For anyone who has said to themselves, “Maaaaan, I like the idea of a guitar, but, am bored to tears by their crackle-and-crunch,” Tim Motzer is for you. And me. The Philadelphian – associated early with nu-R&B, space soul, and hip hop contemporaries such as King Britt, Ursula Rucker, Jafar Baron, Baba Zula, Khan Jamal and Kenny Lattimore – also became known for his looped/ambient electronic works. Often on his 1k label, Motzer’s scissoring solo recordings or subtle and soaring collaborations with fellow experimentalists in electronic music and jazz. Including towering fellow test pattern music makers such as Markus Reuter, Jamaaladeen Tacuma, the Burnt Friedman/Jaki Liebezeit team and David Sylvian. Plus, he played and engineered ‘Transcending Toxic Times’, the last album from The Last Poets.
If your ear gravitates to guitarists such as Robert Fripp, Pat Metheny and David Torn, Tim Motzer is your man.
Though 2020’s pandemic slowed his roll where live concerts are concerned, Motzer continued to record and release music at a happily alarming rate on labels such as MoonJune, Heartcore, and his own 1k Recordings. Motzer reacquainted himself with an earlier love. Painting. Stretched across large original canvases and small stations such as covers for his CDs.
Plus, Motzer has been rocking his Instagram Live Chat button a lot this season. Just as he will, again, on Thursday, December 17 at 9 pm EST for a convo with his long-time friend Rob Fetters of The Bears, Psychodots, The Raisins. “Rob is a brilliant singer-songwriter and guitarist from Cincinnati, and has just released a brand new album “Ship Shake.” We’ll chat about that, our eclectic musical journeys, and much more,” said Motzer.
dosage MAGAZINE and I caught up with Motzer just before the snowstorm hit.
A.D. Amorosi: What was your personal and musical 2020 like as reflected in the big stack of CDs you recorded?
Tim Motzer: 2020 has been a wild ride for us all. January started out amazingly well, beginning with a sold-out concert with Bandit65. Kurt Rosenwinkel, Tim Motzer, Gintas Janusonis. Which we did for Ars Nova Workshop at the Ruba Club upstairs. It was an astounding night! We did record that show, by the way. And it should be coming out next year on Kurt’s label, Heartcore. Bandit65 has been touring internationally since 2016, and we recorded every concert. The fruits of that ended up on our latest album, “Searching the Continuum,” which was released in January of this year. In February, the album received a five-star review in Downbeat Magazine by J.D. Considine, whose writing I have long admired. So things were really beginning to roll early this year, and we were setting up our next tour. And then in March, the lockdown began. In fact, all of my concerts and tours were canceled around that time.
A.D. Amorosi: This is everyone’s horror story.
Tim Motzer: As I was trying to figure out what was happening, as we all were, being in the studio became a solitary place of reflection, meditation, and escape. I started streaming my “Isolation Broadcast” series via IGTV to remote audiences, which I also recorded. These solo guitar and electronics soundscapes became three new 1k Recordings releases this year. Inside, The Great Expanse, and Tear Aside the Veils. The music on Inside, in particular, was inspired by my ongoing work with choreographers and dancers at the University of the Arts in Philly. I’ve been a part of the dance department there for a decade. And during the spring 2020 semester the choreographers, dancers, and musicians were all trying to figure out how to create and respond to this unprecedented, isolated moment. I had a really lovely virtual conversation with Stars End radio host Chuck Van Zyl about the making of Inside.
A.D. Amorosi: I know you compose for other forms, as well, dance and film.
Tim Motzer: This fall, I also started working at Princeton University with choreographer/musician Olivier Tarpaga and percussionist Daniel Johnson. I composed/produced a score for three dancers, which recently debuted at the virtual Princeton Dance Festival Re-imagined. It has been an amazing experience working with choreographers and dance students remotely and somehow finding beauty and connectivity in such challenging times.
A.D. Amorosi: What has record label life been like? Yours and other labels?
