By Jordan Reisman
Photo courtesy of Brian Spady.
We’re currently in the month of wearing disguises—the stretch of time where it’s accepted if not encouraged to be someone other than yourself, all culminating up to the holiday where we’re not really held accountable for our own buffoonery and where everything becomes arbitrarily “sexy.”
For bands, the “Halloween cover show” is that chance to impersonate your own biggest inspiration or, if you’re totally hilarious and clever, play music that we all ironically scoff at normally but secretly love deep down inside (like nu-metal). For The Motet of Denver, Colo. the funk/afrobeat/soul group is not only just donning the mask of another band, but of an entire year for the night.
They have chosen for their annual Halloween show to play the songs of 1975, a remarkably ambitious undertaking when you consider what really goes into selecting an entire year: learning about the social and political context, perfecting the songs in the manner with which they were written, and all the while keeping a hungry audience entertained with songs that they might not be completely familiar with.
It’s all just business as usual for The Motet though, as drummer and bandleader Dave Watts asserts, they’re all about the mid-late ‘70s to the early ‘80s. BTR was able to speak with Watts as he was resting comfortably at his Colorado home planning out how to attack 1975 in a way that no one else has done before.
Specifically on October 30th and 31st, the band will be gracing the stage of the Boulder Theater in Boulder, CO to play “the music of 1975.” The year itself seems like a topic that is crucial to understanding the band: Why 1975, exactly? As they’ve been doing these shows for “a dozen years,” they generally like to cover artists of the “’70s funk genre” such as P-Funk, Stevie Wonder, and Tower of Power. Watts describes this particular year as “a heyday… and the beginnings of some real funky disco tracks.”
For The Motet though, it’s not enough just to “cover” the songs, but to really understand and appreciate the context in which those songs were created.
“You get into the whole phenon of what was happening during that time. The interest grows beyond just music; you can go into politics and other social things that were going around. There’s just something really organic about it. It’s pre-‘80s when drum machines came into play and people were playing to the grid in the studio. Now it’s a foregone conclusion that you hear recorded music, that time is going to be very quantized and it’s not gonna move around, not gonna breathe. I like the music of the ‘70s where the time breathes a little bit and there tends to be more of this organic interaction. It can be a little sloppy for sure but I enjoy the liveness of it and the fact that you can hear musicians playing,” says Watts on the decade that he loves best.
In addition to playing the music of the 1970s, Watts has also made it the goal of the band to record like the bands of the era. The band released the self-titled album The Motet in February of this year and while it showcases the group’s forays into funk and afrobeat, it also shows that they’re willing to go against the grain of the digital age by recording exclusively in analog. Watts says that the band’s previous records were recorded “in the box” at his home but were “sonically less pleasing.”
The decision to record this way came with a trade-off, however, as the band had to come to a consensus to “spend the time and the money to go into an actual studio” rather than recording at home where he says “there’s a lot more creative control” but that “you’re giving up a lot sonically.”
That’s quite the adult decision for a band to make, where you have to choose between either paying more and the record sounding better or paying less and having your record lack the rustic “warmth” of its influences. Watts says one of the detractors of recording at home in the DIY fashion is the overwhelming amount of control one gets when recording with DAW or Ableton. Although you’re not paying by the hour, the amount of time it takes to make a creative decision ends up costing you.
Though The Motet’s sound might be derived from 1970s funk, soul, and afrobeat, the community that they fall back on is the modern jam circuit. The jam scene of today, though, is not nearly as homogenous as one might think—in fact, it’s probably the most varied and idiosyncratic collection of aesthetics of any musical community.
“The jam scene naturally is our scene, which embraces a lot of different genres. There is no particular genre of jam music—jam music is really more of a scene more than it is the music. That scene is really strong in Colorado so that’s our foundation, really. In Colorado the jam scene ranges from bluegrass all the way to EDM and both those scenes are huge here. We just played two nights at Red Rocks as Big Gigantic’s live band and that’s a whole different demographic. If you look out in the audience, it’s 90 percent high school kids and college kids. Typically our crowd is older—twentysomethings and thirtysomethings—but for Colorado, the scene here just encompasses so many different genres and people are so open to different kinds of music that you’ll see those same people at all these different shows,” says Watts.
Though The Motet is not a young band by any stretch of the imagination, having gotten their start in the game-changing year of 1998, they’re able to discern exactly when to embrace the new and when to embrace the old.
Watts points to a former Motet saxophonist, Dominic Lolli, who after departing from the band, started his own EDM side project and toured the country, even selling out Red Rocks Amphitheatre. Without a hit song to his name, Lolli got thousands of people interested in his new music just by distribution on Soundcloud.
To The Motet, that’s just what happens when you mix the new with the old and it all becomes that magical word, “organic.”
Mix a little ‘70s funk into your routine with The Motet by clicking here.
Check out The Motet’s music and interview on the latest episode of Discovery Corner on BTR.