Music Editor Jim Reed’s chat with guitarist and vocalist Brock Butler:
Your publicist Seth tells me that just since the band’s last tour there’s been a real increase in the press coverage you’re getting, and he feels like the band is on the cusp of breaking through in a much bigger way. Do you have the same feeling?
Brock Butler: After this past weekend, I have a very good feeling about how things are going. We sold out the Variety Playhouse in Atlanta and the Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro, N.C. people were turned away at the door, and while I hate to see that, hopefully it will neccesitate a move to bigger rooms. We just played The Jam Cruise, and it seemed that when we were sitting in and jamming with some of the other more established acts, we had a lot more “street-cred” with some of the older musicians on the bill. When you introduce yourself, you always mention what band you’re in, and in years past they didn’t seem to recognize the name. Now they know who we are.
I’ve talked before with you guys about how initially it was beneficial for P-Groove to be grouped with a lot of standard-issue jam-bands, but as time has gone on, that term can feel limiting. Seth thinks there is great potential for your band to increasingly be viewed as and welcomed by the indie-rock crowd. If that is the case, do you worry at all that your core fanbase may feel somehow alienated? I mean, I wish that wasn’t something bands have to think about, but backlashes and stuff like that happen all the time and can often have a really deleterious affect on a group’s draw.
Brock Butler: No. I think that any changes we’ve made have not been so much straight changes, but more like additions to what we do. So, the nature of what we are as a band is still very much the same. The spirit of improvising and changing the setlists from night to night is still there. I think we’re just making some additions and taking some other inspirations from some of the indie and rock bands that are out there now. Most jam-bands usually draw from a lot of past influences, and I think we’re implementing more contemporary genres such as indie rock and hip-hop. I don’t think you would have ever heard Jerry Garcia do the Wu-Tang Clan. (laughs) That’s a defining characteristic for us. We’re up on newer things, but I don’t think we’ll ever abandon the genre altogether.
I know this new live album was actually recorded two years ago. As a band that is constantly evolving, does it feel strange to be releasing a record that some folks may assume is the next musical statement for the band, when in reality, it may actually be more of a document of a stage that the group has already moved beyond?
Brock Butler: We did record that almost exactly two years ago. It was over a St. Patrick’s Day weekend in Atlanta.
Well, that’s one good reason to leave town for St. Patrick’s Day. (laughs)
Brock Butler: Yeah, it’s funny. What I used to love about St. Patty’s in Savannah now makes me want to get outta there! (laughs) Truth is that in a way, when we went back and listened to these recordings, it reminded us of some things maybe we had forgotten about. It was like, oh yeah! I totally forgot I used to use that certain effects pedal or play that lick a certain way. It was like listening to our live show with fresh ears and now since then, some of those parts have actually started to come back into the music when we play those songs live. It’s been beneficial to us. I don’t think the album sounds so different from what we sound like now that it won’t be a pretty good representation of what we do.
I know the last time you guys played for the Jolly Foundation the turnout was not what a lot of people anticipated. Did the band feel that way as well? If so, why do you think that was?
Brock Butler: Well, I don’t think it It was quite as full as I would have liked to have seen it, but there were a couple of tactical errors made in the planning. I mean, doing two nights at the Roundhouse was a really cool idea, but at the end of the day, by giving people the option of choosing a night you run the risk of making them think that if they can’t make it to one, they can still wind up seeing it.
And then, something comes up and they wind up missing both nights.
Brock Butler: Right. I’ve found that anytime you offer something like that, people get complacent and the audience often doesn’t wind showing up. Now, some people came for both nights, but I know of a lot of people who came for one night or the other. If we’d had that whole group of people in one room for one night it would have served our purpose better and kept our costs down. Doing a show like that outside increased our overhead tremendously. However, doing it at the Trustees, where so much of what we need is already on hand helps enormously at keeping the costs down.
How will this show at the Trustees differ from the last Savannah gig, besides the fact that you’ll be able to use your full lighting rig?
Brock Butler: I’m of the opinion that when I see shows indoors or outdoors, I tend to like the sound at indoor shows better. I’ve been at some shows where it was so windy that it seemed like the wind was carrying all the sound away. I think that we as a band are more comfortable playing indoors. We played well at the Roundhouse and a lot of people had a good time, but I think being indoors in a proper theater helps the lights and sound come off better.
Seth says that scaling back on your light show for some of the smaller venues you play has wound up making the band much stronger musically, in that everyone in the crowd is more focused on the playing, and that has been bringing out better performances from everyone. Would you agree or disagree with that, and was that in any way a consideration in minimizing your famous light show?
Brock Butler: I absolutely agree with that. I think for as young a band as we were and still are to a point, that we were considering and focusing so much of our attention on the production impact. We did a surround sound tour, and that was a lot of strain and labor on us. It pulls some energy into the wrong areas. Now, when we do a show that is focused completely on music, and when we do have light shows it makes it that much more of a special occasion. At least in my mind. The light show as synonymous with P-Groove. I still like it to be and I love every opportunity to work with (lighting director) Jason Huffer, but in some of the rooms we play —especially in newer markets— there was just a kind of silliness to it. We could hardly fit onto the stage because we had it packed full of lights. So, at what point are you compromising the comfort of the band and messing with the focus of the shows, which really has to begin with the music.
As soon as we started choosing which shows to use the lights on and which to leave them behind, it made a big difference. Now when we book a tour, we find the sections that make sense for the full show. For The Jolly Foundation, we obviously want to deliver a five-star performance and the lights are the final piece of that puzzle. The costs of the production might have affected our attitudes. If you’re in a dump or a dive with a low ceiling and you’re looking around and adding up in your head the amount we’ve spent in time and lights, it makes it seem ridiculous. I won’t say that we had contempt for that level of production, but...
You were burned out by it.
Brock Butler: Yeah. Now we use it in rooms where Jason can fully realize his vision and can make great designs. I guess it’s the proper production for the proper rooms. (laughs)
Is there anything else about this upcoming show you’d like to mention that we haven’t covered?
Brock Butler: We’re so excited to be able to do this again. Whether at the Roundhouse or the Trustees — we’re very grateful for everyone who wants to attend. We’re fortunate to have the abilities to do this kind of thing for friends of ours, and hopefully it’ll be very fruitful.