March 1st, 1994
by Robert Beverly, Hampden-Sydney in Music Monitor, issue #58, march 94
Dave Matthews is a busy man. Three years ago, he was a self-described "bedroom guitarist" in Charlottesville who had performed in public maybe five times. Now, he's filling clubs with a hot band and a new RCA record deal. Their first CD, Remember Two Things, sells as fast as great big Bama Records can press it.
The Dave Matthews Band is not on a roll because they're the musical flavor of the month. They're on a roll because they're good. A couple of weeks ago, Dave and I tried to asses the past, present and the future in 25 minutes or less. We started with the future- recording their major label debut.
"We'll have two months, which is just- heaven. The only studio work we've done has been like, 'Okay, we're going to record an album- you have four days.' And it's really hard to get anything going."
While live performance is where the band has make it's reputation (and most of R2T) the roas leaves little time for steady writing or finetuning arrangements. "At the rate we've played in the last year or two, we could probably count rehearsals on one hand. If I write a new song or we come up with somehting at soundcheck, then I'll play that, or we'll play that, until the band knows it and everyone can slowly add themselves."
So just what can we expect, then, from teh DMB set loose in a studio?
"This band can be as strong, or stronger, in the studios as we are on stage. We play other instruments. LeRoi will be able to bring out his flute and penny whistles and oboe. And Carter's a great conga and timbale player." As for Dave, "I just plunk on the piano, but i like plunking. I don't want people to say, 'Hey, I've already got all that stuff on my bootleg.' I'd like to put out a record that doesn't sound like us live, for that reason- one that has the power of it, but has a little more clarity."
Of course, the other instrument involved is Dave's voice. His vocal style came partly from trying to fill out the sound back in his bedroom and partly from music across the ocean. "A lot of African vocals have turned me on. I don't understand what they're saying, but I understand how they phrase things and how the words sound, so I think percussion and rhythm is probably the biggest influence."
Dave's interest in music started with hearing the records his parentsplayed (mostly classical and rock and roll). There were some formal lessons, but "I was a bad student, as I was with any other activity that concerned teachers," he confesses. "My mind would wander to the trees outside, rather than to whatever was at hand. So most of my training has come from people that I've known who have turned me on to cool music."
I asked Dave whether his extensive travel growing up had an impact on his songwriting. The key, as good writers know, is being open to one's environment, no matter that the location. "Being in England, Europe, New York, wherever you are, there are things. Even air in a different place and the way people talk can be an inspiration."
It's hard to avoid the irony of his native South Africa's struggle and the diversity- black, white and native american- within the Dave Matthews Band. "Any place has its problems with community. We have all those problems, too, but it's like any other family or any other business.You just get along with each other and as much as you want to be in eachothers' hearts, you are."
So did this band just show up at Dave's door? No. Dave assembled it to help record a demo. Carter Beauford (drums) and LeRoi Moore(reeds) were veterans from a successful area jazz group, TR3. Friends recommended Stefan Lessard as a young but incredible bass player, which he is. Boyd Tinsley (fiddle), who had his own band, joined later. They got some gigs to rehearse for the demo and then some more gigs, and , "then we looked around after a year and said, 'Oh, we didn't end up as a studio band.' So we didn't really intend this, but that's what happened, which is great."
Sounds great, but in the age of Nirvana, where's the electric guitar? It's simple, really. "I didn't want to play it. I wanted to keep it as close to an acoustic band as we could. It's been a healthy thing to develop our abilities together without it, because you can't rely on a wash or on distortion to hide bad notes. There they are. If you screw up, it's in everyone's faces."
Let's suppose Dave Matthews were stranded with three albums on a desert island (hey! It could happen). Here they are; you'll need a pencil. "Abdulla Ibraham, because he's so soothing. "English Settlement" gy XTC- I love their old, dirty sound. I'm trying to think of something a little unusual, so when you're on the desert island you don't maintain too much of the Top 40 mentality. And Trio Bulgarka- it's great music."
While the DMB seems headed for success, Dave has indeed steered clear of the Top 40 mentality. For proof, we can look to the orchestra of crickets and massive thunderstorm at the end of R2T. "There was this huge thunderstorm outside where we were recording. So we just took a blank out there and recorded it. We did the same thing with the crickets."
What, no special effects? "Yeah, regular outside-the-house thunderstorm and crickets." Sometimes the real think _is_ already in your own backyard.