Written By: Bill Clifford
:: Ghost Owl - A Phoenix Rising ::
Well, it turns out that the groove wasn’t eternal after all! Known by one of the best band
monikers on the jam band
scene, Perpetual Groove went on indefinite hiatus following a final gig at Athens’ Georgia
Theatre in April of 2013. It
was an emotional and powerful goodbye for the band and its fans. But musicians Adam Perry,
Matthew McDonald and
Albert Suttle still carry a tune in their heart, and have moved on sans vocalist and
guitarist Brock Butler, with the
hope that he’ll continue to get himself healthy after a downward spiral, and both Ghost Owl & Perpetual Groove can continue
to make great
music long into the future. For now, however, the trio has moved forward with a new band
and a new sound that,
while resembling the emotional and lively deft of their former quartet, is decidedly
different from PGroove, yet
equally moving and inspirational.
In early May, Ghost Owl released their debut recording, Say Goodbye To Finland
(SGTF). The 10 songs
stem from the deep, ragged scars and burns of disappointment and loss, yet also express
healing and catharsis in
the powerful songwriting of Perry. The trio embarked on a short stint up the east coast
in 2014, debuting the new
songs and sound of Ghost Owl, and it was clear by the ear-to-ear grins and the sonic
palate that all three were the
happiest they’d been in years. And Ghost Owl are soon to announce a major tour with some
headliners that will see the trio once again touring the country, performing, deservedly,
in front of some large
crowds. A tour announcement wasn’t ready as we went to post, but stay tuned to JamBase for
such news in the next
Last week, Perry, McDonald and Suttle spoke openly and candidly with JamBase scribe and
long time PGroove fan, Bill
Clifford, about the band and its influences, the changes they’ve gone through, the
cathartic power of music, the new
album and future touring plans.
Who or What is Ghost Owl and what are/were your
Bill Clifford (BC) - What kind of band is Ghost Owl? Are you guys now making EDM?
Is your music space
rock? Are you avant-garde? Are you now playing prog-rock? Do you still “jam” or improvise
as Ghost Owl? What
should readers who are not familiar with Ghost Owl know about the band at this point?
Adam Perry (AP) - Right now Ghost Owl is a rock band with electronic influences.
My goal is to have it be
what ever it needs to be. I like the idea of skirting a lot of different styles so it can
grow with us as musicians. I also
like for things to extend during live shows because that is what the crowd is leading us
into, not because we have to
or because of what is expected of us. Everyone has such a different idea of what music
sounds like or what ‘genre’ a
band should fall into. I want the fans to decide for themselves where it fits into their
Matt McDonald (MM) - I’ve heard the genre post-rock used a lot now that people have
gotten the album in
their hands. I think that fits the band quite well. We’re definitely not EDM, it’s still
Albert Suttle (AS) – It’s rock with an electronic tinge and a little bit of jam –
just enough to keep the
arrangements fresh from night to night. This is a new project that is more straightforward
in tone, songwriting, and
BC - At the time of writing these songs, were there any particular bands or
musicians that you were
listening to that may have shaped or influenced the songs that you were writing?
AP - M83 is a big influence. I was listening to Hurry Up We’re Dreaming a
really struck a chord
with me emotionally. It’s a journey listening to that record, it took me to so many
different places and I’m still not
tired of hearing it.
AS – I wasn’t really listening too much new music, which, in the end, helped me
have a fresher approach
to whatever I thought the song needed. Adam would have a template of electronic drums on
the demos to serve as a
guide but there was still the freedom to have my spin on the song. The main challenge was
being more specific since
the song structure was tightly composed.
Switching things up?
BC - Matt and Adam have switched instruments up a bit – was it easier to write the
new music on a guitar
or a keyboard rather than on the bass? What was the rational for each of you as to why you
moved through different
instruments with this band?
AP - I’ve always written with synths and keyboards. The only real difference for me
was playing them live
a bit more. I love the versatility of being able to switch between instruments in the
writing process. Usually it’s the
catalyst to new parts or ideas because I approach and play them so differently. More often
than not, the bass is the
last thing I add now because I can settle into the composition and really make it move the
MM - The biggest reason as to why [we switched instruments] is because we could.
