Interview with Dave Matthews in Frankfurt
Von Sascha Knapek
Musicheadquarter had the chance to conduct an interview with Dave Matthews. Prior to the show in Frankfurt Matthews sat down with our editor Sascha Knapek to talk about DMB’s current endeavors in Europe, urban legends and how a Matthews-led supergroup would look like. All photographs by Julian Thesen.
Dave, your current European tour is nearing its end. Tonight is the eleventh show out of 18 and your last one in Germany. Are you satisfied with the audience turnout and how the tour is going so far?
Dave Matthews: Well, it is always nice to play for audiences that are new to us. I feel that in the last few years we have started to make a slow headway in Germany and different parts of Europe, moreso than we have in the past. And I think it’s just timing, it’s sort of the way our career went in the US as well. It’s been a great tour, the biggest crowds we played for here in Europe, that are our own. I am very satisfied, but sorry that this is our last show in Germany. But we played more shows in Germany than we ever have, so that’s a good thing and it’s gone very well. It’s moving into a direction that we wanted to go in Europe and we hope we are giving the audiences a reason to come back when we return.
I can vividly remember that you guys schedueled a tour throughout Germany in 2001, but cancelled because of 9/11. What were the reasons why it took you guys nearly nine years to make another try?
Dave Matthews: Our career grew in the states in a way that was sort of "mouth-to-mouth". Everything was by word of mouth. And though we have now gained a radio career and, to a degree, a television career, it were those things that followed. It was the touring, playing for audiences and introducing ourselves that way, that opened up people to the variety of the music that we play and whatever style it is we play.
We never put that time in here and that’s what we needed to do to be succesful in Europe. And to come back to 2001, it was a hopeful time in a way, but it also was a difficult time in our career, a difficult time for the band. It has taken too long for us to return, but I do feel as if this time the band is in a really strong position. We’re returning to the heart of why we play music, so there is a real desire for us to come and play for audiences that don’t know us. It’s not obligatory like you do well in the states and then you try to expand. For us it’s different, we now all want to go and take the same approach to introduce ourselves to audiences in different parts of the world. I think we’re open to it and I hope the audiences are open to what we’re doing.
In the US you play concerts in front of 50.000 or 60.000 people, over here the average is at maybe 4.000. What’s the explicit difference for you regarding the size of an audience and what’s the difference between European and American audiences?
Dave Matthews: Well, size isn’t that big of a deal for me. Now I sound like a lady (laughs). Yeah, in the states the audiences are bigger, but that’s expected. But sometimes we go to South America where the audiences are smaller, we’re trying to find a new audience and it’s a new experience every time we do that. The amount of people doesn’t matter, for us it’s the same. But what is different, is how audiences behave and that’s different everywhere you go. With our fifteen year long career in the states, we have a pretty strong crowd turnout every night. So the people behave in a way that we’re familiar with – the way they sing, dance. There’s sort of a culture that’s revolves around our touring there. That’s great, it’s fun and I’m grateful for it, but it’s nice to come to a different place where you don’t know what to expect. The audiences we met in Europe – it varies of course –, for example the German audience is very attentive, they listen, they’re very eager, I think. It’s a different way of behaving. In America the crowd is almost louder while we’re playing than in between the songs. Over here there’s energy from the crowd in response to a song, afterwards there’s applause. It’s interesting, there are differences. It feels like a very attentive audience, maybe it’s just because it’s new. Each place we travel to in Europe and every night over here is different. For us it’s just trying to feel as natural and have as good a time as we can in front of the audience. If that’s the case we can leave and feel that we have succeeded in our goal to leave a mark over here.
Have you been able to do some sightseeing during the tour? I bet it’s nice to be able to walk around big cities and to not be recognized every minute, isn’t it?
Dave Matthews: Yeah, we’re well enough known in the states. Most places we go to people will recognize me. But my celebrity over there isn’t that big, people don’t chase me down the street and don’t get too excited when they see me. In fact I’d say people don’t really notice me there either and I can walk pretty freely in the states as well. Maybe right outside one of my shows that might get a little sticky, but overall I don’t really walk around with a large group of people following me. I’m pretty quiet and nobody looks at each other anyways.
But I tell you what is nice over here, it’s seeing all these wonderful cities and get to know a little bit of the history of each city and the new and old and the combinations of that. I’m currently reading a book that takes place in ancient England, when Europe was pretty much run by the Catholic Church or at least when that was a pretty big unifiing force. It’s a pretty popular book called "The Pillars of the Earth" by Ken Follett. It’s fun to be here in all those cities that are ancient but they’re also modern. I see the old cathedrals while I’m reading the book, that’s pretty exciting. And I’m thinking about those cities when they were only mud huts and wooden grass-roof places. It’s remarkable for someone who comes from a relatively young culture to see all this history. We’ve walked around a lot and made a point of trying to get lost in the different places that we’ve been.
