Led by frontman, Brock Butler’s solo-acoustic set, the evening with Perpetual Groove became a night of supreme musicianship intertwined with a superb light show and dancing from the Vinyl Music Hall crowd.
Perpetual Groove drummer, Albert Suttle took time out to discuss his work ethic, playing for Oklahoma State University, his military service and the multi-talented group of musicians (Butler, Suttle, Adam Perry (bass), and John Hruby (keyboard) that are the heart of the Georgia group.
***Albert Suttle Interview***
TCAS: I know you are playing more intimate shows, Vinyl Music Hall is an intimate venue, what can Perpetual Groove fans look forward to when you perform? any special surprises for us?
AS: We might, we might not. We’ve been trying to keep every show unique and we always keep the setlist unique and change it every night. We’ve been experimenting a little bit with playing a little bit more stripped down and just trying to make it something unique so that every night it’s special for whoever comes out and see the show.
TCAS: You mentioned setlists. I’ve noticed that you’ve thrown in some pretty diverse covers, The Who, The Beatles “Live and Let Die.” Any particular ones that you enjoy playing more than others?
AS: Covers are always fun. Anything we do, we always put our own spin on them and there have been many that we’ve played that have been a lot of fun. Like we played Rage Against the Machine, that was mainly because our old keyboardist could play guitar as well. I think we’re going to revive one of those for the Georgia Theater show next month. I just like taking something that’s established and making our own way with it. I always enjoy doing that.
TCAS: What is your favorite song of yours to play?
AS: For me being a drummer, “Too Close to the Sun” is a fun one to play because the drum part is a little slow on a prog beat, you know prog-rock side of the house, but then it gets pretty straight-forward and rock n’ roll sort of at the end. Some of the newer ones that we’ve been playing, “Lemurs,” and “Man with All the Answers,” “The Devil May Care” we’ve had like four new tunes come out in the past year. They’re all fun in their own right, partly because they’re new and partly because when we right new stuff, we always add change. Seems like we always change our style a little bit and I always dig that.
TCAS: In the live setting, what is that experience like for you, live? Can you give us a peak into your world?
AS: It can be…I don’t want to necessarily say unique because that word gets overused a bit, but night after night, we’ve been playing together, me and (John) Hruby, for a long time now, but he manages to throw me curve balls in a good way. It helps keep me on my toes. The more I can hear what the other guys are doing it makes me that much more intuitive and receptive to what’s going on around me.
TCAS: What was more intensive, the Army music corps or Oklahoma State?
AS: They both have their ups and downs. The one thing about the Army that I always try insist, because I’ve had a couple of friends of mine and younger people who have thought about making that career choice, the one thing that blew me away when I joined was once I got through basic training and survived that, I went to the school of music that the Army, the Navy and the Marines all go to the same school and I was, being a rhythm section person, you’re pretty much required to practice a minimum of 24 hours a week. If you do the math, it’s at least 3 hours a day and a little bit more on weekends. It’s very intensive, but in a very good way as long as you’re willing to work. They don’t give you much quarter and much slack because initially, you’re supposed to become a professional and doing all of that and the Army needs you. You’re in there night after night, day after day learning some of the music theory and the special marching that the Army requires, but also you’re in there at night going over Latin styles, Jazz styles, here sight read this mallet piece and see how your chromatic chops are doing and just all of this kind of stuff. So it was very labor intensive, but it got me over some humps that I needed to get over.
TCAS: Coming from that perspective as a student, I know that you taught as well. Do you miss the teaching aspect of sharing your passion with other students?
AS: Yes and no. I always enjoy teaching drumline a little more than I did drumset because drumset is something that I inherently knew how to do. And I did get instruction on it, but a lot of it is very instinctual. Years and years of instruction and just doing it and having it kind of shoved down your throat whether you wanted it or not to the point where I still feel like I could probably go back and help teach drumline and have the kid get something out of it. Drumset, on the other hand, is just something I knew how to do and it’s a little bit harder for me. You know, I even had kids and other adults ask me to come over and show them stuff, and it’s not that I’m trying to harbor any trade secrets or anything like that.
TCAS: What’s it like to be part of that Athens music scene. It’s like the New York of the South. There are so many diverse groups over there. What is that like?
AS: It’s very nice just because it’s a pretty supportive community and it can be competitive. You can run into a little, depending what level your at, you can run into a little bit of jealousy or envy, but for the most part, you really don’t. Everybody in Athens is used to all of this great music around. It’s not like we’re a big named band in the scope of things, nor are we celebrities by any stretch of the means because there are so many other musicians in town, we just fit right in. I really like that. I really like the fact that nobody really knows who I am and some really don’t give a damn per se, but they don’t give give a damn. You’re another musician. So at the end of the day, if I really wanted to stand out or make myself known, then I got to really go out and play my ass off and play really well. And that reputation will take care of itself. The same goes for the band. People may not like us and people might not like our music, but I know that several people, like even when we went to go record our album one of the engineers who worked on it, I never listened to this band or seen them live, I don’t like what they do per se, but they do it very well and they’re not dilly-dallying around in the studio; they know their songs and they know how to play. And at the end of the day, that’s a pretty good compliment.
TCAS: Do you have time for other projects that you want to work on outside of Perpetual Groove?
AS: Very rarely. I wish I had a little bit more time, but we’re the type of band that makes their money on the road. For better or for worse that’s the dance card that we have and we’re going to dance with the one that brung us. So many people have been involved with our organization in the past, they’ll call me up and I’ll go out, maybe help somebody do some demos or just go out and do some recording for the hell of it. Or maybe do some songwriting and that’s always fun, but it seems like the time do that it seems like it’s fleeting at some points and I wish I had a little bit more time to go do that.
