Aspen Times Weekly: Death of the groove, rise of the ghost owl

by Andrew Travers
Former Perpetual Groove members Adam Perry, Albert Suttle and Matt McDonald founded the electronic-driven rock band Ghost Owl. They play Belly Up on Wednesday, Dec. 3.
Courtesy photo |

If You Go…

What: Ghost Owl

Where: Belly Up Aspen

When: Wednesday, Dec. 3, 9:30 p.m.

Cost: Free

More info:

After the crash and burn of a popular jam band, what do you expect to rise from the ashes? Usually, safe to say, it’s another jam band. Maybe some self-indulgent solo projects.

When Georgia-based jam-band stalwarts Perpetual Groove split early last year, though, something unexpected happened in the form of Ghost Owl.

Founded by Perpetual Groove bass player Adam Perry, drummer Albert Suttle and keyboardist Matt McDonald, Ghost Owl is an electronic-driven, dance-friendly take on rock that’s closer to EDM than anything the last band played. Their debut album — released in May — showcases lush compositions and multilayered harmonies with samples, synths and an overall un-Groove-like angle on things.

The new sound has introduced Ghost Owl to an audience apart from Perpetual Groove’s following. Actually, the devout fans of Perpetual Groove don’t all appear to have gotten on board for Ghost Owl. But Perry says that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“It’s such a different sound that we weren’t expecting a lot of the same crowd,” Perry said as the band made its way into Nashville for a recent show. “We find a lot of people don’t even know who P-Groove is. It’s a lot of younger people. … We deal with a lot of expectations and a lot of baggage with P-Groove fans. If people are coming out expecting a guitar-driven jam band, they probably won’t like it.”

While he was writing music for Perpetual Groove, Perry did some electronic mixes and synth-based material that — once completed — he knew didn’t fit the jam band’s ethos. So he got in the habit of sharing those demos with friends and some fans. When they were trying to get Ghost Owl off the ground, Perry, Suttle and McDonald targeted that small circle of supporters to raise funds to make an album.

That effort grew into a Kickstarter campaign with a $5,000 goal. Completed in March 2013, it ended up raising more than $6,000 and led to the album “Say Goodbye to Finland.”

“I’ve always been interested in synthesizers and electronic sounds,” Perry said. “A lot of it came from ideas that didn’t fit before (in Perpetual Groove) but that fit here.”

Perry has always written music on a keyboard first, he said, and then added bass, guitar and strings. That process has stayed pretty much intact, though it’s now producing a sound that diverges from Perpetual Groove’s jam rock.

“I still consider Ghost Owl a rock band but with a heavier synth element,” he said.

With Perpetual Groove, Perry and his Ghost Owl bandmates played Belly Up in the winter of 2012. He says he’s had it marked on his tour map ever since as a club to return to, and he made sure it happened when they took to the road with Ghost Owl. Their early-December run through Aspen, Fort Collins and Denver is their first trip to Colorado as Ghost Owl.

Taking a cue from the vaunted light shows that accompanied Perpetual Groove performances, the new band made its mark with multimedia shows complemented by complex video projection that makes the show part art installation and part live performance. Unfortunately, the band has left the video equipment behind for this leg of the tour.

Creatively, Ghost Owl has been fertile ground for its members. On top of the 10 Ghost Owl songs that made it onto “Say Goodbye to Finland,” Perry says, are six or seven additional songs that didn’t make the cut (but that the band work into its live sets) along with a half-dozen songs it has written since it finished the album. That’s already enough for a second record, and Perry expects the band to get back in the studio in the spring. But for now, its attention is on touring and spreading the word on Ghost Owl.

“It’s a ‘focus on the road’ or ‘focus on the album’ kind of thing,” Perry said. “We’re focusing on getting out and sharing the music with people. And seeing the country again. We missed the road.”