Grateful Web Interview with The Motet

Grateful Web’s Evan Marks recently had a chance to catch up with some of the guys from Denver-based, The Motet. The Motet were playing a couple of shows to help celebrate Cervantes’ 10th Anniversary. The guys talked about their origins, influences, Jam Cruise and some of their favorite Motet shows thus far.

GW: Whoever has the most interesting story of how you found your way into the motet I’d like to hear it

Jans: That might be me. Well originally I knew Scott Messersmith the original percussionist of the Motet, and we actually studied West African music together. We both decided at the same time to go to Cuba to study Afro Cuban Folklore music, and on that trip to Cuba, he also brought along Dave Watts with him (Motet Drummer) and they were just forming a band called the Dave Watts Motet. Yeah, I met him there, I bought a guitar there and played him a bunch of original songs that I had done and when I got back from that trip they invited me to come join the band. So, I moved out from Oregon to Colorado and that was in the summer of 99'.

GW: I have read a little bit about you (Jans) as well as Dave, so I would like to ask the horns players this question, "what are some of your main influences?”

Matt: I come from a jazz background, for sure. Until I joined the Motet that was kind of my main bag, so all those guys, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderley. As far as having gotten into the jazz-funk scene I guess honestly the old sax player (of the Motet) who is here tonight, Dominic Lalli was a big influence, listening to his recordings and how he would you know, mold melodies and work with motives and stuff to make these long jam sections interesting and really developed. [Also] Some of the guys from Lettuce, Ryan Zoidis, he's really funky, I enjoy his playing and I've learned a lot from listening to him, playing with him.

Gabe: I came from a pretty musical family, my Mom's a singer and my Dad's a pianist and they were heavy into classical music, and that was my upbringing. Kind of similar to Matt, I was really into jazz, mainly just in to music you know? At a young age I realized I wanted to be a freelance musician or whatever that means exactly. Which basically means you study all genres, you don't close any doors, you want every door to be open so that when there's an availability like in this band, they had an opening for a trumpet player and I was fortunate enough to have worked with some of these musicians before. Studying freelance means being ready for a classical gig, or a jazz gig, or a funk gig, whatever that might entail. So influences for me vary all the time because its who I might be working with or what projects I'm doing I am studying that music.

GW: What was the transition like from classical to jazz music?

Gabe: For a while, yeah it was hard because I did grow up playing legit and then the whole concept of improvising music you have to let go. . . you have to be willing to sound bad for a while, because I did. I studied classical for a long time and it was like you go home, you practice it, and you sound good, but improvisation is this thing where there’s so many variables, you got a rhythm section behind you, what are they doing? How do you interact with the musicians around you? And yeah, you gotta sound bad. There's a letting of that ego thing that starts to happen then hopefully you learn from that. It's just like anything else, it's a language like learning to speak French or whatever, you learn bits and pieces and then after you become a conversationalist you can kind of speak in music in time with other people. It's super intimidating for a while but just stick it out, keep doing it.

GW: What is it like for you (Jans) to live in Portland and try to stay connected and communicating with the rest of the band in Colorado?

Jans: Well it takes a great amount of organization to make things happen and I think that's kind of the foundation of the band right now, staying organized so that we can actually do these big gigs on very few rehearsals.

GW: Open question to all of you, what was your favorite Halloween show you have played with the Motet?

Jans: Yeah, wow that's a tuff one. I mean just like anything it's like the latest one always seems like the most fun. The Earth Wind and Fire one was really special for me, partially because we put in so much time in the vocals section and I got bring in kind of my bros from Oregon to sing with us. But just spending that much time on the music and really getting inside some really difficult music, but they all were so great. Funk Is Dead was really fun because the music was such a celebration, you know people were so stoked and plus we got to put our own thing on it which was the first time we really did that. Then this last one was just so huge, so many people and such huge crowds, you know two nights of the Ogden sold out I mean that's dream come true kind of stuff.

Ryan: I'd say my favorite was Funk Is Dead, having been one of the band members that actually loved the Dead. So of all of them, my first Halloween with the Motet was Michael Jackson, which was amazing. Every one was great and that's thing about the Halloween shows like Jans was saying, we really just completely immerse ourselves in an artist, learn every single part note for note. So, we're just completely internalizing another player, whoever our role is in the band, so whoever Madonna’s guitarist was when we did Madonna.

GW: You guys did Madonna?

Ryan: [laughs] Yeah we thought it would be funnier than it was, like we thought the joke would go over a little more. Every Halloween is a learning experience. For me, Funk Is Dead, I was like getting choked up on stage. Those lyrics really resonate with me and people who really love the dead, then hearing them and being able to play them, you know there’s sixteen hundred people singing every lyric back at you. I get goose bumps thinking about it, that was by far my favorite one, it was pretty magical.

