It’s the week before Halloween and Brock Butler and Matt McDonald of Perpetual Groove are on different phones and in separate rooms within the same Atlanta recording studio. With two shows in Charleston, SC on the docket, and two more later in the year in Colorado, the band had taken to rehearsals to work out covers and dust off the tunes they’d gotten back to playing earlier in the year.
“Not nearly enough,” guitarist and lead singer Brock Butler lamented when asked if they used to rehearse like this during their heavy touring years. “We didn’t have the time to do it the way we do it now. There’s never enough [of a] break between shows to go rehearse for three days at a nice place and take our time and really work through things,” Matt adds. Enter the sudden yet not entirely surprising announcement of the band’s 2013 hiatus.
For two long years Perpetual Groove was gone but not forgotten. Their largely southeastern fan base was uncertain of what exactly a hiatus entailed, and as it turns out, so was the band. “I would say contact was minimal to none at all,” Butler said of inter-band communication during the time off. By not disbanding the group entirely, they left their fans hope for the future, though apparently it was one-sided. Fortunately luck and happenstance can occasionally bypass hope, even in the form of loss.
“If you stole Matt’s guitar, fuck you!” Brock exclaims between bouts of laughter. After hearing about Matt’s stolen guitar-in Denver of all places-Brock took to Facebook to voice his displeasure. While Matt had jam-bushed Brock at a solo show in Athens, GA before the theft, it wasn’t until the stolen axe rippled across social media that their combined years and memories got the motor humming again. Following a series of phone conversations over the next few months, Brock recalls a text he received from Matt at the start of 2015: “Matt sent a text to me and the wording was, ‘hey, do you have a minute tomorrow for a call where we can discuss the future,’ and to me that implied that there is one.”
While a two-year layoff might have crippled some bands’ chemistry, Perpetual Groove is no worse for the wear. In fact, they’ve broken through mental hurdles and erased outside perceptions that once weighed on them. “I think we’re all better musicians than we were a couple of years ago, and I think that translates,” Matt says. “I think we’re all just a lot more comfortable. We no longer struggle with identity, like when you’re an up and coming band trying to write new and challenging things. Having that comfort of knowing who you are musically, and a lot of us as a person too, it translates directly.”
Their extended history and recent bouts of soul searching within and outside of the band bore a common thread. “One thing that was said over and over by all four of us before we started was that we didn’t really want to go and grind it out anymore. That didn’t seem to be a very productive way of doing things on every level,” Matt said about their cumbersome old touring schedules.
Matt had taken his own leave of absence between 2008 and 2012 to focus on his family and other musical interests, so when Brock hit the point of needing to rehabilitate his own lifestyle only a year into Matt’s return, it came as a surprise. Sure, Brock seemed increasingly lethargic and frail during performances leading up to the hiatus, but it was difficult to fathom how the band was back together again yet hanging it up so soon. As bleak as the future looked-much like Matt’s own time away-the fans stayed with them, following Matt, bassist Adam Perry and drummer Albert Sutton’s work in Ghost Owl, and Brock’s solo appearances and Facebook uploaded acoustic renditions of tunes meaningful to him. They might have been gone in the combined sense, but refused to be forgotten, whether they knew it or not.
With the band back on the same page and ready to return to the stage, the idea was floated to play two nights at The Georgia Theatre, seemingly putting the band back on the fast-track to their pre-hiatus years. Except this time Perpetual Groove had grown up, and as agreed to, concluded that there would be no extensive touring in 2015. “We announced what we were doing for the whole year back in June. So we had a very clear path of getting our toes wet [and] seeing what the water feels like. And it feels pretty nice,” Matt said about picking and choosing offers while constructing their battle plan to re-assimilate with their fans.
So far they’ve dipped their toes in Georgia, Florida, Brooklyn and at the Resonance Festival in Ohio, with their Halloween run in Charleston, SC preceding two nights in Denver at Cervantes Masterpiece Theater by a little over a month. While they’ve never properly toured the west coast, the Colorado connection has always been kind to them. Like Brock said, “…it pulls people from different regions.” Colorado has always been a hub for transplants from all over the country, and the southeast has shared a connection with Denver, and Colorado in general, even before the green rush. “There were the obvious markets, and like I said earlier we were in the this really fortunate position to kind of pick and choose where we wanted to get our toes wet this year. And Denver was, I’m certain, one of the first cities named,” Matt explained.
