They say you have your whole life to write your first album, and just a couple years to follow it up. That disparity's even more profound in the case of Daniel Blue and Motopony. Blue didn't really pick up guitar until he was 27, and now the Pikes Peak area native faces the challenge of answering the buzzed-about, self-titled debut his band released just last May.
The attention was well-deserved. Motopony is an intriguing album that explores a variety of moods and textures. It ranges from greasy, boogiefied galactic jams like "Seer," to the jazzy, breakbeat-backed cocktail pop of "King of Diamonds," to the freaky, medieval-flavored finger-picked folk of "Vetiver" and the sweet, lilting chamber-folktronica of "God Damn Girl."
"[The songs] are eclectic because I have no idea how to write music," Blue says from a tour stop in Texas, where Motopony this weekend will play SXSW as one of Rolling Stone's 25 Bands Not to Miss. "We set out with the intent of having folk songs set to hip-hop or dance beats, and some of those are hit-and-miss. But we ended up really loving the way it sounded, and it started to become something else."
Blue was born in Manitou Springs and spent time in Colorado Springs before moving to Seattle in his early teens. An outsider who was originally homeschooled by his pastor parents, Blue graduated high school and then pulled a Kerouac, hitting the road searching. "I was definitely looking for something, even if it was only a picture of the world that challenges what I was taught to believe."
His journey was cut short by his mother's losing battle with cancer: "That was a big part of me realizing that just sort of kicking around and blowing my youth isn't a good idea."
Inspired by her late-life "creative binge," during which she wrote children's books and drew, Blue took her sewing machine and started a youth fashion label. After a couple years, it proved creatively unsatisfying, so he began writing songs on his guitar.
In 2009, he ran into Seattle producer and multi-instrumentalist Buddy Ross, with whom he'd worked on a cancer benefit four years prior. Ross was intrigued by Blue's adventurous musical approach and his particularly strong, tuneful tenor, and grew interested in filling Blue's arrangements with instrumental nuances and electronic samples.
By 2010 they'd hooked up with Steve Lerner, the former CEO of Wind-up Records, who'd started a new label venture called tinyOGRE. They released Motopony's debut and provided enough support for the band to quit their jobs and hit the road full-time. Lerner has since broken ranks, but he's given the band its master recordings and freed it from any future financial obligations.
Today, Motopony has collected at least 50 songs toward its next album. After a year on the road gelling together as players, they're a different animal, and Blue anticipates the next album will feature more of a pop and dance-oriented edge.
"I don't want to abandon the fans and fan base that we've built, but yeah, I want to evolve," he says. "We've seen gaps in our live show. This one time we played to a full house in Washington, D.C. and those kids were ready to party, but we didn't have the set to meet the needs of that moment."
He pauses for a second.
"Nobody wants to have to start doing the day job again, but we're all willing to do whatever it takes. We're all in."