Based in Denver, Colorado, The Motet has been one of the leading lights in the funk music revival since their inception in 1998. For a solid twenty years, The Motet has explored different influences, seen lineup changes, but has always maintained its roots in funk, afrobeat and dance music.
Fresh off a performance last Saturday at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre, the holy grail venue of their hometown, we had frontman Lyle Divinsky and founder, bandleader and drummer Dave Watts tell us about the evolution of the band, the funk scene since they started, and their most memorable touring experience.
Who are some of the artists the band loves? Do they influence your sound in any way?
Lyle: The thing I love so much about this band is the diversity of influence, with Funk as the common factor. We are hugely influenced by Earth, Wind, and Fire, Parliament Funkadelic, Sly and The Family Stone, Stevie Wonder, and the greats of funk. Outside of that, we all dive deep into diverse worlds. Each member brings a deep knowledge of their own individual influences that span from deep roots reggae, jazz, afrobeat and world rhythms, soul/r&b, hip-hop, indie, electronic, and so much more. If you took a look at all of our most played songs, they would all be so different, and how cool is that?!?! We get to constantly turn each other onto new things and it constantly inspires all of us to push boundaries and expectations. What a gift!
The band has seen lots of evolutions in the lineup ever since its inception in 1998, with new collaborations and members along the way. How has the band continued to thrive throughout these changes?
Dave: It’s always been about the music. With every different musician, we’ve added into the mix our sound has evolved into a new direction. This has kept our sound fresh and exciting not only for us but for our fans. People familiar with the band know that each album has offered a different creative approach. In the past, that change was influenced by the various musicians who were part of the project, but now that we are a solid group we still use that mindset of change to keep our music exciting and inspired.
How much has the funk scene changed since the band first started in 1998?
Dave: It seems like the funk scene was a lot more local back in 1998. Our biggest influences are bands of the 1970’s when funk was in its heyday. In the mid-70’s groups like Earth, Wind and Fire and Parliament were selling out stadiums, but for the next 35 years that scene fell off. We love the fact that bands of our genre are now touring the country and playing bigger festivals. It shows that the funk scene is now stronger now than it’s been since the early 1980’s.
What’s the songwriting process like for the band? Are there designated songwriters or is it a team effort?
Lyle: It’s absolutely a team effort. Ideas always have to come from somewhere, but once an idea is brought in, it’s almost always a full group process unless the idea comes in fully formed – but even those ideas shift and bend in beautiful ways as the band begins to bring them to life. Usually, it starts with an idea from one of the rhythm section members, then they rehearse it and flesh it out. After that, they send it to me to write the lyrics and melody, then once we get to a point where we all dig what’s going on, the horns put their finishing (and always crushing) touches on it. While there are separate steps, everyone has input throughout, and full trust in each other.
Let’s talk vocals. Who are some of your favorite singers and who has had the biggest influence on your sound?
Lyle: Ooohhh don’t I love getting into this. First and foremost, my pops, Phil Divinsky. He’s the best singer in the world, ever. Zero bias in that statement. For real though, I couldn’t have asked for a better singer or role model to grow up with. I’m hugely influenced by the old soul greats new and old. Donny Hathaway, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Prince, Bill Withers, Al Green, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding along with the newer generation like D’Angelo, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Anthony Hamilton, Sharon Jones, Charles Bradley, Janelle Monae, and so on. But it goes so much further… I love Jeff Buckley and Chris Cornell… Chris Stapleton and Ray Lamontagne… Freddie Mercury… Paul Simon… Lowell George… Bonnie Raitt… just way too many to dig fully into. The most important thing to me isn’t the virtuosity of the voice, it’s the intent and how genuine it is. Can you truly believe what they’re singing… that’s the voice that pierces your soul. The one that can make you weep and laugh and feel and go to the places you may not allow yourself to go to otherwise.
Do you play any instruments? Or wish to learn any?
Lyle: I play guitar (got myself a damn nice MONO case for it too!), and a little bit of piano. I’ve been working more at piano to expand my songwriting capabilities, and would really love to dive into bass and drums as well. I have a drum set, but never had a place or space to put it!! Especially with modern recording capabilities, having the ability to get around each rhythm instrument creates endless possibilities as a songwriter. I can’t wait to continue to progress because I know it’ll only open up more and more creative avenues.
Tell us something about the Colorado music scene and what makes it so special.
Lyle: Joining the Motet in January 2016, and moving to Denver in December of the same year, I’ve just been floored by the Colorado music scene. It is without a doubt one of the most supportive and energetic scenes I’ve ever witnessed. From everything that I’ve gathered, this is nothing new.. but add in the sheer number of people moving into Denver, incredible musicians and music-goers alike, the scene continues to grow. There are so many venues around Denver, and all of them could sell out on any night because of the love for music and shared experience. Whether its funk, bluegrass, EDM, whatever.. people in Colorado give themselves to experience fully, and it couldn’t be more of a thrill every time we get to play in our home state.
Do you have a memorable touring experience to share with us?
Lyle: This is tough, because I have to make sure it’s a suitable story for each and every reader 😉 While there were more hilarious antics that happened around this day, I’ll tell you about the day I started wearing shoes on stage. I’m a Maine boy from the woods, and I hate shoes. I’d be barefoot any and everywhere if I was able. One place I could always get away with it was on stage. Sure I’d sometimes mess my feet up a little with hard stages and rogue broken strings, but it was never enough to warrant a switch up. This fateful day, however, things took a turn. It was the beginning of festival season 2016, and this particular weekend was all fly dates with long drives and late sets. This meant that by Sunday, when we showed up to Summercamp, we had logged about 5-6 hours of total sleep in 3 nights. Being someone who can’t sleep in cars/vans/planes, it’s safe to say I was bordering on delirium. At a lot of these festivals, there are 30-minute changeovers, so we had a very quick window to get set up before we played to the 12,000+ crowd. Oh, and we had a film crew capturing the first 4 songs too! “We gotta go! We gotta go!” I hear from our tour manager, so we run off stage, put our hands in for our usual pre-show hype session, then I kick my shoes off, run onto the stage and with 3 cameras right on me I yell to the crowd “What’s up Summercamp?!?!” What I really wanted to yell was “AHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” In my manic state, I hadn’t put together that sun setting directly on the black rubber stage on the 92-degree day miiiiiiiiight just be too hot for human skin. With cameras on us though, I had to smile and dance (real fast) while my feet seared like steak on cast iron skillet. We also choose to medley straight into the 2nd song, so this foot-fire facade of care-free fun lasted a good 12 minutes, after which I ran to the backstage, grabbed my shoes, and have worn them ever since.
… a bonus to this though, was after our set, George Clinton, the legendary funk pioneer of Parliament Funkadelic, had his grandson bring me back to his trailer to meet him and congratulate me on a great show. If it means meeting my heroes, I’ll take charred feet any day.
Lastly, if you could have 1 artist, dead or alive, join your band for a one-night only show, who would you choose, and why?
Lyle: Oooohhhh this is such a tough question. I can only really answer for myself, but as I think about it the artist that won’t leave my mind is Stevie Wonder. I think he’s one of, if not the greatest musical mind of our time, and my whole body gets giddy thinking about what kind of incredible musical and non-musical moments could happen if his mind and talents were brought into our band. Plus, I’d be more than happy to become the backup singer for the night to listen to/sing with him. Whoa…
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