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By: Michael D. Vogel    

© April 3, 1998. Michael D. Vogel.  All Rights Reserved.   

Published in:   

The Album Network magazine– April 17, 1998   


Dave Matthews attacks his acoustic guitar as if he were playing a drum kit. “Percussions are my obsession. In fact, sometimes I see myself as drummer trapped in a guitarist’s body,” states the South African native, who is rarely caught standing still when performing with the Dave Matthews Band.

A true genius on the acoustic guitar, Matthews really prefers to be viewed more as an ensemble player–a brilliant and yet distinctive instrumental voice, but still just one of the bright threads that help to weave the complex sound of the Dave Matthews Band. The antithesis of the flashy guitar extrovert, Matthews chooses to let his fingers bounce around the fret-board almost as quickly as he dances around the stage. In the end, both the musicians and the audience are witness to the birth of music that is completely fresh and new.

My telephone rings promptly at 12:15 on a Monday afternoon; it’s Dave Matthews calling from the band’s small studio in Charlottesville, Virginia, ready to talk about the new album, his worship of women, the marketing of the band–and oh, yes, his guitar playing.

The new album, Before These Crowded Streets, is a view of your more intense side. Why such a dark and brooding tone to this album?   

Dave Matthews: “This is most definitely a darker album than what we have done in the past. There is even a certain level of desperation–a fear of loss in it, as well. Overall though, I think, in certain elements, the album seems to present a fear of blindly losing hope. Sometimes I think we so eagerly storm toward the cliff edge, not ever really noticing that it’s there, mostly because we are too busy looking out at the horizon. With that view in mind, there is a certain degree of clarity on the album as well.  

“In many instances, we are much better at fixing our mistakes after we’ve made them. In some situations, it is easier to sweep things under the rug and forget about them. People are not very pro-active in general, I think, because we are too busy rushing blindly towards our own goals. In relation to the album, there are bits of reflection and a lot of greed. Some of the characters represented on the album are selfish and greedy, but in a ‘tongue-in-cheek’ sort of way.   

“But as for the overall feel of the album, the songs just developed that way. Maybe it’s just a place I’m in right now. At one stage there was more of a separation between my music and what I think about, but, at least for now, the two seem to have come together. It was more often an escape than it was something that needed to be addressed. Mostly, it’s just a greater level of frustration that has leaked into the music, especially on this album. For example, there are songs like ‘Crush’ that are more of a worship-of-women-type of song. I feel that I have worked my whole life to get to the point where I should have a good understanding of women. But I’m still trying, and although I think I’m a little closer, as any guy knows, we still have a long way to go.”   

Although, lyrically, the tone created has a much darker feel, the music itself is played with such a high level of energy and emotion that a counterbalance is created. Is this type of yin-yang relationship something that you constantly strive for in your music?   

DM: “We try and capture a ‘seize the day’ feel within the music itself. Even though, lyrically, the song may have a dark feel–songs like ‘Pig’ and ‘The Last Stop”–in a way, it is also addressing the topic in a positive fashion. Even though the music is somewhat furious, the song is really saying things really aren’t as bad as they seem. 

“Other songs, like ‘Stay (Wasting Time),’ are so blindingly happy. It’s like sour candy that makes the back of your mouth water. Overall, the music on this album shouldn’t give off a sense of sadness, because it is played with so much intensity and emotion that you can’t help but feel good after listening to it. Music is supposed to make you feel good, and that is our goal!”       

The song “The Last Stop,” reminiscent of Zeppelin’s “Kashmir,” is sonically different from the rest of the album. Why experiment with such a radical departure from your core sound?    

“Personally, I have been listening to a lot more Eastern singers, especially from Pakistan and North Africa. I have been moving towards this type of music because the sounds of their scales tend to be more desperate in nature. Eastern prayer, for example, allows for a certain level of loose improvisation, which can be very overwhelming. Combined with a certain [intangible] element–maybe because it is somewhat foreign–that ultimately makes the music inherently holy. Almost as if the scales themselves hit you right in the center of your soul.

“So, I thought, to turn something like that into a rock song, with a heavy Zeppelinesque style, would be quite a challenge. Musically, the song has a much simpler guitar sound than some of our other songs, almost like a stereotyped movie soundtrack. We wanted to make it rock, but we also wanted to make it serene. Lyrically, the song describes a level of frustration with how easily we blindly follow our leader’s opinions without making sure we have a complete understanding of the big picture. The hook of the song, ‘Black And White,’ is somewhat of the idea behind it as well. Life is really a lot more complicated than simply seeing it as black and white. I personally think it is dangerous to easily dismiss [societies] as bad, yet this type of bigotry slowly creeps into our culture. Ultimately, we tend to judge others based on the way we view the leaders that represent them. As a result, we are teaching each other how to hate. It is this type of stereotype that gets ingrained within our society in a self-perpetuating cycle.”   

The lead single, “Don’t Drink The Water,” gives some pretty potent imagery about one’s loss of self-identity. Is this a result of being too judgmental toward other cultures?    

