Exclusive Q&A: Boyd Tinsley Talks New DMB Album, Steve Lillywhite, And LeRoi Moore
March 22nd, 2017
By Rami Abou-Sabe
We sat down with violinist Boyd Tinsley of Dave Matthews Band before his Crystal Garden show Monday night (Mar. 20). Tinsley, who manages and produces the young band, is on tour with the group through the end of April.
The friendly musician dove deep in an expansive 30-minute conversation, highlighted by his moving words in memory of the late, great, LeRoi Moore.
“There’s this magical thing that used to happen when LeRoi and I played, we would almost meld into one,” Tinsley told Mix 104.1. “The Dave Matthews Band before LeRoi had passed is different than the Dave Matthews Band now. LeRoi was a big part of the band, and his voice is a missing ingredient.”
Tinsley, 52, went on to detail plans for the next Dave Matthews Band record. “We’ll start back on it next year,” revealed the violin player. “I would imagine that we would probably finish it the year after.”
Read our full interview with BT below.
This isn’t the first time that you’ve expressed yourself creatively outside Dave Matthews Band. You had the solo True Reflections record back in 2003. More recently you produced the film Faces in the Mirror and this Crystal Garden record Let The Rocks Cry Out. Are you setting yourself up for life after DMB?
For me it’s just in the moment. I don’t really think much beyond the plans of what I want to do. If I wanna record an album I don’t really think much past that, other than “I want to record a really good album.” So it’s not like I’m preparing myself for my next career. This is just another career that I have and I want to explore. I love producing.
I love being a musician, but I love also being a producer. Just to get musicians together, and try to set a vibe that people will be really comfortable in to open up, and then give them the freedom to play exactly what comes to their hearts. That’s when you really find true magic, when people are not confined by, “Okay I should play this, I should play that…” Just completely free.
The production on Let The Rocks Cry Out is clean, almost muted. It doesn’t have the excess flash and polish that most modern records do. It hearkens back to the early days of DMB, and the roots rock you popularized at that time.
One of the people who really inspired me to be a producer was Steve Lillywhite. He produced our first several albums.
I would go into the studio sometimes and sit on the floor, out of the way. Wouldn’t say a word, just listened. Steve would notice I was there, but he was cool with it because I wasn’t distracting the process at all. He knew I was really interested. He would show me different stuff as he’s playing through the music, “Check out this thing,” or “check out that!”
That’s something that I did for Under the Table and Crash, and maybe some for Before These Crowded Streets. I got to be a fly on the wall. Steve is very much a mentor in the way that I go about recording.
I know you and Steve have a pretty close relationship, and you can hear his influence on this record. Specifically, the bridge in “People” sounds very much like the outro to “Gaucho” off Away From the World. And the musical interludes between songs is straight out of Before These Crowded Streets.
It was definitely inspired by that. That idea of little musical interludes between pieces – the plan was to do the whole album like that, but we only ended up doing two. Those are really fun, man. Our trumpet player at the time, James Frost-Win, he laid down some really cool lines. My engineer and I got together and we edited it down to one piece. And then Mycle [Wastman], on a whole separate occasion, played these cool guitar lines. So I put them together as one. It’s a sort of revolving sound that goes throughout the music, and with the trumpets on top of that, we called it “Soaring.”
Some of the best times and the most fun you have in the studio are things that happen right on the spot. Going back to Dave Matthews Band and Stand Up, I remember Mark Batson and Dave [Matthews] and I were in the studio – just the three of us and the engineer – we were having dinner and then Mark and Dave started talking. “What if we have this song, and we have machine guns, and bombs blowing, and baby’s crying?” And they both just started to get really, really excited about it. We all got up and went into the studio, and we laid down what would now be known as the intro to “American Baby.” But that just happened over dinner.
That’s amazing. It’s fascinating to me that “Soaring” was initially recorded as two separate ideas, because I immediately drew a connection to the on-the-spot live interplay between you and LeRoi Moore. I know you had a pretty strong connection to him, both musically and personally.
That definitely was a big part of the music of DMB when LeRoi was alive. That interplay between the saxophone and the violin. It even goes back further; LeRoi used to play in these different bands – funk bands, jazz bands – all around Charlottesville before DMB. And he used to invite me to come sit in a lot, and play with him. So that musical interweaving began even before DMB, and it’s something that just grew. I think LeRoi knew where I was coming from musically, and I had an understanding of where he was coming from. So we were able to weave around each other.
One of my favorite things, and we may have actually done this separately, is “Spoon” on Before These Crowded Streets. The whole session Steve was like, “Okay you guys have to come up with something for this song!” So LeRoi and I would get together and we wonder “What are we gonna do?” We never knew what we were gonna play until we actually played it. Either LeRoi went and laid down some lines, or I did. And the other one would lay down something on top of that. There’s this magical thing that used to happen when LeRoi and I played, we would almost meld into one. The tenor and the violin are two voices that really go together well, and I always enjoyed that.
What has it been like musically for you since his passing?
The Dave Matthews Band before LeRoi had passed is different than the Dave Matthews Band now. LeRoi was a big part of the band, and his voice is a missing ingredient. I think that we all try to take on some of his spirit in what we play, but at the same time LeRoi is gone, so that voice of the band is gone. But we have Tim [Reynolds], and Rashawn [Ross], and Jeff [Coffin], who are there filling in some of the spaces.
