This weekend, internationally known psychedelic rock band Perpetual Groove (or P-Groove as they’re known to their fans) will play a large scale two-night outdoor gig at the Historic Roundhouse Museum just off MLK, Jr. Blvd. downtown.
The band, which formed years ago in Savannah —and cut its teeth on countless marathon shows at the now-defunct jam-band showcase JJ Cagney’s— has gone on to become one of the more notable U.S. acts in its genre. They are regularly featured at major outdoor music festivals, and headline clubs, theatres and halls nationwide.
According to industry sources, over the past three years, P-Groove averaged over 400 audience members at each of their own shows, and just a few nights before the following interview took place, they played their first-ever arena gig, drawing somewhere in the neighborhood of 3,000 folks to Clemson, S.C.’s Littlejohn Coliseum.
That sort of growing draw, combined with a successful tour of Japan a few years back can be traced directly to the group’s mesmerizing combination of a trance-inducing, improv-leaning hybrid of British rave and Southern boogie music and its dazzling, high-tech light show (a visual component which the band works hard to design and maintain.
However, despite such momentum and popularity, the group (now based in Athens, Ga.), which plays close to 200 live shows annually, has rarely appeared in Savannah for the past several years.
Now, in the wake of their just-released sophomore studio album LiveLoveDie (a more rock-oriented CD that is perhaps the first ever “Green disc” produced and manufactured using primarily renewable energy sources), they’re returning to Savannah to help benefit The Jolly Foundation, a locally-based non-profit organization to which the band feels a special bond.
Guitarist Brock Butler and keyboardist Matt McDonald took a break from their road schedule to speak with Connect about these upcoming ALL-AGES shows, and the band’s enduring connection to Savannah.
Tell us about the Jolly Foundation.
Brock Butler: Mary Ellen McKee and her family are life-long friends of mine. Mary Ellen was in an accident. Struck by a car. The Jolly Foundation are her priorities put to use. Sea turtles, supporting the arts, research for brain trauma, etc... Savannah is where she lives, so I feel that’s where the Jolly Foundation is. Definitely the reason to come to town, and really bring something extra. Because it’s an extra special cause.
Matt McDonald: Everyone should visit their website (www.jollyfoundation.org) and learn Mary Ellen’s incredible story. She’s a true inspiration to us all.
What makes this new studio album different from your previous recorded output?
Brock Butler: I would say it’s the most focused and concise record we’ve made. We went in with the attitude of (really) using the studio. I guess we figured, the whole reason we’re paying for a nice studio is to use it. I think the album is a good blend of that and our live show energy.
Matt McDonald: First and foremost, what makes this album different is we’ve become a real band that’s been together for over five years. That might not sound like much, but anyone who’s been in a touring band knows it’s not an easy task to live on the road with the same people day in and day out. We all feel this is some of our best work.
This band’s reputation has been made much more as a live act than as a studio group. How important is one aspect to the other?
Matt McDonald: Live playing and studio performance are two completely different animals that (performance-wise) can’t even be compared. A band like us uses improvisation nightly. Our shows aren’t rehearsed “performances.” Songs, approach, everything changes nightly. Even production!
Many longtime fans may be a bit surprised by the more straightforward rock direction the band seems to be moving into.
Brock Butler: There’s always been a little more rock sneaking into our choice of covers. Eventually, that made its way into our songwriting. I think we were all pretty aware of the direction we were taking.
How is P-Groove a different band than it was four years ago, or even further back?
Brock Butler: We bond, go through good and bad times. There’s no faking that.
Matt McDonald: It’s a much better band, that’s for sure! I have a hard time listening to shows from one year ago, much less four! When you play with the same guys as often as we do, you start to get some mind-reading type shit going on. Plus, we now have the greatest crew in rock’n’roll.
Do you enjoy yourself more these days, or on some level, did you have more fun back when the group was essentially a bar band?
Brock Butler: I certainly like playing what I consider appropriate rooms. There were fun times in sweaty dives, but I like for Jason (Huffer, lighting director) to have the physical space to achieve his vision.
Matt McDonald: I enjoy the larger audiences. There’s nothing else like playing to that many people and that kind of energy coming back at you in a big beautiful room... Our first arena show was this past weekend. It sounded the best we ever have.
Most acts in the jam-band movement earn a lot of instant fans by plugging into that demographic, yet many seek to distance themselves from that label. Is your stylistic shift a step away from the jam-band community?
Matt McDonald: I’ve had a problem with the over generalization of the term “jam-band.” Artists like Karl Denson, Bela Fleck, Robert Walter’s, bands like Soulive, Yonder Mountain String Band, Disco Biscuits, and us all get lumped into this category — yet no one sounds the same. We all use improvisation and that’s really all we have in common. If we must give it a new label, then P-Groove is “trance arena rock.”
Was “greening” this CD worth the trouble?
Brock Butler: All of it’s worth it to me. I get to do my favorite thing in the whole world for a living. How modest or glamorous a living? Stay out my business. Just playin’.
Many still think of P-Groove as a Savannah band though you’re now based in Athens. Why has the band has been so absent?
Brock Butler: Savannah is an awesome city. I lived there for nine years, and as of right now there doesn’t seem to be a room that’s just right for us. I think we’re still waiting for just the right situation.
Matt McDonald: The band met in Savannah and spent its early years there, so in some ways it will always be a Savannah band. We have most definitely not avoided Savannah. There aren’t any “clubs” or music theatre rooms that cater to bands like ours there. Fortunately, there are places like the Roundhouse, the Lucas Theatre, and the Trustees Theatre that have allowed us to do some special shows in Savannah.
I’ve heard that in some ways P-Groove felt a bit ignored or shortchanged by Savannah’s music scene. Is that correct?
Brock Butler: I actually feel that there isn’t a real big scene in Savannah. It’s not a huge city. To its charm, but that’s not good if you’re trying to grow. I’ve always felt love from the audience, but I know almost all of them by name. When you can name every person in your crowd that’s a sign of something. I think we hit our ceiling (there). Atlanta and Athens just have more numbers for us to try and turn on to our music.
Why do you think some folks have a hard time describing P-Groove’s music?
Brock Butler: I think it is one of the greater compliments, if someone can’t completely wrap you up in only a few adjectives.
Matt McDonald: Because it’s unique. We are lucky to have that problem I think.
For those readers who’ve never seen or heard P-Groove before, what would you say to try and entice them to come see this show?
Matt McDonald: We never do the same show twice, or repeat any songs when we do a two-night run like this. It’s time to come home and pull out all the stops and, yes, we do have plenty up our sleeves. We’ll make you dance, pump your fist in the air, laugh, maybe cry. More than anything else, people continually go to show after show of ours because they get something emotional out of it — something they carry with them. That’s what I’m told most by fans, that they feel something real during our shows that keeps them coming back. ç
P-Groove plays 8:30 pm, Friday and Saturday at the Historic Roundhouse, downtown behind Parker’s on MLK, Jr. Blvd. by the Visitor’s Center. Proceeds benefit The Jolly Foundation. $25 advance tickets to these ALL-AGES shows sold at www.pgroove.com.