Dave Interviews in Europe with German fan site Proudestmonkeys.de
PROUDESTMONKEYS: Despite being a big success in the US, Big Whiskey didn’t receive any of the two Grammys it was nominated for. Were you very disappointed about that?
DAVE MATTHEWS: No, the Grammys are sort of outside my realm of thinking. It felt good, because it was this album they nominated. However anyone else sees it - this is my best album. The nicest part about it was that they nominated us. It was like a surprise. I did have a great time when we performed there, and I thought we kicked ass. Everything from note to note was a lot of fun. I was driving up to Washington State with my family and I had this idea about all these musicians coming out and playing. Not necessarily famous, but people that we’ve worked with before. I hated the idea of Taylor Swift or other stars coming out – That’s horrible. When we were rehearsing I said, “Don’t dress up- dress as you are”. And I really wanted Carter to get a moment of power with the idea of a drum break down.
PROUDESTMONKEYS: Big Whiskey was a big success in the States, but not over here. What went wrong? Was it the record company, the management - or is it just a different taste in music?
DAVE MATTHEWS: Our popularity in the States is big, but our success there is almost despite the record company. What we need to do - the same thing we did in the States - is to perform. Because I think that slowly it will grow. When we started in the States we couldn’t get a record company, we couldn’t get anything. We just gave up on that (in Europe). I don’t think about style or why we don’t have success in different parts of the world. Right now it’s growing, but it’s not growing because of a hit single or because of the radio. The only way that I can think of to win the hearts of people who haven’t heard us play, is to play for them. Then people go “Oh, this is different. I didn’t expect this”. In some ways this is a bizarre band.
PROUDESTMONKEYS: There seems to be no plan. How did you come up with the idea to tour Germany again?
DAVE MATTHEWS: When I came over with Tim (2007) and then with the band last year, we just started to feel that there’s a small, but growing, following. Warner is doing a very good job, considering that we’re a challenge. It’s a hard job to figure out a song or describe what we are. One song is a little folk song and the next one is powerful. If we sell them as this one, everyone will say “I don’t like that band”. But if they heard the other one, they might like the band and then it might open their eyes and they might also like the first song.
I think it’s just the beginning to crack the seal for us. And that’s what we need to do. We have to forget the possibility of finding an easy way. And it’s more fun to do it like this. And I don’t want to stop playing to people that have never heard me before. I also don’t want to stop being new to some people, because it’s a difference playing in front of an audience that has never heard you - it’s so f*** good! For us too, even if they don’t like us.- it’s like, “What the hell is going on?” Even if they’re not having a blast they’ll still go, “What is going on? They (the band) are having a good time! – that’s infectious, I think.
PROUDESTMONKEYS: In the States you are playing in front of big crowds, whereas over here you draw maybe four thousand fans. Does it seem different to you playing here to a crowd, which also isn’t familiar with the lyrics?
DAVE MATTHEWS: I don’t mind if everyone (just) listens. It’s just a different situation. We don’t have to change what we are doing. The communication is going to be different. But I can only know what the change will be when the show begins - when I see the people.
PROUDESTMONKEYS: Is there a special difference between the crowds here and back home?
DAVE MATTHEWS: In the States our audience tends to be really loud. Everyone sings and it sort of becomes a community feeling. Loud, very involved, very demanding. What I discovered, maybe because of unfamiliarity with us, the audience seems to be listening more over here.
It was fun, when we were here in Europe playing festivals last year. You’d start with 500 people that knew you and then slowly you could see the crowd gathering as the set went on; and by the end everyone was like, “Wow, what was that?” Somebody walking to get a sausage 500 feet away, and his head turns. I like it when they stop. Then he walks towards you to listen, asking the person next to him “What is this? - Who is this?” Or maybe they are up at the front, waiting for the next band, with piercings in their face, waiting for somebody to come up and scream “bloody murderer” at them - like Chris Cornell. But in the end you see open eyes – that’s what it’s about. I stick my tongue out and close my eyes because I want people to know why I’m playing music. Even if I sing about death or sadness… - It ‘s for joy, it’s an outlet. So that’s my music. My music isn’t a complaint, oppression or an anger. Even if it’s lyrically about those things, the act of singing is an act of joy, an act of resistance to the urge to be brought down. So that’s what I think can be infectious. And then people can put the record on and go, “Oh, now I see, what they’re saying.”
