Beyond Funk: An Interview with The Motet

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Started in 1998 by drummer Dave Watts, The Motet has been redefining the meaning of modern-day funk since its inception. The seven-piece band follows no generic model and has been making booties shake with their high-energy sets for over a decade. With a new album in the works and a continuous stream of tour dates all over the country, they show no signs of slowing down.

The Motet creates a funky afro-beat electronica that is irresistible and almost impossible to not dance to. Despite the amount of members, the band is able to cohesively and effectively merge all of the instruments and vocals, but in a way that complements each one in its own way.

Photo Courtesy of Bear Creek Music and Arts Festival

During their second appearance at Bear Creek Music and Arts Festival, I was able to sit down with a majority of the group to talk about various topics, including their return to Bear Creek and their plans for the future. Continue reading to find out how the band got its name, what the members think about sit-ins and more.

*Some quotes are attributed to the band although a specific member said it.

Is this your first Bear Creek?

The Motet: No. As The Motet, we were here for the second [Bear Creek]. Motet was here about six years ago.

 

How would you compare this festival to other festivals you’ve played at?

Dave Watts: Better, better for sure.

Garrett Sayers: It’s one of our favorites. It’s my personal favorite.

Dave Watts: Maybe even more than Jam Cruise.

Garrett Sayers: I’d say so.

Dave Watts: You’re not on a boat.

Garrett Sayers: The thing about Jam Cruise is that the Jam Room is very cool.

The Motet: As far as Bear Creek, it’s our absolute favorite because there are musicians everywhere – players that we respect. It’s an awesome time with lots of sit-ins, good friends, fun. Yay!

The Motet: We were apart of Spring Fest a couple of times, which is a bluegrass festival. It’s a little harder for us to commute with the bluegrass scene.

The Motet: It’s not really our niche. I, personally, do like bluegrass music because it’s tough to play banjo rifts if you don’t play banjo.

 

At a festival like that, you would stand out more.

Dave Watts: We did. People were psyched. They were like, ‘Drums! Yes! Finally!’ It doesn’t work the other way around. You don’t have a bluegrass band at a funk festival, where everyone is like, ‘Banjo! Ya, Finally!’

Joey Porter: We get the best of both worlds.

Where did you guys grow up and what did you grow up listening to? What were your influences when you were young?

Dave Watts: ‘70s funk and disco. And The Beatles, but everyone is influenced by The Beatles.

Joey Porter: I listened to a lot of jazz and funk.

 

Where are you guys from?

The Motet: The band is from Colorado.

 

Did all of you grow up in the Midwest?

Dave Watts: No, three of us are from the East Coast [Ryan, Garrett, Dave].

Garrett Sayers: We’re East Coasters.

Joey Porter: I’m from the south [Nashville] and he is from Colorado.

[Gabe Mervine is also from the East Coast —New Jersey; lead singer Jans Ingber is from Eugene, Oregon]

 

Where on the east coast did you guys grow up?

Dave Watts: Boston.

Garrett Sayers: Connecticut.

Ryan Jalbert: Massachusetts, Chicopee in western Massachusetts.

 

I actually know the area pretty good. Did you guys go to college or did you transition from musician to professional musician?

Dave Watts: I went to BU. Most of us went to school.

Gabe Mervine: I went to CU Boulder.

Did all of you guys study music in college?

The Motet: Most of us. Yeah, pretty much.

When you find artists that have studied music, I believe that there’s a lot more meaning behind the music and it’s more intricate. Did you find it difficult to study music or were you passionate about it from a young age?

Ryan Jalbert: I found it difficult but for me, my school had a lot of great professors and they were all very disgruntled. I went to Westfield State College. It was like running the gauntlet, asking myself if I really wanted to do this. Studying music, you take more classes and are busy all the time. But it was good.
How did The Motet form? Are all of you original members?

Dave Watts: Just me. I started the band in ’98 and it kind of started on Halloween. We’ve continued a Halloween tradition over the years in Colorado. Some of our biggest shows are around Halloween in Colorado. It’s grown and grown, and now we play the Ogden Theatre in Denver, the Boulder Theater. This year, we did what we call Mixtape 1980. We just played music from the year 1980. It was really fun.

