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Published: 2011/11/17
by Mike Greenhaus

A Welcome Return for Perpetual Groove’s Matt McDonald

Smilefest, July 24, 2004

Matt, do you have any songs waiting to be introduced to the Perpetual Groove repertoire in the next couple weeks or couple of months when the announcement is made?

Matt: Yeah I definitely have three or four I’ve actually written over the past couple of years where I wrote it and I realized, “this is obviously a Perpetual Groove song!” A couple of those were written shortly after my departure, and—whenever I picked up the guitar—I could only hear Adam’s bass part here and Albert’s drums there and, obviously, a lot of the time Brock’s guitar. In the past year or so, I’ve also personally been writing singer/songwriter stuff which sounds like Dawes or Ben Folds, which wouldn’t automatically fit with Perpetual Groove. But I’m really excited to bring some of my stuff to the table and have a group to do it with.

Though he’ll still be a special guest, Matt’s first show back will be at Athens’ Georgia Theatre. Not only has Perpetual Groove played some of its shows there, but you were also supposed to play the theater the night it burnt down, correct?

Brock: Yeah. Actually, we were also supposed to play the first show when it re-opened, but there was a problem in regards to getting the permits in time, which regrettably we were unable to do. Things didn’t work out with us to be the first band that had the honor to grace the stage, but we are still part of the opening celebration. The theater opened when students were coming back to school and we are going to play right before everyone goes home for the holidays. That provides that kind of energy which we were hoping to get.

Matt will also be sitting in for a bit in Atlanta on New Year’s Eve, correct?

Albert: It could be for more than a tune, we definitely have some surprises and whatnot but we have some ideas and a lot of avenues to which we could be clever in song selection regarding the circumstances.

So shifting gears, I know you have Amberland in the spring and I’m sure you’re touring a lot before then. What other plans do you guys have for early 2012? Is it going to be mostly a touring cycle or do you plan to go into the studio or work on some other songwriting projects?

Adam: Well, we have Jam Cruise in the beginning of the year. It’ll be a chance to see the evolution as it happens. As for the rest of the year, I guess you could say we’re taking it one thing at a time—we’re trying to get through this transition and, knock on wood, I think it’s been going pretty smoothly. Once the public gets ahold of the information en masse that might complicate things, or it might speed things along or make things smoother. But really it’s just like Matt said, we need to look at this like an evolution and not a return to the same style of things. We need to be four guys who have aged a little bit and matured a great deal and we’re getting back to the roots of what we used to do, but we’re trying to approach it in a different headspace. As long as we can continue to do that I’m not worried, the nature of things will unfold as they usually do. And we’ll greet it with open arms.

Brock: I’ll tell you one thing: I’m interested in is incorporating more of the dual guitar parts in some of the songwriting and also bringing back some of the covers that we used to do that we weren’t able to do in the recent past. I’m really into the two guitars because you can change the whole feel of everything just by adding a guitar and keeping it up for a song or two.

Adam: And over this time period Matt’s become really proficient on the Moog synthesizer. I also tend to like a lot of bands that seem to have multi-instrumentalists onstage.

You have mentioned that this is an evolution, and I definitely agree with that. You have all grown a lot as musicians, but you’re not going to pretend the last three years never happened. With that in mind, is there anything that you feel John has bought to the band that you feel will carry through—whether it’s a certain style palate or his thumbprint on the songwriting?

Adam: There’s a couple of songs that we’re no longer going to play because they were John’s songs, and we just felt like we shouldn’t play them. If someone’s the main writer or a song is their brainchild, we feel that they should keep that to themselves. We don’t want to go around and play songs that we or the fans identify with a certain person. Stylistically, Matt and John play differently, and there was a lot I missed about Matt when he left the band. It’s not really a situation where it’s an end-all. It’s going to be different, but that’s the nature of the beast I guess.

Matt: Not to backtrack too much, but your previous question where you kind of mentioned the layering of keys and stuff like that that we’ve done in the past, I’m in the unique position of having an outsider’s view as for the past few years. It was really fascinating and humbling to me to see all these younger bands in which I recognize a similar sound—some have even said in interviews that we have directly influenced them.

I guess we’re reaching that age where as a band since ’98 where there is another [generation of musicians] sort of how bands like the Disco Biscuits or, of course Phish, were several years ahead of us. We’re at this point now where we’ve all learned our lessons from going out there and grinding it out on the road, but we’ve got this whole story of a true relationship that’s been built up between all four of us. I think it’s going to shine through the music that’s going to be written—and the stuff that hasn’t been written yet. That’s going to come through not only in the form of the song but in terms of what we were just talking about a minute ago—all of us being more comfortable, me being more comfortable playing guitar.

Guitar was my major in college—I actually didn’t become somewhat proficient on piano until the military needed piano players, and I knew enough to get in. After I got out of that, I could sit down and sight read and everything, and I certainly did enough of that. It would be nice to feel comfortable having a guitar on stage as well and having the songs moving forward. If one of us doesn’t like what one of us does we’re not really afraid or shy to say that, or we’re not really afraid or shy to inject an opinion. We’ve grown tremendously as songwriters, and I’m more excited about that than anything else. I like the idea of even having an acoustic guitar on a softer number like “For Now Forget,” and it opens up a lot of avenues in regards to who plays which instruments on which song, even just for small parts. If Matt lays down a loop and a texture and then he can add lap steel, that frees me up in a different kind of way, and even just having an acoustic up there provides a lot of opportunity.

Yeah, it’s cool that as you guys all expand your palates you don’t have to be confined to the traditional instrumentation of guitar, bass, drums, keyboard or whatever; everyone can kind of do what’s best for that song or that moment in the band’s dynamic on stage or in the studio. Well that’s pretty much all I had to ask, is there anything else you wanted to mention about this stage or the reunion or moving forward?

Matt: Yeah I mean, like Albert said earlier, my first full show back will be at New Year’s and then once we’re officially in 2012 I’ll stay up there longer than a couple of songs. I’m excited that we’re going to have these two nights on Jam Cruise. We may do some more intimate shows before for fans who can’t make Jam Cruise. It’ll be a more intimate venue, and doing a two night run leaves us time to experiment with all the new toys at our disposal. I’m going to be playing a few songs, like Brock said, on New Year’s with the guys that night in front of a hometown crowd, and we’re going to make the news known to the public. I know we have one special cover in mind for the Georgia Theatre, and I’m really as excited as I was ten years ago to be a part of Perpetual Groove. It’s a much different kind of excitement now, and I couldn’t be happier. We have a better idea now about what the reality is ahead of us, and we know how to embrace it.

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