Dave Matthews: Stand-up guy
August 19th, 2005
By GENE STOUT, SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER POP MUSIC CRITIC
Your neighborhood rock superstar isn't going anywhere, except `heaven's amphitheater
Dave Matthews' Seattle fans can relax. The rock superstar isn't leaving town.
"I don't have any plans to leave, and we haven't put our house on the market," Matthews said cheerfully this week.
"My wife is done with school, but we're attached to the city. So as far as I know, unless there are some changes that my wife has not informed me of, we have no plans to leave."
Matthews, a native of South Africa who grew up in Virginia, moved to Seattle a few years ago when his wife, Ashley, came here to attend medical school. Despite speculation that Matthews would move away after she got her degree, Matthews said the couple have formed a bond with the city and have many friends here. And the couple's twin daughters, Stella Busina and Grace Anne, were born here in 2001.
"When I'm not working, we spend most of the year (in Seattle)," the singer-guitarist said in a phone interview this week.
"But we do visit (Charlottesville) Virginia. We have a lot of roots that we put down there. But it seems like our family started here in Seattle, so this is my home now. That's how I feel about it."
Matthews has become a big fan of the city, which fits his temperament and political views.
"Absolutely, that's one of the big reasons I like it here," he said. "It doesn't have a vicious quality to its political beliefs. But it's still strong-willed.
"I just feel that for so many reasons, this is a really unique American city."
The Dave Matthews Band -- Matthews, bassist Stefan Lessard, saxophonist LeRoi Moore, violinist Boyd Tinsley and drummer Carter Beauford -- performs tonight, Saturday night and Sunday night at The Gorge as part of the group's summer tour.
Matthews was on his way to a show in Sacramento when he called Tuesday.
Friendly, upbeat and occasionally irreverent, Matthews -- whose band has sold more than 30 million albums and is among the world's top-grossing touring groups -- talked about the inspiration for songs on the band's current album, "Stand Up"; his affection for The Gorge, which was the subject of a live CD/DVD last year; and the challenges of keeping a band together after 15 years.
He also talked about the importance of speaking out politically and of Cynthia Sheehan's antiwar protest in Crawford, Texas.
The night before leaving for Sacramento, Matthews and his wife celebrated the twins' 4th birthday with a cookout at their home in Wallingford.
"We had a crazy birthday party," he said with a chuckle. "There was an orgy of presents from all their little friends and neighbors."
It was a night that Matthews and his family savored. The band has spent the past 13 summers on the road and will be on tour through Sept. 11.
The current tour included the recent, two-day "Island Getaway" on New York's Randalls Island, drawing about 60,000 people.
By playing host to its own rock festival, the Dave Matthews Band has become part of a growing trend in destination -- as opposed to touring -- rock festivals.
"Obviously, Woodstock was the original one. That's the beacon for what they can be," Matthews said.
"But when we first toured in Europe, we discovered all these different festivals, from Glastonbury to Reading to Roskilde, and people would come from different countries and camp out."
The Dave Matthews Band's first trip to The Gorge, however, was as part of the touring H.O.R.D.E. festival in the mid-1990s. The band fell in love with the scenic, remote venue near George and after H.O.R.D.E.'s demise, returned to play its own shows there.
The Gorge since has become one of the band's most popular tour stops, regularly selling out multinight runs. Last year, the band broke its previous attendance record, selling 61,337 tickets for three shows and grossing $3,143,255.
House of Blues, which operates The Gorge, presented the band with a "Georgie Award," a statuette of George Washington honoring the sales milestone.
In last year's "The Gorge" CD/DVD, Matthews called the venue "heaven's amphitheater."
"It's just a magical place," he said. "It's one of those places you can't really compare to anything else."
The tour is loaded with songs from the band's current album, "Stand Up." Among them are two of the CD's best songs, "Dream Girl" and the soaring "American Baby." Matthews said the songs are a joy to play because they were created spontaneously, without a lot of advance work.
"Dream Girl" was the first song the band finished.
"The music came very quickly," Matthews said. "While I was driving home from our studio, I came up with the lyrical idea. My drive back to the studio the next morning cemented it a little bit in my head. But when I walked in, I had no idea for a melody, just a story idea."
Producer Mark Batson, who will work with the band when it returns to the studio next year to record its next album, immediately encouraged Matthews to try improvising the rest of the song.
"He said, 'Why don't you go in there and sing it now? Don't even wait.' I was hesitant for a moment, but then I just went in and sang it. So it has a sort of conversational quality to it, sort of a confessional quality that I don't think would have come out had I written it down very carefully and thought about what melodies I was going to sing."
"American Baby" reflected Matthews' views of the Iraq war and America.
"While we were making the record, it seemed to be a very divided country -- over the war and the handling of the war and domestic things," he said. "That song more than anything else is focused on not forgetting what makes America the envy of the world, as opposed to the scourge. I always want to remind people that there is a quality to America that is still envied and that that's the sort of thing that needs to shine."
Last fall, Matthews joined Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam, R.E.M. and other high-profile bands for the Vote for Change tour aimed at ousting President Bush.
"I just felt very strongly that I had to stand up," Matthews said.
"There were people who said, 'You should shut up and sing.' But I really don't like the idea that in this self-proclaimed free society that anyone would tell me when to stand up and when not to. To suggest that anyone should shut up for whatever reason is so anti-American."
Matthews said he supports Sheehan, the California mom who is on a campaign to meet face-to-face with President Bush during his vacation at his Texas ranch.
"I think that it's great that she's doing it. It's a thorn in the foot of the Bush administration, however small. Whether it's a fatal blow that is struck or not, I think it's really important to rattle the cage."
Matthews and his bandmates remain committed to each other. "We're told that commitment is some sort of macho thing," he said. "But it's about putting yourself aside, putting your freedom aside and putting your own ego out of the way so that you have this common ground that you have to work on. And that's not easy."
Matthews knows the band has been lucky.
"There are ups and downs in any relationship. We've been lucky that on occasion the light shines on how fortunate we've been. We're going through a really great period in our relationships and friendships.
"We're trying to make the most of that because no doubt there will come times when we'll want to choke each other."