I dig the way we’re going now, it’s a slightly different direction. It’s fun, and very exploratory. Which I think is important for us – we’ve never been satisfied to sound one particular way, or to do the same stuff that we did before. Just try to go to the next level on whatever we do – whether it’s studio albums or gigs. That’s what I’m encouraging Crystal Garden to do – every gig just take it to the next level. No matter what happened yesterday, it’s all about what happened today. And the person who used to say that all the time was LeRoi. That’s always been the core message of the band right there – just take it to the next level.
Speaking of studio albums, is there a DMB album in the works?
It is in the works… but when we’re gonna be done, I don’t know. This record is being produced by Rob Cavallo, and Rob likes to do albums over a period of time. Big Whiskey was done over a year and a half or two years, in five different studios. So this one is gonna be the same way. We’re gonna take our time and record it here and there. It gives us enough time to absorb the music too. “Are we digging this, are we digging that?” That kinda thing.
I think we’ll finish up the record – I’m not gonna make any ironclad predictions – but I’m sure that we’ll start back on it next year, and I would imagine that we would probably finish it the year after next. Now having said that, none of that could turn out to be true. That’s just my speculation.
Could fans expect to hear studio recordings of some of the live staples on this record? Rumors have swirled for years that songs like “Crazy Easy,” “Blue Water,” and “Sugar Will” would make their way onto a studio release.
We’ve talked about recording them for a few records, but I’m not gonna give that away. We also aren’t finished with the whole recording process, but there definitely has been a desire to, at some point, record some of those tunes. Because I think among those tunes are some of our best work. Probably one of these days some of them will show up.
And maybe “Blue Water” could make a live return? A full extended version, like it used to be played.
Yeah man, I actually ran across a recording of that recently and I checked it out. It was from ‘92.
I think those early recordings contain some of the most emotional playing you’ve ever put out.
It was a whole thing, man. You forget because you go through so many places over your career, but that was the very beginning. I really think some of the coolest stuff that you do in a band is right in the very beginning. You have nothing to lose, you’re just putting everything out there. It’s exhilarating.
And you get to experience that again with Crystal Garden.
Exactly. It’s really cool to see these guys also have that freedom to open up and blossom into a really strong band. It’s so important to remember where you began though. Some of the most amazing stuff you’ll ever play is from the beginning. So you always have to keep that in mind.
Steve Lillywhite and Dave Matthews have both talked about an other-worldly spirit inside you. When you let it loose during a solo, your presence can soar above the crowd and fill the room. What’s going through your head as you approach a performance?
I think there’s truth in what they said. When I take a solo it’s about making the commitment to opening myself up musically, and to give everything to the crowd from my heart. I think my performances are the most special when I completely open myself up, and just allow the music to take me where it’s gonna take me. When I begin a solo, the thing I think about is how I’m gonna start. Once I do that, you just take it to where it goes. You create the story, and you find the finish. So that’s the way I look at it. I just love drama – we all do – it gives us a rush. So I like giving myself a rush through playing music, but also giving the crowd a rush.
Do you feed off the crowd’s energy?
I totally feed off it. It gives you courage and propels you to another height. So I always look forward to it because I really never quite know where a solo is going to go. It has more to do with my willingness to open up, and let the music happen through me.
Your style of playing has certainly changed over the years. The most noticeable change came a few years ago have you had surgery to repair carpal tunnel in your bowing hand. Did it affect the way you approach your instrument?
Definitely. My hand had gotten really bad. Pretty severe carpal tunnel, so I was struggling to keep the bow in my hand during a lot of gigs. And then having the surgery, it still takes some time to get the strength back. It certainly wasn’t as bad, but I wasn’t one hundred percent. It’s one hundred percent now, but I definitely did change my approach – to bowing in particular.
Over the years, being in a rock band, I’ve developed a very aggressive style of bowing that I think put a lot of pressure on my hands. I was using a lot more arm in the bow than wrist. Now, my playing is more wrist based and a lot of that comes from playing in a way that’s not going to cause more hand problems. Because of that, it’s led to a whole different style of playing that I haven’t really utilized before.
DMB turned 26 this year, do you think you’ll still be touring regularly at 30?
I didn’t even think about 26, you know? It’s interesting because people have asked that question our whole career – “Will you be around in 5, 10, 15, 20 years?” I never even think about that. I just think, “Here we are, we’re doing our thing here today and this is great.” I don’t very much think about what comes down the road. As long as we have fun playing music and keep striving to take the music to the next level, I think we’ll still be on the stage playing.
But this is the first summer without a DMB tour in a quarter-century, so fans are obviously curious if the regularity is dwindling.
We’re gonna be around. This year everybody is doing different projects. Stefan [Lessard] just announced that he’s doing a show up in Vail next month. Carter [Beauford] and Jeff [Coffin] are gonna be doing a jazz fest in a few days. Of course Dave & Tim are on tour in May. And I’m out here with Crystal Garden.
So we’ve taken time off from the band, but everybody is still out there working. I think it’s a cool thing. Everybody will bring back a fresh new musical perspective when we get back together next year.