Music is about one thing: connecting. I, along with many others here at Hidden Track, have been lucky enough to form an extremely deep connection and establish close friendships over the years with many people and musicians, maybe none more so than the members of Perpetual Groove. So, while the news has now officially been announced of keyboardist Matt McDonald returning to the band after being away since May of 2008, where his last performance was at the band’s annual Amberland festival, we still felt it wise to take our time crafting a proper “Welcome Back” column this week, instead of just relaying the news across the wire.
After all, relationships – and connections – take time to hone and perfect. And we here at HT couldn’t be happier about this news and continuing our relationship with PGroove. McDonald, who will be replacing current member John Hruby over the band’s New Year’s Run in Atlanta and sitting in with the group tonight in Athens, was gracious enough to chat with me on Tuesday, along with guitarist Brock Butler and drummer Albert Suttle about the prodigal keyboardist’s return.
New Beginnings, Old Form
When McDonald and I begin our chat, we both kind of laugh at how unexpectedly, yet easily things fell into place – much like an old relationship rekindled. Musically, at least. “Honestly, it was completely unexpected for me, too,” says McDonald. The friendships off the stage between his former – and now soon-to-be-again – band members, Butler, Suttle and bassist Adam Perry, McDonald says are stronger than ever. “What’s really important for everyone to know is that the past three-and-a-half years, it’s not like we said goodbye and got out of each others’ lives…There’s pictures of Brock holding James [McDonald's youngest son] the week he was born, several shows of mine Brock has shown up at and there’s pictures of Adam with my family last Thanksgiving. You know, we’ve all remained incredibly close. I’d definitely say, without any shred of doubt, that we are all much closer than we were three-and-a-half years ago.”
With a return to the old lineup, but with a fresh spin on things, the band will plan tours and recording around McDonald’s increasing work schedule in an effort to go the “Weekend Warrior” route, which I can personally attest having traveled with these guys, is going to allow them to keep the fire burning onstage. “With Adam having his son and me having mine, it not only opens up the door for us to be with our families every week still, but it opens up the door for Brock and Albert to pursue other interests musically, and Brock to pursue his solo shows.” Butler continues McDonald’s thought seamlessly, much as one of their segues on stage: “With this schedule, I can probably work it out to where I do solo tours instead of the occasional gig. And you know, that’s huge for me. It makes me happy all around.”
“That’s an appropriate word: Structure,” Butler agrees, after I suggest that the band I have watched grow up seems to finally be getting some ground rules in place. No more 12-hour overnight drives, no more crazy touring schedules and canceled shows, but rather a simplistic, organized schedule and ritual. I, for one, feel it will help the band stay fresh and energized.
Suttle too, agrees. “I couldn’t agree with you more. The schedule is a bit more adult, a bit more realistic. And it’s not necessarily because we are not twenty-something anymore, we’re all in our 30′s. But this is because, in this day and age, this is what needs to happen, this is what makes more sense…Like you said, it’s more adult. It’s getting more mature about how you run your business…It’s a matter about moving on and totally moving up.”
Sidebar – McDonald’s Return: Live on the Radio
Last night Matt McDonald sat in with the current version of Perpetual Groove as part of a four-song set aired live on WUOG, the University of Georgia radio station. Starting off with Left To Drifting and A Day In The Way, current keyboardist John Hruby handed the “keys” to future keyboardist McDonald for Sweet Oblivious Antidote. Not only was SOA the title track from the first PGroove album to feature McDonald, this beautiful original was the penultimate song performed at Matt’s last gig as a member of the band. Hruby returned for a cover of The Golden Path that finished off the brief set.
[via Matt McDonald]
Tonight, Perpetual Groove returns to the Georgia Theatre, where McDonald is expected to sit in with his former and future band mates once again. – Scott Bernstein
It Starts Where It Ends
Our 45-minute long chat gets summed up with a few lines that speaks for themselves and need no further explanation. “We’ve all grown a lot as people and musicians,” says McDonald with a sense of mature sophistication of a proud father, yet the infectious optimism for which he has always been known. “Being the friends and family that we are to each other now is going to finally enable us to take it to the next level.”
And boy, has McDonald seemingly put some serious thought into what the musical future of PGroove will hold, and seems to have it all figured out. “One thing we’ve all said to each other is that this is going to be evolution. It’s not going to be a return to what it was previously,” McDonald emphatically says. “Are there going to be songs that haven’t been played since then? Are there going to be soundscapes that haven’t been done since then? Sure. There definitely will be, but there is also going to be evolution. And the way we are going to do that is not only through more mature writing, but more mature playing. We are all much better players than we were three-and-a-half years ago.” One such evolutionary change that fans can expect are two guitars on-stage, as the multi-talented McDonald was a guitar major in college. (Bulls on Parade encore, anyone?)
But it truly is the quiet voice of reason in the band, Suttle, who makes the loudest statement of all. “If the band was going to survive and move forward, there really only was one person for the job,” he says. “And that’s the person who created the job.”
Welcome back Matt, old buddy. We’ve missed you.