The Devil may live in Gentilly, as the first track on Heavy & Sweaty tells us. But tonight he and his minions are cavorting a couple of miles down the road at DMac’s in Mid-City, where Notel Motel is playing for a packed house of fans who’ve been eagerly awaiting the follow-up album to their Chicken Party debut.
The self-styled “hangover power-pop” trio hits with “Mexico,” the opening track on their first album, Chicken Party. The crowd knows all the words and joins the lusty chorus of “Brown dogs shaking,” while Buck bops around with his bass, Emile pounds the heck out of his drums and Matt attacks the keyboards with a crazed gleam in his eyes (the band members prefer to be known by first-name-only monikers, like Cher). Then they blast into space with “Terrestrial,” off Heavy & Sweaty that recalls the brown dog motif with “Rosalita’s bark” and then doubles down with “Brown dogs shaking” in “Bites Back.”
Are you starting to sense a theme here?
“This band was originally founded because we all had brown dogs,” says Matt, only half-jokingly. (For the record, Emile’s dog Alfie is actually black). “We write a lot of lyrics about our dogs.”
“Rosalita,” named for Matt’s dog Rosie, was born the night Buck’s brother-in-law busted an inflatable swan trying to fit it through the doggie door. And if Buck hadn’t brought his own brown dog to the T-Bois Blues Festival in Larose, Notel Motel might never have even existed.
“I was just there on my own, camping with my dog,” recalls Buck. He wound up camping next to Emile, whose ears pricked up when Buck casually mentioned he played bass. Emile and Matt had just been woodshedding informally after their first band, The Kings of Happy Hour, broke up, and they were itching to do more than just play the occasional SPCA fundraiser as a duo called The Fleas (woof!).
After two months of playing hard to get, “Buck finally reached out and said, yeah, let’s play music,” recalls Emile. “Then we started playing at my dad’s old warehouse, and it was fucking awful,” he adds with a laugh.
“But it was fun as shit,” interjects Matt. “We would jam for hours on end, recording everything, and we’d all listen to these recordings, and say at 1:64, there’s a great little 20- second thing happening: everybody listen to that. And we’d try to recreate that and formulate songs. That’s how we wrote Chicken Party, our first album.”
Which brings us to the second Notel Motel foundational tenet: grilled meats in general, and grilled chicken in particular.
“Chicken is a good meat to put on the grill because you can do indirect heat and slow cook it,” notes Buck. “So you could go inside and jam for an hour, and not worry about the chicken.”
All three members of Notel Motel are grill masters, and have multiple Hogs for the Cause trophies to prove it. But though Chicken Party was self-recorded with the casual backyard ’tude that makes their songs so much fun, they’re also dead serious about their music, which caught the discerning ear of two-time Grammy awarding-winning producer Chris Finney.
After hearing what he aptly described as “a cross between Steely Dan and the Dead Milkmen”—soaring harmonies and hooks, delivered with a punk-rock punch—Finney offered to master Chicken Party and stepped up to produce the band’s new album.
Heavy & Sweaty, recorded in Ponchatoula using Finney’s mobile studio, invokes the “Sticky and Wet” dog days of summer in New Orleans with typical Notel Motel brio: “There’s a hole in my back melanoma came in/ It’s the middle of the summer and I can’t even swim.”
“Leaving In July” takes locals who leave to task: “Leaving in July is for quitters/ Like sipping on a sazerac and bitchin’ bout the bitters.” “The Devil in Gentilly” celebrates “fried eggs on the pavement,” along with its titular demon. And “Beach,” about a girl who strikes out at the bar, is the kind of up-tempo blaster that inspired New Orleans defensive end Cam Jordan to observe: “This is like a top-down convertible driving in the winding mountain highways of Cali’s coast line.”
Like Notel Motel’s first album, which cruises “Lakeside Mall” and muses about the “Jazz Fest Experience,” Heavy & Sweaty is full of observational humor about the world around them. It’s also larded with fist-pumpers like “Soviet Cigarettes,” which have no basis in reality but run on adrenaline powered by what Wilco bassist John Stirratt calls a “nice Vox/garage/prepunk vibe.”
The celeb endorsements were snagged by Buck, who Instagrammed Cam Jordan a picture of Cam he’d painted in gold on a black shirt, and reeled Stirrat in using their mutual hometown of Mandeville as bait. But most of the time, Notel Motel operates as one three-headed monster that co-writes the lyrics and music and trades lead vocals and harmonies as effortlessly as breathing.
“We need each other to kind of finish things off,” says Emile. With two albums under their belt, they’ve also “gelled as a group,” notes Buck. “We’ve learned each other’s ins and outs, and streamlined a lot of things.”
“Yeah, I’m pumped about the songs we’re writing now,” adds Matt. “The next album’s gonna be awesome.”