The Soul Motivators Chase Throwback Fun on 'Do the Damn Thing'

The Soul Motivators Chase Throwback Fun on 'Do the Damn Thing'
Photo: Avital Zemer
Toronto deep-funk messengers the Soul Motivators deepen their groove and expand their sonic palette and social consciousness on their sophomore full length, Do the Damn Thing. The interim between their acclaimed debut, 2015's Free to Believe saw the outfit — vocalist Shahi Teruko, James Robinson on keys, Marc Shapiro on bass, Voltaire Ramos on guitar, with Doug Melville and Derek Thorne, percussion — refine their love of vintage Meters and Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings soul and funk, building up an intense fan base while also releasing 2019's Mindblastin' EP, a preview of the Motivators' maturation and assurance.
 
"I think we've gone in, we've worked with the same team as we did the first album and so we know the dynamic a bit better," says Robinson. "It's the same team as before, but we're a lot more confident this time and we were able to get the best out of being in the studio. We knew we were on to something good and combining that with our experience of having done the first album, we were off to the races."
 
Those familiar with the Motivators' infectious throwbacks won't be let down by instant dance-floor-fillers like the title track and the deep fatback strut of "Say What You Mean," yet Robinson says that T. Rex, Chicago and Anderson. Paak were also implicit influences. The car chase fever dream of "Savalas," which seamlessly blends MFSB sophistication with the urgency of classic '70s poliziotteschi, blaxploitation and cop shows, not to mention Blood Sweat & Tears, is the Soul Motivators at their most cinematic and ambitious.
 
"We've always loved the instrumental car chases from '70s cop shows and blaxploitation stuff, [like] Isaac Hayes' 'Pursuit of the Pimpmobile,'" explains Robinson. "For me, preparing a melody to that, early Chicago and Blood Sweat and Tears were a big influence on the horn lines, which were slightly out of the funk and soul realm — definitely horn-heavy and music that I grew up on as well. It's one of the tunes under three minutes, in and out. It does qualify as quite a unique spot on the album — no nonsense and uncompromising."
 
Robinson shares that a key catalyst in the group's evolution is vocalist Shahi Teruko, who makes her recorded debut on this new album. "Shahi was an absolute shoo-in because of her previous experience singing in various bands and as an artist in her own right. So when she came in, there was a whole new energy in the band."
 
Inspired by the opening title sequence from 1997's Jackie Brown, with nods to both Bobby Womack and Fulfillingness First Finale- era Stevie Wonder, "Modern Superwoman" is an anthem to single women raising families alone, with a touching lyric penned by Teruko.
 
"I think that with 'Modern Superwoman,' Shahi's absolutely fantastic lyric and melody is a standout — just trying to put food on the table and support their kids. We were sort of messing around with the musical backing to that. Shahi honed her lyrics; it took a little bit of time for that one to come together, to take it away and really think carefully about that tune and it really shows. I'm really happy that worked out the way it did. And that the lyrics and melody were able to reflect the sound that I was going for. We're absolutely excited about how it turned out."
 
Prompted to define the Motivators' sound at this point in their career, Robinson explains: "It's still rooted in that 1960s and '70s R&B, and I'm still interested in adding those different influences here and there. I think it's one foot in the traditional camp and one foot in contemporary soul music, and how modern popular music is always a composite of the last 50 or 60 years of music anyway."