“The real answer is because it’s the closest market with legalized cannabis,” Brock laughed. While legal weed has upped the ante with tourism and incoming residents, Denver has always been a music hungry city. Like Atlanta, which is hosting Perpetual Groove, Widespread Panic and STS9 on different stages for New Year’s runs, Denver is a hotbed for multiple concerts week in and week out. The non-native Coloradans from all across the country have an affinity for the bands that come from their neck of the woods, helping to pack venues when bands like PGroove come to town.
Their return to Colorado certainly isn’t empty handed. With a successful and reinvigorated grouping of shows behind them, they’ve found themselves not only rehearsing more than ever, but in the studio. “Paper Dolls” is not a new song, but the band found it relevant in a number of ways. Starting with a digital break-beat before falling into a synth fueled eighties ballad in the vein of Sting, the forthcoming lyrics separate them from the rest of the so-called jam-bands. The autobiographical tone is PGroove through and through, and aside from the shows, the most encouraging signs yet that the quartet is hot on the comeback trail. While conversations about a new album and the future of their Amberland festival are just now being explored, there’s little doubt that Perpetual Groove is back and will be in a city near you in 2016, even if it isn’t a part of a marathon tour.
With newfound comfort as a collective and a strategic mapping of how to re-launch Perpetual Groove, they’ve found exactly what makes their dream worth chasing, and for Perpetual Groove fans across the nation, that’s much better than no dream at all.
If you’ve missed seeing Perpetual Groove’s name on your local venue’s marquee over the last couple of years, the wait is over. Following a soul-searching hiatus that allowed members Brock Butler, Matt McDonald, Albert Suttle and Adam Perry to re-connect with new perspective on life and music, the show is ready to go on. Armed with the newly recorded “Paper Dolls” and a handful of shows behind them, Perpetual Groove is ready to hit Colorado for two nights at Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom before concluding 2015 in Atlanta. Guitarist/vocalist Butler and keyboardist McDonald took time out of their Halloween rehearsals to discuss life after the hiatus and the state of the band, and even scratched the surface of hopes and plans beyond the New Year.
Grateful Web: Thanks for joining me you guys. Brock was just telling me that you’re both calling from rehearsals down in Atlanta. What are you guys working on right now? Are you rehearsing for the shows coming up this weekend, new album stuff, new songs?
Brock Butler: Halloween always introduces a lot of fresh covers, and it was that way for a few years where whatever we learned at Halloween would serve as a nice, fresh bit of cover material to introduce each year.
GW: So Halloween this weekend is in Charleston, at The Pour House. You guys are doing two nights there. While we’re on rehearsing covers, you guys have performed with each other for ages now and have longstanding onstage chemistry. Did you use to rehearse like this before tours and shows when you guys were touring throughout the year?
Brock: Not nearly enough, I don’t think.
Matt McDonald: We didn’t have the time to do it the way we do it now. There’s never enough break between shows to go rehearse for three days at a nice place and take our time and really work through things. It was always writing on the road, for the most part, and rehearsing at the show. At least at soundcheck.
Brock: Considering the tour schedule that we used to keep, I think our body of work is actually quite solid given the manner in which most of it was written. There was probably one time a year where we definitely had to sit down and say, ‘ok everybody needs to be here, this is what we’re doing.’ It would usually be towards Halloween and New Years type shows.
Matt: Around Amberland we’d usually get some work in.
GW: While we’re on the subject, do you guys have any plans-I know it’s still in the early going-but are there plans down the line to revive Amberland?
Matt: Definitely maybe.
GW: I like that.
Brock: If the question is are there plans, then no. If we adjusted a little bit for context and said has it been remotely discussed, the answer is yes.
Matt: I feel comfortable saying there aren’t solid plans but there is a discussion. But it’s more of a ‘it would be nice’ discussion right now. I think after we finish this year, or after we get past Halloween, really, we’ll probably start to talk a little more in focus about 2016 and the game plan, if you will.
