While Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and, if you prefer, Festivus are all around the corner, it’s another holiday – Halloween – that sticks with The Motet all year round, at least in spirit. The improvisational funk band, which returns to Brooklyn Bowl on Friday, Nov. 21, has used its Halloween shows to showcase its love for other artists’ music – and hone its own musical sensibilities.
Last month, the band settled into its home state of Colorado for a three-night “Mixtape 1975” run of concerts, continuing its recent Halloween theme of focusing on songs released during a certain year rather than simply playing the songs of a certain artist – which it had done since 2000, annually tackling tunes by the likes of Prince, Tower Of Power and Talking Heads.
While The Motet has built a sizeable following for its Halloween extravaganzas, and learning the material of other performers has sharpened and expanded the band’s skills, singer and percussionist Jans Ingber points out that The Motet’s primary focus is on its own material.
“Last year we did ‘Mix Tape 1980,’ and this year we did ‘Mix Tape 1975,’ and since our sound kind of leans heavily toward ’70s funk, soul and jazz, we really ended up having suck a good time, and played mostly to sold-out shows here,” Ingber says from Colorado in a recent phone interview. “Then we get calls from people all across the country asking us to do the same thing.
“What’s important is that we’re already established there from our original material, so that people know us and that (Halloween) is a special show instead of just showing up with a Halloween show each time and people get to know you for that. But in Colorado, people know The Motet and they know that this is a once-a-year, special thing.”
The Motet’s reputation as a live act not to be missed has expanded well beyond the confines of the Centennial State. Markets like Atlanta, Chicago, San Francisco and Portland, Oregon, have welcomed the band with open arms. And when the group hits Brooklyn Bowl Friday, it will be returning to a venue it sold out the first time it played there.
“Well, I mean that was pretty exciting,” Ingber says of The Motet’s show at Brooklyn Bowl in September of 2013. “To tell you the truth, we’ve been trying to find a venue that could be home to us (in New York City), and we got to play the Brooklyn Bowl and it was pretty obvious that this was where we wanted to be. We did our own show, 800 people came; it was completely sold out. What I remember is super high energy. There’s a bit of time to watch people buy into a band, or just get it, get what the band is doing. Because our thing is so focused around throwing a dance party, a celebration of life, it’s not like we’re doing this, ‘Hey, we’re doing this serious art, look at us’ thing,” he notes with a laugh. “It’s a party and after the first few tunes people were in. And we’re stoked to take Brooklyn Bowl and keep taking it further and further.”
Performing in the city also has an added importance for Ingber, because his dad is from The Bronx.
“He was there through the ’60s, and he was a lover of soul music, so I heard a lot of that, from James Brown to Al Green to Aretha Franklin,” he recalls. “Tons of Motown. But he also had a lot of African music and salsa, and in the ’60s, there was an expansion of what people were interested in. So that was my dad and our record collection.”
When Ingber joined The Motet, “these were dreams of mine, to do these bands,” he says of the cover tunes he ended up playing with The Motet early on. “That was my formative music.”
In February of this year, the band released its seventh album, a self-titled affair. Naming the album after the band seems to be a pretty direct statement that the music on the record, and the approach the band took during the recording process, is an indication of things to come as the band forges on.
“The album was definitely a very special process that we had never done before,” says Ingber. “It was an experiment. What we did was we purposefully made a songwriting time, like 10 hours a day, and the idea was to bring in something that was only partially done. So no one would bring in a song that was complete, so they would just bring in a riff or a groove. The idea was that we would engage in the collaborative writing process. For example the horns would write their part, and I was writing lyrics and melodies, and Dave (Watts) is a really good arranger.”
Essentially working to put the flesh on each other’s song skeletons, the tunes became “our songs,” rather than compositions tied to any particular Motet member. It’s a process Ingber says he hopes the band pursues when it begins recording its next release.
“Right now, we’re all systems go,” Ingber says, sounding like he’s raring to hit both the stage and the studio. “We have our eye on the prize more than any time before. We’re working on our craft and expanding, and we want to do that not only as musicians, but with the parties we throw.”