by Lizzie Morelli
Photo by Cameron Field Photography
Dave Watts is the drummer for the American funk band The Motet. He originally founded The Dave Watts Motet in Boulder, Colorado, in 1998 what started as a musical collective with a rotating cast of musicians eventually evolved into The Motet. The Motet as we know it today is comprised of Dave on drums, guitarist Ryan Jalbert, bassist Garrett Sayers, keyboardist Joey Porter, trumpeter Gabe Mervine, saxophonist Drew Sayers, and soulful vocalist Lyle Divinsky. The Motet has a lot in the works including a handful of gigs with another funk powerhouse, Lettuce. The Motet will also hit Red Rocks on June 2nd with BoomBox. This will be the fifth time The Motet has graced the iconic Red Rocks stage and it is sure to be one funky party.
I met Dave at Dominican Holidaze when my boyfriend, Dave and myself journeyed to the Wolf + Lamb late night set. Following the music, which ended almost upon our arrival we went on a spirit quest for late night hamburgers. Dave dipped out burgerless but we prevailed. We were meandering the hallways of the resort with an extra burger in the off chance we ran into our defeated comrade Dave on the way back to our room. We eventually did see him again and to his sheer astonishment had a burger just for him. He ate the burger and I held him to this interview.
When did you start playing drums and did you always want to be a musician?
I first started playing drums when I was about twelve and that was like four years after I decided I wanted to be a drummer. I was just beating on pans and boxes and that sort of thing. I feel like the drums chose me. I don’t remember making a conscience decision about wanting to be a professional musician. I think it was just always there.
The Motet has been in the studio a lot lately.
Yeah. We are right in the middle of doing a bunch of studio recordings.
Is this record different than what you guys have done before?
Yeah. I mean these days we don’t have to put a whole record out all at the same time, you can release singles, which is nice. You can spread out the process over a period of time instead of going in the studio and slamming it all out at one time. It can be overwhelming to get all that material and work out at once. So we released two songs this year already that will be on the record. It is cool because we can give people a little taste as we go.
What is the bands process in the studio?
We start from the ground up. I think some people focus on a particular songwriter but everyone in our band writes so we have a very group oriented process. We tend to start from the rhythm section and build from there as opposed to some groups and artists that will write lyrics and words and melodies first we will build from the rhythm section up. We are a very rhythm oriented band. A groove, even a basic groove can be where a song starts for us. So the rhythm section; guitar, bass, keys, and drums will get together in the rehearsal studio and work out one or two or three songs. These can be very basic ideas of different sections. We then will bring it into the studio and record it or even record it in the rehearsal space. We will give it to Lyle and he will start working on the vocals. Then we add percussion and horns.
So it’s sort of a “from the bottom up” method.
Motet is playing Red Rocks again in June. How many times have you guys played there?
Well, I am looking at all my Red Rocks trophies. They give you a Red Rocks trophy every time you play their and I am looking at four so I think we have played there four times. (laughing).
You have FOUR Red Rock’s trophies! That’s a big deal.
(laughing) Yes it’s pretty cool, huh? It is a local gig for us.
Let’s talk drums. Do you have any secrets for keeping the groove in the pocket?
I practice and sometimes even play to a quick track. It’s like practice for the studio. Just about everybody plays to the click in the studio so I figure the better I get at that the easier it is for us to record. So I try to play to a metronome at home as many different ways as possible. I try to get as creative as possible but that is a whole drum lesson.
What drummers have influenced your sound?
So many. I have listened to so much music it is hard to pick out a few. When I was growing up I was listening to classic rock; John Bonham, Neil Peirce and Keith Moon. I loved all that. I listened to all that classic rock. Then I started to get into jazz like Jack Dejohnette and Tony Williams and then I moved over to some more world music and started listening to Tony Allen. Now though, I mostly listen to funk music. Ya know like, Dennis Chambers also P-Funk drummers and a lot of unknown drummers. Pretty much all the funk drummers of seventies – that’s what I listen to now.
Besides Garrett Sayers what bassist do you like to play with the most?
My buddy Chuck Jones (Dopapod). I played a gig with Oteil last year – he is one of my favorite players. Ryan Stasik from Umphrey’s. I sat in with Umphrey’s when we were down in the D.R. (Dominican Holidaze) and I love playing with him. He is a great bass player.
We talked about the new record, what else is on the horizon for the Motet?
We are doing the Red Rocks show in June. We have a bunch of festival dates this summer. We are doing probably like a dozen shows with Lettuce coming up which is going to be a blast. I am super excited about those shows. So you can expect a lot of touring from Motet. We are getting busier and busier.
Have you always lean towards funk?
Yeah, I am one of like two people in the band and in the audience that was actually alive when funk music had its hay day. So I can claim authenticity when I preform. That music was on the radio and I was listening to Chic and the Bee Gees. Or in the Disco Age cause that’s how music was on the radio… Pop crossover with Funk became Disco. Still back then, the musicianship, guys were playing super funky and it was live and it was real instruments. That just got into my core being as a kid listening to that on the radio without me even really understanding what it was, but I still feel it to this day.
Why is music important? What does music do for you?
I think it is important for me and for a lot of people. Music is like a meditation. I have checked out meditation a little and I have come to understand that it is a positive exercise for your mind and body. I realize that when I am practicing drums I am basically meditating. When I am playing a gig it is the same thing. Especially when I am in the zone. That is why it feels so good to play and feels so good when you finish playing music. Not only is it a meditation, which is great exercise for the mind but it is also a physical exercise for me. I mean…I look out at the audience and when do you ever get five hundred people in a room together that aren’t talking (for the most part), just silent, listening together, moving together. How much more of a group meditation can you have? I mean that is probably the unsaid thing about music in general. It’s just a positive thing for humanity.