Photo by Brian Spady © Spady Photography
“It’s pretty amazing that a band like us is co-headlining Red Rocks,” says Dave Watts, founder and drummer of the Motet. “I still can’t wrap my head around that. It’s really a reflection of the Colorado music community.”
Watts is obviously stoked for the big gig—a bill that will be shared with fellow funk explorers Lettuce—at the venerable amphitheater on June 5. For one of Colorado’s favorite grassroots bands, it will be a celebratory culmination of more than a decade and a half of hard work, as well as an indication that The Motet is making its most exciting music to date, due to finally having a cohesive unit with a singular vision.
Watts formed his first incarnation of the Motet in Boulder back in 1998, at first acting as a musical director of a rotating line-up. Trained in Boston at the renowned Berklee College of Music, the drummer often took the sound in varied directions, incorporating elements of jazz, Afrobeat and EDM. The music of Parliament Funkadelic played a big part in pushing the band’s sound in a dedicated direction toward late ‘70s funk and dance music. Through the years, the group has remained a steady fixture in its home state and the broader national jam scene. Studio output has also been prolific with the band releasing six albums since 2001.
In total, the Motet has featured more than a dozen members, including some of Colorado’s most dynamic players, like Dominic Lalli of Big Gigantic. Watts has also stayed busy in some side projects, including work with the String Cheese Incident’s Kyle Hollingsworth.
“When I got out here I was able to strike up relationships with a number of great musicians,” says Watts of moving to Boulder in the mid ‘90s. “People here just want to jam and make music.”
Eventually, Watts realized for the Motet to move forward he needed to assemble a band with a permanent roster. Five years ago, he cemented the group with singer Jans Ingber, keyboardist Joey Porter, bassist Garrett Sayers and guitarist Ryan Jalbert. Brass blasts also come from horn duo Gabriel Mervine on trumpet and Matt Pitts on sax
Collectively the band members decided to refine the Motet sound and they have settled on a brand of high-minded funk with a sturdy, soulful backbone that’s just right for throwing epic dance parties but also leaves room for improvisational flourishes. It’s highlighted on the band’s latest album, “The Motet”—a full-throttle set of rump shakers that’s self-titled as a statement of solidarity for the equal voices in the group.
“When you have complete control over everything for a while it’s tough to let some of that power go,” Watts admitted. “But all the players are invested in the band, and we’re creating something now that none of us could have done individually. It’s really made a big difference.”
Tightening the sonic scope came from the required research for the band’s famed Halloween shows. Every year around the costumed party holiday, the band treats the Front Range to a run a shows that cover the catalog of notable predecessors. Always dressed to match the theme, past shows have tackled the material of Michael Jackson, Madonna, Talking Heads, Jamiroquai and the Grateful Dead.
“We saw how powerful and effective those songs were live, and it got everybody on the same page,” he says. “It helped our abilities to write.”
This summer, the band will maintain its relentless road ethic. While Red Rocks is the marquee, the group will be traveling across the country, stopping at a range of high-profile festivals (but the only other Colorado date currently scheduled is a Deaf Camp Benefit in Snowmass on July 18).
On stage the band members are constantly trying to strike a balance between making people move and challenging their own musical abilities. “We want to have a dance party and have people get into the physical side of our music, but we also want to challenge ourselves with our playing,” Watts says. “There are plenty of moments for us to stretch and push the envelope.”
THE DOWNLOADS: ESSENTIAL MOTET
123 | This hard-hitting old-school-style funk number is a standout on the band’s latest self-titled album, “The Motet.”
Nemesis | A space-funk groove melds with atmospheric ahead-of-the-curve EDM on this track from 2009’s “Dig Deep.”
Afro Disco Beat | This pulsing afro-beat groove eventually accelerates into a full-on techno blitz on this instrumental from the band’s experimental 2006 album “Instrumental Dissent.”
Fire on the Mountain | This dance-friendly take on a Grateful Dead classic from the band’s Funk is Dead set on Jam Cruise in 2013 is a crowd favorite.
Available at livedownloads.com.