I’m sure many of your recording sessions that led to a studio-album produced some tracks that did not make the final cut. I’m thinking about songs like "Get In Line", "#40" or "Deed Is Done". Have you ever thought about putting together a rarities compilation with studio outtakes and stuff like that? Or are those recordings gone for good?
Dave Matthews: There are conversations about that. In fact we’ve been talking about that very recently. Those are three good ones, I should write them down, I forgot about those (Dave then asks for my pen and writes the name of the three songs on a sheet of yellow paper, t. Ed.). "Deed Is Done", I always liked that one, I wonder if I could bring that back and people would like it again. I like it.
And "Get It Line", I remember that one too. We could figure out a way to do that. "#40" always comes up, people always make me play that thing. Those are great tunes. For me most of the time the motivation is to find something new and that doesn’t always work out perfectly. But I think this new record ("Big Whiskey And The GrooGrux King", t.Ed.) was a really successful record for us and in a way it gives us hope for the future. I don’t say "never", but I tend to look forward rather than behind. But those are three songs I have a soft spot for. My manager just sent me a long list of about 40 songs that we have, that we’ve never recorded. He said that I should just think about it. So it’s interesting that you ask that question.
What about the urban legend "MacHead"?
Dave Matthews: Oh yeah, I have to figure out how that one goes. Have you ever heard it?
Dave Matthews: I think I never played it anywhere. That’s another one I’m going to write down. Haven’t thought about it in a while.
Fans have talked about it for years, whether it truly exists or whether it evolved into "Bartender" and all sorts of other theories.
Dave Matthews: No, no, it definatley did not evolve into "Bartender". Dedudehdu (Dave makes some sounds and plays a little air-guitar, t.Ed.). I sort of remember how it went. It was really pretty, but it got shut down nevertheless. That’s an intersting one, another good one, those are all good ones. "MacHead" was a really good one.
Is it true that it is from the "Before These Crowded Streets" sessions?
Dave Matthews: Yeah that’s from the "Before These Crowded Streets" sessions. That’s when we did it. I think we started to work on it, but then we forgot about it, something else came in the way. I remember that we wrote it down on the board. It was a good one. Short-lived, but a lot of things are.
You’re known to tease some songs during the set. You teased "Sugar Will" in Cologne and yesterday night in Amsterdam. Is it just a way to mess with the fans or are you really thinking about doing the whole tune and then abandoning the idea?
Dave Matthews: No, I’m not thinking about doing the whole tune. Sometimes we don’t do certain songs for three years or so. Maybe there are some people that have such a clear mind to do a song like that on the spot, but when you don’t do something for three years, even if it’s something you did well – except for riding a bike, maybe –, it’d be a pretty bold thing to say let’s do this. You might not remember how the hell it goes. But that’s our problem. We all like that song, it’s great. It just fell from habit. Sometimes when I tease a song it’s also to make the guys in the band think about it. I might tease it again tonight, but we’ll have to work it out before we can play the whole tune. Maybe before we leave Europe we’ll do it, but probably not tonight.
(I point towards a list with a lot of song titles on the table in front of us, t.Ed.) So every song on that list is fair game?
Dave Matthews: Sort of. I choose them. Sometimes it’s obvious and sometimes we move around the list. I can choose anyone of those, but the question is if the delivery would be profound.
Your setlists in the states are very diverse and full of changes, but when you look at your setlists in Germany so far the setlist-changes are rather minor. Why is that?
Dave Matthews: One of the reasons is that there are new fans. So I guess we try to play songs that have an automatic strenght in their performance. Maybe they’re a little more aggressive, all of them. But I have to balance it back and forth because I realize that there are a lot of fans that have been listening for a long time in the German audience, so they might want something that we haven’t played. But I have to balance that out with the new audience that wants to hear something from the new record. So I try to figure out a way to do both. I know it’s not perfect, but I have the best intentions. In the end I can just follow myself. We’ll see what happens tonight.
LeRoi Moore, one of the founding members of your band, passed away in 2008. From an emotional standpoint, is it hard for you to perform certain old songs where he played a prominent role?
Dave Matthews: It’s more than that. I feel his absence more in moments of songs and unexpectedly. There are times when I hear something he might have played or I remember a way he approached things. He was a remarkable musician, a remarkable man and a difficult friend. I’ll always miss him. You have to move on, but that doesn’t mean move away. I don’t consciously not play songs because of what memory they serve, but I do find surprising times when I think of him.
You’re not only a musician you’re also an actor. Did you get any interesting scips recently and what’s the next acting job you’re going to take?