Brock: Yeah because Amberland is an incredibly taxing event in every sense of that as far as musically, financially, all of that. Or at least for me it’s incredibly taxing, so that would have been quite a thing to try and tackle when we went from not even really talking to each other all that much to going, ‘yeah, let’s get together and play again (laughter).’
GW: When you guys went on hiatus in 2013, how did that discussion to get back together go? I know Matt, Albert and Adam were in Ghost Owl and had that going on, but you mentioned that you weren’t really talking. What was your level of contact during the hiatus and how did the conversation get rolling again?
Brock: I would say that contact was minimal to none at all. I did an acoustic show in Athens and Matt came down and just jumped up and we did a show about a little over a year before and that was the first encouraging thing where I felt like, let’s just get right to it and just put all the bullshit aside, and that was a lot of fun. I heard Matt got a guitar stolen, I believe in Colorado, wasn’t it Matt?
Matt: In Colorado, yes.
Brock: So put that in your article, if you stole Matt’s guitar, fuck you (laughter)!
Matt: (laughter) Seriously! Brock had I think put up the post on Facebook and he and I had touched base a couple times after I saw him in Athens, just a here and there kind of thing. And I called him, because I was actually driving back from Colorado.
Matt: And we spoke at length, I think, for the first time on that drive and that was at the beginning of December last year. I would say we were starting to speak pretty regularly by the time Christmas rolled around. Just after New Years we talked about the band.
Brock: Matt sent a text to me and the wording was, ‘hey, do you have a minute tomorrow for a call where we can discuss the future.’ And to me that implied that there is one, so I’d say Matt did a lot of the pre-production if you will, the leg work of already having Adam and Albert, and the thoughts on if they were willing to discuss it. And everybody was hip to that.
GW: I know you guys went into the studio at some point and recorded, most notably, “Paper Dolls,” which you released recently. I know that’s a song you guys had been playing before the hiatus, so what’s going on in the studio? Did you record more than that-any new songs-is there an album in the works?
Matt: We recorded “Paper Dolls” in September. All this whole year has kind of been getting our toes wet again. Does that make sense? So that’s why we’ve done the shows the way we’ve done them with two night runs being pretty spaced out. One thing that was said over and over by all four of us before we started was that we didn’t really want to go and grind it out anymore. That didn’t seem to be a very productive way of doing things on every level. So we did “Paper Dolls” because it was appropriate on a lot of different levels, and it was one that was already there. I think next year or the end of this year we’ll probably go into the studio and work on some new stuff. The details of that haven’t really been hammered out yet, but everyone has been playing it real loose and cool, I guess just getting our toes wet and better yet just having a good time playing these tunes again, and going and doing this with each other. So I definitely think we’re going to do more of it, but a lot of the conversations that you’re asking about are just starting for us.
GW: Yeah, it’s still so early on.
Matt: I mean yeah, it’s been less than a year since we started talking about doing this again, and it was like ok, let’s do The Georgia Theatre. And the thing happened with the theatre pretty quickly, and we had some other offers you know, so let’s space it out. We announced what we were doing for the whole year back in June. So we had a very clear path of getting our toes wet, seeing what the water feels like, and it feels pretty nice. So yeah, a lot of those conversations are just starting right now, to answer you honestly.
GW: Understandable. I think it’s smart dipping back in like you were saying. Doing the weekend warrior thing, playing weekends and going home. It’s got to be nice instead of a full on tour right off the bat.
Brock: And I’ll tell you, as far as writing new material, and in my experience I feel…if people are going to butt heads at all, because right now it’s not like, ‘how does that go,’ it’s already established material we’re covering. So writing new stuff can be where everyone has their different tastes and its been whatever we’ve been listening to over the past two years, so it should be interesting when we sit down and start to discuss music. I’m excited for it, because you get everyone’s take on what kind of band we are and what kind of band we are possibly going to be.
Matt: To piggyback off what Brock was saying, what we found with “Paper Dolls” is that we’re all in a very similar place now as far as our wants and needs in the studio and how we all approach it and we’re all familiar with it at this point. We’re super lucky to have Tom Lewis be the gentleman that was in the studio with us as a producer, and he was close friends and worked heavily with Newt Carter, our front of house engineer for years, and that relationship-Tom’s excited for us to all go and do that again. So I think that gets the four of us more confident and excited because it was just a perfect vibe, just mellow and kind of how you’d want it to be. So I’m excited that Tom wants to do that with us, so I think we’re in good hands with somebody that’ll let us do our own thing and still provide a little nudge in the right direction when needed.