How did you guys meet each other?

Slowly, we built up. It started with me calling my friends saying, “I got a gig.” We made our first record in 2000, and we never stopped. It’s not like we had auditions or anything like that. It was kind of a word of mouth thing. I called Garrett in 2002. He was on the East Coast with a group and just took a chance. I needed a bass player, so I said, “Let’s call the best bass player we’ve seen.” And he said yes. We had no idea – Oh, there’s Bootsy Collins. This is why I like Bear Creek. There’s Bernie and Bootsy. That kind of shit is awesome, especially in the woods.

We got lucky with all of the different players, who knows who, friends of friends kind of thing. It’s grown over the years.

 

I feel like that’s how a lot of bands are in this scene, a sort of tight-knit family.

Dave Watts: It’s definitely a community of it’s own.

 

The word “motet” has its origins in classical music. The definition I found said that a motet is a word that is applied to a number of highly varied choral musical compositions.

Garrett Sayers: I actually had to play some motets during college, but I want to explain that. Instead of a quartet or a quintet, we’re a motet. When Dave started the band, there was a different amount of people on stage each time, so it didn’t make sense to call it a specific number.

Matt Pitts: Honestly, to this day, we perform in Colorado and almost have 14 members on stage. We bring out dancers. We really like to bring up production to what our budget affords.

Dave Watts: It’s exactly what Garrett said. I couldn’t call it one particular thing, like quintet or quartet, because it’s always shifting and changing. Like Matt said, even though the core seven of us travel together and do most of the out-of-town gigs, a lot of times when we’re at home, we’ll add members. We like sit-ins. Yesterday, we had a couple of sit-ins. It ups the vibe and energy of the music.

 

Speaking of sit-ins, how do you choose who you want to sit in with you?

The Motet: It kind of has a lot to do with who we’re friends with, but there are certainly a lot of musicians that we admire here. The list of people to choose at this festival is endless.
Matt Pitts: As a saxophone player, I was talking to all of the horn players around and invited everyone to come sit in.

This is the first festival that I’ve been to with the artist-at-large, sit in concept. What do you guys think of it? Does it expand your musical horizons or do you think it downplays your own music?

Dave Watts: It’s great. When you’re playing music, it’s like speaking a language. You’re talking to people. When you bring someone else in who has different life experiences with their music, it’s going to add to the conversation. It’s going to make things more colorful.  It’s going to open your mind a little bit. We all do different gigs with different bands when we’re at home, traveling, side projects and that sort of thing. It keeps it fresh. We’re not a band that just has pop tunes and plays the tunes the same way every time. We like to add an element of surprise. Having sit-ins brings someone else into the conversation and tells a different story.

The Motet: We like to surprise ourselves.

 

As a group, what has been your biggest challenge thus far?

Dave Watts: Making this record that we’re making is a challenge. This record is very much a group effort. Coordinating seven people to try to write, record, mix and make decisions is really tricky. It takes an effort. A lot of bands have one person just leading it in those terms for a reason. It’s a lot more efficient. But there is something to be gained by having seven people really put in their creative input. The record we’re making is really unique to anything we’ve ever made in the past because we’re all there for it.

 

If you’ve been making music for 15 years and this is the most creative album you’ve made, that’s definitely an accomplishment. You’ve been doing this for so long and you’re still able to create even more creative stuff?

Dave Watts: That’s been our m.o. really: to always do something different, try things differently, try to mix it up, stylistically, anyway really when we’re going through the process. This one is a group effort. It’s cool. It’s a lot stronger. The whole thing is greater than the sum of its parts. But it’s also a pain in the ass too.

 

With its extensive past, The Motet refuses to stop creating new and refreshing music. Don’t pass up the next opportunity you have to see them. You will not regret it.

Unfortunately, the interview had to be cut short due to some time restraints. Thank you to The Motet for taking time out of their schedules to sit down and chat.

 

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