When one traces the roots of American funk music, they find themselves on a one-way train to Afro-Cuban traditions of gospel and jazz music in 1960’s New Orleans. However, as the movement spread in the late 60’s and early 70’s, other hubs of music attempted to slice their own piece of the funk-filled pie, which leads us to today.
However, no one would ever expect Portland, Maine native Lyle Divinsky, “The Sasquatch of Soul” as many refer to him, to be fronting one of the most progressive funk bands on the market, The Motet.
“I’m a pretty fuzzy dude,” said Divinsky. “People didn’t know whether to congratulate me for not giving a f– or to call animal control.”
Hailing from Denver, Colo., The Motet has hosted a colorful, rotating cast of characters centered around bandleader and drummer Dave Watts, who started the band back in 1998. After six albums, The Motet found themselves in need of a new lead singer and tenor saxophonist, which presented Divinsky, as well as current tenor saxophonist Drew Sayers, an opportunity to contribute to the madness. After a successful take on The Motet’s single, “The Truth,” off their latest record “Totem,” Divinsky was enlisted as the permanent lead vocalist for the band.
“To be able to come into a fully functioning, well-oiled machine that is this band was really incredible; to understand the band dynamic and to be able to understand what it means to compromise, and what it means to be on the same team, working on this endeavor,” said Divinsky.
Since joining the band, Divinsky has relocated to Denver, where he has lived for the past three months, leaving his home of rustic Portland.
“It [Portland] has such a huge encouragement and support system for the arts, whether it’s music, theater, visual arts, or whatever it might be,” said Divinsky. “It’s everything you could want from a big city in a small town atmosphere.”
“You’re so able to make an impact and I think that’s incredibly important,” added Divinsky.
However, Divinsky’s musical roots trace back to busking in the New York City subway system, where the motto of “if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere” took a new meaning and launched him into a successful solo career.
“There is an underlying hustle that everyone’s involved in. Everyone’s got their hustle, they got their side hustle and they got their mistress hustle,” said Divinsky. “Everyone is working their a– off to survive”
The notion of communities, considering Portland, NYC and Denver, takes on a new meaning for Divinsky, who holds these musical communities to a high standard, “realizing the potency and potential that the scene has.” Going from being “a little drop in the ocean” in NYC to a headlining performance at the historic Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Divinsky has paved a new path for himself that has simultaneously opened new doors of opportunity for The Motet.
With “Totem,” The Motet explores new stylistic and linguistic elements that bring new blood in the funky arteries of the sonically complex septet. With highlights such as “So High” and “Know It Too Well,” The Motet balances the classical swagger of funk music with the soulful stylings of Divinsky’s vocals, which creates a landscape of new sounds and forms of musical experimentation.
“I want to bring genuine joy and truth to the band … [write] songs that [are] not only funky, danceable kind of tunes that go along with The Motet style, but also ones that if you listen to the lyrics and you pay attention to what’s going on, it brings you into a story,” said Divinsky.
“I still feel the pressure to write the dopest song ever and have the bones finished, and then bring it up to the guys and say ‘there you go, song’s done.’”
“It’s really cool to have their trust,” added Divinsky emphatically.
While the change in leadership has shifted to a new northerly direction, the roots of The Motet stay strong as Divinsky has steered the band into a new galaxy of infinite funkadelic possibilities.
The Motet will play at the Warehouse in downtown Fairfield on Wednesday, April 12.