When Passafire and Perpetual Groove formed at SCAD, the bands’ founders didn’t expect to be jam band sensations. Now, 13 and 19 years later, the two bands are festival favorites with prolific discographies, known around the world for their unique crossover sounds. While members have moved to different cities throughout the U.S., Savannah will always be home for the tunes that launched their careers.
“PGroove” has honed a jam sound with elements of funk, jazz, and Southern Rock, while Passafire has enjoyed success from jam, reggae, and dub fans alike. As their alma mater welcomes students back to Savannah, Passafire and Perpetual Groove are teaming up for a special two-night run at The Lucas Theatre.
A hometown show is special enough, but the gig is also one of the few that have followed Perpetual Groove’s four-year hiatus. They’re back and ready to play with Passafire like the good old days at Loco’s.
We chatted with Perpetual Groove keyboardist Matthew McDonald and Passafire’s Ted Bowne about forming in the Savannah scene, the new material they’re working on, and a grand homecoming.
On forming in Savannah:
Matthew McDonald: Brock and Adam went to SCAD, and Albert and I met them at J J Cagney’s on Bay Street at an open mic. They were already doing Perpetual Groove stuff with a different drummer and keyboard player. Albert and I were stationed at Fort Stewart, we were musicians in the Army. We got to know a lot of the SCAD community through Brock.
Ted Bowne: It was really just coming together, playing music for fun. We had the SCAD recording studio at our disposal, found different people who were down to play, then we decided to take it to the local bar scene and get paid to do it.
On the early sounds:
Bowne: Earlier on, we focused on mostly trying to make reggae music with a little bit of rock and jam influence on it. We’ve dabbled in folk, and an acoustic sound all the way to electronic sounds, but we’ve always kind of been very into dub.
McDonald: I was a musician in the military. The majority of us went to college for music. At the time, they needed musicians pretty badly, especially rhythm section players, piano, drums, guitar, bass. I played around Savannah outside the Army, all sorts of jazz gigs, before coming to Perpetual Groove.
On Savannah’s music scene in the bands’ early days:
Bowne: That was when Loco’s was in full swing. Some of our first shows were there, before Livewire was a thing. Brendan Robertson, our sound engineer, started running sound with us when he was 17 years old there. Then the Robertsons broke off and started Livewire on River Street. Livewire was Cheers. We’d get home, walk in that place, there’d be a beer waiting. Hospitable, shows were great. We miss that place. They started another place up in Athens and are promoting shows in this area, we’re really happy they’re the ones promoting this show.
McDonald: Savannah was really great for the early years because it’s its own bubble. There’s not necessarily a ton of bands coming out of Savannah, while at the same time, there’s a ton of music being made in Savannah. The city let us become us and do our own thing. In Atlanta, even in Athens, where I’ve lived for over 10 years, you can get swallowed up really easily—there are so many bands. I think that helped us a lot, hailing from Savannah early on.
On new material:
Bowne: We’re going in the studio in November to lay down what we’ve been working on for the past year or so. We have a few sessions and enough songs to go into the studio and make an album. We’ll be making it at The Garage Savannah...those guys are really hospitable.
McDonald: We’re hitting the studio in our down time in November. We just put out an EP, and right now, the master plan is—which, these things fluctuate, to say the least!—to record another five, six songs and next year release those as a B-side to a vinyl. So, basically, Side A will be the EP we put out, plus a song we did last year, ‘Paper Dolls.’ We’ll release all the new tunes on the second side of the album. The plan right now is to do a vinyl release first and, shortly after, make it digital.
Coming with age and experience, we’re writing the best stuff we’ve written in a long time right now. Even out of Perpetual Groove, we’ve spent lots of time in the studio with other acts. I’m on Brantley Gilbert’s album, Adam’s done different bands in Atlanta and engineering. I think the more time you spend in that environment, no matter who you’re with or what type of music it is, it adds to the color palette.
On returning to Savannah:
Bowne: We made it our home base for 13 years. I was one of the last to be living there and just moved to St Petersburg, Florida. I love it, it’s great down there. I love Savannah, but it’s my college town, and I’d been there for 13 years. I needed to get out. I’m excited to get back and visit, hang out with friends, and eat Zunzi’s. This is our first time getting to play for our alma mater, basically. The Lucas is where I graduated—it’s going to be cool to play on the same stage I walked across. We’re very excited to come back and play to SCAD students with our friends.
McDonald: I’m super-stoked to come back to the Lucas Theater. We did a New Year’s show there around 2004, I’m excited about playing that and working on the acoustic set at Southbound.