"Day By Day"
By Jonathan Cohen/Associate Editor, NATN

Try as our staff might, there’s no use arguing. The Dave Matthews Band is one of the most popular groups in the world, owing to a string of multi-platinum studio albums and sold-out concert tours. Indeed, the Virginia-based quintet has moved far beyond the more acoustic, jam-oriented, and smile-inducing sound of early efforts such as Recently and Under The Table And Dreaming in recent years. Along the way, they’ve frequently caught the ire of NATN scribes, who have had little patience for DMB’s move toward seemingly more impersonal songwriting and studio polish.

The album at the center of the latest debate is this spring’s Everyday, which was written and recorded by Matthews and super-producer Glen Ballard in an unprecedented flurry of creativity. However, this necessitated the complete scrapping of prior sessions with longtime producer Steve Lillywhite, recordings from which later turned up on the Internet as an odd, “alternate” album that has divided DMB fans across the globe.

NATN wanted to know what exactly drove Matthews to seek out professional songwriting assistance (and the predominant use of an electric guitar) for the first time, and how he views his band’s continuing musical evolution. Here are the answers from the man himself.

NATN: Was there a moment during the initial sessions for the new album when the band realized it just wasn't working?

Dave Matthews: No. It was a mood. A very serious mood. I can't speak for everybody, but I know I wasn't feeling good. I wasn't writing well. I was feeling as though I was letting down all these different sides: people saying we need more upbeat stuff, more pop. I wasn't feeling that. I just was feeling terrible, you know, about the process at least. The music that was coming out was, I think, some of the best stuff we've written. But the whole mood around it, it didn't have a lot of movement. Or a lot of momentum. It was a little bit sedentary. But there were some beautiful songs, I think some of my favorite songs I've ever written. But I wanted movement. And so, we were halfway done with our summer tour, playing a lot of the new stuff. We'd all sort of been mumbling about changing the situation. We were all going from one city to another and discussion started, and we decided to go with a new approach, you know? Which is, uh, definitely what working in L.A. with Glen and his team brought to the whole process, from the writing, right to the playing, to everything about it. There was a speed to it that we hadn't had before.

NATN: What else made it so different from the first round of sessions?

DM: It was kind of like the earlier sessions, although the process was very different. The, uh, the mood was sort of more similar to our first CD at least. And, uh, I think that came out in the music. And I think it did a lot for us as well. People were saying, “you need to write upbeat stuff.” But that whole idea of making music for someone else was just.. it just made me sick, you know? And, uh, so then when I took that pressure off myself, or when Glen took that pressure off me, and then suddenly it was just a process of joy, then that all changed. I was just writing to have fun, you know? And when I say fun, I don't mean that tritely. I just mean the real joy of the process. The creative process can't be burdened by things outside for me. There has to be that spontaneity and that creativity, and that really came about.

NATN: I’m curious if it was a major decision for you to enlist Glen Ballard to co-write with you.

DM: Well, see, it wasn't like a big decision. This is part of what happened there, that it was spontaneous. I didn't sit back and say, “I'm strangled, I feel stifled, I'm going to work with somebody on the writing.” It wasn't anything like that. That's back in that sort of mind set of, “What I need is ... the cure for this is,” you know, that kind of process bullshit, which is not what it was. I went out there with eight completed songs and four near-completed songs, and that's what we were going to work on. Maybe we'd write a few more to add to that pile. But we just started writing. They're not little songs. I think musically, the melodies are really interesting, and the progressions in the music are really unusual. I think it's challenging. So I don't feel like we're just putting 'em out, mass producing 'em.

There's a lot of different places that we went to on this record that we haven't been to before. Writing with Glen, both of us were equally surprised by it. It was only right up until we got to 10 songs that we stopped talking about which songs of the earlier ones [would be used], then we sort of stopped talking about using those [entirely]. We suddenly realized we have 10 songs and we don't have to use the other ones. We were having fun. We got lost. In a week and a half, we wrote an album. We didn't even sit down and suddenly go, “uh, what songs are we going to bounce out?”

NATN: So every song here arose from this kind of spontaneity?

DM: All of them did. There's not a song on the album that in the writing -- really getting a whole sketch of what the song was going to be like -- that took longer than an afternoon or an evening. A couple of them took half that.

NATN: Have you ever experienced a flurry of creativity like that before?

DM: No. I think over the last few years it has been sort of a steady sort of stifling for me, because of that feeling as it grew more and more.. even on the record before this, I was sort of trying to write to impress those around me.. trying to write, uh.. not that the product is bad, but it just makes it hard to squeeze out of a really precise process like that. Whereas if you just swing the doors open and it's just for fun, it's a very different process. I mean, there have been times when I've had flurries, when I've written songs in a morning, and it comes quickly. And the feeling is usually something where the song takes you. It's not forced. Then it happens quickly because it's just flowing. That was the feeling Glen and I got when we were working together. It was so effortless to let flow out.

NATN: What were some of your points of inspiration for the lyrics here?

DM: I think all of the normal ones that inspire us. Love, passion, I don't know.. all things. I think the songs are pretty self-explanatory. I don't think there's a need to explain them. I think they were inspired by the things they're talking about.