Gabe: I'm kind of similar to Jans; I think they're all unique and special in their own way. There are gigs that I do that are musically rewarding for me and there are gigs that I do that are musically rewarding for an audience member and hopefully most of them tie in together. But yeah, the Funk Is Dead thing was unreal just because its like dude, everyone knew every word, and I was coming in fresh on that stuff I had really like not ever gotten into that music. So getting into it and watching people that are so dedicated to this music, tattoos, fuckin jewelry, fuckin everything dude! But I gotta say too as a horn player man, that Earth Wind and Fire shit presented a huge technical challenge and I had a blast on that one because I got to put together a lot of the charts for it, for the other horns players, because we had ringers come in. The guy who teaches trumpet at Denver University came and played lead trumpet for that and he is one of my former teachers so it was an honor to get to play with him.

GW: What was it like to work with Nigel Hall this past Halloween show?

Ryan: Hilarious. His energy is just wild. Just being around him you just kind of like absorb it. He just has a way to rock a crowd. Besides an artist's skill level and musicality, the guy is just a born performer. He just takes the whole room and encapsulates it, they are all his, he's got you. It's amazing watching someone like that do their thing that he's just so great at. But his playing and his singing too, the whole thing is just like overwhelming. It's like oh he's crushing that! Now he's singing, with like the best voice I’ve ever heard and then his energy on top of that is really inspiring.

[Joey Porter walks in the room]

Jans: Joey, you're just in time!

Joey: For what, the sex orgy?

Jans: Not with this crew

Joey: Good. Because I was like, this is pretty uncool guys.

Ryan: Joey do you want to comment on what it was like to work with Nigel?

Joey: Oh Nigel is the greatest man, such a natural talent. His shit is just like. . . It just happens; he doesn't think about it, he just IS music. Its cool to be around other people who are genuinely excited about music. He's not really in it for all the glory like everybody talkin about him and being under the lights, he would just do that, even if he didn't make any money he would still do it.

GW: Is getting bigger or breaking through to another level of popularity something that you guys think about? Is it on your mind ever?

[Jans laughs]

Jans: That’s very funny that you say that!

Ryan: Of course. The band has had so many changes throughout the years that it sort of became something that we would just let it happen and it was just a gig-by-gig basis. We weren't really thinking about building momentum or things like that. There were points in the Motet's lifespan where some things started gaining momentum and then something would happen, you know line up change or whatever. All it really took was a consistent lineup and we started working more just because we enjoyed it and then it just started coming back immediately. We would put a little bit more work in for a few months and then the next few months, numbers would go up and we were like oh this is great! We're more excited about it than ever, we are excited to get into the rehearsal place. We have been rehearsing a lot. We work a lot at this band. But it’s really exciting to go home and practice new parts. We're working on a new record, so definitely excited about that, it’s been a while. So, you can't really help but not think about it because we just want to keep growing and having people hear our music. Obviously we're not trying to be famous or else we probably wouldn't be playing funk music [room laughs]. But you know, we want to rock shows, and we wanna make people dance.

Joey: I think we're definitely not trying to write songs to cater to anyone but ourselves, but I think we definitely want people to like it of course.

Jans: I think we are starting to get clear about what’s next for us, and there is definitely a next and we're pretty stoked to get there.

GW: Are you guys gonna get in the studio anytime soon?

Joey: Yeah, in fact we have studio time booked next week, but it takes a long time to make a record, you gotta do the tracking, then mixing, then editing and mastering and all that stuff. We're hoping to have it out by like late summer.

GW: Is it gonna sort of follow Dig Deep?

Jans: No.

GW: Less electronic then?

Jans: Yes.

Ryan: It's going to be reflective of the live show which is just funk. It's gonna be a funk record, we've got some great tunes. I think there’s some really nice hooks and stuff like that.

Joey: Yeah, Dig Deep is more like a Dave Watts production that we all had something to do with but we didn't do anything but do the playing. This is actually like a cohesive album of new songs that we all wrote together.

Jans: Yeah, like we got together, we jammed on ideas. People would bring in a seed of an idea and we would grow it and out of those came writing horn lines, writing melodies, and writing vocal stuff. So, yeah like he said, it’s going to be really reflective of what you hear live at our shows.

Ryan: We have been road-testing four of our new tunes. We premiered them at our new years gig and played them on Jam Cruise as well.

GW: Just generally before we run out of time, how was Jam Cruise?

[Smiles appear on everyone's faces]

Ryan: Fucking crazy

Joey: I'm not mad at it

Jans: Ridiculous

GW: Last question. Every show of yall's I have attended has been a raging party; do you ever miss a quieter scene?

Jans: I think the motet is about throwing really great parties, and I think that is a part of who the Motet is. So, if we want quieter music and that other stuff, we book ourselves those other gigs to play nice quiet music.

Joey: Yeah, when I get old I’ll play jazz…No I won't

Jans: When it's a Motet gig, it's a party.

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