February 1st, 2004
An Inteview with Dave Matthews.
The jam-band superstar on solos, file sharing and his bathtub built for a crowd
PLAYBOY: Why would Dave Matthews of the Dave Matthews Band have to do a solo album?
MATTHEWS: Yeah, I thought about that. It comes back to the idea of the badly named band, the lazy guys who said, "Fuck it, we'll just call it the Dave Matthews Band 'cause you're in the front." We never had the foresight to change it, and I think our fans know that the band really is the five of us and that taking the four letters away from the end of our name does make it a really different thing.
PLAYBOY: What was the band's real reaction to the solo album, Some Devil?
MATTHEWS: It's not like there was a big discussion. I wanted to put some songs down. Some are very acoustic, some are with other people. I wanted to sit there and go, "What do I do next?" It was like having a day job: Wake up in the morning and go to the studio and mess around and get embarrassed by my own incompetence. I really want people to know how at home I am in this band that I've been a part of for so long. It's good to stick your head out of the water sometimes.
PLAYBOY: You're as big a rock star as this country has. Do you ever wish you were more of a celebrity?
MATTHEWS: As I get older, when I walk past a group of teenagers I do start to think, Will they recognize me or am I an old-timer? And they often don't. But I cover myself by saying that if they were 25 and listened to my record, they still might not recognize me. I'm Johnny Boring. I work so fucking hard at being a regular guy -- 'cause I'm as regular as an orange fiery turd flying out of an elephant's ass. I don't feel regular at all, but I make an effort to be as regular as I can. I don't know why, but it seems important that I don't get a house behind a wall, that I don't insist that my Pepsi be at exactly the right temperature -- because I'm really terrified of what a pathetic existence that is.
PLAYBOY: So you're scared of fame?
MATTHEWS: It's so pathetic to get that far away from the fact that your shit stinks. It's almost paranoia, not to venture too far from what I think is normal. I'd rather not be too different when I get to the end of this strange ride than I was in the middle of it -- which will probably fail miserably. I'll probably say, "Why didn't I wear a pink tuxedo and take it up the crapper from that guy, just to see what it was like?"
PLAYBOY: Surely you've gone in for some rock-star indulgences.
MATTHEWS: The bathtub in my house in Virginia is made from three old cast-iron tubs, the ones with the feet. I had the middle of one and the ends of the two others glued together. I always said that if I had the money I'd get a long bathtub here in America. In England they like to lounge in the bath. In France they don't take baths often, but when they do, they like to lounge. But here everyone takes showers because they're so busy. I want a bathtub that, if I ask my wife to climb in, she can get in there with me. It's a hell of a tub.
PLAYBOY: You sit at the top of a company -- the band, a merchandising company, a ticket agency -- that generated more than $85 million last year. Do you run it all?
MATTHEWS: There was a time when our T-shirt operation was in the garage of the management company, next door to the room where the agent was. I knew everyone who packaged the T-shirts and everyone who designed the posters. But it's not that way anymore, and it's not just me involved in that business anymore. It is impressive, but I'm not real involved with a lot of it, except sometimes I say, "I don't like that T-shirt." I hope everyone is being treated well, and I think we're good with the insurance policies. I know we're better than Wal-Mart.
PLAYBOY: If you put out some crazy record, the guy printing the posters may not get a Christmas bonus. Does that enter your thinking as an artist?
MATTHEWS: I do wonder if someday I decided to grow a long beard that I could wrap my testicles in and live in a ditch, if I could survive the guilt. Because what I do is subjective, I can only hope that not everybody thinks I suck. Or that not everyone concludes at the same time, "Man, he sucks now," and then people start losing their pensions. So my theory is that I've got to get into a bunch of other shit; we've got to take this machine and diversify.
PLAYBOY: Diversify how?
MATTHEWS: Cheese, man -- people always like to eat cheese. I might fill the gap that's been created by the lull in the French cheese import market. If there really was justice, there wouldn't be a hole there, but I'll fill it just to keep people from losing their shirts.
PLAYBOY: Do you listen to hip-hop?
MATTHEWS: I listen to a lot of things. I'm as likely to listen to an old Cat Stevens record as I am to listen to 8 Mile. But I love both. I think Eminem is just exceptional. He freaks me out, his shit is so good -- as a writer, a poet. No matter what his casual exterior is, I can't believe he's not sweating to get that music out. It's so obvious that it's crafted like the finest wine.
PLAYBOY: Jay-Z recently said that one of his favorite songs is DMB's "Crush."
MATTHEWS: Are you kidding me? You have no idea how much joy you just brought me, because I love Jay-Z. I hear a genuine kindness and humor in his music. Jay-Z was sitting next to me at a club in Florida, and I didn't have the balls to go up and say, "Man, you're a badass." That's what a spineless prick I am. He was busy, you know. My friends and my wife were like, "Go and say hello," and I'm like, "No, he's busy having dinner. Leave the guy alone." And then after he left I was like, "I'm a dickhead."
PLAYBOY: Your band has always been very supportive of people taping your live shows. Do you look at everyone losing their mind about downloading and file sharing and think, What's the big deal?
MATTHEWS: I could give less than a shit about it. I figure there's a war going on -- even though some people think it's over -- and that's something to worry about. There are hungry people in the world, and that's something to worry about. But whether the flood of technology makes us change the way musicians make money? That's just what happens.
PLAYBOY: Executives at your record label probably don't feel that way.