NATN: The song “Mother Father” seems like a bit of a continuation of the themes of “Don't Drink The Water.”

DM: Yeah, I guess self-searching, and searching somewhere else. I mean, don't you ever look outside at smoke billowing out into the sky and think that's somehow odd? Don't you.. when you're driving down the road and you see an animal smashed across the road, or a dead deer or something, don't you ever think that's a little odd? You know, you can explain to yourself in endless detail why that stuff happens, but surely at the bottom of all of us, there's a reasonable side of us that says that's not necessary, you know. We spend so much of our time distracted by bullshit television and bullshit politics. We take all of this sort of semi-reality that we've developed so seriously. You know, global warming: we'll take it seriously when we discover its economic implications. What kind of bullshit is that? So we get lost. Looking at it from a child's innocence at that sort of picture, it doesn't make any sense. If you could take all of those things, and put them into a child's head, someone who hasn't been made cynical by experience, you know, would they say why is it like that? I can't believe there's anybody who doesn't have a moment of clarity in their day, or their year, when they go, “wow this is really fucked up.” So, that's what it's about.

NATN: I’d like to know your overall thoughts on the sound of this album. I think the sonic difference may surprise some hardcore fans. The songs seem a bit more edgy and immediate, compared to something like “Pay For What You Get” from Under The Table And Dreaming.

DM: Well, it's hard to say how we've evolved, having been part of it. It's hard to stand back and be objective. The sound has evolved, but it has evolved with our five personalities. We get to know each other better and better, and how we play together. I certainly know that I.. I write, now, much more. This is not intentional. I don't say, “what is Stefan going to play or what is Carter going to play,” but when I'm writing, I can hear all of them, you know what I mean? They're certainly an inspiration for how I write, whereas maybe 10 years ago, it was really different from that. I think lyrically I'm getting more focused, or trying to become more focused, not trying to squeeze as much into a smaller place. I'm trying to work on themes. I think I started developing that earlier this year with the stuff that was.. I don't think it was as moving, or as outward-facing as this album is, but I think lyrically it was focused a little more. I think that came across on this album too, sort of a less-is-more idea.

NATN: Will you be playing electric guitar live? Is there any doubt that the band will be able to replicate the album tracks?

DM: The sound on the other albums is pretty fat. There's electric guitar, and guest musicians, and piles of sax and piles of violin. It's not like there weren't overdubs on any of those. And it was just the five of us on this album. If there's any band that can [reproduce the songs live], it'll be us.

NATN: Is it a bit odd for your type of music to be filling stadiums? Do you ever long for smaller venues? Or what about touring acoustically with Tim Reynolds again?

DM: Well, we haven't talked about it, but Tim is one of the finest musicians in the world, so I hope I work with him for the rest of my life. But, um, I think where we are.. we've always played wherever we can. The real challenge is not rejecting that to me and saying, “no, let's go play tiny venues.” It's trying to make those big places seem smaller, and make the person sitting in the back row feel like they're part of the show.

NATN: Do you feel the band jams less than it did in the early days?

DM: In some ways, it has developed differently. We have [jammed] more than we're doing [now], so maybe things have become refined. When we first started, we'd play an hour-long set and we only had four songs, and you have to do something to fill the time. In that sense, yeah, we did jam. If you're playing a frat party from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. and you only have 10 songs, you don't want to play the same songs again, so you just let things go. We fall into that groove every once in a while, but you also have to keep people there, keep them present. There's a balance we still ride between, uh, becoming staid and playing the same thing, and being totally oblivious to the fact that there's an audience there. We have to ride between that.

NATN: Tell me about the band’s decision to make the single “I Did It” available as a legal download on Napster. Do you use the service yourself?

DM: Well, I can tell you what my opinion was and why I thought it was a great idea. First of all, Napster would never have come about in the hands of Sony, or Warner Bros. They would never have developed that sort of thing. It's going to be some kid, like how it is. You can't stop it. You can't push away the future. You have to progress. How do you stop a river? You can't. You can pause it with a dam, or litigation, but you can't stop it. You have to embrace the idea. However we can get music around the world faster, it will open gates for a lot of people. There will come a way of tracking it better, a way to, not control it, but be aware of what's going across. I'm not really a computer whiz, but I imagine that will happen. I don't use Napster, but I can't say completely no, because other people have [used it] on my behalf. I just don't spend a lot of time on the keyboard.

NATN: Are you of the opinion that someone searching Napster for some rare Dave Matthews Band track has already bought all the legally available stuff anyway?

DM: Oh, yeah. I think that's obviously going to be the case. People that want to hear unusual music and strange things can get access to that. Clearly there will be the other side, but I don't think it will be that extreme unless there is some sort of revolt. Of course people can put an album on it, and people will download that, but I'm not worried about that. I think people like to go and buy CDs, at least for now, until the quality of the delivery on Napster gets better. Personally, there's obviously good and bad things about it, but I think you have to embrace the future. Anytime anarchy gets a legitimate foothold, it's a good thing.

NATN: Are there any old school songs, for example the numbered ones, that have yet to be recorded in the studio?

DM: Yeah, there's things. I can never keep track of the numbers. But there's things that just fall into my hands from times gone by.