“There is a certain level of ambiguity to the song. The song could revolve around a Native American just as easily as it could be about a new arrival to our soil. If it comes across that it is about someone who has forgotten whom he or she is, and is now struggling to find an identity, then my aim for that track was true. In order to help promote the song, we employed the help of Dean Karr, who shot a wonderful video done mostly in the Amazon, with a few clips from the States. The point being, the character portrayed is not clearly identified as a native or not. It has been done in a surreal sort of way, but that is as much as I’m going to say–you’ll just have to wait until it comes on MTV to find out the rest.”   

What prompted you to bring in outside artists for this album? Did you feel there was a missing element in some of the songs that only a certain artist could fill?    

“I don’t necessarily think anything was missing from the music. Because it was a sound that we haven’t had before, I just thought it would be fun to include other artists, and that was pretty much the level of it. I wanted to bring in some strings on ‘The Stone’ from the moment I wrote it, just because I thought it was a logical element to be included in the song; but I don’t think it was desperately missing anything.

“I was very sure about the Kronos Quartet, I just wasn’t sure if they’d accept the offer. Bela Fleck has sat in with us a few times on the last couple of tours. Being a good friend, I just felt it would be great to have his contribution on the album as well. I met Alanis Morissette while visiting San Francisco for a benefit show. She came by to visit while we were recording the music, and again while we were laying down the vocal tracks. She was mainly going to do some background vocals, but because she was into the new stuff we ended up giving her a few verses.”   

Let’s shift gears here. You have been very instrumental in the marketing and promotion of the Dave Matthews Band. How did you know it was okay to go outside the norm, to cultivate a fan base without the initial support of a major label?    

“I think it is very key to keep a bit of control over how much exposure you receive. Personally, I don’t want to burn out on the whole scene. It’s not about having the best record deal, or winning awards or even being on television–we are here because we enjoy making music. We have been playing together for years before being approached by the industry, which has helped give us a solid foundation in regards to the whole scene. As a result, the same crew, for the most part, has been with us from the very beginning.   

“I think inside the industry there is an urge to ‘blow your wad,’ so to speak, right away. Our popularity has grown quickly, and we are very grateful for that, but we are also very hesitant in regards to complete exposure. Although the stages may be larger, the lights brighter and the audiences bigger, we are still the same band making the same great music.”   

I think you are one of the most underrated guitar players making music today. Do you feel that your playing ability has received the recognition and credit it deserves?    

“First of all, I don’t touch electric guitars. It’s just not my thing–I stick with acoustic guitars only. Secondly, I know I have a very unusual style of playing, where other more recognized and technically proficient players might look at me and wonder what the heck I’m doing. The purpose of my learning to play the way I do was more to accompany my singing. I figured out a style where I’m mentally playing the drums over a simple melody. I just try and put it all together and then not mess with it. For me, it’s a real obvious way to play, but to others it is simply technically wrong.   

“Personally, I have always been drawn to percussion and drums, to bass and piano, in music much more then I am drawn to the guitar and the other lead instruments. The melodies are always the most important part to me. I am pulled more to the groove than the chord progression. After you find the groove, you find the most simple chord progressions and then sit inside that groove.” ^m^   



Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, Dave Matthews now makes his home in Charlottesville, Virginia, where he put together a multi-racial band consisting of acoustic guitar, bass, violin, sax and drums.   


Dave Matthews – Vocals & Acoustic Guitar                      Stefan Lessard – Bass  

Boyd Tinsley – Violin                                                                    Carter Beauford – Drums & Percussions 

LeRoi Moore – Saxophone                                

Guest Musicians: 

Tim Reynolds – Electric Guitar & Mandolin)                     Alanis Morissette – Background Vocals 

Bela Fleck – Banjo                                                                          The Kronos String Quartet – Strings 

How Label Deal Came About: 

We often talk about how most successful bands in the ’90s have largely set themselves up for the success they now enjoy. The Dave Matthews Band has perhaps become the best example. Through constant touring, releasing projects on their own label and by careful thought, they placed themselves into a position where major labels took notice. 

To RCA’s credit, the A&R staff, the promotion department, the sales and marketing people, publicity and everyone else involved were willing to go along with the momentum Dave Matthews and his very talented band had already set in motion. Perhaps the biggest leap of faith was in trusting that DMB had a sound that the public was hungry for; a sound that didn’t neatly fit into any our convenient categories.  

About The Current CD: 

Four RCA releases and over 11 million albums sold later, the Dave Matthews Band is ready to take us to a new level–both in musical awareness and lyrical integrity. It is clear that his dream for us is to be more open-minded — not only about music, but also about how we deal with each other as human beings. 


Before These Crowded Streets (RCA, 1998)     

Live At Red Rocks (Bama Rags/RCA, 1997) 

Crash (RCA, 1996) 

Under The Table And Dreaming (RCA, 1994) 

Remember Two Things (RCA, 1993)                                   

Produced By: 

Steve Lillywhite 






© April 3, 1998. Michael D. Vogel.  All Rights Reserved.  This originally appeared on the Vogelism blog at https://www.vogelism.com, authored by Michael D. Vogel. This article may be shared or reprinted as long as this entire copyright message, including the source location of this article, accompanies it.


One Response so far.

  1. Most of the blogs online are pretty much the same but i honestly enjoyed what i read. Bravo !

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