“The only person I don’t trust is someone who doesn’t like music.” That’s a quote from Dave Watts, legendary drummer and founder of The Motet, a Denver-based jam band that’s been lighting up Denver dancefloors for over 20 years. The band has explored various musical genres throughout the years, from acid jazz and afrobeat to funk and soul music, but their newest album, All Day, is as Denver as it gets. It’s an instrumental project that puts the music first and isn’t afraid to get a little weird. In many ways, All Day represents the spirit and sound of Denver’s music culture — one of unification, exploration and of course, dancing.
“Instrumental music is like an abstract painting. You have to find your own meaning,” Garrett Sayers, bass player for The Motet, said in an exclusive interview with 303 Magazine. He’s got a point — without lyrics to guide the listener through a shared experience, music can mean whatever you want it to. The only thing Sayers hopes for is that their music is a unifying force against the coarse division that has recently plagued our country. “Music is not supposed to be divisive,” Sayers said. “Music is here to unify and heal.”
Well, The Motet, whose lead singer and trumpet player left the band during the pandemic, had some serious healing to do during these past few years. The band has seen many members come and go throughout their 25-year history. Still, losing their lead singer, Lyle Divinsky — a foundational member of The Motet for five years who contributed to two fantastic, funk-driven soul albums — was a tough pill to swallow amidst the troubling backdrop of a global pandemic.
The band was at a crossroads: They could hold off on making new music until they found a new vocalist or reimagine their instrumental roots with bold intention. It’s safe to say they made the right choice.
“That’s what I love about this band,” Ryan Jalbert, guitar player for The Motet, said. “Losing our lead singer was definitely a challenge, but that didn’t stop us. We made an instrumental record because our only other option was not to make music. And that just wasn’t going to happen.”
You can feel this intentionally on All Day — a funk-laden demonstration of musical mastery sown together by two decades of shared creative vision. Although All Day isn’t exactly a return to the acid-jazz/afrobeat foundation The Motet was originally built on, it does represent a return to form for the band, whose combined musical careers add up to over a century of instrumental experimentation.
Traditionally, catchy melodies and strong vocal leads have dominated popular music. However, Watts is beginning to notice a national shift towards a more music-centric approach, which he calls “the movement past pop music.” America might just be catching up, but Denver has led this movement since the late 90s with a culture dominated by jam bands and EDM, and The Motet is among a short list of bands that have been there the entire ride.
When Watts formed The Motet in 1997, Boulder was Colorado’s City of Music — especially jam music — but change was in the air.
By 2002, Watts noticed a small scene brewing in Denver led by a music venue called Quixote’s True Blue, which eventually became The Otherside at Cervantes. Aside from being a staple in Denver’s musical history and modern scene, Cervantes is also one of The Motet’s favorite rooms to play in across the country. More than that, it’s a place where The Motet can lose themselves in the music.
“I feel like Cervantes represents the people who live in Colorado,” Watts said. “When we walk in, it feels like our home, you know? When you have that feeling, it’s easier to lose yourself in the music. At the end of the day, that’s all we want.”
Cervantes has been Watts’ second home for 20 years, but every artist needs a place to rest when the curtain closes. Thank God Watts wasn’t resting when last year’s Marshall Fire devastated the Superior area, turning his house into a burial ground for 30 years worth of gear and memorabilia. He was out in LA with his partner when they got the call.
The Marshall Fire had devastating consequences; there’s no denying that. But once the initial shock settled, Watts realized something: His possessions may have been destroyed, but his community was stronger than ever.
In less than a month, Watts was gifted six drumsets and more than $60,000 donated from fans, friends and family to aid the rebuilding process. All of a sudden, one of the most tragic moments of his life transformed into the most inspiring moment of his musical career.
“Seeing the community come together to help each other after the Marshall Fire was incredible. That alone inspired me to keep going. It was a wake-up call that we really do have an amazing community here. It brought me to tears multiple times. I was blown away.”
When an anonymous donor dropped off a drumset on his front porch, everything suddenly made sense. “That drumset was still warm from someone practicing, broken sticks and all. I couldn’t believe it.” Watts suddenly understood just how powerful music could be. “That moment showed me that people care so much. What we’re doing for the community, as far as the music goes, is really important to people. Music can change people’s lives. I get up every morning thinking about that.”
There are pieces of that house scattered across All Day, which features four tracks recorded in that Superior basement. But it’s more than that. It’s the feeling of optimism, the strength to rebuild no matter what happens. It’s a love for music that transcends the tragedies that sweep through our lives unexpectedly. When the dust settles, music always remains.
Listen to All Day below.