By Liz Tracy
By David Rolland
By Alex Rendon
By Terrence McCoy
By Natalya Jones
By County Grind
By Liz Tracy
By Chris Joseph
For its Speed of Surround tour this past October, Perpetual Groove decided to push sound technology further than it had been pushed before. At concert halls up and down the East Coast, the band staged the first completely 5.1 Surround Sound tour in history. Wielding a stylus and digital input device, PGroove's sound engineer painted the band's swirling, electro-funk jams around 38 speakers set up in each venue, effectively sculpting the music as the band played it on stage.
"We just got in the mindset to see if we could do it," says Brock Butler, PGroove's singer/guitarist. "We got a little bit spoiled because we did just ten dates, and they were all big theaters. And now we're back to sleeping in the van and moving from different P.A. to different P.A. every night."
Though each setup took more than three hours, Butler found the result more than worth the effort. "There was nothing about it that I would have done any differently. It was good, hard work, good exercise for everybody," he laughs. "It was completely rewarding; it opened up some new doors. When I listen to those CDs, I can hear some of the surround stuff going on, and everyone seems to enjoy it a lot."
Butler and bassist Adam Perry met in 1998 as freshmen at the Savannah (Georgia) College of Art and Design and were soon jamming together informally and playing the occasional paid gig. At the time, they were working with a drummer who bowed out early to pursue the fame and glory of real-world employment.
By 2001, Butler and Perry were hosting a weekly open-mic night where they met drummer Albert Suttle and keyboardist Matt McDonald, two military enlistees with a similar love for improvisational music. By August of that year, the band began to gel and the PGroove sound took shape.
Their two studio releases, 2003's Sweet Oblivious Antidote and All This Everything, released in September, layer rollicking rock, swirling funk, and four-on-the-floor electronica beneath Butler's delicately penned lyrics. Their dance-marathon sets and complex musical interplay have endeared PGroove to the jam-band community, but the group's sharp songwriting and dense, electronic edge set it apart from the pack. "We try to make more sounds than four people should probably be able to make," Butler says.
Even as the band found its voice, the final cog in the Perpetual Groove machine was the one part the musicians couldn't provide themselves. "Ben Ferguson, our manager, really put it all together," Butler says. "When this first all started, he came out one night and asked me, what did I want to do? Did I want to be in a bar band? 'Cause he thought what was going on was good enough to go to bigger places. And he had a plan for it."
Ferguson's plan was simple: Play often in the Southeast before taking on other areas. Create a spiffy website (www.pgroove.com) and newsletter to keep in touch with their growing legion of fans. Play high-profile festivals like California's High Sierra and Atlanta's Music Midtown. And most important, encourage newfound devotees to push word-of-mouth advertising as far as it would go.
To augment the grassroots marketing push, the band has given away literally thousands of CDs of its live performances and has made copies available for legal download all over the Internet, sometimes mere hours after the show.
"It seems that everyone who has gotten involved with us has gotten involved based on good faith rather than any hopes of a huge financial reward," Butler says. "It just seems to make a lot of people happy. When somebody is really happy with something, the first natural instinct is to try to spread it. So the people that are out there working for us are all extremely dedicated."
The band opens the new year with a January voyage on the third JamCruise, which this year departs from Jacksonville, and plans to record a third album. Between its constant search for new technology, spiraling improvisational style, and rigorous work ethic, it seems Perpetual Groove picked a name more relevant than its members expected.
"Our touring is pretty much endless," Butler says. "I spend more time in the van than in my bed."