I’ve played guitar
almost as long as I’ve played keys, so it felt pretty natural to move to more guitar. I’ve
always done the majority of
my writing on guitar in the past. Now we’re switching it up even more at recent rehearsals
between everything but
drums. Albert is the drummer - no way Adam and I are going near that one.
AS – Nothing really new for me to learn, the main challenge was how best to produce
and perform the
songs live. Certain sections could be open, but that meant using Ableton [a music
sequencer] in a way that I didn’t
with PGroove. Other songs were start and go. After getting used to the arrangements, with
lot of practice, we were all
BC – Loss, hurt and darkness are clearly a subjective theme throughout the lyrics
and new songs. Taking
your history into account, would it be safe to say that writing these songs was a
cathartic experience for each of
you? Can you elaborate on the emotions and feeling that you’ve expressed in the music of
AP - We have been through a lot. The things that trickle down and resonate in your
life when you go
through drastic changes, which nobody can be prepared for. Things I care not to discuss,
but every aspect of life is
affected and that can really spin your head into a lot of different places. Some good,
some not so good. During that
time of transition, all I knew was that when I woke up, the only thing I had control of
was music, and I sunk myself
into it. I let it help and heal me, as it always has.
MM - Adam is the primary songwriter for the band but he’s really great about
letting us have a voice in
the process. Adam did an outstanding job at conveying the whole gamut of emotions that we
were all going through
both musically and lyrically. I agree that there is a theme of loss, but more importantly,
there’s a constant underlying
theme of hope too.
AS – If you’re aware of the history of both Perpetual Groove and Ghost Owl, then
the lyrics would seem to
be an obvious extension of the situation we went through and deeply cathartic. But loss is
a pretty universal constant
that everyone goes through. The beauty of the lyrics on the album, at least for me, is
that they can apply to anyone.
BC – Yet, on “Clouds Will Lift” and album closer, “Sun Will Shine,” it does sound
as though you’re at
peace with the situation and that you’ve found...a way to move on?
AP - Ultimately it came down to a few things. I started saying to myself every
morning: work hard, stay
positive, good things will happen. Today is a new day - make yourself better. “Clouds Will
Lift” is actually about a
very dark place I found myself in last year. Things just seemed like they were really
getting the best of me. “Sun Will
Shine” that closes the album after “Clouds…,” helped me come out of that darkness.
MM - I know it’s a bit cliche, but it’s true that the one thing you can count on in
life is change. Change is
always difficult at first, but once you learn to embrace it, often times it has an
incredible healing nature to it. That
was definitely the case for my personal experience with the album this past year.
AS – Again, these lyrics are pretty universal. We as individuals and as a group
have to look forward and
decide where we’re going from here and how best to get there. It’s different for each of
us. But we can also get
together and agree on a direction, a destination, and a mode of transport that’s
beneficial to all.
BC – Having seen Ghost Owl perform a number of times at this point, it was very
evident to this journalist
that each of you was in a very happy and refreshed state of mind. Ear-to-ear smiles could
be seen on your faces as
you played, and visual nods in each others directions for signals on where to take the
music as you played it live. Is it
a fair observation to say that you’re in a great state of mind and refreshed and enjoying
AP - I’m enjoying it - very, very, much. The drive to make it better every time is
rewarding feeling. Through the doubt and dark rose some real great potential and we plan
on grabbing hold and not
MM - Yeah, it’s been awesome! We’re having a lot of fun and we haven’t had to deal
with the business of
being in a band where there are already expectations from the fans. Nobody really knew the
music this past year
because we had only released a few songs from the live show, so people were pretty open to
hear what we were still
very much in a state of creating.
AS – I think we always enjoyed making music. But music can also be a representation
of something heavy,
negative and sometimes dangerous. It can be a song that reminds you of a lost love, a
broken friendship or
someone no longer with us. Music is what you make of it, and sometimes the best thing to
do is to step out of your
comfort zone and listen to/write some new music. If you’re lucky, you’ll get some people
to go along with you
because together it’ll be better, together it’ll be easier and together it might just be
A new album – a new beginning?
