If you run a donut shop, chances are you eat a lot of donuts. That’s certainly the case with Mark Trombino, owner of Donut Friend in Highland Park.
In years past, the 48-year-old musician and record producer was known for producing emo and pop-punk albums and for playing drums in the indie rock outfit Drive Like Jehu, who reunited last year. But since launching Donut Friend in late 2013, he’s devoted pretty much all his time to running the business — and sampling its doughy fried goods.
“I eat donuts every day,” Trombino says, sitting in Donut Friend’s cramped back office last Friday. “I think that any time you have a kitchen, there’s food around you all the time. If you’re cooking, you’ve got to taste everything. So I’m nibbling constantly. And there’s a donut hole always just a couple steps away. There are a lot of donut holes.”
Just that morning, Trombino started off the workday with the Javabreaker, a coffee-infused confection named after New York punk band Jawbreaker. All of Donut Friend’s signature donuts are named after bands; in true DIY punk spirit, the donuts themselves are vegan and customers can make their own concoctions with an array of toppings.
Miraculously, Trombino maintains a trim figure despite his sugar-and-carbs-heavy diet. As he prepares to play with Drive Like Jehu at Coachella in April, he doubts the ’nuts will hold him back.
“I don’t have any problem eating donuts,” he says. “I just need to practice — that’s all I need to do.”
Long before becoming a donut maker, and even before gaining renown as a producer of classics like Jimmy Eat World’s Bleed American and Blink-182’s Dude Ranch, Trombino played drums in Jehu. The legendary San Diego band only put out two albums during their relatively brief run from 1990 to 1995. But they made an undeniable impact, helping forge the template for emo and “post-hardcore” while coursing through jagged, math-y songs that sometimes stretched out to nearly 10 minutes.
Jehu eventually stopped playing, as lead guitarist John Reis focused on his other band, Rocket from the Crypt. Trombino embarked on a career in production and engineering. But he was always open to the idea of playing with Jehu again, and when the opportunity came up to do a reunion show at San Diego’s Spreckels Organ Pavilion last August — 19 years after Jehu’s end, and just as many since Trombino had played in any band, period — he promptly bought a drum set to start practicing.
“I’ve seen other bands get together after a long period, and the drummer’s always the weak link. They’re always the one that looks like the old guy,” he says, noting his pre-show jitters. “I didn’t want to be like that. I didn’t want to look like someone who was just wheeled out.”
By all accounts, the reunion show was a success. Several thousand people, young fans as well as scene veterans, showed up to watch the four-piece tear through a five-song set — their smoldering tunes filled out with accompaniment from the city’s civic organist, who was rocking the massive outdoor pipe organ.
Thinking back, Trombino says, “It was probably one of the best nights of my life.”
Coachella announced their 2015 lineup last week, and many were pleased to see Drive Like Jehu’s name on the list. Trombino says that so far, Jehu doesn’t have any plans outside of playing the Indio festival. But whatever happens, it seems the reunion is offering him a chance at redemption. For all the praise the band has received for its 1994 opus, Yank Crime, Trombino, ever the perfectionist, looks down on his contributions.
“It’s all the same stuff,” he sighs, dismissing his bracing rhythms, aggressive syncopation, and sharp turnaround fills. “If I was a producer producing Yank Crime, recording myself, I’d be like, ‘Dude, chill out. Let’s get you on a click track, because you’re all over the place. And maybe mix it up a little bit.’ I’d be really hard on myself.”
After a hard day’s work frying donuts on Friday, Trombino was ready to finish up. His apron was dirty, his Chuck Taylors well worn, his bright blue T-shirt still slightly dusted from a recent powdered sugar explosion. The next day would be a busy one — the neighborhood Art Walk was happening, and it was sure to bring in customers hungry for S’Morrisseys, Hüsker Blüs, and, of course, Drive Like Jellys, his band’s sweet-and-savory namesake.
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“It’s delicious,” Trombino says of the glazed creation, which he describes as the donut version of "a peanut butter and jelly sandwich — what’s wrong with that?”