to tell that night appeals to them, but you've got to tell it like it is."
At times moody and ambient, others musically athletic, with high-speed riffs and odd time changes, MCPU's music has an element of danger and a flair for the dramatic. "We always try to keep things different," says Sabetti. "That makes it interesting for us, as well as the people that come to see us. We've got a circle of friends that always come up onstage and sit in with us ... that's another part of varying from show to show."
Some guest performers are unexpected. Every once in a while, a spoken-word artist or half-crocked gin-mill poet experiencing MCPU for the first time will be swept away by the band's extended instrumental soundscapes and feel compelled to step up to the mic for an impromptu rap. The results can be hilarious. "The first person that actually did that got up and started singing his own name, so that's now in the song!" chuckles Sabetti. "That stuff just sort of happens when you're doing a 45-minute-straight instrumental medley and you've got people drinking like crazy. We try to keep it under control yet let everybody have a good time, and sometimes it works!"