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By Ray Chelstowski
When Perpetual Groove’s 2003 album Sweet Oblivious Antidote opens you quickly understand what the fuss has been about for all of these years. Their classic “Three Weeks” so perfectly sets their career stage, creating a framework that they have evolved within, but have never broken. So it’s fitting that as the record is about to turn 20, the band would revisit everything and rebuild it from the ground up. They’ve even added some new songs from that era to give the forthcoming release even more punch.
The band began in Savannah, Georgia and quickly moved to Athens where they would help carry the musical baton that bands like Drive-By Truckers has helped glisten. Together they have kept the Athens, Georgia scene vibrant through lineup changes and brief timeouts. Part of that is the result of each member carving out their own solo enterprise and coming back to “PGroove” with new perspectives that continue to inform their sound.
COVID reemerged earlier this year and disrupted their live scene, forcing them to cancel their annual Memorial Day festival, Amberland. However, they are prepared to bring a bunch of energy to their Thanksgiving eve concert which has become a tradition in Atlanta, at Terminal West on November 23, 2022.
2022 also brought a lineup change with drummer Darren Stanley replacing longtime member Albert Suttle, and Jonathan Schwartz coming on board late this summer as the band’s new manager.
Goldmine caught up with keyboardist Matthew McDonald about the band’s legacy, their approach to this important reissue, and how change has kept PGroove fresh for all these years.
Goldmine: You’ve had lineup changes over the years and even took a two-year hiatus. As a new drummer joins the band do you think these shifts have kept things more interesting for everyone?
Matthew McDonald: I think it has always helped us. When Brock (Butler) and Adam (Perry) started the band as students at the Savannah College of Art & Design it was almost a kind of art project for these four art students who were studying design. In the end I think that Brock finished with a film degree and Adam ended up in graphic design. So the first stage was kind of natural for them as they came out of college. Albert and I were also coming out of the army. Everything seemed fairly organic. That was exciting for everyone because things took off pretty quickly. Then when I left in 2008 I knew that it was a breath of fresh air for them from a songwriting perspective. There was someone new to challenge them in new ways. That seems to be holding true now with Darren (Stanley). It’s exciting to approach some of the older material with a completely different perspective and execution. Live all of the old rules that were in place for these songs are now completely out of the window, which is great.
GM: Darren seems to have "amped up the jam.”
MM: You hit the nail on the head with the word “jam”. There are no more computers on stage. Darren played with Colonel Bruce in the final iteration of that band, and he also plays with Jimmy Herring. So he has this whole perspective that he brings to the band that’s all about pulse, rhythm and tempo. It’s a lot looser which has opened up a lot more creative space for us.
GM: With the Sweet Oblivious Antidote project, did you revisit the record in its entirety?
MM: I’ve spent almost four years now spearheading the project. It began by getting the tapes from the producer who owned the studio that we recorded at in Marietta, GA. Then we took it to a place where we could get the tape audio extracted to digital. That was a process but a cool one to go through. Then we completely remixed it from top to bottom. We started with the raw audio, so there was no effect or automation. So it really was from the ground up. While the record its 20 years old I can say that for the four of us this remix is how we originally envisioned the album.
GM: You added two new songs to the reissue. How did you settle on these songs?
MM: We recorded two new songs that were from that era. It feels just right for Sweet Oblivion to add songs from that era. We recorded them with Darren in March of this year. It was fun to cut those two simple songs and rethink how we would redo them. I mean the songs we are writing right now are different than the ones we wrote three years ago. We kind of wanted to challenge ourselves and as long as we are all in agreement, then that’s where the band is at.
GM: You are only a few weeks away from your annual Thanksgiving Show at Terminal West How did that come about?
MM: It initially started at a place called Ziggy’s in Winston-Salem. They do something called “Thanksgathering.” For about five years they had a run where the weekend after Thanksgiving they held what was a potluck style hang with the band type of thing. As we got older Atlanta started to make more sense. Everyone’s got a lot of family in the area and the fan base tends to be in Atlanta during the Holidays as well. I’m really excited about it this year. I think the night before Thanksgiving is just right so we can enjoy the rest of the weekend with family.
GM: With all of the bands that you share bills with are there any coming up that have your attention?
MM: I have to be completely honest, when it comes to bands that appear on these festival bills with us I intentionally don’t listen to them. I never want an influence to creep in on me from someone else in the scene. I listen to a pretty broad range and eclectic mix of music. I’m more turned on to War on Drugs, My Morning Jacket and the more traditional rock kind of thing. Lately our tour manager has been playing a lot of old Grateful Dead live shows. That’s been nice. There’s enough separation there. The Dead has influenced everyone from every genre, and that always feels like a nice warm place to visit.