In the past, drummer Dave Watts did most production and arranging for his band, the Denver, Colo.-based The Motet, while his fellow bandmates generally worked on songs on their own. But that was then, this is today’s Motet. For the improv-lovin’ funk outfit’s latest disc, a self-titled affair, Watts and company wrote the album as a single unit, their first stab at a start-to-finish collab. “It’s definitely a good expression of where the band is at as a whole, which is the first time we’ve really given ourselves that chance,” Watts says. “I’ve been doing this for 14 years, with different lineups. This particular lineup has been together for about three years. We’ve really honed in on a sound we can get behind, and the record itself was 100 percent written as a group, so it’s our most focused effort yet.”
The result is a continuation of the band’s gradual evolution away from the Afro-Cuban and Afro-beat tracks which characterized their early releases. In their place is a collection of jams that are heavy on the funk, and which also showcase vocalist/percussionist Jans Ingber’s singing more than before. The hip-shaking funk of “Closed Mouth Don’t Get Fed” is a good time waiting to happen, “Extraordinary High” mixes funk with disco to great effect, and “Rich in People” offers moments where the influence of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” can be heard.
“With this record we really wanted to bring out the influences that we’ve felt during our annual Halloween shows, which has been focused mostly on ’70s funk,” says Watts. “So Stevie Wonder, Prince, Parliament Funkadelic, Tower of Power, Earth, Wind, and Fire — all those bands have had an impact on us.”
And while the band’s music over the years has focused primarily on the beats and making sure people have a good time at their live shows, Watts and company have come to realize the importance of not just making good music, but making songs that have some sort of effect on concert-goers.
“A lot of people have told us how important a really good, powerful song is, how it resonates with them, and how a great song can transcend a live performance,” Watts says. “So when we’re doing live shows, we want to have great songs in there.”
However, Watts also knows that the idea of a great song can be a lot of different things to a lot of different people. The electronic music scene has seen an explosion in popularity in recent years, for example, and since The Motet’s music has included elements of EDM over the years, he understands the fascination with it. But are there really a lot of great songs coming out of the electronic scene these days? Watts isn’t so sure because a lot of the songs feel so manufactured.
“So much of music today is special effects, just like movies,” he says. “Like electronic music. It’s getting more popular, and I can see why, especially with young kids. They like to go to a show and have their minds blown by the lights and the bass and all these visceral effects that get them excited. But you can hear that in the recordings. ‘OK, here comes the dropout. Here comes the part where the lights are going to go to strobes and everyone’s going to freak out.’ I get why kids like that, but I don’t know if that makes it a great song.”
So what does Watts think makes a good song?
“A great song should be able to have an effect on you throughout the day, whether it’s playing on the radio or not,” Watts says. “The things that make you think of the song even when it’s not playing, or the things that make you get excited when it comes on the radio. Like when you hear the first lick of a Bob Marley tune, it brings a certain feeling, so the feeling is first and foremost, whether it’s the melody that makes you feel that or the groove. All of that helps make the song great.”
Watts has had a lot of time to think about this subject, so his reasoning makes sense. This is the band’s seventh record and Watts himself has been here from the beginning when the group was originally called the Dave Watts Motet. Plus, he was in other bands before this and has spent a lot of time over the years as a session drummer for a variety of artists, so he has been exposed to numerous genres and creative processes. In the end, creative freedom is what drives him to keep on going, and that willingness to explore is what has helped The Motet evolve into the band it is today.
“We’ve made a lot of different records in different styles and genres,” he says. “We’ve always allowed ourselves to be as creative as possible and go with whatever whims are tickling our fancy at any particular moment.”
Following those creative impulses seems to have served the band well so far, and one expects that it will continue to do so for years to come.