In an interview with “Rolling Stone” magazine in August 2012, Dave Matthews created a major stir with fans by making statements some interpreted as indicating the band’s days together might be numbered.
Matthews spoke about having to “dig a lot harder” to come up with songs he wants the band to record – a statement that made some wonder if the group was losing its creativity. Asked about where he saw the Dave Matthews Band going, he answered “I don’t know.” He added that, while he feels lucky to be part of a band that turns on lots of fans and does the same for the band members, he questions if the group is losing legitimacy.
That was enough to send Dave Matthews Band fans – many of whom are known to be unusually invested the group – into a tizzy.
The interview coincided with the release of “Away From the World,” the latest album from the group, which also includes bassist Stefan Lessard, violinist Boyd Tinsley and drummer Carter Beauford.
But here is another summer and another full slate of concerts. And if that’s not enough of a promising sign for Dave Matthews Band fans, maybe the comments from Lessard in a recent phone interview will provide the necessary reassurance.
He said the Dave Matthews Band is in a good place, and in some respects the group is doing better than it has at other points in a career that dates back to 1991, when the group formed in Charlottesville, Va.
“On stage we’re the best of friends and there’s nothing but love and heart when I look at everyone on stage while they’re playing and while I’m playing,” Lessard said. “It hasn’t always been like that. It hasn’t always felt like that. But it’s been going like that for the past few years now. And it really keeps getting stronger every time. We all realize there’s a magical moment happening while it’s happening. And if we deny that, then you’re missing out on so much. So I think the wisdom of older age has come into this band a little bit. Maybe some of the youthful energy has left, but there’s a different type of energy, and I think it’s just as important to share for the people that play in it.”
One of the reasons the Dave Matthews Band is still thriving, Lessard feels, is the band as a whole has been willing to give Matthews room to follow his own vision when needed.
That space was very much the case with “Away From the World.”
“He (Matthews) went off and wrote all of the songs to ‘Away From the World,’ which is not necessarily the way this band always is making music,” Lessard said. “If you look at the albums, like (the 1998 album) ‘Before These Crowded Streets’ or the last album, ‘Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King,’ it was probably our most collaborative record as a band since the first three records because our producer was so adamant about taking our jams and turning that into inspiration for new music.
“I feel like ‘Away From the World’ kind of was in some sense, it was the Dave Matthews Band like backing Dave’s solo record,” the bassist explained. “It came from him. It was very personal. And that’s a great moment. Pink Floyd, if they could have continued after ‘The Wall’ and ‘The Final Cut’ and kept going and experimenting with other peoples’ emotions and other personas in the music, maybe they could have lasted. But they couldn’t. So I think a band’s versatility is to be able to allow the main writer and the guy who’s basically bringing the lyrics to the audience, to allow him to have these moments of solo writing or writing with the band or writing with a producer, to be OK with that. It really works.”
The group has certainly been tested at times during its hugely successful career.
The band abandoned an early version of what became the 2002 album “Busted Stuff,” before rerecording a number of songs and adding new material to complete the album. After touring behind “Busted Stuff,” the group went on hiatus, and Matthews and Tinsley made solo albums during that break.
Perhaps the low period came about three years before the band made “Big Whiskey and the GrooGroux King.” Matthews, in a 2010 teleconference interview, said during that time relationships had grown strained enough that band members weren’t talking to each other. Eventually Matthews, Beauford and original saxophone player LeRoi Moore had a “confrontation, kind of explosion” that nearly split the band before the group found a way through its problems and realized they wanted the band to continue.
Then came another blow to the band, when on June 30, 2008, Moore was in a serious all-terrain vehicle accident in Charlottesville. He was initially expected to make a full recovery, but succumbed to complications from his injuries.
To be sure, it was a heavy loss for Moore’s band mates. But Matthews said it actually became a positive force within the group, bringing the four remaining band members closer together.
Of course there have been many great moments for the group, too. The 1994 major label debut, “Under the Table and Dreaming,” immediately established the group as one of rock’s important arrivals, spinning out several top 20 singles (“What Would You Say,” “Ants Marching” and “Satellite”).
The follow-up albums, “Crash,” “Before These Crowded Streets” and “Everyday” boosted the Dave Matthews Band to superstar status, as the group became popular enough to sell out amphitheaters coast to coast. More recent albums, like 2002’s “Busted Stuff,” 2005’s “Stand Up” and “Big Whiskey and the GrooGroux King” have been major hits and the group continues to sell out big venues.
And amphitheaters will be the place to find the Dave Matthews Band this summer, as the four core members – joined by frequent auxiliary members Jeff Coffin (horns), Rashawn Ross (trumpet) and Tim Reynolds (guitar/multi-instrumentalist) — tour the country.
The shows will be notably different from those the Dave Matthews Band played in 2012.
“Last year we were still sort of touring with a new record, so we were really pushing those new songs,” Lessard said. “We had a whole category of new songs to put into the set list. They started really heavy in the beginning. In fact, a couple of times we played through the whole record, which for us is historic. We’d never done that before, during one show at least. And so this year, it’s one of those years where we’re sort of in between albums. We’re not really pushing a whole new set of new songs. So it allows for us to take our time in the rehearsals and look at some of the older tunes that we haven’t played for awhile and bring those back out, and also take songs that we had played one way live at one time, maybe change them up.
“We still take chances and take the songs and music somewhere,” he said. “And at this point in our lives, we could be playing through the motions, but we’re not. We’re still trying to dig into the depths of these tunes and see where we can go with them. So it’s exciting to get back on the road this summer.”