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Freak MotifLocal improv artists due to release debut album

There aren't many bands that will jump on stage, start jamming with whoever showed up for the gig and play songs that they've never rehearsed, but Freak Motif is one of them.

In fact, in the three years since they were formed, band members say they have never played the same show, or even the same song twice. Instead, Freak Motif – notorious for their improvised songs – calls on the crowd's participation to decide their musical direction.

"If we were all trying to make a great living off this I don't know how it would playFreak MotifGuitarist Wershof invites youngster Sonja Reitz to play onstage during their jam workshop at The Abundance Fest. The workshop, hosted by Freak Motif, aimed to teach people the basics of jamming as a band.

Photo by Travis Borstmayer
out, but as a method of building community and expanding what we do I think it's sort of the best model we can have." says the band's trumpeter Alastair Pollock.

He is not alone in wanting to use the band's music to bring people together. Freak Motif has seven other core members including: bassist Matt Walkey, guitarists Stu Wershof and Henry Raul Yu, trombonist Kurt Ruschiensky, saxophonist Stefan Haynes, percussionist Jeremy Williams and drummer Victor (Vicky Beanz) Ulloa.

But now the band – whose music combines soul, afro-beat, hip-hop and funk – is on the cusp of doing much more than just building community. They are releasing their debut album in November 2012.

Improv style

The band's improv style has its roots in a leap of faith taken by guitarist Stu Wershof. According to Ulloa, Wershof had booked the band to appear at one of Calgary's greatest dive bars – Vern's Tavern – without telling anyone.

"We were like, 'What? We don't have any music, we don't have any songs, what are we gonna do?"

That forced the band, many of whom met by replying to an ad on Craigslist, to rely on their musical chemistry to get through the performance.

Frequent collaborator, musician and dancer Caroline (Lady C) Fraser described it as "the stars aligning."

"The energy and chemistry between all the artists is something that is really hard to create by force. It just happened in that band from the get go."

Audience participation

Freak MotifRaven Hoeksma joins Wershof, Walkey, Williams and Ulloa onstage to practice his percussion skills. Raven was one of many to benefit from Freak Motif’s jam workshop at Abundance Fest.

Photo by Travis Borstmayer
But being an improv band isn't the only thing that sets Freak Motif apart.

They also involve audience members and an ever-changing cast that includes dancers, painters and recently even toddlers at the Abundance Fest – an eclectic new-age event held in Inglewood.

One of the organizers of the festival, Dave Carlton, says that means each time the band performs "it's totally different."

"You never know which band members are going to be there, or which random other people they're gonna invite or just show up."

In fact, according to the band, they've had anywhere from five to 16 members on stage.

Looking Forward

With their live act nailed down, Freak Motif has shifted their focus onto recording and writing – rather than improvising – songs.

"The band started as an experiment in the first place," says guitarist Wershof "and the album is just a different kind of experiment.

Wershof said the band would often write and perform a song in one recording session to preserve their signature spontaneous quality on the album.

But the album doesn't mean Freak Motif will be stopping their live performances. Instead, the band plans to start playing festivals, taking their unique style to an even bigger community.

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