”When you wake in the night do you feel alone? Like the time that you had is already gone? Can you feel the light? Can you feel at all? I can see it in you. Can you see it in me?”
Rock can be split into two major eras – Ground Zero-based Rock derived from Chuck Berry, Elvis, The Beatles and other pioneers of the 60s/70s and Post-Radiohead Rock. It’s a gross oversimplification but the underlying principles of each camp define the major musical characteristics of adherents, particularly the shift from song-centered proto-rock to the more amorphous, textural vibe prevalent after Thom Yorke and Co. (and many others like Blur, Pavement, and other boundary pushers of the 90s/2000s not to mention the rise of electro wizards like Aphex Twin, Boards of Canada and Squarepusher). However, one occasionally finds a band comfortable straddling this divide, dragging their fingers through varied traditions to scoop out their own sand for the hourglass.
Athens, GA’s Ghost Owl is both resolutely modern – a hum of technology rides a bright current that just feels bloody contemporary – and steeped in stage-won, long practiced instrumental aptitude and well-sculpted song craft. Adam Perry (bass, lead vocals, songwriting), Albert Suttle (drums) and Matthew McDonald (keyboards, guitar, vocals) are seasoned musicians after more than a decade with Perpetual Groove, which announced an indefinite hiatus in 2013. But, Ghost Owl is no derivative of PGroove. There is something more expressly engaging and effusively alive about the trio in this new, swiftly evolving incarnation. Where before the “jam band” tag may have applied – to a degree – what’s emerging in Ghost Owl is EDM wise and much closer to the gleaming slipstream of modern rock innovators Simple Minds and Ultravox as well as contemporaries like Foals, Rubblebucket, and The Flaming Lips. The cerebral, emotionally prickly undertow of a lot of Perpetual Groove’s catalog is replaced by a direct inducement to breathe in, breathe out, and dance in the sunshine.
After less than a year of experimentation and exploratory gigs, Ghost Owl has released its first official salvo, Say Goodbye To Finland [listen to it above, at bottom of this article or on the band’s Bandcamp Page where you can do the right thing and buy a copy!]. From the first gentle murmurings on through many bright bursts, the album is invigorating, a rush of tentative positivity.
Ghost Owl never offers puffery, readily acknowledging that “American dreams are dying” but displaying a spirit that says they’re not letting them fade without a fight. Amidst crooked hues and widescreen performances, Ghost Owl, by example as much as anything stated outright, offer something viscerally enzymatic, a sonic push to get up and get into it while there’s still something to get into, an invitation to run into the night and tear down the walls that keep us apart.
Guitars flutter in, adding mood and spice, but it’s the interlocking rhythms and pulsing electronics that dominate and provide a perfect chrome sparkle for Perry’s husky, liquid voice to flow over. Unlike a lot of electronica aware rock, Say Goodbye To Finland keeps every track lean, never overworking a groove or belaboring a point. They get in, get the job done, and jet while one still wants more – something that bodes well for the live progression of these tunes in days ahead. The sequencing is spot-on, too, culminating in a pair of tunes, “Clouds Will Lift” and “Sun Will Shine,” that are genuinely healing, digitized jubilation that clears away the grit from eyes to reveal new horizons where we’ll be okay despite all the evidence to the contrary.
We snagged Ghost Owl for DI’s signature questionnaire and here’s what the boys had to say.
- 1. Great music rarely happens without…
- Perry: Love, loss, and anger.
McDonald: Love, loss, & sex. Pretty much every song that’s ever been made comes from one of the three if not all three combined.
Suttle: Inspiration, pain, and/or joy. Any one of these can lead to great music. All three can lead to a great song.
- 2. The first album I bought was…
- Perry: Van Halen’s Diver Down
McDonald: Michael Jackson’s Thriller. I would put my dad’s headphones on and listen to that album over and over again. I was seven and had just started taking piano lessons from our neighbor. After that, I worked on my moonwalk everyday for about the next three years.
Suttle: ZZ Top’s Eliminator…on cassette. Frank Beard is still a big influence on how I approach a groove.
- 3. The last song or album to really flip my wig was…
- Perry: M83’s Hurry Up We’re Dreaming. I’d been a fan of the band for awhile but this album had a profound effect on me. I smiled at points, I cried at points, and when it was over I started it again. When an album evokes that kind of a response from me it reminds me why I’ve dedicated my life to music. It just all feels right. It all makes sense again for a time.
