Maine-based soul singer Lyle Divinsky got the first call from The Motet in December 2015.
The Colorado funk-Afrobeat hybrid was looking for a new frontman when Jans Ingber left the group after 15 years in order to focus on his family. Divinsky came highly recommended from two East Coast funk groups and mutual friends, Lettuce and Turkuaz, and was invited on The Motet’s January 2016 tour with a handful of other guest vocalists as part of his audition process. By March, he was in the studio recording vocals for the band’s seventh studio album, “Totem.”
“It was kind of just like, balls to the wall, all right, let’s get creative,” Divinsky said recently while visiting family in Portland, Maine, for Christmas (he officially relocated to Denver more than a year ago). “… I think that having such little time to work with was the greatest gift that I could have. I didn’t have the ability or the leisure to take my time with (the songs), so I couldn’t second-guess, I couldn’t — it was just all go by intuition and let it out in whatever way was coming to me right off.”
After almost two years of solid touring with The Motet, Divinisky has been embraced by audiences and band members alike.
“Change is very difficult, especially when it’s the frontman,” he said. “… That’s kind of the voice of the band, the one with the microphone speaking to the crowds and the audiences. I was definitely nervous about that, and I was curious how that was gonna go. Almost 99 percent of The Motet fans have just been open arms, welcoming and really, really incredibly encouraging to me.”
The septet — also featuring founder/bandleader/drummer Dave Watts, keyboardist Joey Porter, bassist Garrett Sayers, guitarist Ryan Jalbert, trumpeter Gabe Mervine and saxophonist Drew Sayers (who also hopped aboard in 2016) — is in the process of recording its next studio album, and released the upbeat, seven-plus minute funk jam, “Get it Right,” in October. Before that, the group will kick off 2018 with extensive touring through April, including a New Year’s run in Oregon that hits the Domino Room on Friday.
The Motet has been a Bend favorite stretching back for more than a decade; it was last in town for the 2015 4 Peaks Music Festival. Divinsky has never played Bend before, but his bandmates have been talking up the city, he said.
“Every time that I’ve been to Oregon, I’m welcomed with just incredibly enthusiastic, amazing audiences,” he said. “… That’s the thing I take away from Oregon, and I’ve heard that Bend is the same way — people are ready to give themselves to the experience, and I think that that’s the most important part. It’s an energy exchange, and the more that we’re all together, the greater the sum of the experience will be.”
Before he joined The Motet, Divinsky was in the midst of a growing solo career: He released his solo album, “Uneven Floors,” about a year before, and had put together a band (he continues to play solo during rare breaks from The Motet). Touring with The Motet, which will celebrate its 20th anniversary next year, was an immediate step up — suddenly, Divinsky found himself playing for sold-out houses at The Fillmore in San Francisco and Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Denver.
“I had never been to Red Rocks,” Divinsky said. “I had never seen it in person, and I had always wanted to go there, and the fact that I got to walk in there for the first time headlining with this new band — we had Medeski, Martin & Wood and Vulfpeck playing before us. And then I got to tie it together where my parents and two of my really, really close friends came out for the show as well, so it was kind of tying the worlds together a little bit in a really momentous way. And it was just kind of one of those eye-opening experiences, like, holy s---, how did I get here? This is awesome.”
Divinsky and Drew Sayers (Garrett Sayers’ brother) joined The Motet at a transformative time in the group’s history. The band has gone through numerous lineup changes since its formation in 1998, with founder Watts exerting a strong influence on the songwriting early on.
But 2014’s self-titled album was billed as something of a turning point, with the band’s members all contributing equally to songwriting and production. The album’s raw sound, achieved through analog recording techniques, came perhaps the closest to capturing the band’s jam-heavy, dance-happy live show.
That collaborative process continued on “Totem” and the recent sessions for the band’s upcoming album. Only this time, Divinsky and Drew Sayers were involved in the process from the beginning.
“I had always written myself — being a solo artist beforehand, it was always coming, starting and ending with me,” Divinsky said. “And then now it’s really, really exciting to have a different kind of process and have so many different minds coming together. It’s been a lot of lessons and a lot of learning and a lot of just mental and musical expansion for me.”