Listening to a young band can be as fun as opening the door of an outhouse. Unfocused songwriting and lackluster instrumentation, spoon-fed by the blind adoration of equally young, equally uninformed fans, can make for an unpleasant experience, to put it mildy.
But every now and then an exception comes along, a band whose impressive energy and sharpened chops surpass their youth.
These are usually the lifelong musicians fortunate enough to meet as teenagers and who have played together for large parts of their lives. Denver’s The Big Motif is one of these bands.
Drummer Jeff Jani, 19, bassist Hunter Roberts, 19, and guitarist Tony Pacello, 21, met five years ago in a contest for young musicians hosted by 103.5 FM DJs Lewis and Floorwax. The DJs were looking to create a band of musicians under the age of 16, and Jani, Roberts and Pacello were three of the seven chosen as winners. The ensemble drifted apart, but the three stayed together and continued to write songs and grow tighter as a unit.
“It just didn’t really work out, because obviously, we didn’t form ourselves,” Pacello says. “So obviously there wasn’t the chemistry with everybody, and everybody didn’t have the same taste in music, but Jeff and Hunter and I kind of clicked musically and intellectually too, and started to become really good friends.”
So the three stuck together, originally calling themselves The Running Wild Band. Pacello says their first attempts at songwriting produced songs in the classic rock vein, but he adds that the band’s sound has evolved since those early days. In fact, it seems to be mutating rather than evolving — blink once, and the band is dabbling in a new genre. The group’s self-titled, five-song EP — which dropped last fall to rave reviews from local media — is nearly 30 minutes of funky, jazz-laced grooves, heavy on now-departed-for-college saxophonist Sam Crowe’s contributions. Now, with the quartet downsized to a trio, Pacello says the group’s sound once again has shifted.
“Yeah, I always have a hard time trying to label our sound,” Pacello says. “It’s definitely not all the way bluesy, definitely not all the way rock, not all the way jazz. It’s kind of an eclectic sound. … I’d say it’s a mix between funk, jazz, rock and blues, with the rock and blues being the most apparent sound out of it all. It’s hard to explain. You almost have to listen to it.”
For now, the members of The Big Motif are juggling school and work, trying to leave time for music. To make some cash on the side, they cover popular songs at bar gigs. But those gigs are just the means to support the end goal: playing venues where people come to listen to the music, not just to get a drink.
“We love playing those gigs where people come for the music,” Pacello says. “Then again, you have to pay your dues by playing the bar gigs, making some cash. So yeah, we’ve definitely stayed busy from both sides of the spectrum.”
There’s not much room in the music scene these days for the jam-oriented grooves The Big Motif favor. The band is still in the early stages of building a following and establishing themselves on the scene, but the group recently passed some significant milestones. They now have a manager and a publicity guy, and they played the Underground Music Showcase this summer. They want to change the focus of their songwriting, too.
“[We’re writing] a lot of breaks … places that are just not that typical, you know what I mean? Not just that [simple blues structure], and trying to write more melodic guitar lines instead of just soloing, and stuff like that,” Pacello says.
The future is wide open for The Big Motif. Their talent affords them the freedom to take their music in whatever direction they want. Whether they do funk, rock, blues or even “experimental blues,” as Pacello likes to call it, The Big Motif have lots of options, and regardless of what path they choose, they should be one of the more exciting bands to watch on the Front Range.
On the Bill
The Big Motif plays the Laughing Goat on Saturday, Sept. 4. Show starts at 9:30 p.m. 1709 Pearl St., Boulder, 303-440-4628.