The Motet are no strangers to change.
The next-level funk outfit has gone through countless lineup changes and sonic evolutions since drummer and bandleader Dave Watts founded the group in 1998. Most recently, they parted ways with longtime lead vocalist Jans Ingber this past December, and have added two new members: Lyle Divinsky on lead vocals and Drew Sayers on tenor sax.
A soulful, curly-haired fan favorite, a friend of mine once described Ingber as “the funkiest God damn white boy you ever seen.” While that sentiment may not be far from the truth, anybody who knows The Funk knows that The Funk cannot be contained, and it surely cannot be stopped. Ingber left The Motet on good terms, a move that was motivated not by any sort of ill feelings, but by his desire to be more present in the lives of his family (you can read his farewell note here). And while Ingber will always be “Motet 4 Life,” I can personally attest to the chemistry that the band has already found with Divinsky on lead vocals.
I was lucky enough to interview The Motet a few short hours before their set at Austin’s fifth annual Euphoria Festival. They were thoughtful and sharp during the interview, and of course they tore it down during the show. Divinsky was relaxed and charismatic on-stage, keeping the audience in good spirits with light-hearted banter and an evident connection with the rest of the guys. The performance made it clear why he is the latest member of the Motet fam.
As for Sayers? Well, he actually is part of the Motet fam — his brother Garrett has been The Motet’s bassist since 2002. The younger Sayers, Drew has been earning his stripes as a part of John Brown’s Body since 2009, even producing the band’s 2015 release Kings and Queens in Dub. He also wrote and played horn arrangements on Beyonce’s last two albums. His production and writing expertise adds invaluable experience to The Motet.
I must confess, it was a bit odd watching the funk belt out of Lyle’s grizzly brown beard — instead of out of Jans’ clean-shaven face — but one thing soon became clear: this is the same Motet that we all know and love. Onward and upward!
There has been a great rise in the number and popularity of music festivals in the past decade or so. Have you seen a noticeable difference in the amount of shows that you play now as opposed to at the beginning of your careers?
Dave Watts: We do way more festivals now.
Gabe Mervine: In the late 90’s there wasn’t a whole lot going on as far as festivals go, only some of the bigger ones were around. But I think through social media and grassroots efforts, [festivals] have been able to grow a lot more. These mid-size festivals have been able to pop up and promote themselves, and everything has gotten easier.
Do you think that it’s easier to book gigs now in general?
Mervine: No, I don’t think it’s easier to book gigs. I think it’s easier to tour, and to get fan outreach without having a lot of money behind you because you can reach people through social media. You don’t have to put stamps on a bunch of postcards and send ’em out to people to give out at your shows. You can actually get a lot of free advertising and publicity now… plus the music is able to get out quicker, too.
Have you seen a noticeable increase in your exposure as social media has gained popularity?
Mervine: Oh yeah, guaranteed. We’ll show up to a place we’ve never been before and it’s a packed house. You don’t need to get your music on the radio anymore for people to hear it. They can access it through Facebook, SoundCloud, whatever else they use…
You just mentioned SoundCloud, which is probably the most popular music streaming service next to Spotify. Some artists have negative feelings about streaming when it comes to things like low artist payouts or fans not buying their music anymore. However, there are also huge benefits to streaming. What is The Motet’s stance on streaming, and the future of the industry as far as streaming is concerned?
Watts: I feel like we’re at an intermediary time where the music industry hasn’t kept up with the way technology has evolved. What’s happening right now won’t last because there’s no room for any longevity. That being said, you’re right, you spend a lot of your career trying to be heard, and then once you get heard a lot of artists pull their shit [off streaming services] because they don’t want to give [music] away for free anymore. But that’s just where we’re at right now. It’s how people hear music.
Drew Sayers: I think we’re waiting for the next bandwidth revolution. Right now the technology that we’re using doesn’t allow for streaming to be high quality. If you have a premium Spotify account you can get up to 320 kbps (kilobits per second) mp3 files, but that’s as high as it goes. That’s why I still buy CD’s, because it’s still the best medium to hear what the artist intended you to hear in their music. With that said, the great thing about streaming is that a lot of people hear your music, and so it turns into a promotional tool rather than a selling tool. But I still buy vinyl and CD’s because that’s what the artist wants you to experience.
Very interesting. But of course, with you being an artist, you hear music with a more fine-tuned ear than the average fan would.
Sayers: Well, my ears are kinda fucked up from playing a lot of shows over the years, but I just want to get what the artist intended. It’s not so much what you can hear, it’s what you can feel. That’s the importance of the quality. They’ve found that super compressed files don’t have as much of an emotional impact on the listener. So there will be a bandwidth revolution in the next five to ten years.