MATTHEWS: It's not like the record industry is some ancient thing that we have to save. It's a leaf in the wind in some ways. Some of the pensions might get screwed with, but I can always go play in a bar, if they'll have me. Of course I understand the panic of the record companies. I just don't really give that much of a shit.
PLAYBOY: Did you study the Grateful Dead playbook and mimic that relationship with fans as a strategy?
MATTHEWS: I think my manager may have been thinking that -- let people tape it; let people spread the word that way -- because he was more switched on to the Dead than we were. Nobody in the band ever really listened to the Dead. Since the band has been together, people have played a lot of the Dead around us. I do think that, especially early on, Jerry Garcia was a phenomenal songwriter and guitarist. And I'm leaving it there.
PLAYBOY: Are there times when you just get bored mid-jam?
MATTHEWS: I don't get bored. I get angry with myself because I feel like I'm fucking up. I get mad when I have to take a guitar solo. I sort of have fun, but it's like incompetent in so many ways on guitar that it's astounding that Gibson awarded me as a great acoustic guitarist. I'm unusual. I'm sort of inside out, ass backwards. The pressure of the guitar solo is like death laying its hands on my shoulders every time I step out. So I get mad and just thrash away like Bamm-Bamm from The Flintstones -- although he played the drums -- and get away with what I can. But I think I can speak for the band and say we're never, ever bored. Frustrated, angry, afraid, bitter, pissed off, mad at each other, mad at ourselves but never, ever bored.
PLAYBOY: You used to tend bar in Charlottesville, Virginia. Are you good at making exotic cocktails?
MATTHEWS: No. In fact, if a UVA student came in and said, "Can I get five B-52s?" I'd say no. And they'd say, "What do you mean? Can you make one?" And I'd say, "Probably I could make one, but I'm not going to. I'll give you a shot of tequila. I'll even give you the ingredients for a B-52 and five glasses. But if you're expecting it to be layered, you've come to the wrong place." I was very polite about it, but I was just too embarrassed to attempt it while someone else is going, "Can I get a whiskey?" and I'd have to be like, "I'm just trying to layer this B-52 over here. Hold on a second."
PLAYBOY: Don't bartenders get all the chicks?
MATTHEWS: I had long hair and I dressed really badly, which I continue to do -- I just don't have the long hair. But I couldn't get the time of day when I bartended. Occasionally a girl gave me the time of day, which in a way is a good thing, because you know you're getting it for your personality, your charm alone, if you're the bartender. But I did love bartending -- in that place, probably not anywhere else. I liked making people really drunk, getting them really shit-faced. "Are you driving tonight? No? Well, you are going to get fucked-up. You're walking out of here unconscious."
PLAYBOY: You have twin daughters. How did your kids most change your life?
MATTHEWS: I watched my wife give birth to the twins, and that was the most eye-opening experience of my life. I watched a fella get a knife in the side of his head once in South Africa, and I thought the sound and the power of that event was something I would never witness again. And that was nothing next to this. Everyone says this, but it gave me perspective on things. I was interested in seeing what my opinions of the world would be, whether I would become more conservative or the world would become more palatable when I became a father. In fact, it's become less palatable. Before, speaking out was just something of an arrogance, but here's the reason I have to say what I think, because I worry about my daughters. It makes me much more concerned about the world, because when I leave, I don't want to leave a shit stain behind.
PLAYBOY: The majority of your band is black. You spent part of your childhood in South Africa. Do you have an enhanced understanding of diversity?
MATTHEWS: I have to be careful how I say this. The importance of our cultural differences in the band is something that the world has imposed on us. The band is one of the few places -- and I intentionally refer to it as a place -- that I've ever been where we discuss our differences openly, and it has been an enormous inspiration in my life. We talk about it, from very serious conversations to very humorous conversations. There's an honesty that I can have with these guys that I don't think I would have ever had if I hadn't met them and hung out with them. I've learned more about American culture from this band than I ever would have learned had I gotten together with a bunch of high school buddies. I feel truly blessed to be in this band. I'm really fucking lucky.
PLAYBOY: How did your family inform your beliefs?
MATTHEWS: My mother raised us to acknowledge the stupidity of racism and hatred and that peace is unattainable if you give validity to any kind of bigotry. The interesting thing for me growing up in South Africa was that when I came back to America, I saw prejudice all over the place. Racism is a thriving disease in this country. If our leaders believe it's even nearly done, they're delusional. Affirmative action hasn't scraped the surface, and to talk about removing that concept is moronic. Words like freedom are bandied about and waved on flags less delicately than they should be. Freedom is something you aspire to, not something you own. I'm proud to be an American, but it doesn't mean that I'm not disgusted by American behavior. There are bars in England with more wisdom and longer histories than America has. Go get a pint at a place that's five times as old as America: "I'd like a really fucking old beer, please." Hey, I've got a 20 questions joke. Can I tell it?
PLAYBOY: Sure. Take us out with a joke.
MATTHEWS: There's two fellas way out in the woods in Virginia. The name of one is Cecil. It's not important what the other one's name is. They're bored, just trying to kill time while they whittle. The more talkative fella, he says to Cecil, "Have you ever heard of the game 20 questions?" And Cecil says, "Nope." "Well, the way you play is, I think of something, write it down and put it in my pocket, and then you ask me 20 questions and gotta guess what it is. You wanna play?" So Cecil says, "Yeah, I reckon." So the other fella writes down "donkey dick" on a piece of paper, puts it in his pocket and says, "Now you got 20 questions to figure it out." Cecil says, "Can you eat it?" The first fella says, "Hmm, yeah, I reckon you can eat it." And Cecil says, "Well, is it donkey dick?"