May 3rd, 2007
The Dave Matthews Band (DMB) returns to Brisbane tomorrow – only the second time the world’s most successful jam band has played its unique brand of grassroots rock for Australian audiences.
It has been 15 years since DMB began playing at frat parties, schools, debutants and pubs – but they still pack a punch, as a packed crowd at the Brisbane Entertainment and Convention Centre will find out tomorrow night.
However, their style has gone through a considerable transformation over the past 15 years, with its funky, raw garage sound gradually from the ’90s now almost verging on pop.
brisbanetimes.com.au entertainment reporter Scott Casey speaks with bassist Stefan Lessard about the band’s Australian tour.
SC: So how did it all begin for you with Dave Matthews Band?
Stefan Lessard: My music teacher in high school was a good friend of Dave. Three guys – Le’roi, our saxophone player, Carter, our drummer and Dave – knew each other very well. At the time, I was just starting to play bass guitar and there weren’t many bass guitarists in our town, so my teacher suggested they try one of his students, and here I am. I’ve been in the band half my life – I was 16 when I joined and I’m 32 now. I’ve grown up with this band since I was a pretty naïve 16-year-old. Being in the band has taught me a lot and brought so many wonderful experiences to my life, it’s taken me around the world. I’ve only played for a few other people on the side, so really I’m a born and bred member of Dave Matthews Band.
SC: How would you describe the band’s style?
Stefan Lessard: The band and our sound is heavily bass orientated – I would call it very organic music. The players all play what they mean, we all play from our hearts.
SC: How has the band evolved over the past fifteen years?
Stefan Lessard: Musically we’re still evolving. A few key points is that when we first started playing were a band of drums, saxophone, violin, guitars, vocal and base. That was a pretty unique combination at the time and I think the sound of a saxophone and a violin really made us, put us into our own category. This past year we’ve been travelling with a keyboard and a trumpet player, so I think we’ve got a fuller sound coming out of the band now. As far as our music I think Dave’s voice has progressed – he’s got more power in his vocals than in the early ’90s. Back then I could hardly play 16th notes, now I can. I think we’ve grown a lot tighter.
SC: You are a jam band – are a lot of your fans musos?
Stefan Lessard: Yes, absolutely. Our fans will pick apart our music and there is always argument from our hardcore old time fans who say what are we doing is good or bad or contrived, but it keeps them interested. You can throw them a curve ball by writing an almost poppy love song then the next thing that comes out sounds like something written in the early days of the band. With our band, the instrumentation is so interesting that you almost can’t help picking it apart. A little hint is a line in the song Typical Situation on the album Under The Table And Dreaming. There’s a horn part in the distance towards the end … in reality it’s not a horn, it’s myself playing an overdub on a machine called an Eventide with my bass guitar. But there are a lot of secrets like that hidden in our music.
SC: Your fans are very committed and the band seems close to them. How did DMB create this atmosphere?
Stefan Lessard: At the time we formed we incorporated the bad together- then the five of us started our own merchandise company. Everything was very grassroots. From that we started playing whatever proms, parties, debutantes, fraternities and we kept that going for a long time. We to this day try to make our fans feel like they are part of something rather than just liking our band or our music. They maybe have special memories of something we were a part of or they remember back to when they were in college and they saw us in a fraternity. We see that our fans are some of the coolest in the world, they are very loyal and very honest.
SC: As well as supporting your fans, the group has also done a lot for charity and the environment, like the concert you played at Earth Hour in 1991.
Stefan Lessard: At a certain point when we became more successful and we were in a pretty good level in our career we decided we wanted to give something back to our community, especially in Charlottesville where we started. We started a fund called BAMA works and we’d play benefit concerts and donate the money to it, now it’s becoming pretty big and it funds a lot of different programs in our home town. Outside that we’ve done concerts for schools around the US and recently we offset the carbon emissions of the past 15 years of touring. We are very aware of what touring does to the environment, but we can’t’ just stop touring so we do what we can to make it as clean as possible. Note: DMD used the organisation Reverbrock.org to offset their emissions, which also offsets emissions for The Blue Man Group, Avril Lavigne, Bare Naked Ladies and Sheryl Crow.
SC: So how is the new album coming along?
Stefan Lessard: We’re on a bit of a creative break as far as working in the studio – we’ve been in pre-production for a long time, but we’ll get more serious later in the year.
SC: You have only played in Australia once before – what do you hope to do this time round?
Stefan Lessard: VLast time was excellent – we played a lot of smaller places. That was a lot of fun, we had a great time and I couldn’t wait to get back. They can look forward to an awesome show, we’ve been off the past two months so we’re a little fresh and that’s a good thing – we’re not accustomed to each other. We’re going to be playing our asses off … and I’m not kissing ass when I say I could spend a long time down here.
SC: So what do look forward about Brisbane?
Stefan Lessard: I didn’t have much time to explore last time, but we have a little more time on this tour so I’m looking forward to seeing what trouble I can get myself into.