DAVE TALKS ABOUT MAKING THE ALBUM "EVERDAY" AND HOW IT KICKED HIS ASS
Dave Matthews answers the door of his house, acoustic guitar in hand. "Sorry I didn't
hear you at the door before," he says. "I've been practicing. These new songs are
kicking my ass."
Matthews is loved by many but not by all. The
people--music-downloading, Temptation Island-watching ordinary folks--love Dave. The
Dave Matthews Band is the hottest rock act on the road, and its new CD, Everyday
(RCA), is hotly anticipated. But critics are divided. Some admire the group for its lack of
pretense, its knowledgeable embrace of world-music influences, its mastery of concert
performance in an age when a teen hottie lip-synching to prerecorded vocals she may or
may not have ever recorded for a song she almost certainly didn't write passes for a live
show. But a lot of critics, to put it politely, don't think Matthews is all that great. To put
it not so politely, they think he and his band stink, in a Spin Doctors, two-weeks-old,
dead-Phish kind of way.
"I largely avoid reading critics," Matthews says. Still, he can
quote verbatim from a review that compared America's love of his band with France's
love of Jerry Lewis. His answer is to raise his game. On Everyday, he ventures in a new
direction, with a new producer and a fresh sound.
The inside of Matthews' house is like his public image: straightforward, low key, funky
around the fringes. His wife Ashley (they got married last August) is attending medical
school in the area, and Matthews, 34, spends as much time as possible here, away from
his usual home base of Charlottesville, Va. He is even thinking about starting a family. "I
think I'm fertile," he says. "I'd love to have kids. I'd love to have someone to screw up."
Ashley isn't in right now, but evidence of her is all over the living room. On one shelf is a
textbook on organic chemistry; hanging on the wall near the door like one of Hannibal
Lecter's victims is a life-size paper model of the internal organs of a human being. Hmm.
Maybe this isn't the best vibe for a rock interview. "Let's get out of here," says
Matthews, grabbing a leather jacket.
Matthews isn't the sole important member of the Dave Matthews Band (DMB for short).
There's Carter Beauford, 42, the steady, disciplined drummer. Says Matthews: "One
thing that drives me is trying to impress him." And there's Leroi Moore, 39, the saxman.
"Leroi," says Matthews, "can make me cry onstage with something he plays." There's
also bassist Stefan Lessard, 26, the youngest member. "He's so inventive and melodic,"
says Matthews. And finally there's Boyd Tinsley, 36, the showboating, show-stopping
violinist. If a gig's going slowly, says Matthews, "It's usually Boyd that wakes me up."
Matthews formed the DMB in 1991. Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, he moved to
Charlottesville at age 19 (he had family in the area) to avoid the draft at home. Says
Matthews: "I wasn't interested in joining their army--hell, no!" But he was interested in
music, a passion that dated back to listening to Beatles and Jackson 5 records as a child.
As a bartender at a Charlottesville joint named Miller's, he came across a lot of musicians
and gathered some together to start a band. The DMB won a local following and signed
with RCA in 1993.
The secret to the DMB's success is not its CDs but its concerts. Only the big boys in
rock--Mick, Bruce, Bono--can routinely fill 60,000-seat stadiums. Add Dave to that list. In
2000, according to Amusement Business, the DMB was the country's top-grossing
touring rock band, taking in $66 million.
When a group features a fiddle and 20-minute jams and still draws huge crowds, it has to
be special. From the start--like the Grateful Dead before it--the DMB allowed fans to tape
its shows, spreading the word on its music one cassette at a time. For Everyday, it
released a single on Napster. Says DMB manager Coran Capshaw: "We figured fans
were gonna get the song anyway, so they might as well get a clean copy." In
Charlottesville, the band has an 18,000-sq.-ft. warehouse and a large office complex to
handle the demand for DMB T shirts, videos and paraphernalia.
Listening to a DMB album is like watching the tape of a playoff game--it's not the same
as catching it live. For the new CD, the band recorded a dozen songs with Steve
Lillywhite, who produced the DMB's earlier RCA studio albums and is known for his
work with U2. But then Matthews and his mates decided to shelve that effort and start
over with producer Glen Ballard (Alanis Morissette, Aerosmith). "We were spinning our
wheels a bit--musically the challenge was gone," says Beauford.
The change has been for the better. Matthews, on his previous CDs, played folky
acoustic guitar. "When he walked in my studio in Los Angeles, the first thing I did was
hand him an electric guitar," says Ballard. Matthews and Ballard, in a burst of creativity,
composed 10 songs in nine days. While the shelved songs had meandered, the new
tracks are fierce and focused, powered by Matthews' electrified lead guitar lines.
"Usually we play a song for two years on the road and then record it," says Matthews.
"It's nice to have an album of songs recorded at the time of their birth."