Seas of diehard Perpetual Groove fans swarmed the stage at The Spirit of Suwanee Music Park last February to see their favorite band perform one last time.
“Thank you all for coming, this is one of our last shows in Florida and we love you all,” frontman Brock Butler crooned into the microphone.
We didn’t know it at the time, but it wouldn’t be long until we would hear the familiar sounds of bassist Adam Perry, keyboardist Matt McDonald and drummer Albert Suttle when they reformed as Ghost Owl - an electro-indie rock outfit that throws Perpetual Groove’s longwinded jammage out the window in favor of a younger, sharper sound.
It was just after New Years when the guys decided to take a hiatus, ending a sixteen-year career that yielded six studio albums and countless festival tours.
“That first week of January everyone kind of coped with things in their own way,” McDonald said. “I think all of us kind of sat in bed for a couple of days, thinking ‘Oh my God, this is my career, what am I going to do now?’”
Perry found solace in his music, burying himself in his home studio writing and recording new sounds. He invited McDonald’s family over to hear the his new material, and that night the two bandless musicians found their next move in Ghost Owl.
“Adam played me some songs that were quite honesty some of the best songs he’s ever written,” McDonald said. “And we started talking about executing everything differently.”
Longtime fans of bands like The Flaming Lips and Wilco, Perry and McDonald started mapping out an entirely new sound that swapped guitar-driven jam-outs for shorter, synth-driven tracks.
“Honestly there weren’t a whole lot of jam bands we listened to, we were friends with a lot of the guys in the scene and always supported each other but it had been a long time since a jam band has really moved me,” McDonald explained. “We would have these side jam sessions where we would say ‘Man, if I had another band I would love to do this a different way.’ At that point it was really just said in passing but once we had the chance to do our own thing, we went for it.”
After the breakup, Suttle went home to Oklahoma to cry for a week, only to return to Perry and McDonald’s invitation to join the new project. He immediately got on board, and less than a week later the trio was looking up domain names and launching full-speed ahead with Ghost Owl.
If they weren’t performing in a final Perpetual Groove show, the guys were at Perry’s rehearsing and writing from sunrise to sunset. Since January the trio has already amassed 26 songs, 20 of which are being performed live right now.
"They’re all kind of a hit-and-quit approach,” McDonald explained. “If you can say something in two and a half minutes, you should say it in two and a half minutes, not every song has to be some epic 20-minute exploration journey.
A complete exodus from their traditional jamband roots, Ghost Owl combines a bit of indie, a bit of electro and a bit of rock for an entirely new groove. McDonald doesn’t care for making musical comparisons to explain their sound, but suggests that if you like LCD Soundsystem or M83, Ghost Owl is right up your alley.
Shaking up their positions, McDonald has transformed from keyboardist to lead guitarist and head visual controller, Perry has taken on the role of synthesizer master in addition to bassist, and Suttle has remained on the drums while also contributing heavily to the songwriting process. The trio has also dumped their former moving lights rig in favor of video-mapping, which McDonald feels connects better with their new sound.
“We knew that people were going to be like ‘Oh it’s all the guys from P. Groove except the lead singer,’” he said. “So we knew we had to change up instrumentation, who plays what. Stylistically it’s a complete departure, and we made the live show a complete departure as well.”
Last Friday, Ghost Owl made their South Florida debut at The Funky Biscuit in participation with the launch of "Live from AURA Studios," a new series from the team behind AURA Music & Arts Festival that will feature live streaming HD performances from a variety of bands as they pass through South Florida. If you missed the performance, you can check out Ghost Owl performing select songs from their upcoming debut album "Say Goodbye to Finland" this Wednesday July 10 from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m at www.livefromaura.com.
Between grinding in the studio and playing shows on their summer tour schedule that will culminate at the Catskill Chill Music Festival September 8 in Hancock, New York, Ghost Owl is perfecting their performance art as an entirely new group and readying themselves for a successful career to come.
“There’s definitely a part of starting over again and having to earn it again,” McDonald explained. “It hasn’t been the crowds that Perpetual Groove has built for years but we’re actually okay with that. It gives us a chance to really evolve and create something new.”
“All of these things kind of came from a place of survival,” he continued. “I’m not going to stop being a musician just because my band is over.”