Adding ‘Mo’ to the scene

Red Rocks July 12, 2019. Photo: Jenise Jensen

Red Rocks July 12, 2019. Photo: Jenise Jensen

The Motet keeps Colorado dancing with funk, soul jams

By Steve Graham

Lyle Divinsky compares performing in The Motet to construction work, even if the heaviest tool he lifts is typically a microphone stand.

“It’s almost the immediate gratification of manual labor,” he said in a phone interview. “You build a staircase and you can look at the end of the day and say ‘I did that today.’ It’s the same thing when you’re on stage and you’re feeling the incredible vibe of a once-in-a-lifetime thing. You think ‘this is being built right now by all of us.’”

Fittingly, his band now has an annual musical construction project in an amphitheater famously built over a 12-year span by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

“Red Rocks is without a doubt, the pinnacle of all venues to me,” Divinsky said. “The fact that it’s half an hour west of where I live is insane.”

The band is celebrating its 21st anniversary and its ninth full-length album, the deeply funky and soulful “Death or Devotion,” released earlier this year. The album, while not explicitly political, was partially inspired by the band’s voter registration drives last year. It comes out in the urgency of the music, if the lyrics are still focused on the groove.

“My only medicine is you and a dance floor,” sings Divinsky on the disco-flavored track “Contagious.”

Photo: Jenise Jensen

Photo: Jenise Jensen

It is the first album with Parris Fleming on trumpet, and the second record with Divinsky’s lyrics and Drew Sayers’ saxophone work. The new seven-piece lineup takes The Motet into new musical territory while maintaining an inescapable and irresistible funk groove.

But the band has always been growing and evolving. In fact, the band name comes from the founder’s inability to keep up with his growing collective. He first formed the Dave Watts Quartet, then the Dave Watts Quintet, and kept bringing on more players.

“He got tired of changing the name and so he called it The Motet,” Divinsky said.

The Motet has dabbled in electronic jazz, afrobeat and other styles, but has become focused on funk and soul music.

“It’s always been a genre-bending group, but leading up to the self-titled record they decided that funk and soul was the way to go,” Divinsky said.

Like the jam band Phish, The Motet is famous for cover-heavy Halloween gigs. After having a blast and getting roaring crowd feedback for their renditions of funk and soul classics from Michael Jackson and Earth, Wind & Fire, they decided to refine the sound.

Divinsky said he brought more lyrical depth and rhythm and blues sounds to the group when he joined in 2016.

“I always came up with soul and R&B,” he said. “I’m never going to take away from the party but I want to make it more than a party.”

Speaking of partying, The Motet also collaborated with The Clinic this year on a marijuana strain, StarMatter303.

“As a band, we represent and take part in the beauties of Colorado in a plentiful form,” Divinsky said. “I try to protect the voice a little bit more but these guys are masters. Parris is a weed sommelier at this point.”

He said most of the band preps for a show with some marijuana, so they developed a strain that will get them in the right mindset — and they invite fans to partake as well.

“They are always searching for the thing that represents how they want to feel when they get into it,” Divinsky said. “This is exactly the kind of energy that we want you to have. It’s only going to make us sound so much better.”

Divinsky said the recreational weed keeps them in Colorado, but the crowds are an even better part of the Mile High culture.

“The moment you feel the energy of funk music and the energy of soul music you can’t turn away, you’re just going to be brought right in,” he said. “Colorado is filled with adrenaline junkies, people who want to go up into the mountains all day and come down and dance all night.”

Photo: Shervin Lainez

Photo: Shervin Lainez

He said he hopes crowds in Colorado, and all over the country, can relax, unwind and bond at a Motet show.

“Music has such an amazing way of connecting people,” Divinsky said. “It doesn’t matter what you look like or how you dress, you’re sitting there with the same goal of having a damn good time.”

After this year’s Red Rocks gig and some successful summer festivals, Divinsky plans to return to the studio to record this fall.

“We’ve got to get back in the shed and build more staircases,” he said.

Steve Graham is a freelance writer and former newspaper editor who likes taking his two young boys biking, hiking and brewery-hopping in northern Colorado.