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Rocky Mountain New Interview with Dave Matthews

July 11th, 2008

By Mark Brown - Rocky Mountain News

It's an uncertain time for Dave Matthews Band fans. Longtime keyboard player Butch Taylor recently left the band. Saxophonist LeRoi Moore had an accident on his ATV in late June, breaking ribs and more, which forced a sudden, indefinite exit from the band (Jeff Coffin of Bela Fleck's band is standing in). The recording of a new album is only partially complete, with no release date in sight, three years after the release of Stand Up. Matthews continues to be grateful to the Colorado music scene that gave the band its first toehold outside the East Coast, as evidenced by the Red Rocks stands he's played and his willingness to headline the first Mile High Music Festival. The self-effacing Matthews sat for a long telephone interview with Rocky pop music writer Mark Brown about the state of the band and his life, ending with a good-natured "Thanks for putting up with me."

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How's LeRoi doing?

He's a little beat up, but he'll be OK. He didn't break anything that won't fix itself.

How weird is it going out without LeRoi and Butch?

Butch, of his own decision, decided he didn't want to be here, wanted to pursue something else in his life. We honor that. That's a very different thing entirely from Roi. We've been playing this year, feeling great, working on the record. . . . Being on the road, we've been getting along with each other as a band better than we ever have. This was a real blow; he and Carter (Beauford) and I are the first three people who sat around and said, "We're going to be this band." Not having him there, especially when there's the possibility of him being out for a while, makes it very difficult.

What's up with the new album?

We have a lot of music we've worked on in the past few years . . . that, for different reasons, we haven't come up with a very clear idea of how to move forward musically as a band. Inside the last year, out of necessity, we found more focus and rejuvenated our friendships.

What's the recording process like?

You go into a room, you pick up whatever instrument it is and you start. Then everybody joins in with intention. . . . We did that for a couple of weeks and came up with a hundred ideas. Each one was limited. You could do it for 10 minutes then you just stop. You can't just ramble on forever. We were looking for real honest feels and real joyful discoveries.

And producer Rob Cavallo (Green Day, My Chemical Romance) picked 15 tracks and gave them to you?

We looked at those 15 and said: "OK, this is a nice confined, nice structured homework task. A nice clear job." So we just started with one and worked on changes, a chorus, bridges, whatever. All together, all sitting in a circle, talking through it all. We came up with arrangements for each of the 15, then each day we'd work on the next one and then record it. . . . It may seem a little backward in some ways, maybe a hard way to do something, but it's been really interesting. The thing I like about it is, it's really energetic, a real honest musical element to it, a live element to it, all of us sitting together playing the songs together.

Your history in Colorado is rich, but I'd forgotten that you opened for Big Head Todd and got a big boost.

For whatever reason, (Colorado) was a good launching. . . . It was our one West, sort of, satellite, other than the East Coast. We were doing great business for an unsigned band on the East Coast, touring up and down without any CDs out or anything. . . . We had a lot of doors opened for us by people like Big Head Todd. The Samples were a huge help for us out there. They were doing real well and they really embraced us. They introduced their whole audience to us. That was one of the biggest things, that and Big Head Todd. The Samples really aggressively embraced us into their social scene as well. That was an extremely generous thing for them to do.

With children, movie roles and music, how do you keep a focus?

I'm fairly unfocused. It may frustrate my wife a bit. But I'm also very focused on taking care of my family. I think I speak for everyone in the band: We were doing this for a long time. It's not like we knew a life where we had a job that we came home from. . . . We found our partners and raised our family all while living on the road. That's how we've come to this. Whether it's easy or hard or whatever combination, that's my life.

You've endorsed Barack Obama. Do you see a time when politics returns to a more civil tone?

We're inundated in this country because we're susceptible to media. You can't turn it down, the media din in this country. I think our country needs to get a little bit away from the culture of fear from every side. It's a very defensive, paranoid phase we're going through, whether it's about our food or whether it's people who are different from us or how we're viewed or how we view ourselves. . . . It's this sort of obsession with labeling and categorizing. We should not be so preoccupied, thinking obsessively of how safe everyone is from everything. That breeds an illness. In a way, the culture can manifest its nightmare to come true if it obsesses about it all the time.

You do benefits for various causes all the time, from Farm Aid every year to spur-of-the-moment things like the Katrina benefit at Red Rocks. How do you decide how to spend your time?

I know my manager would probably say it's a more complicated process, but the way that I think of it is, whatever sort of becomes more present and more pressing at the moment. For me, Farm Aid was a combination of things. It was my admiration for the work of Willie (Nelson) and Neil (Young), especially Willie to begin with, then Neil and John (Mellencamp). It was just an admiration of what they're doing and my love of the farm and seeing the dire situation. They're sort of a voiceless demographic. That's what drew me to that. I'm happy to still be a part of it. I sometimes think we need to figure out a way to rejuvenate it a bit, but I still think it has an important application. Other than that, there are things like Katrina - in that situation everybody has to do what they can, especially in the face of such incompetence on our leadership's part. We have to step up.

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