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Top band displays works-in-progress onstage

microphone.jpgJune 2nd, 2006

David Lindquist -

news-dmb.jpgThe Dave Matthews Band isn't touring to promote a new album this summer, but concerts tonight and Saturday at Verizon Wireless Music Center may affect the studio recording that will follow 2005's "Stand Up."

Matthews says he and bandmates Carter Beauford, LeRoi Moore, Boyd Tinsley and Stefan Lessard will spend their summer working on songs that are in the running to be included on the group's eighth album (not including live releases). Producer Mark Batson is overseeing studio work that began before the tour launched Tuesday in Missouri. Matthews says it's too early in the process to give a title to the project.

The singer-guitarist added that he's comfortable showcasing works in progress alongside Beauford, Moore, Tinsley and Lessard -- musicians he's worked with for 15 years.

"While we're playing, I spend a lot of time just facing the band," Matthews says during a recent phone call from the band's home base in Virginia. "It's because I'm still just blown away by the level of musicianship that's all around me. It makes me feel pretty safe."

Saturday's show is sold out, but tickets were available at press time for tonight. In 2005, only U2 sold more concert tickets in the United States than the Dave Matthews Band.

The 39-year-old also talked to The Star about playing two-night stands, his songwriting philosophy and private conversations that happen during shows:

Question: The band has played Verizon Wireless Music Center every year since 1996, except for 2001. But you played a solo set that year when Farm Aid came to the venue. I'm guessing you have some good thoughts about this part of the world?

Answer: (Verizon) has become familiar when you walk in, the shape of the room. "Oh, here we are." I love the city of Indianapolis, and you kind of reconnect with things when you're there. It's nice to be able to come to a city that is always so supportive of us. I'm glad we get to do two nights there.

Q: When you play consecutive nights at the same venue, do you have a routine for your downtime that second day?

A: It usually means there's a day off beforehand. So anything we do, we do on the day off. The day of show is usually pretty focused for us. We come in and sound-check the first day just to make sure everything is working. A sound check isn't necessary on the second day, but we get a little time to rehearse new ideas or some changes in the set that will make it -- for the few people that go both nights -- worth their while. If we have two or three shows in one place, we try to change every show so it's almost like doing one long show. If people are coming to one show, they'll have a complete show. For people who are keen enough to come both nights, we'll have two completely different shows -- maybe repeat three or four tunes that we're really into at the time.

Q: If I'm right, you're midstream in the making of a new record?

A: We've been writing, so we've been in the studio coming up with ideas. The feeling is that we had a great time working with Mark Batson on the last record. But it was really a limited amount of time, and the songs evolved after the album was done. So this year we've been doing a similar but more relaxed version of that, with the idea that we'll take the new songs on the road. We've already been practicing some of them so we can let them evolve to a point where we're all comfy with the way we've arranged them and the way they've unfolded on the road. When we take things on the road, songs find their comfort zone or they don't find themselves. For the ones that evolve into something, you have something more exciting -- something that's more concise and expansive at the same time. Particularly with our band, when we play things live they find different arrangements. When you make sudden turns or someone changes the feel or someone feels something different . . . we're never really aware of it. But at the end of a tour you listen to what we started with and you say, "Oh, wow, look at where it's come." To go into the studio after we've played some of this new stuff will hopefully give the album more of a living sound. We'll have two bits: one side that can really exploit the technologies and the universe of recording, and another with a live energy that will start to insinuate itself into the music once we take it on the road. We're actually real excited about some of the new music and the aggression in it. . . . The music is really open. I think that hopefully will breed a satisfying show and culminate in a satisfying record.

Q: I peeked at Stefan's Web site, where he has a bit of journal about the work you're doing. One thing he wrote was, "Get the hook and the song will follow." Is that a guiding principle for this project?

A: In a strange way, yes. One of the things that I feel happens often when you go into a studio and write a song is that you sometimes find a hook and then you beat the hook to death. The nice thing about finding some sort of a core of a song and then working at it is that you can make everything else more exciting around the hook. We're not driven by a specific thing. It doesn't have to be a vocal hook, it doesn't necessarily have to be a chorus to be a hook. One of the things that is exciting about this band -- which doesn't always translate to radio -- is that it could be a horn line or a drum groove that is the hook. But I absolutely think that if you have a strong theme in a song, it's really just taking different routes to get back to it. I agree with (Stefan). I think one of the strengths of the Police, for instance, was that they came up with the choruses first. When you have that, you can run in every direction and then come back to it. So, make the departure from it and then return to it as innovative as possible.

Q: You have a habit of walking back to Carter's drum kit between songs. What do the two of you talk about?

A: Sometimes we talk about how the music is going, sometimes he's sort of a therapist for me, and a lot of the times we just goof off and say enormously inappropriate things.

Q: I know some acts have a microphone somewhere on the stage, where if someone speaks into it all the musicians can hear it. Do you have that kind of thing?

A: Yeah, but we all have them. I wear one on my shirt because I walk around a lot. All of us talk and listen to each other. When we were playing clubs, we could shout at each other. But now that we're more spread out and the general volume is a little louder, it's convenient for us to feel close together. . . . You don't feel as exposed when you can turn around and chat casually from 70 feet away.



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