Motograter has quite the history for an act with only one full-length album to its name. After forming in 1995, the nu-metal band known for its members’ tribal body paint and its namesake instrument (made with industrial cable and guitar parts, delivering a deep bass sound) released its self-titled album in 2003. After a number of tours, including a stint on the Ozzfest second stage that same year, the band went on an indefinite hiatus.
For a while, it seemed Motograter would be best known as the former band of vocalist Ivan Moody, who went on to join Five Finger Death Punch in 2006. Various incarnations of Motograter reared their heads over the years—the band’s Wikipedia page lists nearly 30 past and present members—but it wasn’t until recently that the lineup solidified to the point where album number two appeared on the horizon.
Signed to David Ellefson’s EMP Label Group, the band now features guitarist Matt “Nuke” Nunes (the only current member who appeared on the first album), bassist Mylon Guy, drummer Noah “Shark” Robertson, vocalist James Anthony Legion, guitarist Jesse Stamper and Dustin “Skunk” Anderson on the Motograter. The new album, Desolation, is due this year, and a lot of touring is planned for 2017.
When the band recently came to the Fish Head Cantina in Halethorpe, Maryland, while supporting Hed PE, Live Metal’s Greg Maki caught up with Legion and Robertson to get the latest on all things Motograter.
LIVE METAL: You’ve been out on this tour for a couple weeks now, with Hed PE. How’s it going so far?
JAMES ANTHONY LEGION: It’s going really well. The crowds have been good, and Hed PE’s a bunch of really awesome guys. We get along with them really well. The weather’s been a bit questionable at times, especially up north. It’s been really cold and some snow and some ice. We had one little incident on the road that maybe Noah can tell you about. He was driving at the time.
NOAH “SHARK” ROBERTSON: Oh yeah. We were driving through a snowstorm, and we did a complete 180, and I somehow made it out completely unscathed. The trailer’s bent a little, but nobody died, so that’s good. But yeah, Hed PE is one of the coolest bands that we’ve toured with, by far. Our bands mesh really well. We get along great. All the shows are killer. The Hed PE and Motograter tour is, by far, one of the best tours that we’ve done.
And you’ve got a lot of dates coming up with them.
NOAH: Yeah. After this one, we’re gonna take a month or two off, and then we’re gonna go out with them again in May and June for like 35 dates. So yeah, we’re doing two tours with them back to back.
Motograter, over the years, has had a bunch of starts and stops, lineup changes and everything. Are you finding that the fans know what’s going on with the band—who’s in the band and what you’re doing now?
JAMES: Yeah, our fans are really well informed about the band. Motograter has some pretty loyal followers. The majority of our fans know who’s in the band, who’s been in the band and kind of our lineage. There are people at shows that are new fans—don’t even know Motograter existed.
And you want that, right?
JAMES: Yeah, that’s cool, too. So they’re learning about us. Yeah, we’ve definitely got fans that know what’s up, too.
I’ve seen photos online of fans doing makeup and body paint. Have people been coming to shows like that?
JAMES: Yeah, we get that.
NOAH: There was a few on this tour that came in full paint and stuff. One of our members was joking that their body paint looked better than the band’s. (laughter) Probably because he got to spend two hours on it at home.
How long do you guys spend on it?
JAMES: Really, about 15 minutes applying it and then 10 minutes or so to dry.
NOAH: We usually try to give ourselves a solid 30-, 35-minute window. That’s like the least amount of time we can take. But if we take our time, it can take up to 45 minutes or something. But we’re pretty quick now. We’ve got it down to a science.
What about after the show?
NOAH: Dude, taking it off is a nightmare. Putting it on, no big deal, it’s a little cold. Taking it off—I’m still washing paint out of my hair two weeks after the tour’s over. James has it a little bit easier than us, ‘cause he wears white.
JAMES: Yeah, the white is definitely easier to get off. The red is a bitch.
NOAH: I think red’s the worst, ‘cause after he puts on the red, he looks like he contracted some kind of weird ebola AIDS.
So for people who might be coming to shows later on this tour or thinking about it, what can they expect to see out of Motograter?
JAMES: A really intense show, some really crazy painted up dudes (laughs), loud music, craziness.
NOAH: It’s pretty much like a psycho circus up there. Motograter brings it every night. You’re never gonna see Motograter up there looking bored. We’re gonna devastate no matter what the circumstances are. And I say that having not had to play a show outside in zero-degree weather yet. I don’t know how that would fare with the paint and the shirts off. We haven’t had to do that yet.
JAMES: We have had to paint like that, though. That was really fun.
NOAH: There was an unnamed club in an unnamed city—(coughs) Rochester, New York—and they were really upset that we got paint on their really nice bathroom—that’s sarcasm—15 years ago. So they refused to let Motograter paint in there, and we had to paint outside in like 12-degree weather. It was really bad.
