Everyone should be lucky enough to love their job as much as Dave Matthews. Just watch the infectious grins on his band’s faces on stage and you will see that they love what they are doing. And why shouldn’t they? They have been living out their dreams for the past 25 years with no sign of stopping.
The Dave Matthews Band (DMB) will be in the UAE for the first time on October 8 at the du Arena to play two sets. There are some remaining tickets to purchase, so get yours now to be a part of this fan phenomenon and learn how the band has managed to stay, not only relevant, but creative and musically adaptive over two-and-a-half decades.
While other bands struggle to stay creatively aligned in the face of obstacles, such as a tectonic shift to the music industry in its time together, the Dave Matthews Band seems stronger for it. Dave explains, ‘It’s like a long marriage – our time together – it’s a lot of work staying together, but we think the rewards are worth it. And getting to play the music we want to audiences that love it is reward enough.’
With regard to the shifting industry, Dave has much to say. The emergence of digital music, along with the internet-enabled streaming of those files, has caused a fundamental shift in the way we consume music. Over the past 15 years, the death toll has rung for many performers who were unable to keep up with the fast-paced industry recalibration.
But change isn’t always a bad thing and many who evolved came out unscathed. The Dave Matthews Band is one such survivor. On remaining relevant, Dave is quick to say, ‘For us, it’s all about our fans. We give the people what they want and they keep coming back for more. We haven’t had to adapt much because we always concerned ourselves much more with making great music and our on-stage performances than crunching numbers and record sales. We’ve also kept our ticket prices low [around USD60] to make it easier for people to keep coming.’
Despite having sold more than 38 million CDs and DVDs, the band still has legions of fans who follow its tours with a zealotry that borders religious. DMB has proven year after year that the key to longevity is in the cultivation of its touring fan base. Since the band’s formation in 1991, the group’s annual tour ranks as one of the year’s top grossing music tours in North America.
For those unfamiliar with the band, its music is improvisational and jammy – the band rarely plays the same set-list twice. So every performance becomes a new experience, which is why it keeps fans coming back. You never know what they might play or do.
At its very core, DMB is the music of inquisitive performers exploring music from the inside out. It is at once uplifting in such songs as ‘So much to say’, ‘The Best of What’s Around’ and ‘#41’, then sombre in such songs as the spiritual and elemental ‘Let You Down’. DMB also never shies away from controversy. Its Middle-Eastern infused, ‘The Last Stop’, reflects anti-war sentiments and warns against a western-centric approach to righteousness. In the song, the band ponders race, religion and war, taking a neutral position and reminding listeners that such weighty issues are ‘not so black and white’.
Time Out Abu Dhabi had the good fortune of catching up with Dave Matthews for a few moments in advance of his Abu Dhabi show:
How has your band’s music evolved in the decades you’ve spent working as a group?
It’s hard to be objective but I always liken it to a 25 year marriage – you know, the dynamic changes. After all the history we share tragedies that we have come through together [Dave may be referring to losing saxophonist and founding member LeRoi Moore in 2008 to an ATV accident], we are also loyal to a fault; we have to be. Through whatever alchemy we have created musically, we have forged a symbiotic relationship. Not all of us are the best musicians in the world but some of us are. I would put myself in the first category. I am probably not the best musician in the world, but I have a voice and each of us does have an individual voice or talent. But when we work together we create something that is unique because we are all playing together rather than singularly. I take a bit of responsibility for that only because from the very beginning I insisted upon people bringing what they have to the table and, as much as I can, I inspire the musicians around me to be as honest as they can when they are playing together. That’s all that I can ask. I don’t need you to be the best but if you are, that’s cool too. I don’t need you to be playing a specific instrument or melody but I do expect you to be honest or try to be. This is what I asked from the very beginning and it was born out of my respect for Carter (Beauford, drums) and LeRoi (Moore, saxophone). The respect I had for them as musicians when we first got together was such that I didn’t feel like it was my place to say this is what you should play. The democratic element of the band has remained fairly central to what we do. That doesn’t mean I won’t sometimes offer direction, but I rarely insist upon my ideas. I do a lot of listening to theirs.
