DMB bassist Stefan Lessard gives unprecidented live updates regarding progress in the studio; A revamped recording process with Batson and no immediate plans to cut an album this year.
Just a few weeks ago there wasn't so much as a peep about what was going on with Dave Matthews Band--but now the information is coming fast and furious. The updates have been occurring on Stefan's sports/clothing/music website izstyle.com.
For people who don't have the time to go digging we've collected, summarized and interpreted the main points here and expounded on items such as the recent release of the full DMB catalogue to iTunes and Dave's comments about changes to the recording process from Stand Up. Because this is a long piece, here's an index to keep you sorted:
The Studio, RCA and more
The first entry, "The Haunted Hallow Diaries" (Haunted Hollow is the name the band calls their studio outside Charlottesville, VA) explains that they have been in the studio for three weeks. Putting they're first day in at around March 7th--which was the day Weekly Davespeak first reported they were back in the studio.
According to Stefan, the first three weeks in the studio were spent "...from 4 PM to 7 PM, Monday thru Friday...putting down hours and hours of music on digital tape." Stefan wrote that the developing in the studio are similar to extended sound checks, and details how the studio is set up. He also writes of a positive energy flowing through the studio while they play together.
His next entry was actually a response to questions he received at myspace. If you do myspace and haven't added Fonzy to your friends yet, you can check out his real profile here. He answered a number of questions, two interesting ones were whether or not they "shelve" or stop playing certain songs. Fonzy responded that they don't give up on songs, but that they do require a certain amount of practice prior to performing live.
This point has been repeated by different band members over the years. Though it may be true in part, (#34 came from the grave), his answer fails to address the dark clouds that seem to float over certain songs. (I.E. the bygone Sweet Up and Down of the LWS) and it should be noted that Stefan said as recently as July '04 that JTR wasn't likely to return.
He mentions that he hasn't seen the list of openers for the band yet. This implies that at least this time around the guys are not involved in the decision making process of choosing openers. This is interesting because fans have been polled regarding their hopes for openers in the past but apparently this process is now driven by management.
Robert Randolph and a Revamped Song Writing Process
His most recent post about studio work declares that a new song has been completed, and alludes to the fact that Robert Randolph will be joining the band in the studio.
He goes over the process of creating a song with DMB, describing the difficulty of moving between two differing sections of a piece and integrating the bridge. Of all of his studio entries so far, this is the one to read.
At the end of the entry Lessard gives new information about the plan for their current studio work: "We're not trying to get the tracks finished to perfection right now. All we're trying to do is write good songs and hopefully feel good enough to play them all summer before going into the studio again in the fall. That's when the real sessions start, when we go after our best for the sake of the album."
This coincides with Dave Matthews' recent statements in Rolling Stone's Smoking Section (RS 998) "We're just playin', hanging out. We're not deadlining anything. The fact that anything's being recorded is just beside the point. We're just sitting in a room, making noises - then we'll see what fuckin' happens."
This choice not to release an album in 2006 seems to stray away from the previous information we received that the band would record for a mere three weeks. And it begs the question: if they aren't at Haunted Hollow to record for an album, why do they have a producer present at all?
It should be noted that DMB's studio work resulting in official recordings are likely part of a contract with RCA Records Group. The terms of DMB's contract are confidential but without question RCA has a huge interest in seeing a successful studio album hit the market.
DMB is in a unique situation in that they hold power in their ability to bring in large audiences to shows year after year regardless of whether a new album has hit. Generally record companies take the lion's share of album sales profits. Strong earnings from ticket and merchandise sales means the band relies less on album sales (and their record company) to see a bottom line.
Consolidated record companies like RCA have control of advertising and publicity channels, but ultimatly fail at connecting bands with their fans. The reason MusicToday continues to thrive is because they have an understanding of online marketing and can provide real solutions to creating organic communities for artists.
While RCA stumbles about in the dark, DMB's management has been manuvering to control the sales of their media catalogue by creating the DMB Live Trax series. This is different from albums like Listener Supported because Capshaw leverages his distribution infrastructure at MusicToday rather than turning to RCA for a traditional live release (ala Weekend on the Rocks). This means the band sees a greater share of revenue from the sales of the discs.
iTunes Catalogue Opening is Bittersweet for RCA
This past week DMB opened up their entire catalogue to iTunes where previously only tracks from Stand Up were available. This points a further erosion of RCA's control over content distribution of their artists. The iTunes pricing model is at odds with the recording industry's desire to charge greater than 99 cents per track. But with Apple's virtual monopoly over digital content distribution the record companies don't have much choice. Note Walmart is in a league similar to iTunes in using its market share force lower pricing on record labels.
The pressure from RCA for DMB (and all of its artists) to cut a hit record has got to be great. Dave's comments in RS (if directed at label pressure) seem to echo his prior sentiments towards Clear Channel which were less than friendly.
It seems hard to believe that Dave would be reacting to any percieved pressure from the fan community. In fact the large majority of core DMB fans would probably agree that the extended process of integrating jams as Fonzy has described in his journals represents a welcome change to the one track and "that's a song" pattern of Stand Up.
The bottom line for fans is whether the album's delay will result in better recordings from the band and stronger performances over the course of the summer.
Either way, the decision to road test songs means that MusicToday will have first dibs at poaching the tracks for a new Live Trax release perhaps taking some of the wind out of the sales of a future album they could appear on.
The good news is that the open-taping policy remains and non-profit online trading of taper recordings is connecting more new fans with DMB than ever before. However, the real drama of DMB has always been on stage, watching the band create and change music in front of their fans. With a new drive to create and the absence of a new album to pimp, 2006 holds potential to be the best touring year since 2000.
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