Since The Motet started in Boulder in 1998, the band has earned a devoted fan base through steady touring, energetic performances and occasional theme-based shows. The seven-piece ensemble, which now calls Denver home, is poised to drop its ninth studio album, Death or Devotion, in January. With Dave Watts on drums, Joey Porter on keys, Garrett Sayers on bass, Ryan Jalbert on guitar, Lyle Divinsky on vocals, Drew Sayers on sax and Parris Fleming on trumpet, the outfit is currently touring in support of its upcoming release. The talented funk and soul players will mark the act's twentieth year and some fresh new streams with two shows at the Ogden this weekend.
Westword caught up with the band's founder, Watts, to get the state of the Motet nation.
Westword: How's it going?
Dave Watts: It's going great.
I remember you being into Afrobeat and jazz years ago. Are you still into that, or have you settled mostly on funk these days?
We've been through different phases in our career, but, yeah, we're mostly doing funk and classic soul now — and the music influenced by that whole genre.
The Motet started out in Boulder. Is that where you grew up?
No, I moved out here from Boston in the ’90s, and I decided to stay. I went to Berklee College of Music and lived in Massachusetts for a while before making the move.
Has there always been funk in the Motet?
Oh, absolutely. It's always been a big part of my life. Funk and disco music.
Did you start the group with the idea of yourself being the core on your drums and then having a revolving cast of players accompany you?
In the back of my mind, I always wanted to have a band that toured and recorded records, but it can be difficult to find people who want to commit to everything that that involves, so I didn't want it to stand in the way of something that I could grow. I figured I'd start something where the name could stay the same even if the members change. Even the style of music we play has morphed and shifted over time. It's always been such a great community of musicians out here, and it's a community that likes to share in the experience, as opposed to the East Coast, where it's more dog-eat-dog. So coming out here, it was more like, 'Hey let's just play.' I've made a lot of great connections, and it's kind of built from that.
How has the personnel shifted over the years?
When I started, it was a totally different crew of guys, but our current bass player, Garrett, joined in 2003. He's been the longest-standing member. He had a group out of Boston, and we sought him out when he was playing with a band called the Miracle Orchestra. We all played with lots of different groups trying to create projects, but he moved out here from Massachusetts specifically to play with the Motet. His brother, Drew, and our singer, Lyle, are the newest members of the band. Our outreach over the years has expanded such that we've made connections with players outside of the Colorado scene, and the band has been successful enough to where we've been able to draw people in from outside the state. We have a bunch of guys from Massachusetts, actually. The good thing is that everyone wants to move to Colorado, so it's not a hard sell. But, yeah, it's settled into something that everyone is really committed to, and our current sound is really working for us and our audience. Things have stabilized over the last several years.
You do some theme shows, right, where you cover different artists on Halloween? And then you were doing Funk Is Dead for a while, where you were covering some Grateful Dead, right?
Yeah, it's fun, but we don't do Funk Is Dead anymore, because we were getting pigeonholed a little. Covering all of these artists that we've covered over the years, such as Stevie Wonder and Tower of Power and all the classic ’70s groups, has led to our ability to understand and create the music that we play. It has really built up our vocabulary and has been super-helpful, but now we just want to play our own music.
So you're on your ninth studio album, coming out in January. How important is it to you to record?
Oh, it's extremely important. Really, it's the most important thing, because you can be a great band and just play cover tunes. And even if you play the music that you wrote ten or fifteen years ago, you're still almost kind of a cover band. It's always important to create new music that's going to push your boundaries and make you try new things, and sometimes that might be a little hard for your audience to handle, but we're fortunate that our audience is open to what we decide to put out there. We've been playing all the tunes from our new album live for the last couple months, and it's been going great. Recording for us it is a way of perfecting our music. Playing live is always a little different, but when you put yourself in a studio where you turn the audio microscope on, you really try and perfect what you're going for. It puts the pressure on you, and that's important. That's what we do when we make a record. And we always think about how we're going to play the music live. We never make a song that's just a studio song. If we're going to take the time to record a song, we want to be able to play it live, too. It might mean changing it up, but we don't want to waste the efforts that we put into creating the song.
How do you circulate your recorded music these days? Do CDs still factor in?
Well, CDs are kind of the olden days. It's icing on the cake to sell a CD, but it's amazing now when you put your record out and instantly everyone can hear it on Spotify or Apple Music or whatever. Online streaming is the way. The revenue streams are still there; they might not be that impressive compared to some bands, but more important, people can hear the music instantly. And if it's good, people are going to come to the show. That's the only thing we have control over, is how good the music is. So we have to believe that we're recording music that's going to affect people and that's going to get people to come to our live shows.
So the new album comes out in January?
Yeah. We've already released three or four singles, including one called "Whachu Gonna Bring." It's a song that reinforces the message that it's important to step up for things you care about and put an effort toward making a change, whether it's yourself, your local community or bigger-picture stuff. It's a song of inspiration. People think of funk music as just being about dancing and partying, but one of my favorite groups of all time is Earth, Wind and Fire. Their songs were about love, peace and a higher standard for living. They didn't waste their lyrical messages, so I figured we should try and put some effort into that. Lyle is a great lyricist, so I knew he could come up with something that went a little deeper.
We're super excited about playing at the Ogden. These are our favorite shows of the year besides Red Rocks. We love playing the Ogden, and we look forward to this all year. The Denver crowd is amazing, and the venue is one of my favorites. It has such great energy. We'll be playing every track off the new record, and we'll have some fun covers to throw in there, as well. And we're going to bring up musicians from the opening bands and have some special guests sit in, too. Friday we're being joined by Escort, which is a big-band live disco group that's had some hits over the years, and Saturday night is Cory Wong and Antwaun Stanley from Vulfpeck.
The Motet, 9 p.m. November 16 and 17, Ogden Theatre, 935 East Colfax Avenue, $32.