Colorado funk masters The Motet are on a tear right now. After paying homage to yesteryear with their Mixtape 1979 themed Halloween run last week, the band heads north to finish off a run of 11 straight days of performances with a show at The Ardmore Music Hall outside Philadelphia tonight and a two-night stand at Brooklyn Bowl on Friday and Saturday, November 4th and 5th.
As the band makes its way around the country this fall, Live For Live Music continues to bring you exclusive content from the road, including band member interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, live videos, the band’s custom curated Spotify playlist and much more!
Continuing our Motet coverage, we sat down with keyboardist Joey Porter to talk about their most recent album, Totem, and got the inside scoop on the band’s writing process, the influence of their revamped lineup, the role of producer Eric Krasno, and some hidden layers of meaning beneath the surface of the songs:
L4LM: Let’s start at the beginning—how was the work broken down in the band in terms of writing the album? Did you all bring songs to the table? Did you all get together and write together? Is there one person in particular that kind of leads the way?
JP: Well, for the last two records—both [2014’s] The Motet and Totem—everybody comes with unfinished ideas, we compile 20 or 30. Sometimes it’s just one groove. Other times it’s a couple of parts, a couple of sections. But usually nothing’s completely done. And then, once we decide which ones are worth pursuing, we all just get together and collaborate on it. Just get together, puff a little herb, and see what works!
It’s actually very organic the way it happens. Especially on this last record. We feel like with our new, improved lineup [including new vocalist Lyle Divinsky and tenor sax player Drew Sayers] everybody gels so well together, and it makes it easier to write. But for Totem, we honestly had all the songs done and recorded in the studio right after Jazz Fest last year. They were all ideas that we came up with, but we weren’t happy with any of the lyrics, or any of the vocal ideas. And before Lyle even joined the band, when we were sort of in this middle time, we sent the song that ended up being “The Truth” to Lyle, and were like ‘man, we can’t come up with anything, all of us are hitting our heads against the wall trying to figure out what to do with this song.’ And in like 3 days, Mr. Lyle Divinksy sends us this masterpiece vocal part on this track. We had been kind of courting Lyle to join the band, and this was the thing that made use realize ‘this is our guy.’ And what’s cool about that is the song is called “The Truth”, and it was like the truth was revealed that Lyle is the man!
L4LM: Speaking of that, how has the sound and the vibe changed and developed with Lyle? What does his presence bring that was different that what you guys had before? Because Jans Ingber was the singer for a long time before bowing out at the end of last year.
JP: What’s funny is that, for “The Truth”, Jans originally came in with that idea. If you look on the liner notes, that song was written by Jans Ingber and Lyle Divinsky. Jans wrote the chord progression, and we all wrote rhythm parts around it, and then Lyle came in and wrote all the lyrics. More than anything, it’s the transition from the old band to the new band, and in a way it’s Jans passing the torch to Lyle. I think that made it extra special. And it shows that it was a peaceful transition…unlike our current election. [Laughs]
We love Jans, he’s still our bud. But Lyle has a much different style, and one that we really enjoy. So when Jans decided to step away, we’re really happy that someone who’s just as dynamic was able to come up there and fill the role. But it’s not easy to be the sort of cheerleader in the front of the funk band, to try to get the crowd into it. You’re getting a full body workout every single gig, and Lyle’s really good at that. I think, also, that Lyle’s such a great singer, and we have Garrett [Sayers, bass] singing some backup vocals now, doing some harmonies, which is great.
L4LM: Yea, that was my big takeaway from the Capitol Theatre show. That was my first time seeing Lyle live, and man, he’s got some serious stage presence. He brings a lot of energy.
JP: That’s what make’s Totem different than The Motet—Lyle has his own lyrical and vocal style that really gels with the rest of the band. And we’re really excited, because it’s dynamic. There’s synergy. It’s a great fit.
L4LM: So you were talking about “The Truth”, how you sent it to him and he came back really quickly with something cool. After that, how many of these songs—which, as you said, were more or less formed by the time you started working with him—did he end up contributing to in that way?
JP: He wrote all the lyrics and the melodies on “Fool No More”, “Damn!”, and “Danger”. So he wrote 4 of the tunes. We wrote the music, and he came in and wrote the lyrics and the melodies and really, in a lot of ways, those are some of the most important pieces.
L4LM: Absolutely. Especially in this modern funk scene, there are a lot of bands that don’t put as much of an emphasis on lyrics and vocals, if they have any at all. And The Motet’s strength in that area definitely helps set you guys apart.
JP: Exactly. I like that Lyle’s lyrics are fun, but they’re not just him going “funky funk funk, funk…’ you know? I hate that kinda stuff—‘we’re gonna get funky with the fuuunk!’—it’s like come on, you gottta be a little more creative than that! I mean we do have to do a little bit of that stuff, because that’s what funk music is. But if you really listen to the lyrics in any of his songs, they’re deep. They’re meaningful. You don’t wanna go overboard and be religious or political or anything, but I think you can be heady and still be funky.
L4LM: Now let’s talk about the recording process. What was it like working with Eric Krasno as the producer on Totem?
JP: He was there when we tracked the record at Parlour Recording Studio in New Orleans. And then he was there for a few of the vocal sessions, and he brought in a couple of tunes as well. He brought in the ideas for “Know It Too Well” and “So High”. We all added our flavor, but they started as mostly his songs. And in general, he kinda put his stamp on the album. It was really produced by Eric Krasno and The Motet, because we also kind of self-produced it—we’re really hands-on, more so than most bands. But we really knew that with Krasno, when you tell him you want something to sound a certain way, he knows exactly how to make that happen. So it was like we came up with the ideas, and he facilitated all of them. He’s such a good producer. Whenever we were stuck, he always had a creative idea. He’s not just a guitar player—that I can say. It was great to work with him. He really helped to keep the vibe positive. That’s really half of what a producer is: he’s almost like the coach of the basketball team. You can’t have some weird Kobe-Shaq drama situation going on, you’ve gotta have the vibes right, you know? [Laughs]. And Kraz is very mellow and positive, so it really made for a great, productive experience.
L4LM: Speaking of the story behind “The Truth”, are there any songs in particular that have an interesting backstory, about the way it came together?
JP: Well there’s the tune “Rippin’ Herb’, which is my tune. Herbie Hancock is my hero, and my biggest influence. If you listen to the way that I play, it’s easy to tell. And I’m such a fan of him, and wear orange a lot—so a lot of fans in Denver call me “Sherbie.” So we had working titles for all the songs when we went in to record the demos—since we didn’t have any lyrics yet—and this one was just called, like “Joey Herbie” or something like that. But what’s funny is that Krasno actually came up with the name. Cus when we started talking about the song, I was joking “maaann, I’m not doing anything but rippin’ off Herbie.” And while I’m saying that, I’m smoking a joint in the studio. So Kraz is like, “dude, you’re ‘Rippin Herb!’” And boom, there’s the title. [Laughs]
L4LM: That’s too funny. I completely took it at face value and thought OK, here’s a weed song, but that double meaning is so great—“I’m rippin’ off Herbie!”
JP: Yea, and obviously I just meant I was riffing on Herbie’s style, it doesn’t sound like any of his tunes. But it was just too good to pass up—that I was rippin’ herb while I was “ripping Herb.”
Don’t miss The Motet in the northeast this weekend–tonight at The Ardmore Music Hall and Friday-Saturday at Brooklyn Bowl. Tickets for each of the shows are available via the band’s website. And keep an eye out for more Motet content throughout the weekend, including a Facebook Live Q & A from Brooklyn Bowl!