It’s been a long road to get to album number two for Motograter.
JAMES: You can say that again.
Yeah. What makes this the right time for it to finally be happening?
JAMES: It’s a combination of a lot of things—circumstances, the band members actually lining up, everybody feeling like it’s finally time to do this and make it happen. I don’t know. You said “the right time,” and that’s just kind of what it is. It’s the right time, it’s the right set of circumstances. It’s just the perfect situation for it to finally happen, and so here we are—how many years later, 15, I don’t even know anymore—since the first album.
NOAH: Yeah, it’s definitely because of the members. I think that the older lineups could have made an album, but—I don’t know—fate wouldn’t allow it. This is the time, this is the lineup. We have a really strong lineup. Also, having James. I’m actually glad an album hasn’t come out until James joined the band. I’m not trying to knock anyone else, any other singers—nothing like that. But James really makes Motograter badass.
So how did each of you end up in Motograter?
NOAH: Me, personally, I was in a band called The Browning before Motograter, and we did a lot of touring. We toured Europe, toured the States a million times. I left that band, and I vowed to never to tour again unless it was—quote—in one of the nu-metal bands I used to listen to growing up in high school. It was kind of a joke, but I saw that Motograter was reforming and their Facebook page popped up out of nowhere again. I kind of sent the band a message as a joke. “Hire me as your drummer LOL.” They were huge fans of The Browning, and they called me immediately and wanted me in the band. So for me, being a huge fan of Motograter, it was like a no-brainer. I flew out to California, and we did Knotfest. So I was just a huge fan before I joined the band, basically.
JAMES: As for me, I’ve been in a couple of bands that toured a little and stuff. I was in a band, and it wasn’t doing so hot. It was kind of a studio project—just couldn’t get it off the ground. I had a friend that had joined Moto, and come to find out, they were looking for a singer. So my friend showed them a video from my other band, and they thought it was cool. So then Nuke called me up and offered me the position, pretty much. I was like, “Send me a track to sing to,” because I don’t sound like Ivan Moody. I’m my own voice, I do my own thing. “So if you like it, then cool, great. If we work well together, let’s do it.” They sent me a track, I recorded some vocals over it, and they liked it, and then we were kind of off to the races. I flew out to Cali, and we did the first tour that we all did together, Civil Unrest, and we’re working on the album all in the meantime. So yeah, that’s about it.
NOAH: It was basically two stages of holy shit. The first holy shit was, we were looking for a singer, and I thought it would surely take years. I thought the band was gonna be done. Nuke called me and was like, “Dude, I found our singer.” And I was like, “Yeah, right. You’re an idiot.” (laughter) “What are you talking about?” He sent me a video of James’ old band. What was it called?
JAMES: It’s Deadform. It was the studio project.
NOAH: Yeah, Deadform, which by the way, if you’re (reading) this, go look up Deadform and check out that music video. It’s pretty rad. You’ll have the same reaction I did. I said, “Holy shit. This guy’s awesome. Let’s get him.” Then we sent him a track, he sent it back with his demo vocals on it, and that was holy shit. That’s how it happened.
(To James) For you, the comparisons to Ivan will be inevitable for some people. How do you deal with that?
JAMES: I just accept that it’s a thing that’s gonna happen. There’s gonna be people that are like, “Ivan’s the only singer for Motograter.” There’s gonna be people that are like that. I have not ran into any of those people live. I’ve only seen it online. (laughs) Keyboard warriors. People at the venues that have (been) face to face with me, everybody has said that they think I’m a great fit and they really enjoy what we’re doing now and been very supportive. I don’t know. I don’t pay attention to keyboard warriors. People have their opinions, and that’s that.
NOAH: Yeah, it’s inevitable. People are always gonna compare people to whoever was in the past. People are really weird about that, actually. And it seems like some bands more than others, people care about that. There’s bands that have no original members and nobody seems to care, like the Misfits or whatever. Then there’s bands where people really care about that. I don’t know. We try not to let it bother us, ‘cause we’ve got the same Moto vibe and energy and show, lyrical content and just that whole Moto vibe—it’s there, just different guys.
How many of the Motograters actually exist? The instrument.
NOAH: That’s privileged information. No, just kidding. There’s two, I think. There’s one that we use on tour, and then there’s like a backup, because—and I’m gonna knock on wood right now. Whoa, this building almost fell down. (laughter) We’re in a shed by the way, if you’re (reading) this. There’s two, and one is a backup, and I think that’s probably a genius idea, because how devastating would it be to a band to have their trailer stolen and your namesake instrument is in there, there’s only one in the world—we invented it. I have this weird dream. I’ll wake up sweating after a dream of the Motograter in a pawn shop for like $50, and some old man like, “What’s this thing?!” And just takes it home. (laughter)
JAMES: It’s probably more like $20 or something. “What is this hunk of junk? What do you even do with this thing?” (laughter)
NOAH: But there’s one legit one, and there’s one I haven’t even seen that’s a backup, apparently. I don’t know if it really does exist, but apparently we have a backup one
JAMES: The fabled backup Motograter.