PROUDESTMONKEYS: One of the trademarks of DMB is changing setlists. When and how do you settle them?
DAVE MATTHEWS: (holding up a sheet with presumably all DMB songs plus a few cover songs) I have a list of songs that we want to play, and I just go through them. There are some that I play a lot and I’m comfortable with, so we always have the sets that I played most recently. In the States, I look at the night before or last week , because I don’t want to be too much like the last one. Also I look at the list that I played the year before in that place, because no one wants to see the exact set they saw the year before. But here I think I should play some new stuff. But there’s probably also a lot of people who want to hear some old stuff. So I try and mix things together that have a lot of improvisation and make a powerful set. I don’t want to come out there and play a bunch of hits, because they aren’t hits here.
PROUDESTMONKEYS: There’s a lot of people coming to different shows over here…
DAVE MATTHEWS: So I’m going to try not to repeat myself too many times (smiling)
PROUDESTMONKEYS: Let’s take a song like “ ” …
DAVE MATTHEWS: We haven’t played it for years - maybe that’s one you like…
PROUDESTMONKEYS: …or “Sweet Up and Down”
DAVE MATTHEWS: I love “Sweet Up and Down” -. We didn’t play it, but we rehearsed it. We’ve got to try to get that one back, too.
PROUDESTMONKEYS: It would be nice, if you would bring that in while you are here…
Bruce Springsteen for example has a request spot, where he gathers the posters of the crowd and chooses a few to play spontaneously. Has your audience any chance to change a setlist?
DAVE MATTHEWS: (laughing) He’s probably going: “Can’t do this one, can’t remember that one - can you guys (to his band) remember that one?” - I haven’t ever thought about that, maybe I’ll start doing it, maybe it’s something I should do.
PROUDESTMONKEYS: If 1000 people would hold up a poster demanding a song…
DAVE MATTHEWS: Sometimes I’ll do the opposite, if I see a millions signs asking for a song, then I just stop playing it (laughing), but then eventually I’ll play it.
PROUDESTMONKEYS: So who creates the setlists?
DAVE MATTHEWS: I’ll do it, and then I’ll take it to the band, and they look at it - mainly Carter, and he’ll say, “That may be a little tough. Give me a little break here”, if his arm’s sore. I wrote it at 4:14 pm (Dave holding up the setlist on his iphone, Show starting at 8 pm). Carter asked to get it earlier, since we haven’t played since October and we don’t really rehearse—that’s our problem…
PROUDESTMONKEYS: Can we have a look at it?
DAVE MATTHEWS: I don’t want to take away the surprise…
PROUDESTMONKEYS: How do you stay in shape or take care about your voice with this exhausting tour plan?
DAVE MATTHEWS: (grabbing in a box with sprays, cough drops, etc., spraying his mouth) Thanks for reminding me. Sometimes I lose my voice, but you can get around it. I know how to sing with no voice and I know how to sing with a voice. At the beginning of a tour we may practice for a day or two, but not so much to learn all the songs, more to get used to being together and playing music. Yesterday we played about 10 songs, just to remember how they go. The first one you’ll go, “Oh”, because you forget - the muscles aren’t there, and we did that again. So the first song was tough. But by the last one, we were starting to feel each other again. So it’s more to remember the communication.
PROUDESTMONKEYS: Do you usually rehearse when you are not on stage?
DAVE MATTHEWS: If I want to learn a song or bring an idea to everyone I might come in with a guitar. But when we are rehearsing before shows, often we’ll just get on stage and play songs together and talk. We also get used to the environment, not to be surprised by the stage. We are not rehearsing the show, but getting used to each other.
PROUDESTMONKEYS: Are there future plans for Europe, either for the band or just Tim and you?