TCAS: What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
AS: Good question.
TCAS: Thank you.
AS: I know one of these things that I heard anybody ever say, Les Claypool commented about not many women dig Rush and being a drummer and growing up on Rush like a lot of other kids did; it’s very much just a guy thing. At the end of the day, for me, you have to realize there are certain types of music that just appeals to different people and then you can further break it down into gender and race and ethnicity and all that kind of stuff. But at the same time there are types of music that can speak to anybody and one of the advantages that we’ve had is that there are times when we can expose are music to diverse crowds and, for the most part, I’ve been pretty happy that it’s still pretty accepted. That is something I can walk away with and feel pretty happy about.
TCAS: Who is your most inspirational or favorite drummer of all-time, any genre.
AS: Inspirational is probably Gene Krupa. Buddy Rich is the god of jazz drumming from back in the day. The stuff that he did is still kind of mind-boggling to this day and there are a lot of other guys now a days who are pretty close or as good as Buddy Rich, just in different formats like Jojo Mayer and Virgil Donati. But Gene Krupa was a little bit more of a working man’s drummer back in the jazz era and he was the one willing to work with anybody. I just like the way he drums because it’s just one of those things where he didn’t care who he worked with as long as he worked with quality people. That is very inspirational and eye-opening methodology that I would like to keep adhering to.
TCAS: What is the best piece of advice you could give an artist who wants to be at the level you’re at right now?
AS: The one thing I always wind up telling people is…and it’s one of those things it seems like the KISS method, the Keep It Simple Stupid Method. It won’t make any sense to you until you make it to a certain point in your career, but what I always tell people is to “Do your best to keep your point of reference to where you came from to where you are now” because inevitably there comes a point where it’s kind of hard to keep your perspectives in check. It’s very easy to get complacent or any other adjective that meets that same criteria. I just saw this speech that Steve Jobs gave at Stanford and one of the things he said at the very end that he wanted everybody to keep doing was to “Stay foolish and stay hungry.” And that’s very appropriate. You want to stay aggressive in a sense that you want to never be satisfied, but you also want to enjoy the moment. In this type of business particularly with a band like ours, it’s a very do it yourself kind of organization, it can be very easy to get caught up in the bad things and in the business and how much money do we have. How can we afford this? Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera and at the same time, you can let that get you down or you can get to a comfortable place where everything is kind of running along fine and you really don’t have to worry about much, but you still got to stay aggressive and stay hungry. You’ve got to be willing to get out of your comfort zone and do something that may be risky. As long as you’re willing to do that and balance that feeling with knowing where you came from and how much work it took to get where you are now and how much more work you potentially have to do to get the other level, then you’re doing alright. But like I said, it can be very easy to let these little, and they’re not major demons, they’re little demons that are there too. You can’t let them influence you in a way that makes you complacent or bored or stagnant. You got to be willing to just push the whole time, but know how much you can push, know that sometime you can push more than others and sometimes you just need to push a little bit and then you’re going to maybe figure out the path you need to be on.
TCAS: Do you prefer crunchy or creamy peanut butter?
AS: You know what, when I was kid I used to always be the creamy peanut butter kid. Just always liked it and then…I’ll never forget one day, and I haven’t had really straight peanut butter in a long time, but I remember one day I saw somebody put crunchy peanut butter on a banana and I tried it…and it was awesome.
TCAS: I’ve never tried that before.
AS: And ever since then, when those two things are around…I will do it, but not very often. We used to, on our rider, we had peanut butter and bananas and everything. Nowadays when it’s around I’ll definitely have crunchy peanut butter.
TCAS: I may have to try that banana and crunchy butter in a little bit. That sounds good. Is there anything you want to add? Any projects coming up?
AS: Every two years I do a solo project and I’ve been meaning for the past year and a half to sit down and do some more writing. Like Brock and Adam, I can release a solo album of my own stuff. Right now, I’m the only one left who hasn’t done one and the other three guys have done so. I did a little recording on both Brock and Adam’s albums. Hruby did it all himself using a computer and keyboard. On Adam’s album, I did all of the drumming on that and what made me really proud of it was that it wasn’t a typical studio situation where you went in and did several takes and then you went in and cleaned up a few things. We really didn’t have that luxury with Adam’s studio. So it was pretty much just go in and play it through two or three times and just used the best version. Everything that’s on that album is just one take and very little editing, if any, on all the drum parts on that entire album. I’m pretty proud of how it turned out. And so that’s kind of the approach I want to take with my album is that I want to do more work on the music side of it and creating songs. I don’t know if I’m going to sing like Adam did, I’ll give it a shot. I might need some serious auto-tune, I’ll give it a shot. But then when I go to record the drums for it, I want to just knock it out and do it in as few takes as possible because I realize that if I can do that, it will sound better. The more raw I approach it and just go with my instinct in a song, it usually winds up tending to be better. I want to do that and I want to release my album of own stuff.
TCAS: How soon do you think we can expect a solo project from you?
AS: At the earliest, it would be the end of the year. I still got a little bit of writing to do. I’ve got ideas, like I’ve been trying to keep a journal. One nice thing about having the i-phone and i-pad and stuff like that is you can, at any given moment, if you’re stuck with an idea you can sit there and write it down and then come back to it later. That’s definitely one thing I’m going to be doing. We’re going to have some time, next month in November to kind of sit down and evaluate what I want to use and how I want to do things and all of that kind of stuff. I’ve got some microphones, I’ve got some cables, some mic stands a little bit and I need about a week or so to kind of sit down and do some writing and do some recording.
– Michael L. Smith
Additional Perpetual Groove photo gallery by PNJ photographer Jimmy Nguyen