A band that’s just starting out hits the studio for the first time and records some tracks. It’s their debut album, and it’s a self-titled release. That’s not a surprising scenario; in fact, it’s common. What’s surprising is when a band that’s been around for 14 years decides that its new release, its seventh studio album, should be the one to bear the band’s moniker. That’s how The Motet, recently released by the longtime funk-fusion outfit of the same name, came to be. They’ll be playing a show at The State Theatre in support of the self-titled album on June 5.
There’s good reason that this album, of all those the band has made, is bestowed with the group’s name, according to drummer and founding member Dave Watts.
“It feels like a fresh start for us,” Watts says.
In recent years, the band’s lineup has become more static. In the decade and a half that The Motet has been around, the band has been host to more musicians than Watts can count – estimating, he puts the number at more than 20. The current lineup is led by Watts on drums, joined by Joey Porter on keys, Garrett Sayers on bass, Ryan Jalbert on guitar, Gabe Mervine on trumpet, and Matt Pitts on tenor sax, with singing by Jans Ingber.
Their sound has become more fixed as well, Watts says. In the past, the band rode on the whims of individual musicians, himself included, through phases of acid jazz, Afrobeat, and electronic sounds, racking up influences such as salsa, samba, and African drumming as players came and went.
Right now, they’re focused on the impact of late ’70s and early ’80s funk in their eclectic blend of influences. The Motet’s regular Halloween cover shows had band members diving deep into the repertoire of acts like Tower of Power, Parliament-Funkadelic, and Earth, Wind & Fire, and they converged on that music. Watts calls it osmosis: They absorbed the funk and it came through in their own sound.
“It’s only as of late that we’ve really come to something that resonates with everyone in the band and that it really has become more of an original sound,” Watts says.
But The Motet doesn’t just capture a new sound, Watts says. It showcases a different way of making music for the band. All the players had a hand in writing music – as opposed to playing cover songs or having Watts at the creative helm. Making the album was fully collaborative.
“It shows in the music, because the whole is really greater than the sum of its parts,” Watts says. “It becomes something that none of us individually could have possibly created. I think it’s way more musical and powerful than we even anticipated.”
They were writing and recording songs, individual pieces with predetermined musical lines and lyrics, as opposed to putting down studio jams. Watts says that The Motet has always been a “live band,” that they can harness potential energy in a song and unleash it on an audience. They wanted the songs on the album to translate to the stage, to generate the kinetic, body-moving experience the band encourages at its shows. Two months after the album’s release, and the funky, wailing horn-laden groove “Closed Mouth Don’t Get Fed” has already become an audience favorite. Watts says he’s seen that these new songs work live, and that the State Theatre audience is in for an energetic show.
“You can feel it, the energy of the crowd when we play the songs, even though people don’t even know the songs yet,” Watts says, “which is a great feeling.”
• For more information about The Motet, visit themotet.net.