That didn’t take long. Four months after one of the most successful shows in Vinyl Music Hall’s short history, Perpetual Groove is coming back. Drummer Albert Suttle was recently able to break from his hectic holiday schedule to chat with the IN about the history of the band and what the Athens, Georgia-based group has in store for Pensacola.
IN: Talk about how you initially joined Perpetual Groove.
Suttle: In 2001, I was an active-duty member of the Army and was supposed to be stationed in North Carolina. When I arrived there, I went through the physical and discovered I was red-green colorblind. I was disqualified from the base and sent to Hinesville, Ga., just outside of Savannah. At the time, the other guys were in school at Savannah College of Art and Design and had been gaining some steam with the music. I went to an open-mic night there in Savannah and met the guys who would eventually make up Perpetual Groove, and the rest is history.
IN: What inspired the band to move from Savannah to Athens?
Suttle: It seemed a better base of location for one. Athens was closer to a lot of the cities we were playing than Savannah. Two, we felt more beloved in Athens than we were in Savannah. Three, we were at a level where there wasn’t a venue that would fit us in Savannah—something like the Georgia Theatre or Variety Playhouse. It was just that the clubs were too small and the arenas were too big. There was no in-between.
IN: The band’s sound is constantly evolving, but what are some of the groups that have influenced the Perpetual Groove sound throughout the years?
Suttle: Pink Floyd is a big influence on all of us. The Flaming Lips and Wilco are also two big ones. For me personally, I come from a straight-up rock and roll background. But I also like the old-school hip-hop, DJ electronic stuff. We really are all over the map. Being a drummer, it helps you to pay attention and be able to mimic a bunch of different styles. When your stuff is largely improvisational, it helps to have a large palette to draw from.
IN: Is the improv-based structure ever stressful on stage?
Suttle: Stressful isn’t the right word. It can be confusing at times. At any given moment, someone might try to take something somewhere that others might not be prepared for. That’s the fun part—when one person can raise the game of everyone. Those are the best moments, and that’s what you fight for. It’s an intangible thing, but when it happens, you know it.
IN: Is the “jam band” label frustrating and does it limit you guys at all?
Suttle: It is, just because it encompasses such a wide-ranging number of styles. Now they’ve tried to pigeonhole people a little more by adding more qualifiers, but the moniker is still thrown out a good bit. If people don’t know what to call you, you’re a jam band. And we don’t really fall into any specific category. I call what we do “jam rock.” That’s at least catching the connotation that we do know how to throw it down. We have to be flexible and be able to do whatever we need to do for our audience.
IN: Your most recent record, “Heal,” is the first with new keyboardist John Hruby. What has he brought to the band?
Suttle: It’s a little more frenetic at times, but he also adds a huge amount of versatility. He was a lead singer in his old band Guest. Having two strong vocals is a nice crutch to have. He can actually take a full song and sing it himself. He’s written a few songs that we’ll be playing. It takes the pressure off Brock (lead singer and guitarist) on stage. He also has a pretty heavy studio background, so it’s nice to just have that natural ear to tell if something is off in any way. The more critical ears we have the better.
IN: You guys are almost always on the road. How do you find the energy each night, especially with two set shows?
Suttle: You do have to pace yourself. I try to work out 3-5 days of the week. There are times when it does seem like work, and that’s the last thing you want to feel when you’re doing this kind of vocation for a living. But it’s never onstage. It’s always the other type of stuff. We’re a very do-it-yourself organization. We load all our gear in ourselves. We do everything from the ground up. It can be difficult, especially if you’re going out for more than a week or two. It cumulatively wears on you. It’s incumbent on us to think ahead and know our boundaries.
IN: It’s a short turnaround for you here in Pensacola. What’s going to be different this time around?
Suttle: We try to keep the set list fresh every night. Because we’re on the road so much, it’s hard to write new music. I try to write every now and then, but if the drummer’s writing the music, you know the content is at least somewhat questionable. There was some great energy last time around, and we’re looking forward to seeing that again.
Photo: Perpetual Groove Official