Summer Festivals: An Interview with Dave Watts of The Motet
By Grant Johnson
The Motet is playing at the Arise Festival in a few weeks, and Steamboat Magazine will be there, so that’s the main reason we’re talking today. But, you are also playing two nights at our local venue, State Bridge this weekend.
That’s right, we’ll be there on Friday and Saturday.
Great, State Bridge is the closest outdoor venue to Steamboat. Have you had shows at State Bridge before?
Yes, we played there the last two years, but this is the first year we’re playing two nights in a row and we’re really excited about the lineup.
Very nice. So you guys have been playing together as a band for ten years now, is that right?
I actually started playing with a band in 1998, but Jans (our singer) has been with us the longest now – about ten years – and the other guys have jumped on board at various times.
How does the group come together? You have a lot of members and a lot of diversity in your sound, so how do you go about finding new musicians for the group?
We’ve never been the kind of band that holds auditions. We’ve really just found different players through the community. It’s amazing the community we have here in Colorado, and it’s extended beyond over the years so it’s a pretty wide tent at this point that we’ve gotten our different players from. We’re fortunate enough to live in a great place here in Colorado; there are so many great musicians and a great music scene so it’s never been a problem to fill any void that’s left by someone having to move on.
What do you think it is about Colorado that brings such a good music scene here?
It’s the fans, number one! You know, people love music in Colorado; they come out every night of the week to see it. I don’t think there’s anywhere else in the country where there are so many music lovers who are so open minded to different styles, varieties, and genres of music. The scene is so supportive of bands like ours that musicians are happy to move here. In addition to that there’s the fact that it’s so beautiful and has a great community and a great lifestyle.
Speaking of open-minded music lovers, you have quite the fusion of genres going on in the Motet. What are your musical roots? What was the first genre you started playing?
Most of us as kids were listening to rock I think, and as a lot of us got older we got into jazz. Most of us have been to music school to study jazz, both on the east coast and in Colorado, so jazz was the first genre that really piqued our interest on a musical level. We’ve kept that with us, as far as being excited about improvising. Improvisation is a big part of our set.
How much playing together does it take before you feel ready as a band to improvise in your set?
It really depends on the chemistry of the musicians. Fortunately right now we’ve got a crew of players that are really solid with each other. We’ve been playing with this particular line-up together for three or four years and the improvisation aspect of our sound has really gelled. We don’t just improvise songs but sections of songs. A lot of our songs will have a section that’s just open to whatever happens next or we’ll have a transition between songs that does the same. That gives us the space to find where we are in the moment and the mood of what’s going on around us.
Does the reaction of the crowd influence your improvising?
Absolutely, and that’s why we’re so blessed to have the Colorado audience as our home audience. We get so much support for whatever we do that it gives us a lot of freedom to take chances. I know that’s not true for all bands in all situations so we feel really blessed to have an audience that’s open to that and supportive. We can just… try stuff, and they actually really encourage us to do that. We can tell from their responses that their excited that we’re in a space where we’re just going with the flow and making things up.
I can hear in your answer that you’re speaking from experience, have you ever been unsure about how something was going to work out?
We’re solid enough that it all goes pretty well. We don’t go out on such a limb that we’re going to train wreck and that’s what we offer to our fans. We keep it solid enough to keep everyone dancing. I do have some side projects where experimenting and improvising is exactly what we do, and that’s easier with a smaller group. Some groups can be as large as twelve members and it’s harder to reach those moments of pure improvisation with a bigger band. I have a trio that I play with and we do pure improv, playing off the cuff for 45 minutes or an hour. That takes us to some pretty far out places but I don’t know that it would be as fun for [the Motet’s] audience.
Do the natural surroundings of Colorado have any influence on your music?
I wouldn’t say I write songs about nature necessarily, but just being surrounded by nature and that sort of peace you can find by going out camping and hiking – not being in a totally urban environment – I think that brings a calmness to our sound and playing that I appreciate. We’re also in a very healthy environment and that reflects on our audience too. The music and performance around here is always super vibrant.
I know that you have played a lot here in Colorado, but you’ve been touring nationally as well. Do you notice any contrast between audiences here in Colorado and audiences in other states?
Oh yeah, like I said, we’re spoiled here. We’re just completely spoiled with how responsive and energetic our audience is. We get so much encouragement from our audiences here, whereas other places people might need a little more prompting to get their groove on. Sometimes we find that people don’t get as energetic until the second set when they’ve consumed whatever libations they need to partake in. In Colorado, it’s from the downbeat that people are ready to go. Eventually though everyone comes around, the energy rubs off. We’re trying to bring some Colorado love to the rest of the country so they can feel what’s going on out here.
So do you construct your set differently when playing for those audiences?
Not necessarily, we have our songs and we do what we do. We’re not trying to tailor ourselves to any particular situation. We might be a little less psychedelic in a daytime set and we might take more creative or improvisational chances if we’re playing a late night set, so it more depends on the time of day. Mostly though, we do what we do and people can hear it wherever we are.
Which artists are influencing your music right now?
Folks that we’ve toured with; we love Dumstaphunk, Lettuce, Soulive, the funk crew that is converging around the country – there’s a bunch of great groups. As a band we have a wide array of sounds that we’re in to: reggae, old school 70s funk, afrobeat, it’s a pretty big range.
Could you talk a little more about the development of the funk scene in the last five or ten years?
I think funk has more momentum these days maybe as a reaction to the whole electronic music scene and so many kids being in to that. I think other folks are looking for dance music that’s not manufactured or pre-recorded. People are turning to funk because it satisfies a lot of what they’re looking for in music. They might hear something they like in electronic music and then go to a show and realize it’s just one guy pushing buttons, so they start to come around. There are more festivals focusing on funk these days, like Jam Cruise or Clear Creek or Equifunk. The fans and promoters are pushing for that and coming together right now.
You mentioned electronic music – you incorporate some of those electronic dance beats into your music as well, right?
We have, it’s been part of our experiment. Right now we’re a little more organic than that with the sound we’ve been working on for our new record. It’s definitely less electronic than our last two albums were. It’s more live funky stuff with some retro electro stuff thrown in there. Really we’re feeling a more organic approach with it. The last two albums I put together myself, and I was doing a lot of programming. This one was completely written by the band, recorded by the band, and mixed as a group. It’s been much more of a group effort.
When is the album coming out?
It will be out this fall. We did a show at the Filmore this April where we recorded a song and we’re getting a video of that ready to go up to preview the album. It’ll be online in the next month or so.
Well that does it for my questions, is there anything you’d like to say to your fans in Steamboat Springs?
This weekend at State Bridge is going to be a crazy show because we’ll be joined by Orgone both nights and there’s a reggae group on Saturday called Roots Underground from Jamaica who are just incredible. Euforquestra is playing on Friday too, so the lineup is slamming. It’s going to be a great show and I would encourage everyone to be there.
Well thank you for your time Dave, I’m certainly looking forward to seeing you at Arise and I hope you guys kill it this weekend.
Thanks bro I appreciate it.