Straddling the smokey smoothness of soul’s ‘70s heyday and the freewheeling studio experimentation of modern pop and R&B, Motenko is one of Austin music’s best kept secrets. Whether he’s front and center as a singer-songwriter or serving as a journeyman keys player for acts like Wild Child and Jade Bird, Motenko stands out with a knack for tasteful texture and groove.
Inspired by the free creativity of the modern home recording process, where he exists in a state of constant play, repurposing sounds as instruments and embracing a liberal use of vocal layering, Motenko’s own recordings have become more experimental. A longtime fan of ‘70s R&B like The Meters and the milestone recordings that came out of the mythical Muscle Shoals, Motenko’s material has evolved to also embrace influences as diverse as Steve Lacy and Mac DeMarco. On the new Austin Smith-produced single “Lifted,” that diversity of sound comes through in the marriage of hip-hop grooves and sultry electric keys and organ, which then give way to a gospel-like chorus, where Motenko’s vocals are joined by members of Sir Woman.
Motenko has also been influenced by his travels with Wild Child, who he celebrates for having adventurous ears and impeccable sound design, resulting in songs that are eclectic but never goofy or excessive. That sense of adventure has led Motenko to take more risks in his own songwriting and production, allowing himself to stray from the sounds people might normally associate with his work to tinker with new styles and concepts, like hip-hop drum loops and indie pop sound design elements.
The accumulation of skills supporting other artists while producing his own material has more than paid off for Motenko– the music patronage non-profit Sonic Guild awarded Motenko an artist grant in 2021, leading to official status at SXSW, as well as placement on a CBS series and nearly half a million streams. Those achievements coupled with Motenko’s appearances on ACL Live with both Jade Bird and Pat Byrne helped garner him Best Keyboardist nominations at the Austin Music Awards in 2020 and 2022.
Motenko’s side work has also helped instill a greater focus on intentional arrangement– in the past, the freedom of the studio could also bring distracting anxiety, with countless hours lost to tinkering with compression settings and getting the right “sound.” Now Motenko has the confidence of a tried and true veteran of the stage and studio, capable of wandering off the beaten path without losing sight of the core identity of the material, letting the arrangement serve the song rather than the other way around.
That journey continues this year with Motenko serving as both the keyboard player and opening act for Wild Child on their national tour, with time set aside to write and record new songs that further evolve his bedroom soul aesthetic. With a steadily increasing rolodex of painstakingly curated sounds and a growing suite of production and instrumental tools to expand his sonic palette, one thing is certain: Motenko’s only limit is his imagination.