So the new album, Desolation, comes out soon?
JAMES: Yes, soon.
NOAH: Soon, yeah, key word. Soon, dot dot dot. We’re working on it really hard. Our producer, Ahrue Luster, is working on it really hard. There’s a whole team of other guys working on it really hard. It’s just, we want it to be the best it can be, and it has gotten pushed back a few times. Luckily, our fans are really supportive and understanding and have a lot of patience. But it’s supposed to come out this year—May, April, March, who knows. I don’t know. It’s coming.
What can you tell me about it?
JAMES: It’s really good. It’s a good set of songs. (laughs) No, I think it is actually really good. I think every song on it stands on its own. And I think I did a damn good job writing those lyrics, I have to say. It’s a new version of Motograter. It’s still got, like he said, a lot of the same elements that made us Motograter to begin with. It’s got the Motograter in it. It’s deep—deep as in low tone—and it’s heavy, it’s groovy. It’s got a lot of good vocal melodies in it, as well, to kind of offset the heaviness of it.
NOAH: We definitely went to great lengths to maintain the classic Motograter sound, but you can tell that we made a large effort, also, to make it more modern. So there’s a lot of modern elements. There’s some chugging, some breakdown action. A lot of different genres thrown in there. There’s tracks that are super classic Motograter sounding, and then there’s tracks that are like, wow, “This is Motograter? This is interesting.” So I think it’s gonna take people on a roller coaster ride, which is kind of what we were going for.
With all the different pieces—percussion, guitar, bass, Motograter—how does a song typically come together? It doesn’t seem like it would be from just getting in a room and jamming.
NOAH: I’m sure some of the stuff did, but for the most part, it was Nuke and Mylon, the bass player and the guitar player, sitting in a room, coming up with riffs. Then I moved to California, and we started jamming in a room together and actually putting the song structure together, making them actual songs. Then sending them to James and James adding his input, and his input would change the songs to some degree. He’ll want to change what we thought was gonna be the verse into the chorus, and we’ll change what we thought was the chorus into the verse, or maybe do this part longer ‘cause he has a vocal thing he wants to do there. It was definitely a collaborative effort, but like Motograter should be, a lot of it came from the guitar riffs. But yeah, that’s kind of how our process goes. James lives in North Carolina, so we were sending a lot of stuff back and forth.
JAMES: The last song on the album was basically from a free jam, ‘cause you guys were just jamming that out.
NOAH: Actually, yeah, that was kind of exciting. We had flown our producer, Ahrue Luster—he played in Ill Nino and Machine Head—we flew him out to California for a week, and we were doing pre-production, and Nuke just started playing this thing, and we were like “Whoa, play that again!” We recorded it, and it turned into a full song. Without giving too much away, we’re slating that one to be the end-of-the-album song. It’s kind of like the end of the world, gloom and doom, but a ballad at the same. (laughter)
JAMES: It sounds like it should be on a movie, actually.
NOAH: Totally. When I hear it, I think of the end of Fight Club, dude.
JAMES: Yeah, absolutely. That’s kind of some of the visual I was trying to paint.
What kinds of things inspire your lyrics? Is it visuals like that?
JAMES: Yeah, I do get inspired by visuals some. In that song in particular, there was a specific visual I had seen that I was trying to kind of paint with words. It’s also got a lot to do with whatever I’m feeling at the moment. Whenever I’m writing lyrics, I really try to sit there and be like, “What really matters to me right now? What is something that’s bothering me or something I’m pissed off about or just something that matters?” I feel like, whenever you’re writing lyrics, if you don’t write something that you give a shit about, then people are gonna know that you don’t give a shit about it. It’s gonna come off as fake, and nobody’s gonna be into that. So I try to write personal stuff, but I also try to write it in a way that’s not like, “Oh, he’s talking about this thing.” I try to make it a little bit vague so people can interpret their own meaning out of the lyrics.
As you said earlier, you have another tour with Hed PE coming up after this. What are the plans for the rest of the year after that?
NOAH: We’re doing a Hed PE run right now, a short break, another longer Hed PE tour, a short break, then we’re gonna do a very short week- or week-and-a-half-long run out to a huge festival that has not been announced yet. And then after that, we’re gonna do a winter tour that’s a couple months long, and that’s our headliner. Hopefully, the album will be out by then and we’ll be selling them at shows. The winter tour is the one we’re really looking forward to, ‘cause it’s gonna be a Moto headliner. No offense to Hed PE—because we get treated really well—but we like to headline, too. The Hed PE tour is amazing, but we’re looking forward to going out and being the big dogs, too. So that’ll be a good one.