Dave Matthews: Well, I don’t know if I’m an actor. But I’m not sure if I’m a musician either. But I like both things, I have fun doing them. One day, I fantisised in my mind that I’ll play a good role. Something that would be a challenge, something that I could be proud of as an actor. Maybe one day.
At the moment it’s just a fun thing to do, a departure. Mostly I do things for Adam Sandler, who’s a friend of mine. So the next thing I’m going to do will be with Adam Sandler. He just called me up and said "come on, be in a movie with me". Each time he’ll give me a little bit more of a role. But he’s fun, a great friend and a pretty awesome guy. He’s a very generous person and I like the way he works. Obviously he’s done some great movies like "Punch-Drunk Love", "Spanglish" or "Funny People", where his roles are serious and where he proved his medal as a great actor. But a lot of his stuff is the celebration of goofiness and stupid stuff. The generousity he puts in those movies is what I admire and like about his freedom and the power of his willingness to have fun for the sake of it. He’s a pretty amazing man.
In 1999 you collaborated with Santana. You were featured on his album "Supernatural". Tomorrow the Legacy Edition of that album comes out and on it is another song that features you and Carter Beauford. The song is called "Rain Down On Me" and DMB-fans might know the tune as "JTR".
Dave Matthews: Yeah, I think there’s a slight difference in the bridge, but it’s basically the same song. I principly wrote the driving part of that song and I think that was one of the reasons why it didn’t make the original record. It didn’t sound like Carlos Santana so much, it sounded – maybe except for the bridge – like us, Dave Matthews Band. I’m excited to see how it sounds, I can’t remember how they did it. Maybe we’re going to bring it back out.
At the end of last year all the hype was about a band called Them Crooked Vultures. A supergroup that consists of Dave Grohl, Josh Homme and John Paul Jones. If you were to form a band with other prominent musicians, who would be some of your favorites on a short-list of candidates?
Dave Matthews: I’m pretty sweet on my band. I got the chance to play with some amazing people. Usually people who stand in the corner rather than the spotlight. The people that go around the red carpet rather than across it. I have been very fortunate to play with some pretty amazing people in my career, but I always return to this band because it’s the one that I’m a part of. My impulse would probably be to get a bunch of great musicians together and build my own supergroup of people who no one has ever heard of (laughs). I don’t know if I would grab a bunch of really famous people and put them all together in a band. When I think of the people I really love that are still playing music I’d say Joshua Redman, Neil Young or Daniel Lanois. There are a lot of great people out there. The ones I just named, maybe they’re not even as famous as I think they are. Well, Neil Young is that famous. That whole supergroup-thing is just outside of my way of thinking.
You are the co-founder of the record-label ATO. Are you still involved in finding new bands for the label and what was the last ATO-band that blew you away?
Dave Matthews: We’re touring with one, a band called Alberta Cross. They’re a cool band, I like them a lot and I’m really glad that we can do a little bit to promote them. More than the fact that they’re on ATO, I love the fact that they’re a young band with their own sound and that they’re working on it. That’s a big thing for me, a band that wants to have an effect.
There’s also a little Irish singer we’re working with. Danny Barnes, a banjo-player, was the most recent person I signed to ATO. He’s a monster! That little Irish singer, I haven’t said her name yet, is Lisa Hannigan. She’s remarkable and I’m really happy that she’s on ATO. Also my friend Vusi Mahlasela is on our label as well. He’s coming up with a new record soon. I brought him over because of my personal connection to him.
I think we’ll keep trying to find music that we think we can be helpful with. There’s no point in signing people whose careers we can’t further. As much as we can be a stepping stone for great people, we’re more than happy to help out. It’s all about the music. It’s also strange time for a record company. Our intension in the beginning was to find an artist to start a record company around. That was David Gray and that was great for us and, I think, great for him. But the environment is changing. In ten years people probably won’t even put out CDs anymore, it’ll just be single recording or it’ll just be performences, who knows what form the delivery of music from performers to listeners will take. And that’s great, that’s awesome. It doesn’t matter, the LP wasn’t around that long, and the CD hasn’t been around that long. It’s okay, things change. What a record company represents is not going to be the same thing. But to come back to your question, the most recent thing I signed was Danny Barnes.
So, any idea when the German fans will see the Dave Matthews Band again?
Dave Matthews: I hope that we’ll come back again annualy. Maybe it’ll be Tim and me, which I think is also a cool thing. It’s different, but it’s cool. Whichever way we do it, I’d very much like to build an audience over here. I think it’s just what a musician should do. To travel and to play music. As long as I can, that is what I should do.
Thanks a lot for your time, Dave!
A big THANK YOU to Kai Manke of networking-media for making this interview possible!