McDonald: Lucius’ Wildewoman I don’t think a day goes by that I don’t listen to at least a couple of songs from this album. Quite often I just let the entire album roll from the top because there’s not one tune that I skip. When I first saw their Tiny Desk Concert, I was completely blown away by the songs, especially the harmonies. Such great melodies and hooks, I have yet to see them live and can’t wait for that day to come.
Suttle: Supermodel by Foster the People was the last album I listened to all the way through. I really dug “Coming of Age” and “The Truth” but was a bit indifferent to the rest of the album. My tastes have been fluctuating wildly as of late.
- 4. When I was a kid I wanted to grow up to be…
- Perry: An actor or an Indiana Jones type archeologist.
McDonald: A musician or an astronaut.
Suttle: Famous, revered, loved. I just had no idea how to accomplish any of those states of existence, especially since I grew up to be a big introvert. As a kid, I didn’t worry about the specifics, I focused on the general. Such a vision does weird things to your creative impulses.
- 5. My favorite sort of gig is…
- Perry: I like the surprise perfect performance. The nights when you think it’s just gonna be an ordinary show for whatever reason. But something happens and everything just clicks in a way it hasn’t before. In a way that it makes every show after that better because of it.
McDonald: An audience that is giving it to you and making you give it back even harder. It’s such a symbiotic relationship and makes for the best shows. Hot, sweaty, dirty shows where the room is just bouncing and everyone’s connected to every moment, there’s nothing more satisfying. It’s those shows that keep you coming back to the road for more and more. It’s incredibly exhilarating and why musicians are always on the road chasing that high.
Suttle: Any gig where I can just sit down and play. I don’t mind rehearsing, I like playing in the studio or live, playing to music that’s written out or just winging it. It’s all the busy work – setting up, planning – that takes the fun out of music for me. If I have to worry about how the band is going to make it to the gig, or how many channels the board has, or who is running sound, etc. then my enthusiasm has already waned a bit. But if someone says, “Here’s some sticks, here’s the kit, let’s go,” then I will gladly accept that challenge any place, any time.
- 6. One thing I wish people knew about me is…
- Perry: I have a lot of love in my heart.
McDonald: Before I was a musician in the Army. I was a head broiler at the Chart House in Naples, FL. I love knowing my way around the kitchen. It’s another creative outlet for sure.
Suttle: I can be funny, but my sense of humor is odd to say the least. You can’t make gold every day.
- 7. I love the sound of…
- Perry: Tires on a gravel road. Not sure why but it makes me feel good.
McDonald: My children, all the time, even the cries of an inconsolable toddler who wants to keep watching Thomas the Tank Engine. I’ve had more inspiration and melodies come to fruition due to the uninhibited honest questions and observations from my children than any other single source.
Suttle: Rain, the tide at the beach, and the occasional thunderstorm.
- 8. One day I hope to make an album as fantastic as…
- Perry: The Flaming Lips’ The Soft Bulletin. That album changed the way I listened to and wrote music forever. It changed my record collection and gave me a new direction and idea of what art in music is. At the time I was lost musically. I was having trouble finding inspiration to write. I knew deep down I stilled loved music but when I looked at my albums I didn’t want to play any of them anymore. That album kicked the door down and showed me a new world. I’m forever grateful for that.
McDonald: Hmmm, that’s a tough one. Having just finished the Ghost Owl debut album, I’m feeling incredibly satisfied with where we’re at in the album making department. In the past we recorded songs that we had played on the road for months or years, so they were pretty much set in stone. This time it was totally different! All the rules and experiences from past studio sessions went right out the window! There was no precedent set for us and that was incredibly liberating. There were no bad ideas – there were ideas that did work and ones that didn’t but we were willing to give every idea a shot. That being said, I love the feeling that M83’s Hurry Up We’re Dreaming gave me on the first listen through. Sonically and emotionally that album was/is an inspiration.
Suttle: The new Ghost Owl album is already the best project I ever had the privilege to be a part of. If anything, I want what I’m sure most musicians want with their studio projects: more money and more time.
- 9. The best meal I ever had on tour was at…
- Perry: Sushi with Matty Poo McDagwood! Did he list that nickname in the nickname section?