GW: With two years away from it and coming back and being on the same page, has anything shifted perspective wise or in the direction of the band when you guys came back together?
Matt: I would venture to say that we’re probably more comfortable with it and have a stronger sense of identity than we ever have before.
Brock: That’s well put. That’s definitely well said. I agree with Matt on that. I think everyone is glad to be doing it again and have the opportunity. Sometimes if you do anything for far too long, you don’t know what you have until you don’t have it anymore and I think that manifests itself in the music we’re making and how we’re all engaging with one another. A gratitude for having another go at it.
Matt: I think we’re all better musicians than we were a couple of years ago too, and I think that translates. And I think we’re all just a lot more comfortable. We no longer struggle with identity, like when you’re an up and coming band trying to write new and challenging things. Having that comfort of knowing who you are musically, and a lot of us as a person too, it translates directly.
GW: Like you said about being better musicians, you’re never finished learning. There’s always something new to tackle. So you guys are coming out to Cervantes on December 3rd and 4th. The crowd here is thrilled to have you back. What is it about Denver and Colorado in general that helped it make the list of the few shows you guys are doing in 2015?
Brock: If you were to ask me where are PGroove’s main markets, they’re the ones that always had a good audience and response. So we do two nights in Brooklyn, two nights in Florida, two nights in Georgia and then two nights in Colorado. Colorado, I think the reason that that it’s so great is it pulls people from different regions. It’s close enough to some of the west coast stuff. We never really did get out to California and the true West as much as I would have liked, but it’s so much trickier to get out of your market if you aren’t widespread promoted. Denver is just an awesome city. So is Boulder and Vail. We’ve always had very solid support from the audience and fans and friends out there.
Matt: Even from our first time out there I remember there was a super strong transplant [population]. I know it’s even more popular now (laughter) but early on Georgia and Colorado connections were everywhere.
Brock: Oh yeah, even before they legalized the weed, I knew like ten different people from Georgia that had all moved out to Colorado. I was like, there must be something to it.
Matt: (Laughter) There were the obvious markets, and like I said earlier we were in this really fortunate position to kind of pick and choose where we wanted to get our toes wet this year, and Denver was, I’m certain, one of the first cities named. Colorado as a whole; Boulder is also good, Aspen, pretty much everywhere.
Brock: The real answer is because it’s the closest market with legalized cannabis (laughter).
GW: (laughter) You don’t want to go all the way west to Oregon, it’s too far right now.
Brock: We’ve got to be efficient here, travel dollars you know.
Matt: I think we’re going to make it out west for like a week next year it’s looking like. So we’ll finally go past Colorado for the first time.
Brock: That’s news to me, that’s exciting.
GW: That is exciting. You heard it here first.
Matt: Colorado, Washington, Oregon, we’ll hit them all.
Brock: If it’s news to you it’s news to me.
GW: With the return of Perpetual Groove no longer in question, we’ve been focusing on the future and not so much the past, and about all the stuff happening into 2016. What are you guys individually looking forward to the most as the band ramps up activity again after a couple of dormant years?
Brock: Well I’m really excited about…I already have a couple ideas for framework for some songs for everybody, because that’s usually how it goes: somebody brings in the frame and we all kind of finish it out. So I’m excited to, if I have an idea, and being familiar with these guys and knowing what kind of contributions in addition some will make to some things, I’m looking forward to presenting everybody with some of the material I have and hearing everybody else’s. That would be my answer.
Matt: Yeah I mean mine would fall in the same place. I know all of us have new stuff and new execution, and it’ll be good. After writing for so many years together, one thing when you first sit down to write is, you kind of hear, instinctively, what Brock or Adam or Albert will do or add and you start to have your own ideas about it. What can be the most fun sometimes is when you have an idea in your head of what someone might do and then they do something completely different. You know, that’s why you want them to be the other people writing with you. It’ll be nice to do that. So that and seeing friends, you know. Playing shows is pretty fun, we tend to have a pretty good time onstage, so just continuing that, for sure.