“Look out,” Daniel Blue sings on “Where It Goes,” from Motopony's 2015 release Welcome You's sweeping, panoramic finale. “You don’t, you don’t, you don’t know/ Where it goes." That's partially Blue's mantra: That no matter what you do, fate still has a way of doing whatever it pleases.
That certainly describes the journey Blue set out on when he first picked up a broken guitar, the morning after an “epic, terrible night” over ten years ago. .
It was 2006, and Blue was living and working in Tacoma, Wash. as a fashion designer. There were only three strings left on the guitar he reached for that morning, and Blue didn’t know a thing about music, so he just tuned all them to the same note. When he started strumming, his first song came to him in a flash of inspiration. In that moment, Blue says, “I was struck with the clear notion that it was time to pursue my lifelong dream of music. Before he knew it, he’d gotten rid of his sewing supplies and had teamed up with local hip-hop producer Buddy Ross (Frank Ocean). Together, the duo created a sound that merged Blue’s newfound knack for writing powerful songs with Ross’ music know-how and unusual style. The pair brought on a drummer and a guitar player and hit the road.
That was the beginning of Motopony -- a band Blue named out of his dedication to being devotedly physical and spiritual in a digital world. The “moto” -- the mechanical side -- and the “pony” -- the animal.
Motopony grew in local popularity, and in 2011 they released Motopony -- a confident debut in which Blue's deft folk melodies and persistent fingerpicking were undergirded by Ross' future-pop production. The record was an immediate hit, propelling the band well beyond the comfy evergreen environs of Western Washington. L.A.'s KCRW, the holy grail for high-achieving indie rock bands, slapped it into rotation; Bob Boilen and Robin Hilton praised it on NPR's All Songs Considered. The band's live show floored audiences and reviewers across the country.
By the beginning of 2012, Motopony had holed up and recorded the framework for their follow up. But just as they started to dig into the meat of the record when Ross had to leave the band to take to the road with Frank Ocean, an offer he couldn't refuse. Soon after, the Tiny Ogre label that put out Motopony shut their doors. Blue found himself alone with some 36 songs the band had prepared for their second record. There he was again -- alone in a dark place illuminated by nothing but his guitar. "I lost my safety-net crutch," he says. "And I wondered, without all that, am I even a musician?"
But the songs kept coming. In 2014, Blue assembled a band flush with top-shelf musicians, including drummer Forrest Mauvais, who stuck around from the band's previous incarnation, and Mike Notter, who would prove to be a good foil for Blue's hard-charging boisterousness ("the Spock to my Kirk," Blue says). Blue filled out the lineup with Andrew Butler on keys, Nate Daley on guitar, and Terry Mattson on bass. The band helped Blue whittle down his 36 songs -- songs that had weathered the test of time, surviving two years and several new band members -- into a 5-song EP that announced a revitalized rock band with a new direction and a new sense of collaboration. Idle Beauty was a summary of where the band had been and a map of where it was going. On its surface, it's a collection of folk songs. But album-rock ambition, and Blue's drive to transcend his own best work bubble just beneath the surface. The band then signed with Eone Music who release Idle Beauty which set the stage for Welcome You.
On Welcome You, that ambition finally boils over. The band approached the album as a clean slate. Blue insisted that songwriting be collaborative; band members brought in melodies and riffs that were then painstakingly built into full songs. Meanwhile, Blue accessed classic rock's golden era for inspiration -- "whatever it was they were tapping into," he says. "That freedom of constraints that stayed glued to blues and soul." What Motopony delivered is an enveloping, assured masterpiece, a full-throated artistic statement that speaks the language of rock and roll history and earns a place among the most original contemporary music. Hammond organs wail; buzzed Laurel Canyon guitars hang in the air; walls of vocal harmony swell and fill every corner of sonic space. Choruses soar, as in "Changing," in all its chest-clutching glory, and "Daylights Gone," with its wild-hearted pop ecstasy. The thick, funky grooves of "Gypsy Woman" ascend to hallucinatory heights before melting into spacey soundscapes.
Welcome You sees Blue looking back at what he's been through, and, in some ways, taking time to savor his victories, sometimes blissfully -- he says he wants his music to give "a little bit of hope, and a little bit of light." "Welcome You," the opening track, brings listeners in with open arms and a carefree bounce; "1971" is pure, soulful reverie that hearkens back to arena rock's heyday, lifted by a refrain that would make Robert Plant and Jon Bon Jovi proud; "Livin' in the Fire" is a swaggering confrontation with the forces that try to inhibit and define the creative spirit, anchored by a sinister groove.But under the swaying chorus of "Molly," there's something else -- the reverie is underpinned by a sense that all the fun is nothing more than "the sweet illusion of a world that cannot stick." The melody floats, the guitars reverberate, but there's a missing element of truth. And it's no accident that the album concludes with "Where It Goes," a warning, and a challenge. To a large degree, Blue says, Welcome You is "...a challenge to take all the losses and wins into account and still be able to say it was worth it. Just because you followed the rules you set for yourself doesn’t mean you did it right, and just because you had to break the rules your culture has put on you doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing it wrong. The message of this whole record is summed up in the promise of a desired welcome and the warning of an unpredictable future. We don’t really get to judge our life or the fruit of it, nor can we predict that we will get to where we want to go, so keep your eyes open, kids.”
Motopony set out to record “Live to tape, no digital interface”, which they accomplished with the help of vintage analog master producer Mike McCarthy (Spoon, Heartless Bastards. Trail of Dead). The recordings were perfect, and exactly what they set out to do, but as Blue stated, sometimes following your own rules doesn’t mean you did it right, and the band humbled themselves after meeting Guy Massey (Radiohead, Spritualized, The Libertines) at a show in London. Blue confesses, “We listened to what we did in the studio repeatedly like starving animals, but at the last note, no one could admit that it satisfied our imaginations of where it could go.” Massey mixed a few songs while the band traveled in India after leaving the UK. “When the test mixes came back, I wept at the console…I thought, “there it is, he gets it, he did it…WE’VE done it.”
In support of Welcome You, Motopony toured half way around the world to festivals in India and shows in the UK, as well as circling the US twice in the past 2 years. When in the UK, through some good fate, the band found themselves in Abbey Road Studios with producer Rob Cass and got to record an impromptu live EP called "Naked at the Abbey, Live at Abbey Road". After spending not more then a day in the studio, Rob took to Daniel's spirit and writing and immediately offered to record the next album. Just over a year after that chance meeting, Daniel returned to Abbey Road to lay down the core tracks of what would be the next Motopony record. Upon his return to Seattle, life decisions came into play for several of the band members who after 2 non-stop years on the road with each other leading to tumultuous relationships, power struggles and different focuses, Daniel who was now over a year sober decided to take his new tracks and bring them to a new group of collaborators including Joseph DeNatale, Jo Castor, and Timothy Graham who all share the same aesthetic, lifestyle and vision.