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No Boundaries For Fresno Band Motel Drive

Nov 24, 2015 01:04PM ● By Brandi Barnett

Mixed Roots

December 2015
By Jordan Venema
Photos: Josiah Alter

Motel Drive may have gotten its start in 2008, but the Fresno band drew its inspiration from another time, another generation. Motel Drive is an allusion, straight out of the 1950s and ‘60s, to the Central Valley drags and strips where greasers cruised in Cadillacs between the roadside bars, restaurants and motels along Highway 99.
As founding member J.D. Goodwin puts it, think “old-school Fresno, neon signs and old school bars.” He had first written a song called “Motel Drive,” a kind of homage to “the bars that would let us in and play at 15, 16 years old” – even if they weren’t supposed to. When Goodwin and longtime friend Jake Finney started playing together in 2008, they decided to use the moniker as their band’s name.
Like Fresno’s original motel drives, a confluence of businesses and bars, greasers and roadster cars, the band’s music is equally diverse. “We wanted to mix all our roots tighter, like punk and country, rockabilly and surf music,” explains Goodwin. “Basically, the idea was to play whatever we wanted to play. There are no boundaries. If you want to play a pop song – cool. If you want to play a dark, country drinking song that can play on the jukebox – cool. And anything in between.”
If the band couldn’t peg a sound, they could probably blame their influences, from Hank Williams to the Beatles, and Led Zeppelin to the Doors. Those musical influences reached Goodwin early, as his father played piano, and of his mother, Goodwin says, “Willie Nelson is her deal.”
If Goodwin could emulate any of them, though, it would be Roy Orbison. “I wish I could play like him, but I can’t,” he says with a laugh. But he also draws from more contemporary influences, saying that “Chris Isaac picked up where they left off” – “they” being rockabilly legends like Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley.
Despite its varied sound and diverse influence, Motel Drive is doing its own thing, and playing its own sound. But like the old bands that influenced it, Motel Drive draws from some of the old tricks of the musician’s trade, always having a large arsenal of songs at the ready.
Goodwin believes live bands have given way to the DJ. “It’s easier to pay them,” he says, and their set list is virtually endless. “The days of the band going and playing a gig and having a repertoire of 100 songs, everything from the Bee Gees to Sha Na Na, or like Tom Petty and the Heartrbreakers” – it’s over, says Goodwin.
So Motel Drive likes to keep a few songs hidden up its already rolled-up sleeves. “We play a lot of original stuff, but we mix it up. We do Tom Petty, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, then new stuff like Bad Religion and Rancid.”
The band has that classic sound and throwback look – white t-shirt and slicked back hair – but it doesn’t have a problem connecting with younger audiences. “We get received pretty well, pretty much anywhere we go,” Goodwin says. “You play to the crowd.”
Part of playing to the crowd is relating to the crowd, and that’s where songwriting is essential. “I don’t know too much about life,” admits Goodwin, who is 35, “but I am learning as I go… I have my struggles and trials just like everybody else, but I just try and write what I know and be honest. I think just being a human being, we’ve all loved, we’ve all hated, we all have insecurities. I think pretty much every person in the world can relate to something like that, in some way or another.”
Motel Drive is working on its fourth release, which should be out by the end of the year, and it plans to record a live album titled “Live at the Goldstein,” one of its regular haunts from the Fresno Tower District.
Other than planning a February mini tour to play the Folk Alliance in Kansas City, Motel Drive will perform at car shows and bars throughout California, and might even make its way to the Northwest this summer. But in the meantime, find these musicians at Goldsteins, or perhaps just along one the many motel drives along the 99. For them, that’s really home.

Motel Drive, Fresno •
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