While thousands of fans were braving the rain around Rockefeller Center last Friday, in anticipation of the Dave Matthews Band's first ever morning television performance, Dave was sitting down with Matt Pinfield and Leslie Fram of The NY Rock Experience. Dave talked with the radio hosts for over 40 minutes before graciously apologizing that he had to run, as if he was on the way to get his dry cleaning rather than entertain on national television! The interview spanned the making of “Big Whiskey and the Groogrux King,” including the creative process of the band, the terrible loss of LeRoi Moore, and several insights into individual songs. Listening to this for yourself is a must, but in the meantime here are some highlights from the broadcast.
Dave starts off declaring “Big Whiskey” as “one of the best records we've ever made.” He openly admits that the “weird, unique and...accessible” energy that the group transmitted up until and around the time of “Before These Crowded Streets” was missing in the last two albums, noting that this one is “sort of like the fourth record.” Dave joyfully recounts the way that the men fell back in love with making music and with each other under the focused but spontaneous guidance of producer Rob Cavallo. Starting in their Charlottesville studio, and continuing in Seattle and New Orleans, the musicians found themselves working in ways, and conditions, that were reminiscent of their earliest days.
Dave also sheds light on how interpersonal annoyances, “little things becoming big things,” had started to spread and affect the ambiance over the last few years. Clearly the unexpected death of LeRoi had a profound impact on the band as well, but while many of us might assume that this event catapulted them into talking again, Dave reports that the mending started well before LeRoi's accident. It seems that about a year prior to LeRoi's passing, the members joined forces, put everything on the table, and thankfully, remembered what had brought them together in the first place. Dave also tells of LeRoi's transformation from a “really dark and burdened” man to one who was able to see his own light and acknowledge the positive aspects of life. Dave observes how grateful he is “for the space that the band is in right now,” noting that had LeRoi passed two years earlier, he isn't certain that the group would have survived the loss.
Of the cover art, Dave sheepishly admits to being the artist. In his characteristically humorous way, he skirts the issue of his amazing talent by discussing an upside down boob hidden in the scene. Eventually, he does disclose that the drawing is of a Mardi Gras parade and that LeRoi is the King.
Dave makes it very clear that “Big Whiskey” is full of spontaneity, improvisation, and life. Several of the elements in different songs like Tim Reynold's guitar solo, and parts of Dave's vocals from “Lying in the Hands of God,” which were recorded at 4:30am by an exhausted Dave, were first takes. Although the band had previously worked on 25 songs, an early decision to start from scratch meant that everything would be fresh and new. The one rule that the group abided by while practicing was not to talk in order to create a nonjudgmental and open atmosphere where sounds could emerge organically. Likewise, the decision to jump straight from LeRoi's saxophone solo to the high energy “Shake Me” was one that grew out of the process. The fact that it worked was an unadulterated act of magic. Although Dave sees “Shake Me” as the lightest song lyrically, he admits that it “beat the crap” out him because it was the first one that he wrote.
Dave goes on to describe various aspects of each track. Of “Funny the Way It Is” he points out his enjoyment of piecing things together that don't necessarily fit. He calls “Squirm” a “joyful skin rubbing song” that was influenced by the movie “Cannibal Holocaust.” He recounts the story of his daughter Stella asking, “Daddy when are you gonna put me in a song?” and how he smartly included his other daughter, Grace's name as well in “Alligator Pie,” a tribute to post Katrina New Orleans. Dave describes “My Baby Blue” as “a song about the difficulty of relationships and a song for goodbyes,” as well as, his monument to LeRoi. Apparently, that tune was meant to be a full band composition, which LeRoi warned Dave against due to the enormity of the chords. Dave reports he wrote the lyrics to “You and Me” on his iphone! A beautiful melody containing enthusiastic “Yeah, Yeah!”s originally meant for Obama, and full of gratitude for his loving family.
Finally, Dave discusses “Why I Am,” a number that grew out of a Charlottesville improv into the foundation of the new album. Interestingly, the two pieces that were kept for the final version were LeRoi's saxophone and the phrase “Why I Am.” Dave reveals how a chaotic mix of sounds fell together into a fantastic vibe, becoming an homage to the Groogrux King, and “what he and his life and his death taught us about music, and the music that he left us with.” Not only is the coming together of disparate parts relevant to this album, but it is also apropos to the revival of the Dave Matthews Band itself.
Hayley Bauman, Psy.D.
Author of Serendipity and the Search for True Self