M.O.T.O. vs. the World
They ain’t your average Rock band
by Scott Bass
Look at your record collection. That's a bunch of good records but you'll notice that most of those bands were fairly short-lived. MOTO, on the other hand, has been around over 30 years. Most of those bands put out a few good records and then burned out creatively. MOTO has generated a consistent vibe across dozens of cassettes, singles, CDs, and albums. Most of those bands toured for a couple of years before any-one-of-a-million-reasons put an end to their live shows. MOTO has played the East Coast extensively, toured Europe several times, and in recent years gone to far-off places like Finland, Japan, Australia, and even mainland China.
So why haven’t you heard of them?
Masters of the Obvious, or M.O.T.O. (often just written as MOTO), is the brainchild of New Orleans-born Paul Caporino, the only constant throughout the group’s 32-year existence. Their Wikipedia entry does a good job of summing up the various lineups backing Caporino over the years. Not documented there is the current lineup featuring Paul’s new wife, J.V. McDonough (ex-River City Rebels), along with a local drummer in whatever city they happen to be playing.
Despite the ever-changing rosters, over the years the MOTO sound has remained remarkably consistent, producing music too slow to be called punk and too varied to be considered garage. It’s just good old rock ‘n’ roll. The tunes are full of rock references for the astute and scatalogical humor for the ass-toot. You might not, but Paul would find that hilarious.
MOTO's music doesn’t aim to engage you intellectually; the only goal is to move your tuchus. Most songs are short, simple, and catchy. Caporino’s gift for crafty melodies coupled with his economic approach to songwriting have produced albums (particularly Kill Moto, Raw Power and No Way Street) that have a timeless quality to them. When were these recorded exactly? It's hard to say. Musical trends come and go, but a good rock track is a universal truth. There’s a reason NASA put some Chuck Berry on the Voyager Golden Record. If aliens ever find that shit, we’re fairly sure that it will get their space booties a-shakin'. Caporino, like Berry, isn't ashamed to sing about his ding-a-ling. More importantly, he knows how to rock.
In the early years, Caporino’s ambitions outpaced his band’s ability to record and so, armed only with a 4-track, Ampeg Stud, Radio Shack microphone, and his trusty Mattel Synsonics Electronic Drum Set, he produced a string of cassette albums featuring hand-drawn covers and scribbled-out song titles. These cassettes would prove to be blueprints for many songs that would later get proper “full band" studio treatment on singles and albums in years to come. From the late 1980’s onward, MOTO’s vinyl output has been fairly regular, with most years seeing one or two releases dropped--typically pressed by little labels in batches of 500 or 1000. At least a dozen different “tiny indie" labels have put out MOTO records. Even though the records are pressed in small batches that don’t exactly sell like hotcakes, there has never been a shortage of record labels interested in releasing MOTO's music. The people running these labels are fans; they aren’t in it for the money. Paul continued to produce homemade cassettes (now available on CD-R) until the late-1990’s, laying groundwork for another three decades of albums even if he quits songwriting tomorrow. And if he lives to see 80.
As the band has matured (‘endured’ would probably be a better word), Caporino’s lyrical approach has crystallized. There are plenty of entries in the MOTO songbook that contain three wordy verses and lots of chord changes, just like most rock songs. But there’s also an increasing collection of tracks that contain what are essentially single lines of lyrics, repeated over and over, backed by a couple of simple-but-memorable riffs. In the MOTO universe, there are very large hooks and there’s simply no point in beating around the bush getting to them. Wordiness can be a distraction and so sometimes lyrics get boiled down into mantras. Songs like “Cataman," “Metal Man," and “Primevil" each barely contain lyrics at all; and yet they all rock hard and are crowd favorites. Some people may consider Caporino’s straight-forward, stripped-down, no-nonsense approach immature, if not downright preposterous. Such an argument could only be made by someone too arrogant (or too jealous) to fully appreciate the results.“I hate my fucking job. Whoa! You know I feel so bad."Yes, in recent years, the songs have become simpler and probably more cynical. But the hooks are as strong as ever, and in the last decade or so the recordings have been much-improved thanks to Paul finally hooking up with a producer who “gets it." Chicago-based Garret Hammond, better known as the drummer for Kill Hannah, has used his “sonic navigation" to nail the MOTO sound on the last few full-lengths. His recordings have been so well-received that he's been working with Caporino the last few years remastering the back catalog for reissue. In small batches, of course.
Complete lyrics to one of the band's most popular tracks on Spotify
How is it that MOTO’s music can be loved in so many small circles around the globe, and yet they’ve managed to go so long without ever really being noticed? A positive review in CMJ and some enthusiastic airplay from the late John Peel in the early-90’s were the highest visibility on the cultural radar that the band ever enjoyed. That was decades ago. Success has flirted with the band, but thus far... She's just not putting out.
Is it because MOTO isn't good enough or is that the group just hasn't yet connected with its potential audience? The irony is hard to avoid: even with catchy songs, a huge catalog, widespread fans, and constant touring, the band remains totally obscure.
Personally, I think it's about time MOTO catches a break.
NOTE: For beginners, I'd recommend Single File for a flavor of the band's early years, and Kill MOTO for a representation of their current sound.
Also see M.O.T.O. on Facebook
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