It's not always easy being "the new guy," but if you do it right, it can be a great experience for all involved. When John Hruby (formerly of Guest) joined Georgia-based jam band Perpetual Groove back in 2008, the band had more than a decade of jamming under its belt, a well-established sound, and a large and dedicated fan base. Not all the fans dug the change at first, and some old-schoolers have yet to come around to enjoying the band's new sound. But most are all aboard, and, as Hruby will tell you, the band is liking it just fine.
In the days leading up to the band's Florida minitour -- which concludes with a two-night run at the Culture Room this weekend with locals the Aquaphonics -- County Grind caught up with Hruby and talked with him about the process of growing into the band as an individual and the ways the band has evolved together over the past three years. And, of course, fans will have a great opportunity to witness the growth and beauty for themselves right here in South Florida, as the Culture Room is famously one of the band's favorite spots.
County Grind: When you first joined PGroove, how open was the band to your ideas, and how much guidance were you given?
John Hruby: Right from the start, they were really accepting of me, and I'd known the guys for probably like seven years at that point. I'd toured with them with my old band. So it wasn't like we just met each other and I joined the band. It was a natural progression. We did a side project together. From the start, they knew that they were getting a vocalist, a songwriter. So I think that was kind of exciting for them that they were going to get somebody to put something into the band that might not have been there before. When the switch happened, by a natural progression, so did the band's sound a little bit.
A lot of it for me was just learning the songs. And learning about playing with three new guys and trying to understand what they did onstage. That beginning period, even for the first two years, it felt like I was learning everything. 'Cause you can learn stuff on disc, you can listen to live recordings, but until you actually get into the live performance, it's just not going to be accepted. It took me a long time to get comfortable. Now I feel like we're comfortable with each other. We know "looks"on stage; I'm comfortable to call a change. Before, I didn't know how that would work with that dynamic, but everyone is comfortable with each other now.
Were there instances of people doing things onstage musically that bothered other people, that didn't match what they were envisioning?
Yeah, that's interesting. Because there are certain things which we might have gone gigs and gigs without saying. And I'd have to learn tendencies, or they'd come to me and say, "Well, that's not really what we're envisioning for this part. Maybe play a little less here, stretch this out, maybe try this sound..." And, I'm 100 percent open to that at all times, because my dedication is to the music and to make it sound like what the band is envisioning. I had to figure out my place in it. It's been finding where I can infuse my own style and stay true to what they are doing.
Have you realized new ways of playing through that process?
Absolutely. I'm a completely different player than I was three years ago. I kind of compare our dynamic to '70s Pink Floyd, where the dynamics are stretched out but there's so much going on. In the beginning, I didn't know what to do. What I needed to do was to slow down and really get in love with that kind of style. So I went back and listened to that early '70s [Floyd] that would really stretch; to [learn] to do something in that ten minutes, where it's such a build that when you actually get to the climax, you think, "Oh wait, we weren't just peaking for ten minutes; we were getting to this peak." I'm much more patient [now], and I'm much more involved in creating the soundscape.
Do you go back and listen to the live recordings now?
I do, because I want to know how the sound is. If I'm trying something out, maybe I'll have a sound problem. I like to go back and listen to how it sounds and refine everything until I'm happy with how it fits texturally with the music.
Do you all talk about the jams?
Yes, we do. We pick out our favorite spots. Naturally, we don't like to overdo things, but sometimes things fit so well that they get infused into the actual song or jam. We don't want to try to re-create a moment, but we may try to at least touch upon aspects of elements which we've used in those jams.
You're doing a two-night run at the Culture Room. Do you enjoy getting into a spot for multiple-night runs? What is that experience like?
Yes [laughs]. Night one is always great 'cause I get to just walk right off stage. That's always great. We can relax. We're already dialed in, and that's what's great about night two. We can make a few adjustments, talk about what went well, what didn't. It's not a do-over, 'cause night one is usually great, but we get to build on that. So, I love multiple-night runs. It's hard for us to find cities to do that in. Culture Room is one of the very few that we do multiple nights at. And I love it. It's one of the most fun places we play.
Perpetual Groove. With Aquaphonics. 8 p.m. Friday, August 12, and Saturday, August 13, at Culture Room, 3045 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $15 to $18, or $25 for a two-night pass. Click here.