Hopelessly in motion
Fueled by the incessant songwriting of Garrett Gray, the Perpetual Drifters are riding high in wake of new CD
Garrett Gray, the primary creative force behind the Perpetual Drifters, isn’t trying to hump you. He isn’t after your money or your mind and doesn’t waste too much time dreaming of making the big time.
In fact, if his lyrics are to be taken at face value, all he really wants to do is play until his fingers bleed for his friends. After listening to the band’s recently released Hopelessly Devoted, it’s hard to question his honesty.
“There’s nothing in it that’s not truly from the heart,” Gray says of the album. “I’m not trying to get laid or to blow anyone’s mind; I just want to write songs that people can relate to, that I feel and that are close to me.”
The Perpetual Drifters are Gray, drummer Justin Wood and bassist Evan McPherson. Hopelessly Devoted is the band’s second release and first full-length, preceded by 2007’s Peeling Back the Night, an EP that marked the birth of the band. Gray, a Chico native and veteran of local band Clever Linus, returned from school in the Bay Area to pursue a master’s in geography from Chico State and ran into Wood.
“The very first thing we did was start recording,” Wood says. “We worked out the songs during the recording process; we never even played out in the beginning. Then we called Evan to lay down some bass tracks.”
Wood plucked the band’s name from one of Gray’s lyrics, and the trio has endured. If it needs a label, the music can be described as alt-country in the vein of the Old 97’s and Wilco. As with those bands, the music is built around the decidedly literary ruminations of the songs.
“Literature inspires me the most. I’ve always been more into writing than music,” Gray says, citing Jack Kerouac as the catalyst who “lit a fire in me to write.” Gray never stopped and says he writes constantly, likening his songwriting process to the “cut up” style developed by another Beat, William Burroughs. Not to say that he compares himself to or mimics the greats, but rather carries himself with the same self-effacing humility present in his lyrics.
“I write pretty compulsively, and then throw a lot of it on the back burner,” he says. “I’ll come back to songs and find little nuggets and put them together with other songs I’ve written. It’s kind of collage-y, or non-linear.”
“It’s almost like he takes everything and slows it way down to like a snapshot or a still, just a glimpse of something,” Wood elaborates. “It’s kind of trippy, almost psychedelic, the way he’s able to cut out all the craziness going on and focus in on one thing you can relate to. A lot of the lyrics focus on the finer details.
“He’s the most prolific writer I know, he’s got so many songs. And they’re all good; pretty much anything he brings to the table we’re like, ‘Dude, that’s sweet.’ We’ll really love some songs and then he’ll turn around and shitcan them.”
“I don’t really shitcan them,” Gray says with a smile. “They’re still around.”
One thing that’s not still around is the original version of the new album. The band intended to release it in time for a tour of the Northwest last August. After four months of work, it was entirely recorded and ready to be mixed when disaster struck.
“I accidentally trashed it,” Gray says. “The whole thing got erased. That messed me up pretty bad, thinking we can’t do it all again. For a little while I couldn’t even think about trying.”
“I wouldn’t have been surprised if Garrett just gave up playing guitar,” Woods says. “But we did it. We did it all again and it turned out way better, more of what we all envisioned.”
“I think it’s kind of a testament to the songs, that we can still enjoy them after living with them for so long,” Gray says.
Wood says the band is in “decompression mode” for the time being, after spending six months recording a whole album twice over and a tour that carried them 2,400 miles to seven shows in seven days. Near-future plans involve some local shows, mini-tours to the likes of Reno and San Francisco. And Gray is—as always—writing, with an eye on recording new material in the spring.