Certainly in a live format when we are away from writing, when we are performing that’s where ideas flourish because that’s when everyone’s voice becomes spontaneous so that’s remained the same. But what’s changed is that after 25 years playing together, we know each other’s movements, we can read each other’s thoughts to some degree; we all know each other so well. Our music is still driven by the same things we set out to do 25 years ago. So it’s changed absolutely, but maybe not at all.
How did you come together?
I used to go listen to Carter play a lot. I met him at a bar where I bartended in Charlottesville, Virginia. That’s also where I met LeRoi. I knew him the longest, for about five years before we formed the band. We were friends before he ever knew I was a musician. One night, I played them some music of mine upstairs in that bar and they said they’d be down with doing some recording or maybe playing a little and then we called on Fonz (Stefan Lessard) to be our bass player who was only in high school at the time. We met as working musicians inside musical environments, in bars and as fans of music. We met as musicians, not as friends who decided to start a band together. It was always all about the music.
So you were kind of a Fab Four. How and when did you become a fab seven?
The four of us started it up and then Boyd (Tinsley, Violin) joined a few months after we started. We were already messing around together and then he came in as a guest musician. We played a few gigs and it worked. Tim (Reynolds, guitar) and I had played before the band was together. He was on and off in the band for years but now he’s a permanent member. Rashawn (Ross, horns) had been on and off in the band. When LeRoi passed away, Jeff (Coffin, saxophone) came in more permanently. He had been subbing for LeRoi when he was off doing some session music.
What initially drew you to each other aside from logistics?
What brought us together was my admiration for them as musicians and, if I remember correctly, their admiration for a few songs that I had written. That’s kept us together: mutual admiration and respect. That’s also become easier as we have gotten older. We have separate lives: our lives inside the band and outside of the band. There’s bad days for everyone. No one expects it all to be rosy, but we were never high school buddies or college roommates. Without mentioning the obvious chemistry that comes through when we play together, we came together first as musicians and that just may be part of the secret to our success and longevity.
Respect is the pillar to what our music is. If I see Carter’s drumming as a musical pillar, then I can lean on it. And if he feels that and feels the same way about how I sing, then he can lean on me and it’s a more honest exchange. When we play live, even if you are not into the music we play, you can see that spontaneous exchange between us all. Even if we are playing a song about loss, death, or a broken heart, there is a genuine honest joy.
Do you feel that bands today lack that kind of spontaneous exchange?
I think things change. I think the mechanisms that we use to make music change – that’s normal. After all, once we were all drums and voices and then someone added strings and that changed everything. And then we were drums, voices and strings and someone got a bow and then someone got a hammer to hit things with and we had bells. Everything changes. It’s just changing more rapidly because of technology but there’s still that same spontaneity in people creating music now. If you look back, there was music that was less spontaneous even when it was acoustic. Look at orchestras generally playing the beats of music exactly as it was written down for them. There was music in Africa that had a certain amount of spontaneity and grew out of storytelling. There were rules even then but also a spontaneity to it. Music evolves. It’s always changing.
So it’s about finding the beauty in any music you hear?
Yes, I think so. There is something beautiful about music that is 50,000-years-old and perhaps harder to understand. There’s also something beautiful about music that’s made on a laptop that somehow sounds real and also sounds not real at the same time. There’s something beautiful about how eloquently Jay-Z can spring poetry out of some beats and make you want to stand up and pay attention. There’s something beautiful about listening to Charles Lloyd play a sax solo that he’s never played before. It’s nice to hear recorded music from the ’40s and it’s nice to hear music that’s never been heard live before.
This sounds hopeful for the future?
There’s always been bad music. Everyone has an opinion about every form of music. Some people will say rap isn’t music, or electronic music isn’t music. But hey, if it makes you bounce up and down and makes you feel something, if it makes you sit still and think about the universe, BOOM! That’s music!
Have you been to Abu Dhabi before?
No, but the whole band is keen on playing in the region and wandering around the city!
Tickets start at Dhs295 on www.ticketmaster.ae. Gates open at 6pm. du Arena, Yas Island.
Dave Matthews of the Dave Matthews Band performs at The Horde Festival in 1996
Musician Boyd Tinsley of Dave Matthews Band on July 14, 2015 in Kansas City, Kansas
The late LeRoi Moore formerly of Dave Matthews Band
Fans at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre May 16, 2002 in Irvine, CA