Let’s switch focus to the changing of lead singers. A lot of fans were upset with the departure of Jans Ingber, but it doesn’t seem like there were any hard feelings between him and the rest of the band (ed. note: everybody nodded in approval to this sentiment). How did The Motet find Lyle Divinsky?
Watts: Initially when we were looking for a singer, we figured it would take us months to find the right guy.
It was a very quick turnaround.
Watts: It’s crazy how fast it happened. We have friends in a group called Turkuaz, who are buds with Lyle from the Brooklyn days. Joey called them up and asked them who to get, and instantly without a second thought they were like, “Lyle Divinsky is your man.” Because they know us, they know Lyle, and they knew it would gel instantly – which it has.
Ryan Jalbert: The Lettuce guys recommended him too. They were like, “you need to check this dude out.”
Lyle Divinsky: “Who’s this dude from Portland, Maine, that the Lettuce and Turkuaz guys are talking about?! I don’t know, he’s pretty hairy, man!” (laughs)
Jalbert: He was the first guy we checked out, and we were just like, “okay, we’re done.”
One for one.
Jalbert: Yup. Auditions are over. (laughs)
Lyle, how has this transition been from your perspective?
Divinsky: It’s been absolutely amazing. I mean, I just kinda laugh at the fact that it was so easy in a lot of senses. They’re right in the same vein that I’ve been trying to craft myself in, so to be able to come in with such a good group of dudes who are so open and welcoming, it’s just the immediate family vibe. It felt like brotherhood right away.
What were you doing pre-Motet?
Divinsky: I was focusing on my solo project around the northeast. I had just put the record out and was getting ready to tour for that when they called, and it was like, “yeah, that sounds fun, I’ll do that.”
The self-titled album from 2014 was recorded on analog equipment to better capture the live sound of the record. After seeing such terrific results are you going to be continuing in that direction for your next record?
Jalbert: Yeah, we went down to New Orleans for this record and recorded at Parlor Studios, and they definitely have a lot of analog gear. We didn’t go to tape for the tracking, but that’s always an option. We always want to try to capture as much of a warm, non-digital sound as we can because we love that funk music of the 70’s, and the quality of the instruments. We’re always thinking about that.
‘The Motet’ album was also co-written by the entire band, from what I understand. Were there any difficulties that arose from such a highly collaborative process?
Watts: Of course there were difficulties. It’s everyone’s creative input coming together, and we all have things that we want to hold our ground on, and kinda say, “I want this in here.” But there are also times when you have to acquiesce and meet halfway. It’s interesting that way because we all have different input musically; we all listened to different stuff growing up. It makes for a unique finished product, even though it might take a little bit longer. We’re still honing that process, but we’re getting better at it.
The Motet is a very versatile band. You can really cover the entire spectrum of genres and influences. What direction are you headed in 2016? Is there any particular genre that you haven’t delved into that you would like to delve into?
Watts: Classical. (laughs)
Mervine: Actual motets!
Watts: We’re really influenced by music of the 70’s and 80’s, especially funk. Every Halloween for the past 15 years we’ve covered a different artist from that time period, and recently we’ve done entire years. Over the past five or six years that’s been the biggest influence for us stylistically. We’re just trying to make every album funkier and more danceable, but at the same time not just a dance party. Music with a message. Music that’s got some real musicality. Horn lines, chord changes. Bands like Parliament, Stevie Wonder, Jamiroquai. If anything, we’re just going deeper into that world.
So is it safe to say the new album will be even funkier than the last one?
Watts: Oh yeah.
Divinsky: It’s going for hips and hearts alike! (laughs)
Mervine: He was just waiting to say that.
Lastly, what does The Motet think of Austin, TX? Do you guys have a favorite venue or most memorable performance?
Jalbert: They’re all just so memorable and epic, every single time.
Watts: It’s always a good hang here, also. There’s so much to see artistically, culturally.
Jalbert: It’s kinda like the Colorado of Texas.
Watts: We had a great time at the Scoot Inn… Art Outside Festival last year… we came to The Parish four or five years ago and sold it out. We didn’t know what our scene was in Austin at the time, but that worked out great!
You mentioned Austin being like the “Colorado of Texas,” something that Big Gigantic alluded to when I interviewed them at Euphoria Festival last year. Does playing in Austin remind you of hometown crowds in Denver?
Watts: Oh yeah. The enthusiasm level definitely does. It’s the response that we feed off when we play.
Joey Porter: The weed’s not as good, though. (laughs)