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Sidemen from Austin, Texas, join forces in the band Motenko

Through mutual friends and his gigs as a sideman, Micah Motenko met the three fellow working musicians who fill out the Austin, Texas-based band simply dubbed Motenko.

The singer-songwriter-keyboardist doesn’t recall his exact elevator pitch to guitarist Cat Clemons III, bassist Josh Flowers and drummer James Gwyn. There may have been a reference to D’Angelo thrown in there, he adds, but whatever he said was enough for the other three to join forces with him to make music that Motenko says sounds “like the stuff we listen to between gigs.”

That stuff is 1960s and 1970s soul, 1990s R&B and New Orleans boogie.

“There’s not a lot of that kind of music going on in Austin,” Motenko explains. “It’s there, but it’s not like Western swing or singer-songwriter, where it’s like a dime a dozen and you want to ask a few more questions if someone tells you they’re a singer-songwriter.”

When Motenko the band got rolling in early 2018, its leader was still taking as many gigs as he could, then came a point when he was able to cut back on teaching piano. Knowing that Clemons, Flowers and Gwyn still have other commitments beyond his band, Motenko tries to be respectful of their time.

“I try to treat every gig as another ask — they can say yes or no, with no hard feelings,” he explains.

The band’s self-titled EP, which arrived in October, features what Motenko simply describes as “breakup songs” that were written with the sounds of a band in mind during a transitional time for him personally.

“I was finding my own voice and feeling more empowered and being more of a decisive person,” he explains. “I didn’t feel very plugged in; I didn’t feel like I had a lot of friends. I started writing these songs as a way to come into my own confidence.”

Playing gigs with his band to promote the five-song EP will have to wait. Since the pandemic began and subsequently shut down concert venues in Austin and elsewhere, Motenko has been “cobbling together an income” through online lessons, among other jobs.

“I was used to playing four to seven gigs a week, and everybody else in the band would play more than that,” he says. “It’s safe to say they were doing seven gigs a week for years. … You’re at bars more nights of the week than you’re not. Having that stripped away in one fell swoop is a little sad — not to mention the financial aspect.”

Asked to describe everyday life since March in the live music capital of the world, Motenko responds by saying, “Not the rosiest picture.”

“The prognosis for venues is so bleak,” he adds, “[but] a lot of the venues we know and love are still there.”

— By Chris M. Junior

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