Manhattan College Alum’s Band Bounces Back from COVID’s Hard Hit on the Music Industry

by Megan LaCreta & Madalyn Johnson, Staff Writer & Web Editor

Kevin Donald ‘19, came to Manhattan College in hopes of being close to the New York City music scene. During his time at Manhattan, Donald played in the jazz band, performed improv with Scatterbomb and earned the performing arts scholarship. He also formed the band Let Me Ask My Mother, which focuses mostly on rock music. Now, two years and a pandemic later, the band has released their first album, “At Best,”.

Now, two years and a pandemic later, the band [Let Me Ask My Mother} has released their first album, “At Best,”. @LETMEASKMYMOTHER / COURTESY

Donald’s involvement in performing arts clubs at MC was the catalyst to him finding the members of Let Me Ask Mother. Over time, Donald’s jam sessions with friends from the Manhattan College jazz band, as well as from high school, blossomed into an official band.

“So I started it [Let Me Ask My Mother], my sophomore year at Manhattan, and since that time, there have been at least 10 different people in the band,” Donald said.

The band’s current lineup includes Donaldson, and Nick Guttilla, another Manhattan College alum. The group also includes Donaldson’s high school friend Greg Pease, and his friend Andrew Poccia.

Nick Guttilla ‘19, detailed his time in Let Me Ask My Mother over email. While the band is certainly proud of their new album, the social aspect of it has also been an important part of the experience for Guttilla.

“My favorite experience as a band member is meeting up to practice in the studio,” Guttil- la wrote. “It’s the little moments of jokes and laughter we share that remind me how music has helped me make such wonder- ful friends.”

Donald shared that on top of the Manhattan College jazz band helping him find members for his band, the club also became a great inspiration for Let Me Ask My Mother’s songs. The concept of sitting down and playing music with a small group of students reminded Donald that he has to think about why he is writing music to figure out how to come up with new music.

“When I was at Manhattan College, I was in the jazz band and we would have a rotating group of guys and I really liked being able to have the songs that everybody knew, and we could sit down and play,” Donald said.“So, my idea for the band was, ‘I’m going to write some really simple songs and whoever I can get to play those with me I’m going to be super happy to get to play music.”

The band, whose music Donald describes as “college beer rock,” also draws inspiration from well-known indie rock and alternative rock artists.

Let Me Ask My Mother’s debut album, “At Best,” cover art. INSTAGRAM / COURTESY

“I like indie rock and alternative stuff. So, Pinegrove, Japanese Breakfast, Soccer Mommy and Bon Iver,” Donald said. “I like early 2000 stuff, a few bands like Yuck and the Cloud Nothings just became in- spiration. I like to yell a lot and I can’t really sing that well so I mostly do yelling, but drawing inspiration from everywhere is a big part of the fun of having your own project.”

Let Me Ask My Mother’s new album opens with the titular track “At Best.” The introduction starts off with an orchestral tone, before ramping up into a rock-inspired jam, a perfect metaphor for Let Me Ask My Mother’s jazz band roots, and a preview for the rest of the album’s clash of classical music and classic rock.

Aedan Roney ‘21 was one of the rotating members of the band as he once played drums for Let Me Ask My Mother. Roney expressed how unique he finds the band’s music.

“I think that Let Me Ask My Mother’s music is cool because it’s really personal and vulnerable while still managing to be fun and dynamic,” Roney wrote in an email, “which comes through both on the record and at live shows.”

Prior to playing trumpet for jazz band and starting Let Me Ask My Mother, Donald had a huge music background. He plays guitar, piano and wrote songs in high school which has significantly helped him come up with music ideas. He explained his creative process when approaching new music varies. Sometimes Donald plays the piano in order to come up with a new song or he follows up on unfinished music written in high school.

“I sit down with the piano and usually work out a song as it comes to me,” he said. “Sometimes that takes a couple of hours or sometimes that’s a few months. Our album that we just put out earlier this year, some of those songs I had written in high school, and they weren’t really fully done until after I graduated from Manhattan. So, I’d say I just take things as they come to me and sometimes that’s really easy and sometimes that’s kind of a challenging thing.”

Guttilla, however, did not have the same musical background, but he didn’t let that stop him from being a part of the band.

“I didn’t play an instrument before college,” Guttilla wrote. “I barely even touched one. So whenever you’re thinking about trying something new, just go for it. You never know who you might meet along the way.”

Let Me Ask My Mother has faced a significant challenge in the pandemic. Their album “At Best” had originally been scheduled for release in March of 2020, before the band made the difficult decision to push it off when the pandemic hit. They also had to cancel planned performances, which Guttilla noted was a hard decision.

“I do think the pandemic stopped our momentum a little for the actual release party,” Guttilla wrote. “We were doing a bunch of shows and getting exposure to build it up and just when it was around the corner, we had to cancel.”

However, the decision to postpone the album allowed for the band to rework it in ways they hadn’t considered before.

“[The pandemic] ended up letting me realize that there’s still more that I could do on those songs,” said Donald. “Greg Pease and I, he engineered most of the record, and we were both living in lockdown, so we would video chat and talk on the phone a lot about what we thought we could change and what we could do to make them even better versions of themselves. And what we ended up with, I think, was a lot better than what we were going to put out a year before quarantine.”

Roney further praised Donald’s work ethic, a quality that pushed the band through their harder times.

“Kevin’s got a solid work ethic, because he takes a lot of pride in his craft and has a great respect for his art and his listeners,” Roney wrote.

As for what they would tell others looking to pursue music, Donald and Guttilla agreed that simply going for it is the most important part.

“If you have a project you want to do or you just want to make music, to just start doing it and people will kind of coalesce around you, people will be excited,” Donald said.

“Just make music and don’t care what anyone thinks of it,” Guttilla wrote. “You will write so many bad songs, but it only takes one good one to make you feel and look like a rockstar.”

Let Me Ask My Mother’s new album “At Best” is available on all streaming platforms. They are also playing their first show since the pandemic on October 9 at Union Pool in Brooklyn.