May 11th, 2005
by James Montgomery
Dave Matthews has done this dance thousands of times over the years. It's not the slight shuffle-jig he breaks into when he strums his acoustic guitar — it's the intricate two-step between musician and music journalist.
And Dave Matthews is known as one of the best dancers in the business. He's down-to-earth, affable and willing to speak his mind on a host of topics. But recently he's soured on the whole thing, particularly in the wake of a magazine interview he did last year in which he put President Bush on blast (calling him, amongst other things "a f---ing idiot") and drew the ire of plenty of Dave Matthews Band fans, who despite their ratty ballcaps and knee-length shorts, tend to be the Volvo-driving, Republican-voting sort.
"I'm not going to apologize for things that I say and things that I think. Maybe I would phrase things a little differently," Matthews said. "But I'm not going to apologize for anything. If people don't like what I'm saying, they don't have to listen. And to be quite honest, I was amused by the reaction some people had."
That interview also thrust Matthews more firmly into the spotlight (mainly because he was promoting his solo album, Some Devil), because while the band he fronts does sport his namesake, Matthews prefers to think of the Dave Matthews Band as a bunch of pals jamming together. But interviewers recently began pressing him on his politics, his solo aspirations and the state of the band that bares his name (after all, they were on "sabbatical" since releasing 2002's Busted Stuff).
And in the wake of all that, on the day the Dave Matthews Band released their sixth major-label album, Stand Up, Matthews is in Times Square, ready to do the dance all over again.
"There was never a point where the band was apart. A sabbatical doesn't mean you give up your job," he sighed. "We were all chomping at the bit to make a new record and make some new tunes. We had a lot of ideas, we thought we'd work with a bunch of different producers, but when we met [producer] Mark [Batson] out in Los Angeles, all the concepts we'd come up with at that point went out the window. It became about getting in the studio and having a blast. It's the first time we exploited the improvisational spontaneity that's in this band."
Batson, known for his work with artists like Eminem and Beyoncé, would seem like the last person Matthews would be interested in working with. But after talking with him, Matthews was struck by Batson's concept of "finishing" each and every in-studio whim. The idea was especially appealing considering the infamous album's worth of song sketches the band recorded with producer Steve Lillywhite but ultimately scrapped (see "Dave Matthews Band's 'Lillywhite Sessions' To Be Busted In July").
"Recording Stand Up was an interesting experience because Mark would tell us, 'You've got to finish.' But it wasn't like labor, it was like, 'Let's just finish everything,' so we could come up with new ideas," Matthews said. "The way we did Lillywhite records, we'd figure stuff out before we'd put it on tape. This was like making stuff up as we were recording. That was the fun of it. We didn't have any homework. If there was any focus, it was to come in empty, to come in and make stuff happen."
And some of the "stuff" Matthews and the rest of the band came up with is the most immediate, desperate music of their careers. The somber, piano-driven "Out of My Hands" is about getting on with your life after 9/11. "Hunger for the Great Light" is a flagrantly dirty tune about sex. And the album's first single, "American Baby," urges the United States to stop with the world-police antics and return to what made the country great in the first place.
" 'American Baby' is about the qualities of America that appeal to the world. The hopeful quality and the romantic quality of Sunday barbecues and playgrounds and hotdogs and baseball," Matthews said. "A lot of people around the world look at that and say, 'That's the beautiful thing about America.' ... That's the hope of the nation. It's not how ass-kicking we are."
And there's a lot of those sort of sentiments on Stand Up. Matthews is clearly upset at where his adopted homeland is heading, but he knows he's got to appeal to those fans in the Volvos, too. So while there's an air of weariness to the album, there's an even stronger current of hope. Because, as Matthews said, it's the hope that gets everyone through.
"I wasn't editing myself, and I didn't go into writing the lyrics for this album with any kind of agenda, but it's on my mind, and I wish it was on more people's minds, that this country, from town-to-town, is very divided now," he explained. "People are taking an us-versus-them mentality. And for us, music is something that we take to across those differences, and to erase lines. Because I think everyone has concerns, and they're all similar, it's just how we get to those places, and whether or not we can justify the means of attaining your goals."
This report is from MTV News.