Tim Motzer: Another highlight of the year was curating and releasing the 20-song 1k2020 Retrospective, honoring 20-plus years of releasing adventurous music on my Philly-based boutique label, 1k Recordings. The collection includes my solo works and collaborations with Ursula Rucker, Ari Hoenig, Markus Reuter, Pat Mastelotto of King Crimson, Theo Travis of Soft Machine. And many other artists and bands like Channels, Goldbug, Orion Tango, Nucultures, that I’ve worked with over the years. I hope the 1k2020 Retrospective provides an entry point into this eclectic catalog. And invites people to dig deeper. I’m excited that more and more people continue to discover the label, and my hard drives are filled with music I’m excited to release in 2021. People can browse the catalog HERE. I’ve also started collaborating with MoonJune Records. And this year the label released Shapeshifters, a recorded concert I did last year with Markus Reuter and Kenny Grohowski at Matthew Garrison’s Shapeshifter Lab in Brooklyn. The record has gotten some wonderful buzz. This year, I was grateful to play two, socially distanced, concert live streams, also organized by MoonJune at Shapeshifter Lab. The first, in September, was with English bassist Percy Jones of Brand X and Brian Eno, guitarist Alex Skolnick, and drummer Kenny Grohowski of John Zorn and Brand X. It was a really special night, with several hundred people tuning in from around the world. It felt especially powerful considering that connecting with other musicians in the same room has been so rare this year. A live double-album will be released in early 2021. More recently, I played another live stream concert with Vernon Reid of Living Colour, Leon Gruenbaum, Josh Werner, and my longtime collaborator Gintas Janusonis.
A.D. Amorosi: So, what is with you and painting? Large canvases, painting over everything you can find. When did you pick up a brush?
Tim Motzer: I’ve always been deep into the visual arts, starting with a love of photography when I was a teen. And continuing to this day. I post photos all the time on Instagram. I’ve been painting since the late 90s as a way to continue creating after world tours with Ursula Rucker. I needed to rest my ears for a while because we played so loud! So I’ve been painting on and off since then as another form of expression. I think that painting expresses visually what I hear in my music. Texture, atmosphere, landscape, motion, harmonic color, and line all come together to form the whole. Within both, I am searching the unknown for beauty, magic, and a sense of wonder. About four years ago I started painting large canvases and smaller works on paper. And had a few exhibitions in NYC and Philly. Prior to COVID, I also used my garage as a gallery/studio in Fishtown, and I would sell work from there.
A.D. Amorosi: And painting the covers of CDs you make available to the public?
Tim Motzer: I’ve also always loved the visual aspect of music packaging. Both CDs and records. As physical CD sales started to decline, I thought I’d try creating some hand-painted, signed and numbered CD editions with insert cards including credits and downloads. People really appreciated these one-of-a-kind art/music pieces, so I’ve continued creating them as a way to share my art and music in a more personal and unconventional manner. It’s been really gratifying to see my paintings as the cover art for almost all of my 2020 releases, including those on 1k, MoonJune, and Heartcore. There’s more info on my visual art at my site.
A.D. Amorosi: Who is Rob Fetters to you? You have done stuff with this character in the past.
Tim Motzer: Rob Fetters and I go back to the early 80s when I was the music director for my college radio station in Dayton, Ohio. I used to see his band The Raisins in Cincinnati all the time. They were a great art-rock band, loved by Todd Rundgren, and produced by Adrian Belew. Eventually, Rob formed The Bears with Adrian. Those were fun, formative times. It was really inspiring for me to have an up-close-and-personal view of this great band. It felt kind of like a musical education, as I was continuing to find my own path in music. Rob’s a tremendous singer-songwriter and a favorite guitarist of mine. He wrote the hit “Fear is Never Boring.” Before COVID, he even played a house concert at my place in Philly as part of a tour he was doing. We’ve been friends for many moons now. And we love to chat from time to time about all things music and being musicians as a way of life. We’ll chat on IG Live Thursday, December 17, 9 pm EST.
A.D. Amorosi: So, what are you most looking forward to in 2021?
Tim Motzer: In 2021, I’m looking forward to my first solo vocal album of original songs. I sing and play all the instruments. I haven’t really sung since back in the Nucultures days. So this album of new songs is very exciting to me, and it’s a bit of a departure musically from the kinds of projects I’ve been doing recently. It’s almost finished. We’re mixing currently, and beginning the art and design. I haven’t really talked about this yet, so you’re the first to know… So that’ll be coming along around February.