Summer Stars: The Motet

Larson Sutton on July 2, 2014

The Motet, Colorado’s agents of funk and soul, are never really off tour. A perennial presence on the live circuit for more than a decade, the seven-piece ensemble is now hitting the road in support of their eponymous album, released this past February. Led by drummer Dave Watts, the group is slotted mostly at festivals throughout the summer season, with a few theater dates mixed in—notably making a home-state appearance at one of the country’s most famous venues.

The band’s latest record, aptly titled The Motet, is garnering rave reviews, yet it represents a bit of a departure from earlier outings. “The album is really like a new era for us,” Watts explains. “Writing our own music as a band, a 100 percent collaborative effort, it’s a real stepping stone to a sound we’re going to be bringing consistently, and fortunately it’s working. It’s effective on the record and it’s effective live.”

The addition of singer, percussionist and relative newcomer Jans Ingber led The Motet to recast a live show previously distinguished by Afrobeat and electronic influences with long stretches of instrumental music. Writing songs as a group, with Ingber contributing many of the lyrics, has shifted the sound and allowed the band a newfound flexibility in its repertoire. “There’s some compromise there,” admits Watts, who wrote the majority of the group’s material for years, “but it’s really an example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. There is music we are doing now that I could never write on my own. The fact that we are all putting ourselves into it has created a sound that we couldn’t have really imagined.”

While The Motet’s previously fluctuating lineup has recently solidified and its collective efforts are feeling more unified, the burden of carrying the responsibilities of performance, musical direction and manage- ment for more than 10 years has been taxing on the drummer.

As the band contemplates management offers, the move toward a more democratic approach appears to have been both beneficial and necessary. “I’m definitely the decider-in- chief,” says Watts, “but I wanted more of a band vibe, sharing the leadership duties and moments. It’s been great.”

The turn toward more collaboration also means marrying the new material with the old to maintain the band’s sterling live reputation. Although the focus of the shows will be on tunes from the new album, with a catalog of some 350 songs and counting—drawn in part from the band’s legendary annual Halloween concerts where they have covered artists including Stevie Wonder, Parliament- Funkadelic, Talking Heads and the Grateful Dead—every appearance is loaded with possibility. In drafting a given setlist, the group also will take into account the time and place. “The vibe of a late-night, 3 a.m. set at a festival in the woods is going to be totally different than a daytime show at a family-oriented festival downtown somewhere,” says Watts Regardless of where and when, The Motet is quite happy with a few months of summer work. Stops at Midwest festivals from Summer Camp and Camp Euforia to the Pacific Coast’s Northwest String Summit and Camp Barefoot dot the docket, and while the band looks forward to every performance opportunity, there is one date on the calendar that looms slightly larger than the rest. “Obviously, Red Rocks is number one,” says Watts, referring to the July 5 show with Umphrey’s McGee at the famed outdoor amphitheater outside Denver. “It’s the best venue in the country. It’s so gorgeous and amazing. It’s Colorado, so all our fans will be there. It’s magic.”