Carter Beauford: Revisited by William F. Miller
This interview was excerpted from our September '98 issue.
As an MD editor, I've found myself in some pretty interesting situations. One particularly memorable moment occurred last summer during the taping of Carter Beauford's DCI video, Under The Table And Drumming. On the first day of taping--scheduled as the performance day--Beauford was cruising, offering up blistering new takes of Matthews tunes. (He was playing along to drum-less album tracks.)
Unfortunately, a few hours into the shoot the production hit a snag: Due to the fact that there was no audible reference point during the odd-length intro of "Say Goodbye," Beauford had no way of telling when the tune segued from the open intro to the verse. Also adding to the confusion was the drummer's wish to play a massive four-bar, 32nd-note, single-stroke fill around the toms, a measure longer than what's on the original recording. (No question, the man has some serious chops.)
It was suggested (I knew I should have kept my mouth shut) that the only way to make this happen was to give Carter a visual cue. Someone was going to have to crouch on the floor in front of the drumkit, just out of the view of cameras, count several measures, and give Beauford the nod. (I was volunteered.)
With the cue sussed out--give the "hi" sign four bars before the fill--the drummer nailed the involved tune on the second take. Yeah. And while it was a trip for me to play a small part in the taping, it was actually downright astounding to witness such talent from three feet away!
It was a Beauford onslaught: incredibly fast hands, left-hand lead, twisted beats, cross-sticking cymbal crashes, and pile-driving double pedal chops--and all emanating from a wrap-around, multi-cymbaled kit. By the end of the take my heart was pumpin' harder than Carter's!
Everybody knows about the Dave Matthews Band. Something like ten million copies sold of their first two RCA releases, Under The Table And Dreaming and Crash. Even last fall's Live At Red Rocks 8.15.95 has been certified platinum. And the new one, Before These Crowded Streets, will undoubtedly go through the roof. There's something about this band--Dave Matthews' odd lyrics and loopy melodies, violinist Boyd Tinsley's muscular sawing, Leroi Moore's phat sax lines, and bassist Stefan Lessard's reliable undertow--that has connected with the masses. But anybody reading this magazine knows the real secret to their success: the simply amazing drumming of Carter Beauford.
WFM: You stayed fairly busy last year making your educational video, doing a six-week tour, and working on the new album. But you were apart from the band for a while. How did that time off affect things?
CB: We were talking about this the other day. We compared the last few years of being in the band to lifting weights. The band worked really hard recording and touring nonstop--like a weight lifter pumping iron. All that time exercising and breaking down the muscle. But we got to a point where we needed time to chill out and rest. The time off last year let all of the muscles heal and grow, and now we're bigger, badder, and stronger.
WFM: That's a nice analogy, but can you be bit more specific?
CB: Sorry, I was getting a bit colorful there! [laughs] The time off let us get our individual thoughts together so that we could come back to the band and introduce what each of us had been working on--new ideas, new concepts. Because of that I think our music has matured, and each of has really improved on our instruments, too. This new record says exactly what I want to be saying right now for us as a band. The first few albums were great, but even at the time I thought they had that garage band sort of vibe to them.
WFM: What do you mean by that?
CB: All of the notes could have been perfect, all of the licks could have been great, but the records somehow don't seem as finished or complete. This record is more developed, more mature. The music speaks; the music says it all. So, yeah, everything has grown in a major way.
WFM: You sound excited about being back.
CB: Oh yeah! Everybody is. We want to get back on the road and see where things go with this new music. The old songs really evolved and got better as we played them over time. I can't imagine what these new tunes are going to be doing a few months from now. But we all feel like it's time to get the muscles burning and the sweat popping and get it happening, you know?
We are also psyched about doing Europe this year. We are going to do some touring there on our own, and we're also going to do some dates with the Rolling Stones. That will be fun. We did two shows with them last winter, and it was great meeting those guys--you know, meeting the masters of rock 'n' roll. Plus the shows were exciting. Charlie Watts is one of my heroes. He's a bad, bad boy.
WFM: He swings, but I'm surprised to hear that he's a big inspiration of yours.
CB: He swings in a major way. When it comes to rock 'n' roll drumming, that's the way it's supposed to feel.
WFM: Talking about how everybody in the DMB has grown as players during the time off, is there anything in particular about your playing that has improved?
CB: What I see in myself now is that I'm listening with more intensity and not trying to immediately follow up on every lick that I hear. For instance, if Leroi plays something on his horn, I try not to crowd him. I used to just jump on so many of the ideas the other guys would play. Now what I'm trying to do is give it some breathing room, keep the music open, and give it some space. It's important to play the spaces. Silence can speak so loudly.
I think you can hear a little bit of that approach from the drums on the new record. I'm coming from more of a simpler approach, going back to the basics and not playing so much over the top of the music. And to me the music sounds so much more complete and satisfying. Of course, there are a couple of tunes where I guess you might say I do my thing. [laughs]
WFM: What do think made you realize that leaving more space and playing in this more controlled way was a good thing?
CB: When I was home during the break I dusted off some CDs and did a lot of listening. A few things caught my ear. It was like, "Man, that's the way I should be approaching this."
One of the groups I got a lot of inspiration from was Tony! Toni! Tone! I think those guys are from Oakland, and they are some bad boys. I ran across their disc again, popped it on, and boom--the cats were really playing some stuff. I don't even know the drummer's name, but he and the bass player just hooked so well together--not a whole lot of flash, just some laid-back, pumpin' pocket stuff, with a few little things here and there that make you burp up some juices. So I took that inspiration and tried to apply it to the Matthews Band.
WFM: Drummers love all of your flash, but the pocket you lay down is so strong. I think it's the combination of the technique and feel that makes your playing so special.
CB: Thanks. I guess that pocket thing comes from my love of all the old James Brown stuff, especially the stuff with Clyde Stubblefield. I was way into Sly & the Family Stone and Stevie Wonder, big time. And then when the soul bands hit I was really into it--the Bar-Kays, Con Funk Shun--they were all about pocket. And what about George Clinton and P-Funk? That's pocket, man. Dennis Chambers was the master at that, plus he could play anything he wanted to over that feel.
Dennis is my man. He actually called me once when we were on the road, and we had a nice chat. We laughed about how much we looked alike--the twin brothers--well, that is, before he shaved his head! But he's been a big inspiration to me. Dennis is definitely the monster in my book.
Basically I grew up on pocket. When it comes to music, that's the bottom-line rule for me. Growing up, the jazz influences were there as well, but don't forget there's a pocket to jazz too. I'm at a point now where I want to get that into our music in the heaviest way possible.
WFM: Watching the band play last Friday, it seemed that everybody was really digging in and centered on the groove. Maybe you're inspiring this.
CB: I hear people say that, but I won't take credit for it. I'm just so happy with the way the band plays together and excited at how we're going to be sounding a couple of weeks into the tour. We really have grown. When the band started out, the time was not great. We've improved so much. Now everything is locking. Maybe I bring the pocket thing to everybody's attention, but these cats have it in them.