By Christine Leonard
CALGARY – Are you ready to be wrapped in tentacles of bold and brassy sound? Freak Motif is a funky leviathan with eight heads and one enormous, funk-powered heart. Praised for serving up big-band, dance parties with a flair for the nostalgic, the ensemble first stepped into the spotlight with the appearance of their self-released LP, La Casa Blanca, in December 2012. That album was later remixed and re-released in 2014, the same year the band introduced their second full-length record, Across the Nation. A limited edition 7” called Killing Me followed in 2016 and two years later Freak Motif was back and ready to leave a groovy impression with a radiant new release, Hot Plate (available on sizzling red vinyl and other formats).
“I’m glad you dig it,” says guitarist Stu Wershof. “We released it online in October and then we had a show with Antibalas that same week. That was kind of a soft release and now for the real album release party we’re putting on this show on as a weekend run. We’ll be playing these new tracks live, which is the first time we’ve done that as a band. So, we’ll keep the arrangements as they are and then we have a big open space in the middle of the track to take it into outer space and back.”
Bringing a cosmic modern flavour to their melting pot of musical ingredients, Freak Motif knows how to heat up the room and then brings things down to a sultry simmer. It’s the culmination of years of refining a style that is as loose and laid back as it is precision-timed and tightly orchestrated.
“When we started there was no composition, everything was 100% improvised. If we were lucky, we’d tell each other what key we were playing in, but for the most part it was about letting the music meander. That was the excitement of it!” Wershof explains.
“There is still some of that element, with these tracks. We try to have an anchor point and melody that hits hard and heavy and still has that feeling of spontaneity and feeding off the energy of the audience. Knowing where you’re going to land at the end of it gives you more license to experiment.”
Adept in the art of being intentionally spontaneous, the eight (sometimes ten or more) member group takes its cues from some of the greatest afrobeat, disco, salsa, cumbia, hip-hop, funk and soul artists on the planet. But it’s always their terrestrial home turf in Calgary that brings them back to their mothership connection.
“I’m not originally from Calgary, but it was through this band that I learned how special Calgary is as a city, and about all the cool and talented artistic people, and how there’s a lot of electricity happening in the arts scene,” Wershof relates.
“The genre we used at the beginning was ‘prairie funk!’ At that time we were just joking around. Now it’s easy to listen to music from all over the world and different time periods. But I think that music is influenced by your immediate surroundings — your community.”
Not an entirely surprising sentiment coming from a band who’s known for encouraging conga lines and once leading a celebratory parade through the center of town in honour of the 2016 Juno Awards.
“I think one of the really special things about this band is the community that has formed around it. Different artists, singers, rappers, break-dancers — all these people that we’ve collaborated with and gotten to know over the years through this project. Bringing different people on stage and working with different combinations of people is a big part of what we do.”
Freak Motif performs for the people Feb. 21 at The King Eddy (Calgary)Freak Motif, The King Eddy