Dave Matthews Finds Grammy Nods Sweet Reward After Tragedy
NEW YORK — Although the Dave Matthews Band's many achievements include a Grammy Award, getting a trophy has never been the focus of the group, which has blazed an independent path from pop's mainstream.
And it's still not.
But this year, even frontman Dave Matthews is feeling emotional over their two nominations for "Big Whiskey and the Groogrux King," including album of the year, perhaps the Recording Academy's most prestigious award.
"I live in my own tree and I'm pretty out of touch with a lot of what's going on – the mechanics that's going on with the Grammys and the industry in general," said Matthews in a phone interview last month.
"But to get that was a real thrill for me ... because of what the album meant to us and because (of) the loss of LeRoi (Moore) and because of the love that we put into making this."
The Grammy nominations underscore how the band, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, has rejuvenated itself after traumas that have led to the dissolution of other groups: First, creative differences almost tore them apart, then founding member LeRoi Moore died after a 2008 ATV accident.
"This band now as it is, is in a very new and very dynamic, very encouraged phase," said Matthews of the group, which had one of North America's most successful tours last year and is going on a European tour next month. "Overall this last tour was one of the best. The emotional connection and the band and the music that we are making ... is good or as better than we've ever sounded."
It was only a few years that the band – Matthews, saxophonist Moore, drummer Carter Beauford, bassist Stefan Lessard and violinist Boyd Tinsley – had frayed to the point where Matthews wondered if there would ever be new music from them.
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Though the band has sold millions of records and is among the most enduring road acts, frustration was high among its core members – Moore, Beauford and Matthews – after 2005's "Stand Up."
Matthews, in an interview in a busy hotel lobby shortly after the release of "Big Whiskey" last year, recalled the frayed emotions that resulted from years of disfunction during the creative process.
"The things that made the chemistry in our relationship were overshadowed by things that don't really matter musically to us, and shouldn't really matter, and possessiveness and ego, and all those things, they're all real things, get into the middle of what should be a purer, a more purer process, and a more honest process becomes confused," he explained.
Beauford doesn't like to talk about what was wrong: "I feel as though what happens in the locker room stays in the locker room."
But he acknowledged that they had communication issues.
"I've always thought that the band had a solid foundation," he said. "Again, there's some peaks and valleys that you have to deal with and again that's with everything, you just have to deal with those sort of things."
It was Beauford and Moore who helped the band get through their deepest valley.
"The three of us were the ones in disarray, and I mean essentially, the foundation that the band couldn't survive without was gone, and that's when I said, 'I'm done' – that's what blew apart and that's what came back together," Matthews said. "Those two guys basically said – especially Carter – said, `No, no, it's not too late, let's sit down and let's figure it out.'"
After thrashing out their issues, Matthews said the trio became "closer and had more sympathy than we did in the past, and had more care for each other. I had a more eagerness to get in a room with LeRoi after that than I had in years."
Grammy-winning producer Rob Cavallo had started work on the band's next album when Moore was injured in an ATV accident in June 2008. The group was touring at the time, and Jeff Coffin filled in for him (and later replaced him). The plan was to stay on the road until Moore got better so he could participate in the album.
"He had goals. He was like, `I wanna be there by the time we get to Brazil,'" Matthews recalled.
Moore died two months later at age 46. Though devastated, the band played the night he died, and continued after that, more determined than ever.
"To fall apart after Roy's death would have been the greatest way to dishonor him, especially since he considered what we were working on to be our best album to date," Matthews said.
Cavallo said the group's mood in the studio was "still upbeat but there was definitely sort of a missing piece."
"We definitely every day we were aware and thinking about him, because musically there was such a big hole to fill, but at the same time, he really gave us so much before he left," he said.
Fans can hear Moore's presence all over "Big Whiskey and the Groogrux King." Its title references Moore's nickname, "Groogrux," and the album's artwork, drawn by Matthews, features his image. His solos begin and end the album, and his artistic stamp is throughout.
"We took the great things that he contributed to us in philosophy of life and philosophy of music with this album and the gems that he contributed to the music before he died ... and we took those things and we played them harder than maybe we would have ... if he had lived," Matthews said.
Which is why the band's Grammy nominations for album of the year and rock album of the year were so gratifying.
"I felt like we earned it, as opposed to a lot of my other records, I think I would have been more cynical," Matthews said. "It wouldn't have been quite as sweet at any other time in our career for that reason, it meant a great deal, and means a deal to me."
Matthews doesn't expect to win in either category. Still, he views the nominations as another sign of the group's rebirth.
"The spirit of the band right now and the inspiration of LeRoi and the inspiration of the music and the joy that we got from making the record together ... the spirit of where we are right now is awesome."