DAVE MATTHEWS: Our plan is to make Europe a part of our touring schedule now, because it’s now part of our landscape – it’s the same with South America. It started in the States in the southeast, and it grew. Five years later we were playing in California. And then Canada came into our landscape. The feeling that we have now in Europe is that there is an audience here that wants to hear our music. And in Germany we feel now, that we sell our tickets. Our job is to come over and fulfill their expectations. Otherwise they won’t come back next time. But if we fulfill their expectations - hopefully - and then exceed them, then they’ll go and say, "Wow, next time, we must come back and I must remember to bring my friends. “ That’s the way we can win an audience. But we haven’t got dates or anything.
PROUDESTMONKEYS: Is the internet helping you to become popular over here?
DAVE MATTHEWS: When the question came up “people are taping your shows“ we said, “So what? - that just helps us.” In the same spirit of that, the internet has played in our favor, because people can get to hear us. I’m not worried about people getting hold of our music and not getting paid – I’m already overpaid (smiling). So I’m glad for it. There’s always the big microphones in the States, and I think these shows here would be better to have someone with big microphones, because the audience is not going to be as noisy - You get better shows (smiling).
PROUDESTMONKEYS: With Jeff Coffin you have a new saxophone player since founding member LeRoi passed away. How much of a difference does it make?
DAVE MATTHEWS: Jeff came in initially as a friend, when Roi was injured. Roi and Rashawn had worked out an arrangement of horn lines, so we had this place to be filled for the time being. Jeff was free and he came with his full heart and with everything he had and he brought his voice. He didn’t try and imitate Roi. I wanted him to be his thing. When Roi actually died, for me it made sense that we keep Jeff. There’s no better saxophone player in the world, just technically speaking. But he’s a different voice. And they are very different players. So for me it’s not one versus the other. I think Jeff is doing an outstanding job of getting into a difficult situation. He’s a phenomenal player, and I loved his playing with “Béla Fleck and the Flecktones”. I love his own records.
PROUDESTMONKEYS: Will he stay in your band for the next years?
DAVE MATTHEWS: Well, he’s going to be with us for this year, and I think he loves playing with us. Even though there’s a lot of improvisation in everything he does, there’s also a great deal of openness in what we do. It’s cool. It’s not that he has to play with us forever--no one has to stay. But he loves this environment, and I love having him there—he’s a really positive force. There’s always going to be critics, but I can’t bring someone back from the dead; and I didn’t bring Jeff into the band as a replacement. I brought him into the band as Jeff.
PROUDESTMONKEYS: Are we going to see keyboards again at one time?
DAVE MATTHEWS: Butch (Taylor) is a wonderful player. He came into the band at a point where we were looking for another sound, not a keyboardist or a guitarist. We’d loved to have Tim (Guitar), but he wasn’t there all the time. Then we thought, “Let’s bring another voice in.” We’ve had a keyboardist on in the earliest years of our band and Butch was available. He first joined us when we were making the album Crush to do some keyboard stuff, and I loved that sound. So we brought him in. It was his choice, his own satisfaction, his own sense of belonging or not belonging that made him want to move on. Tim knew that I always wanted him to be in the band, and when I asked him he said, “okay “. It was just coincidentally, prior to that Butch said, “I want to move on.”
PROUDESTMONKEYS: You are politically an active band and you were supporting Barack Obama a lot. Are you satisfied with what he’s doing?
DAVE MATTHEWS: As a president you have to be an eager man and ambitious. But I think there’s less of that in him than in a lot. His party is very difficult so he had to compromise. I didn’t expect him to move mountains, but I do expect a radical change in the realm of possibility. And I think the one thing - and I said it when he was running - that he has profoundly changed the landscape of American politics, just by being elected. I’m not the man of war, but that’s a big problem: he was handed two wars. And so what do you do in that instance? Do you just pack up and leave? I have a problem with the whole military complex that rules much of America. I imagine if I sat down in a room with him he would also have a problem with it, but there he’s faced with “how to get this done as fast as possible and right”. I ‘m disappointed that we can’t get out of those situations faster. I’m disappointed by many things, but I’m still happy as hell that he’s our president and not John McCain.