Weapons of Brass Destruction

Freak Motif hold an infunkstigation

Oh the folk festival “workshop” perhaps the most hit-or-miss endeavour in the live music circuit. This year’s Calgary Folk Music Festival exemplified both sides of the coin with wild collabs (Shad and Besh o droM come to mind) and stale sets (Whitehorse and Lindi Ortega). Some artists just aren’t suited for the role. Others just might not get the memo that they’re meant to you know conspire to make music that’s better together than separate.

Freak Motif might become the archetype for what a “workshop” collaboration should be. They’re a big band featuring eight full-time members allowing for a near-infinite number of instrumental amalgamations. They’re sonically diverse incorporating funk reggae hip-hop Afrobeat and dub into their meandering sound. Improvisation is their modus operandi something which far too many festival bands are embarrassingly awful at. And to top it all off they basically got their beginnings at the Calgary folk fest.

Kurt Ruschiensky the trombonist for the band’s horn section (dubbed the “Weapons of Brass Destruction”) ended up being so inspired by a folk fest experience that he posted a Craigslist ad shouting out to other local musicians interested in jamming in a workshop-like setting. Three years later they’re gearing up to drop their first studio project La Casa Blanca a recording of some of the best riffs generated in shows and rehearsals.

Victor Ulloa the band’s drummer says translating the live product in the studio came fairly naturally: “It’s because we had the foundation of jamming together for so long” he says. “We just knew exactly what we were doing what beats to put into what riffs to put into what bass line to put into what horn line. It just came so naturally.” Matt Walkey the bassist and occasional vocalist adds that everyone was able to develop slightly more intricate lines increasing the complexity of the album.

La Casa Blanca ’s an impressive package considering it was an entirely self-made creation: it was recorded and produced by the band in the basement of a white Monopoly-piece looking house in Killarney (hence the record’s name and cover art). Guitarist Stu Wershof says that the “new level of experimenting was recording some of the jams” as everything prior to that experience had been essentially jamming. The name change — from their original moniker Infunkstigation to Freak Motif — solidified the decision.

“We changed it because of people not being able to pronounce it or remember it or spell it out” says Ulloa. “People were not taking us seriously. When we decided to take music seriously we changed the name.”

The leap paid off: the album’s a refined cleverly arranged and catchy-as-fuck arrangement. The band’s clearly a well-educated one giving subtle shout-outs to their forefathers: on the hilariously titled “Superfatassbassandallthatotherfunkydopeshit (Redux)” (perhaps in itself an homage to early OutKast) bassist Walkey and guitarist Henry Raul Yu trade downtempo freestyles based off The Fugee’s “How Many Mics.” Even the famed “gingerbread” line from Biggie’s “Everyday Struggle” is alluded to in the album-defining “Rise.”

While consistently packed and energetic shows suggest that there’s an appetite for Freak Motif’s improvised genre mash-up there aren’t many other local bands doing it. Freak Motif’s never played with another big band in the same vein as them: most funk-esque groups in the city tend to perform covers rather than original material. Ulloa who commutes weekly from Banff for rehearsals notes that the number of musicians in the band makes it hard to get paid well at gigs.

“Which is a fair concern definitely” he says laughing. “But I think all of us are of the same mind frame of putting it all together for the greater good.”

The eight-piece is keen to take that philosophy of “greater good” across the country. The Pacific Northwest is a dream destination for touring — no real surprise there. Kelowna and Nelson have been good to them in the past. But the festival circuit is the immediate focus. One can only hope — for the sake of all festival-goers — that programmers are keeping their ear to the ground to catch wind of the Freaks.