When everyone from Brooklyn Vegan to the NY Post is talking about a band, you know it might be time to perk up those ears and give a listen. Motel Motel have been lauded by just about everyone out there, and with good reason. Their live shows will break through even the most disaffected and jaded music listeners with a brand of Americana that has been known to induce smiles, and maybe even a tapping foot. This Saturday they'll play at our Northside Festival show prior to heading out on tour.
How did the band come together, and where did the name come from? Well, I was depressed and without any friends, like a lot of people are when they first move to New York. I met Eric Engel and Timo Sullivan at The New School in September of ’06. All three of us were students there. That was the beginning of the band.
We started recording songs in Timo’s apartment in Jersey City, mostly in the basement (where we all breathed much asbestos and spiderdust!) and in Timo’s kitchen, where I drank many a cup of coffee and sang many a back-up vocal to a song called “Coffee.”
Jeremy and Erik joined the band later. (Timo found these alien eggs off the New Jersey Turnpike and put them in this incubator and out they came!) It was the coolest thing that ever happened to any of us. New Denver was recorded back in Colorado with us as a four-piece (Engel, Sully, Theis, Duvall). Gundel’s alien egg hatched a little later. Then we were a real band, not just a recording project of sorts.
As for the name of the band: a good friend of mine from back home (Denver, Colorado) came up with it a long time before the band ever formed. He was working as a night janitor at a hotel in downtown Denver. It was called Hotel Teatro. He was down on all the fancy names of hotels... He said to me, “why not just hotel hotel?” like G. Stein’s “rose is a rose is a rose” or something. For some reason, it stuck with me. I liked the idea of a hotel without pretense, because that just does not fucking exist.
Then, a year or so later, we all found out that there was already a band called Hotel Hotel, so we went for the cheaper alternative. After all, it was 3am and the marquee said there was vacancy, so... Well, the rest is history. Boo-ya. We all made love to each other.
With so many band members, what is the song writing process like? Well, it’s getting harder and harder. Kind of like life or something. I kept on thinking for awhile that maybe we were about to crest some imaginary hill, that the wondrous muse of indie-rock was going to sweep down and whisper some beautiful melody in one of our ears and solve all of our problems, but I’ve come to accept that it’s just really a lot of work to come up with a good song when there are five people writing it. And anyways, if the wondrous muse of indie-rock whispered something in my ear and I sang it, wouldn’t that be just an imitation of an imitation at several removes from reality? And wouldn’t we all disagree about it anyways?
It’s an effort. I’m in the band for those times when it feels like it’s worth all the effort. And it feels good to know that you’re in a band where everyone cares enough to disagree about something.
What music did you listen to growing up? I think the first music that really appealed to me was “grunge.” Nirvana, probably most of all. Then I got into a lot of hip-hop and weird electronic music. Then Jazz music. I listened to nothing but Jazz music in middle school and high school, a lot of classic shit: Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Bud Powell. Then I had my first real break up during my senior year of high school and started listening to a lot of “indie” music.
What bands are you currently listening to? I pretty much listen to Silver Jews. Every album is a slam dunk. D.B. is one of the best songwriters alive, I think.
Please share your strangest "only in New York" story. I was walking around Washington Square park this one time and Sam Shepard swooped down on a helicopter and grabbed me by the arm. We went flying around for awhile... He was pointing out all of this stuff, like the Statue of Liberty and where this and that guy died, where Clifford Odets used to live, where Giorgio Armani was, etc.
We started doing this Meisner repetition exercise with each other and then, all of a sudden, I looked up and noticed that there were all these other helicopters around us--3 (three)--to be exact, and not only was there a string quartet i.e. a cello in our helicopter, viola in another, violin I in the third, and so on, but that they were all playing the Stockhausen helicopter piece... There were also all these cameras around us in all these other helicopters and I realized that, not only was I sitting here, talking to one of my favorite playwrights and actors, but we were also starring in a new Martin Scorcese film.
I looked up and I was just like, “Wow, Sam. Only in New York, huh?”
Which New Yorker do you most admire? I don’t know. Spike Lee, probably. Or maybe that guy that used to sell that little potato peeler thing in Union Square.
Given the opportunity, how would you change New York? I would want everyone to talk to each other on the subways... or, maybe for the subways to act as public forums of some kind, like big lecture halls, where some public speaker is talking about their new book, or teaching us all how to make chicken cordon bleu.
Under what circumstance have you thought about leaving New York? Every day, baby. Every day.
Do you have a favorite New York celebrity sighting or encounter? Spike Lee. On the corner of 74th and Amsterdam. I did a double take, like an idiot, because I thought I recognized him (you know, like he was a friend of mine), but then I realized he was just Spike Lee. He just raised his eyebrows like, “yeah, I’m Spike.” My Stephen Merritt sighting was pretty hilarious, too.
Best cheap eat in the city. Bite on 14th street by Beauty Bar.
Best venue to play/hear music. The Bell House... Or any of the Bowery Presents venues.