McDonald: Cafe Martorano in Ft. Lauderdale! Very good friends brought us to Steve Martorano’s place just down the road from The Culture Room in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. It was an amazing experience. Family-style serving with one incredible course after another, all while club music is rocking, and the TVs in the place are on a stream of gangster movies showing Steve’s many appearances on television. It was the most unique dining experience I’ve ever had. I felt like I was at some acid -soaked, mafia-themed dinner party. The food, the vibe, the people, it was perfect in every way.
Suttle: Cafe Martorano in Fort Lauderdale is hard to beat. The Brooklyn Bowl is consistently excellent. Way too many great restaurants in Athens, GA and Atlanta.
- 10. I always find the coolest audiences in…
- Perry: The Georgia Theatre!!!
McDonald: I know it’s the easiest answer, but it really is everywhere. The best part about getting to tour all over the country and having the treat to have gone to play in Japan and Europe is seeing and feeling that same energy that happens in a room when everyone is there for the same reason. Race, religion, sex, political beliefs – none of that matters. It’s an awesome to be a part of making music – it really is the universal language!
Suttle: Hard to say. In the old band, we played two shows in Japan and you’ll be hard pressed to find a more attentive audience. But sometimes you really want that energy exchange that happens in both small clubs and small festivals. Everyone there is attending because they’re curious or hanging with their friends or they genuinely love the music the band is playing. That atmosphere is by far the most rewarding to perform in.
- 11. The worst habit I’ve picked up being on the road all the time is…
- Perry: Beef jerky. I read it has a lot of carcinogens and can cause cancer in yer balls or prostate or something but I can’t stay away!
McDonald: Sushi. Adam and I will eat it every night if it’s within striking distance of the venue. We know some of the best. It’s turned into a real addiction, and I love it.
Suttle: Becoming more antisocial as more and more people that I don’t know show up either backstage or in other spaces where it’s difficult for an introvert to find escape and solace. I like to give it my all when I perform, and while the attention is nice from anyone who loves what we do I often just want to go someplace relatively quiet and sit and chill for a few minutes. But I know I’m often alone in this desire, so I try to remain aloof, polite and courteous. I don’t always succeed.
- 12. Led Zeppelin or Radiohead, which flips your switch the most and why?
- Perry: Tough. Both are so great and influential. Currently at the moment I’ve been revisiting a lot of Zeppelin and love the pure raw rock fury that they deliver. So, today my answer is Led Zeppelin. Tomorrow, it may be Radiohead. I had to buy OK Computer three times when it came out because I wore the disc out and couldn’t NOT have it!!!
McDonald: Wow, they’re both so important to me for such different reasons. I guess if I have to choose, it’s Radiohead. They have never let anyone dictate who they are as artists and have always continued to evolve and challenge themselves as musicians, artists, and songwriters. Every album stands on its own. As much as the band continues to change the way it writes and executes music, it’s always definitively Radiohead. But Led Zeppelin was one of the greatest rock bands of all time and wrote the book on doing it right.
Suttle: While Radiohead is a very inspiring band, both with their ability to evolve and create, being a drummer means that in one way or the other John Bonham is an important influence on how to play rock & roll from behind the kit. One of the best descriptions about John Bonham I ever read compared him to a herd of water buffalo stampeding down a set of stairs. Yet Bonzo was musical. He could be nuanced if he chose to. He played odd meter just as easily as straight ahead 4/4, and no matter what he played he made it his own. There are many reasons why his drumming has continued to be as influential as it is.
- 13. The craziest thing I ever saw was…
- Perry: when the doctor handed me my son for the first time. I truly understood the word love for the first time in my life and what it feels like to know you’d give your life for someone else without a second thought.
McDonald: The Flaming Lips on Xingolati. Being on a boat in the middle of the Pacific with The Flaming Lips doing what they do was crazy amazing, beautiful, and inspiring.
Suttle: Back in the PG days, we shared a backstage in New Orleans with a burlesque troupe. I garnered a whole new appreciation for pasties after that.
Name: Adam Perry
Instrument(s) of choice: Bass guitar, keys, specifically Moog synthesizers
Name: Matthew McDonald
Instrument(s) of choice: Guitar, keyboards
Nicknames: Deuxgall, McD, McDoogal
Name: W. Albert Suttle
Instrument(s) of choice: Drums, Percussion, Ableton
Nicknames: Al-B, Albro, Hans