Con-Fusion Interview with Dave
By Elena Pizzetti
February 22nd, 2010. It's been eight months since the release of Big Whiskey & the GrooGrux King and seven since the epic concert in Lucca, immortalized in the Europe 2009 boxset. The Dave Matthews Band is back to Italy, ready to pour its kaleidoscopic river of sounds on the stages of Milano, Roma and Padova. I meet Dave Matthews before the show at the PalaSharp in Milano to talk about the latest record, the death of sax player LeRoi Moore, the renewed sinergy of the band and his variegated interests. His well-known “antistar” attitude is immediately proved: he welcomes me in his dressing room like a neighbour would and he repeats my name three times until he proudly pronounces it with the accent on the right “e”. I give him a copy of February's Buscadero and he points at the cover photo laughing: “I had terrible hair that day!”. I ask him if he's happy to be in Italy again and he answers with an enthusiastic “Yeah!”: with no doubt it’s true. His table is covered with papers filled with song lists, sketches and drawings. His pen will trace countless scribbles throughout the interview. He adds a couple of titles to the setlist, then we start. His answers alternate overflowing streams of consciousness to long, thoughtful breaks in which he stares at the ceiling searching for the words. As background music, the sax of Jeff Coffin, who’s rehearsing in the next room.
Compared to Everyday and Stand Up, Big Whiskey has a sound and groove which recall your first three records. You worked on it in a very tough moment, but you managed to find a fantastic sinergy. Do you think it was a kind of rebirth of the band?
Yeah, it was certainly a rebirth. We had some tough years, but I think that’s normal if you work together. Everyday was sort of me working with a producer. In Stand Up it was all of us working with the producer but not in the same unity as we did in the earlier records. The first one and the second one were eager (Under The Table and Dreaming and Crash, editor’s note). The third one (Before These Crowded Streets) was tough, we had to fight with each other to get it done. Working together on the next one was impossible and so we left out and tried to change something completely. I like Everyday and I like Stand Up, but they’re very different records. While working on Big Whiskey we have gone through a deep discovery of each other again. The band had nearly fallen apart so it was either we fell apart or we came together. I think this record is a result of that, of coming back together. Not only it’s going back to, returning to something. It sort of follows a road from those first three records. It’s all of us. I worked really hard on this record and I also expected the same from them.
The importance of this record is also evident in the booklet artwork, which you entirely painted and handwrote. You also drew the album cover for Danny Barnes’ Pizza Box. Are you going to do it again in the future?
Yeah, maybe, if I come up with something good. A lot of things were fortunate on this record, a lot of things were unfortunate but all of them worked together to make it in the end. I had seen some ideas for the cover and I just hated them all, so I said “I’ll do it!”. I talked about different artwork with Rob Cavallo (the album’s producer, editor’s note) too and he said “I see you scribbling things, you should do the cover”. Then it sort of fell into place. I first found a face. I didn’t intend it to look like LeRoi but it just looked like him. The name too… all of these things fell together in a way that may seem synchronized, but I think it was just fortunous.
The album starts and ends with LeRoi playing sax. Sam Erickson’s documentary The Road To Big Whiskey features other unreleased recordings of his. Are you going to include similar tracks in the next albums?
I don’t know. That might be a nice avenue, a connection that we could make between this album and the next one. It would have to be natural, not forced. We made so much great music with Roi. I would like to find more inspiration from the recordings of his over the years. I’m not averse to it, but it’s not a clear plan.
What did LeRoi have that you know you can never find in anyone else? And what did Jeff Coffin add to the band’s sound?
We had no idea that Roi was dying when Jeff joined us. We intended to work with Jeff for a while. When Roi died - we played a show that night - it seemed like a natural thing that if Jeff was available he would finish the work with us. It just unfolded that way. There was no way we could replace the voice of Roi because it was very a specific one. He was very difficult but he was very magical too. Jeff is an entirely different man. The only thing they have in common is the saxophone. Besides from that, their approach to music is opposite. Roi was very internal, he faced inwards and the horn was the way that he could say that. Jeff is very open, outwards and so it’s like they play different instruments.
A few days ago Steve Lillywhite (DMB’s producer from 1994 to 2000) stated he would love to work with you again. Are there any chances for this to happen?<
Absolutely! I hadn’t heard that, but I now that Coran (Capshaw, DMB’s manager, editor’s note) keeps in touch with him. When we stopped working together it was just not a good time for us, but I spent one of the best times of my life with him. I think it would be great fun to work with him again. We’ll see if it pans out. I love working with Rob Cavallo too, he likes to make a joyful noise as well. Maybe we can do both.
You’ve got many unreleased songs. The deluxe edition of Santana’s Supernatural features Rain Down on Me, written by you and Carter Beauford. On stage you play songs such as Sister and Shotgun. Have you ever thought about releasing an outtakes boxset?
I have a funny way of looking at music. I just wanna go forward and sometimes people get disappointed with me because I say “I don’t wanna play that anymore”. Some of the old stuff I love. Some of it stays with me and some of it goes away for years and then it will come back. Other songs I just don’t like anymore. It’s a relationship. My manager says to me quite often “you should make a record with all this material”. A couple of guys in the band would really like to do that, I think Stefan would love to. Then I have to find the time and I think I just want to make a new record. But the idea of taking those recordings and put them in an outtakes set together is kind of nice. Maybe we’ll do that sometimes.
You have a long time career in the movies and tv series. The Other Side, In The Woods and The Pretend Wife featuring Adam Sandler are in the making. What does acting offer you that music doesn’t?
It’s just very different. In the case of working with Adam Sandler I like it because he’s a friend of mine, we have a good time together. But some day I would like to do something really well. Acting is a different experience, a different way of expressing yourself , it’s another outlet. It’s nice to indulge different sides of our personality however we do it. I tend to do it in front of people, whether it’s one or the other.
In an interview from the early 90’s you defined DMB’s music “con-fusion”, word that the Italian fan club adopted as their name. If you had to define your music in one single word today what would it be?
(Editor’s note: before he answers he writes on a sheet the words JOY and HONEST and he contemplates them for a while) Maybe “joy”. Something between “joy” and “honest”. That’s what I try, what I want to be: I want to be honest. But I think joy is what’s infectious. We have a lot of fun when we’re making music. It’s like running on a broken track and still managing to stay forward.
Last year’s concert in Lucca was the band’s longest concert ever…
Really?! Oh..! That was a lot of fun that night!
It was also chosen for the Europe 2009 boxset. What do you remember of that night?
It’s hard to remember. We had been carried away, we weren’t in control so much. When it’s that special it just feels like you don’t have to do anything. It was effortless and it was flying. I remember the square, the statue, I remember people sitting on the statue and around it. I remember the energy. Everything was very favorable, it was a good night.
The decade is over. What artists, in your opinion, left the deepest mark in the music history of these ten years?
That’s tough. It would have to be the Radiohead. And maybe Jay Z. I’m in the dark so I don’t pay attention to a lot of anything. If it was for me it would be Danny Barnes. In a right world Danny Barnes would be the man! But there’s a lot of good ones, so many good bands, so much great music.
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