New London trio Motion Radio plays Saturday at Oasis Pub
In 2015, New London-based rock trio Motion Radio released their debut recording, the five-song "EP One." It was intended as a teaser to their product-starved fans inasmuch as singer/songwriter/guitarist Matt Hamilton was simmering with ideas for tunes — and the plan was to record them at top speed and then issue a full-length album.
It wasn't until a few months ago, though, that the album, called "14 Watts," finally came out. It's a distinctive, oft-challenging/always-rewarding effort full of Hamilton's charming penchant for not paying much attention to the strict formats of basic pop songwriting. His vocal melodies, frequently delivered in a joyous falsetto, alternately charge and lull like a playful colt, and the song structures cut and slash imaginatively — with bassist/vocalist A.J. Longo and drummer Brian Briggs holding down the bottom the way a steel cable might tether a luminously colored hot air balloon on a wind-cresting afternoon.
On songs likes "Ghost," "The Admired" or "Heart Attack," Motion Radio can summon flashes of such varied acts as White Stripes, Shearwater, Robyn Hitchcock, Sparks and even Muddy Waters. "Sophia Haze" and "Tightrope," on the other hand, contain touches of timeless R&B balladry — and the whole recording emerges, fresh and tasty, from the full-power blender known as Hamilton's sonic vision.
The thing is, the tunes on "14 Watts" are quite different than the material Hamilton had originally planned, and the path to fruition was incredibly tough. In fact, Hamilton was mind- and body-blocked by a variety of energy-sapping events that effectively short-circuited the Creative Muse to a substantial degree.
"There were a lot of interesting things happening in my life when the EP came out, and I had a lot of musical ideas," Hamilton says. "Then I started to go through, well, I guess you'd call them life's challenges." He ticks off a representative sample: "Divorce. Foreclosure. I lost my job ... This all happened in the span of a few months, and I went through this tremendous sense of loss. And, as a result, I suddenly had the worst case of writer's block ever."
Hamilton spent weeks trying to write something — anything — and grew increasingly panicked as nothing worked. "I'd had writer's block before," he says, "but it had come and gone in brief intervals. But this one hit harder than ever, and the struggle of going through it and not finding the sanctuary that music always brought me was awful. It was just unrelieved stress."
Help arrived when a friend turned Hamilton on to recorded lectures by the late British philosopher Alan Watts, perhaps best remembered for introducing Western students and readers to Eastern philosophies. It was cathartic.
"Just listening to Watt's voice on these recordings, talking about and analyzing life, gave me a different perspective and inspired me to get up and engage each day," Hamilton says. "I got a bunch of his audio books, and it's beautiful, man. I have a new vigor for life. I'd wake up, head downstairs right away and start writing something. It all came out, and I started laying down tracks. I'd send them to Brian and A.J. We started playing and coming up with even newer stuff and, in the end, we scrapped the songs we'd originally started putting together at the time of the EP."
Hamilton's gratitude to Watts is represented not just by a photo of the philosopher on the inside sleeve of the new album but also in the title itself. While "14 Watts" can be a power/electricity joke appropriate to any band with electric guitars, the recording also contains 14 songs that happened through the Watts influence.
As for Hamilton's always fascinating, twisting and turning, dynamics-happy song blueprints, he has a ready explanation. "I blame my mother largely for the eccentricity in the songs," he laughs. "She'd be driving in the car when we were kids, and we'd all be in the back seat. She loved to sing along with the radio, and she had one of those voices where she didn't care what she sounded like because she was FEELING it. I could feel the emotion in the music as it came through her, and it might be Creedence or Junior Walker, and the overall energy was like an auditory sanctuary."
Hamilton pauses, thinking back. "Music like that, back then ... you put that music on, and you can't have a bad time. There's a beautiful serenity and joy in that music, and I want to capture that in what we're doing."
Several local musical luminaries guested on "14 Watts," and Mackenzie Christenson and Brad Bensko played big parts in the mixing and mastering process. The basic tracks were recorded at a variety of locations including Hamilton's old house. The vocals were done at Rose City Sound because, he says, "it's such a great sounding room." Plans are for the band to do some promotional videos, and they perform Saturday in New London at the Oasis Pub. Ultimately, Hamilton says, they're hoping to put together some tours that will take them beyond the region.
"For a long time, I was freaking out over the whole thing," Hamilton says, "but it feels so good to hold the finished CD in my hand. I feel relieved but also excited. Now all we have to do is get it out to as many people as possible."
IF you go
Who: Motion Radio, performing in support of their new "14 Watts" CD
When: 9 p.m. Saturday
Where: Oasis Pub, 16 Bank St., New London
How much: $5
For more information: motionradioband.com, (860) 447-3929
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