BC – Where was SGTF recorded – a home studio? A recording studio in Athens?
Mastered? Can you
compare and contrast the process for this album to those that you have made previously
MM - We recorded the album over the course of nine months at Studio 1093 here in
Athens. Many of the
overdubs and vocals were recorded at Adam’s house or at my house and then we would bring
those parts back into
1093 to further expand upon. We’ve always had a time/money clock running in the background
on previous albums.
There were deadlines and only so much time in the studio in the past. It was nice to not
have that gun to our head
and really have the freedom to take the time we wanted to make it the best we could.
AS – It was mastered by Tom Lewis there as well. We didn’t have any sort of serious
deadline for this
album. We had a self-imposed release date but everyone involved wanted this project to be
the best that it could be.
We moved the release date back a few times, but all that really meant was that we could
spend more time to release a
BC – Did you work with a particular producer? What effect did he happen to have on
the songs that you
had written? In what ways did the songs evolve as you moved from a bedroom demo to a full
MM - Newton Carter was our producer. Newt ran front of house for PG years ago and
has been a very
close friend of ours for a long time. We have always talked about doing an album together
so it was nice to finally
make that a reality. He was a producer in the truest sense of the word. He took our demos,
which were the same way
we had been performing them live and helped us immensely with arrangements and making the
songs tighter and
more potent. I had worked with Newt and Tom Lewis on a Brantley Gilbert album a couple
years ago and really
wanted that team once I saw them together in the studio. It worked out. Richard Salino was
the engineer on the
album and really understood what Newt was looking for, combined with what we were trying
to convey. Tom Lewis
did the mastering. Anyone in the Athens music scene will tell you we had the dream team
for this album.
AP - Newton is an incredibly gifted man and even better friend. We've always wanted
to work together in
this capacity and I learned so much from him just watching how to make a record. The right
way. Newt really helped
all of the songs reach their potential. Richard "Slick" Salino, our engineer, was
to work with as well. Their
input and tireless work were vital to this album being what it is. The experience as a
whole had some crazy ups and
downs that very much mirrored my life at the moment. I’ll never forget those days and one
day, will look back on
them very fondly.
BC – What’s the future for Ghost Owl? I believe I had heard that Albert had moved
back home to
Oklahoma? Correct? I know that Matt and Adam each have families now. Are you each working
on/at something else
full time to support yourselves and your family?
AP - I’ve got almost enough material for the next album. I’m ready to get back in
AS – I moved back to Oklahoma for personal and family reasons. This is a new
project with new music,
new rules and ideas that we’ll need to implement for it to work for everyone. It’s
entirely possible and I’m looking
forward to it.
MM - Fortunately, we’re in a position like many bands are nowadays, where we don’t
have to all live in the
same town anymore and can all have our individual space and lives. It makes for a
healthier band working
relationship. Over the summer we’re getting together a few days a month for rehearsal
leading into September, when
we will hit the road again. Fortunately, I’m able to do all sorts of different gigs
nowadays ranging from studio
musician work to cocktail music at the Athens Country Club. Mostly, I am enjoying spending
my days with my six-month-old and the summer with all the kids. I have a small Army now.
BC – Will Ghost Owl tour again in support of the new recording? Outside of Georgia
and the Southeast?
Can an independent band make a living selling music today in the Spotify age? Can you
support yourselves touring?
Is it something that you want/hope to do?
MM - Absolutely. Like I said, we are hitting the road again in September and plan
on going nationwide
over the course of the next year. We’re even in the middle of plans to make it out West
again to California, which we
haven’t been able to do in years. It’s going to be great getting back out there again.
Although the Spotify age presents
a new set of challenges, it has also opened up new opportunities, such as sync licensing
and YouTube. Like most bands
out there, we are definitely pursuing all possible revenue avenues nowadays.
Keep an eye on JamBase for news of Ghost Owl's fall tour plans. And if you they come to your town, be sure to
get out and get your
on with Ghost Owl.