Motonaut: Mike Indest and the electro pop journey

posted in: April 2009, Articles | 0

If memory serves me correctly, I first came across Motonaut on MySpace. I think they liked the influences on our music list and mentioned something about Mike Knott. I can’t really remember, but I liked their music and added them to our friends list. Probably about a month later Matt emailed me and asked if I wanted to review the CD they had sent us, I said ‘sure’ and he mailed it to me. When I got the disc in the mail I popped it in and thought this was quite possibly one of the best indie discs that I have heard in a long time. I was pleasantly surprised. I buy a good bit of indie stuff from bands that I find on MySpace, but rarely am I as pleased as with Motonaut. The disc is entitled The Now And The Not Yet, and my only complaint is that it isn’t longer. We reviewed the disc in an earlier edition of Down The Line, and this is one that you should check out and support. You can find the review in the archives section of our little zine! So, back to the band…

Motonaut is Mike Indest and Jesse Maizlish. Mike handles vocals and all the music/programming, and Jesse adds vocals that support and gel really well with Mike. I asked Mike how the music came together, and here’s the scoop. “I really wanted to do something different. I wrote the songs on the guitar and recorded some of the songs with guitar, bass, drums, piano, etc. but I was kind of burnt out with standard arrangements, so I started looking for a way to do it a bit different. I had actually tried adding some different things to those recordings, stuff like accordion, melodica and exotic percussion, but it still was not exciting me. So I decided to go the opposite direction and use limited instrumentation.”

The limited instrumentation works well. This is a disc that on first spin was really hard to classify, but I guess the ‘electro pop’ tag works well. The lyrics are really thought provoking and deeper than the standard fare. So, how did the band come together? Mike explains, “Well originally it was just me. The more the songs started to come together I started to figure out where I wanted to go with it. The lyrics were kind of open and direct, maybe a little sad, and the music was fun and upbeat, so I decided to work with those differences and play it out a bit more. I recorded my vocals really dry and upfront against the techno music, and Jesse’s vocals added an ethereal contrast to mine.” While Mike calls the music techno, it is not techno in the sense of Joy Electric or Dance House Children. The music here is minimal and almost a vehicle to carry the lyrics along. Mike continues, “So I brought Jesse on board because with the ReBirth program I had two mono synths, two drum machines and this idea to have contrast with the arrangements. I had known Jesse for a while, and I knew she sang, but I had never heard her sing except for singing along with songs at the art gallery where she worked. I played some demos for her and she was into it. She came over for about an hour one afternoon, we knocked out ‘Gravity’, it sounded great and away we went.”

When it comes to influences, their lists are long and as varied as they come. Mike is a huge fan of Michael Knott as we said earlier, but he’s also into The Alarm, The Choir, 77’s, Terry Taylor, 441, Undercover, Waterboys and Pedro The Lion. Jesse is more influenced by hip hop and a slathering of groups like Snow Patrol, Iron & Wine, Madonna, Talking Heads, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Prince, Modest Mouse, etc. The influence list is long and diverse, but the mish mash of what moves them comes out in a nice way.

When Mike is not playing music, he holds down two diverse jobs. One is doing the morning show at a local Christian music station. His other job is no surprise since he lives in the 9th ward in New Orleans. His second job: he is part owner in a walking tour company in the French Quarter. They do ghost, cemetery and voodoo tours. The radio job he has been working for 15 years. I, for one, thought it would be pretty cool to have a ghost/cemetery tour job, but then again I am a fanatical horror movie fan (much to my wife’s dismay). Anyway, as Mike puts it, “The tour company is fun. I just started a spiritual history tour that is really thought provoking and engaging.”

Since I met Mike through MySpace, I asked him how that website and the digital revolution have impacted Motonaut. “Having a very limited budget”, Mike explains, “ if it were not for the internet there would be no way we could have done this fifteen years ago. From mastering, getting CD’s out, getting on Amazon, iTunes & Napster and mailing press kits to magazines, our total cost was about $400.00 – that’s amazing! MySpace seems to be the best marketing tool for us, the networking is amazing and finding an audience that you think might like what you’re doing is fairly easy, although very time consuming. I have not got back any numbers from the digital distribution sites, but I have received emails from folks who bought the downloads and that is exciting. I’m not expecting to sell a bunch of copies, and that’s not what this is about, but it is very cool to hear from someone in Montana that found us and bought the songs. That is something that never would have happened before the internet.”

As I stated earlier, the only drawback to this disc was that I thought it was too short. So, what’s in the future for Motonaut so we can hear some more music? Funny you should ask… “We are hoping to record a 7” over Mardi Gras, and then another E.P. soon after that”, Mike states. “Musically the new stuff is a little bit different… more dissonant maybe, lyrically the new songs are more focused on failed, messed up relationships with people and not like The Now And The Not Yet that was focused on God. These songs are brutally honest and maybe a bit unnerving to listen to. I am trying to record two new songs for a 7” that a small indie label wants to put out. Hopefully we can get them done in time.”

An update: Since Mike and I talked he has updated his MySpace page with a blog stating that he has finished writing the new E.P. Now comes the laborious task of programming and putting it all together. Looks like the hope is to have it out before summer ends. Check out all things Motonaut here:

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