The Dave Matthews Band appeared on the music scene in early 1991. One of the most popular touring bands in the United States, they are an eclectic group, both racially and musically. Fusing elements from jazz, rock, bluegrass and classical, the band's output truly defies categorisation; they define their music as American, likening their blend of sounds to the 'melting pot' that is America.
Dave Matthews was born in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1967, but spent parts of his childhood in New York and Cambridge before returning to South Africa in 1980. After gaining some political awareness he moved back to the US in 1986, this time settling in the college town of Charlottesville, Virginia. Charlottesville has a vast and varied musical scene, full of musicians whose styles range from country to jazz to punk. Dave watched performances while tending bars and was inspired by what he heard; he met the musicians after their sets and discussed musical ideas with them.
Occasionally Dave would sing his own songs in the bar and play acoustic guitar. Having never properly learned how to play, his method resulted from attempting to copy guitarists like Robert Fripp and Adrian Belew. Dave warmed to a percussive musical sound and played guitar like he would a percussion instrument, resulting in a style very much his own.
His performances gained a steady following, and in early 1991 he decided to record some of his songs. Instead of going to a studio by himself and recording with just his guitar, he asked some of the musicians he had got to know if they would record with him. His idea was to surround himself with performers whose work he loved - people he thought it would be great to jam with. Drummer Carter Beauford, saxophone player LeRoi Moore, bassist Stefan Lessard, keyboardist Peter Griesar and violinist Boyd Tinsley all joined him in the studio for his recordings; however, Peter Griesar was to leave the group a couple of years later.
I'll Back You Up
Carter Beauford and LeRoi Moore both grew up near each other in Charlottesville; they became very good at their respective instruments and over the years performed in several local projects together. Carter's father was a jazz trumpet player, so he grew up in a musical household and knew what he wanted to do from an early age - indeed, he was just nine when he played his first professional gig. LeRoi's biggest influence is jazz, though he is a classically trained musician. Primarily a saxophonist accomplished on baritone, alto, tenor and soprano saxophones, LeRoi also plays clarinet and flute. He is largely credited with arranging most of the band's songs.
Stefan Lessard spent much of his childhood moving between California and Rhode Island, before his family settled in Virginia. He is widely regarded as a musical prodigy, having learned to play violin, piano and guitar before tackling bass in high school. After mastering electric bass guitar he switched to upright bass, which he was playing when he was approached (at the tender age of 16) by Dave. At first he tried the upright instrument in the band, but decided the electric bass fitted with Dave's sound better - in fact, in the early days he was the only band member playing an electric instrument. Stephan was also the youngest member; he dropped out of high school to play with Dave, and later dropped out of college to stay with the band.
Boyd Tinsley might never have become a violinist were it not for a slight misunderstanding in school. Wanting to learn guitar, Boyd signed up for a strings class only to later discover 'strings' meant orchestral instruments. He stuck with it anyway, taking up the violin and deciding he liked it. Although he is sometimes described as a Cajun or gypsy violinist, his training is in classical music. He recorded some early material with the band and played with them occasionally, but didn't become a permanent member until late 1991.
The Space Between
Dave referred to his band mates as 'people I'd like to jam with, but never thought would actually join my band.' His admiration was such that he wouldn't dream of telling them how to play their own instruments, and sometimes he wondered if even he was worthy to play his own music with them. The result left each band member free to do their own thing, around what all the other members do; nobody knows what the outcome will be until a piece is finished, but nothing is ever 'set in stone'. This style suits them well as they each have opportunity to display their talents without overshadowing the others.
The Dave Matthews Band1 played their first date together at a private party in May, 1991. Later that year they followed this up with their first professional gig, at the Charlottesville Earth Day Festival. From there they played the college circuit, performing at parties and fraternity houses up and down the east coast. They developed a loyal fan base, thanks in part to the recording and sharing of live performances, which was encouraged by the band. With their popularity on the rise the band recorded its first album, Remember Two Things2, on their own independent Bama Rags label. The album debuted on the college charts in late 1993 and went on to be certified gold3 by the RIAA - a feat almost unheard of for a debut on an independent label.
The album caught the attention of the major record labels, and in September, 1994 RCA released Under the Table and Dreaming. The distribution capabilities of a major label launched the Dave Matthews Band into the national spotlight. The resulting promotional tour lasted just over a year, during which time the album went quadruple platinum4.
The Best of What's Around
DMB have always been more of a concert band than a radio act. Their style of playing off one another can lead to pretty involved jams, with some live songs stretching to 15 minutes and more. This has become a band trademark, and with the fluid nature of their compositions it's virtually guaranteed that no matter how many times you see them play live, you will never see the same show twice. This winning formula for performances made them the top-grossing touring band in the US in 2000. For the most part, the songs that end up on the studio albums are more of a guideline to how the songs should go and are by no means indicative of how songs may be performed live.
Given the eclecticism that can go into a set on any particular night, producing live albums was inevitable; but the number of live albums DMB have created is nothing short of amazing. While the average mainstream band might release a live album every five or ten years - and others may never release one - in the ten years following their first major label release, DMB put out six live albums and only five studio albums. Their first major live album, Live at Red Rocks, debuted on the Billboard Top 200 Chart at number three with no promotion at all; it was instantly certified platinum.
For a band that places such emphasis on concerts, the Dave Matthews Band has also had remarkable success with studio albums. After the multi-platinum success of Under the Table and Dreaming, their follow-up effort Crash debuted at number two on the Billboard Top 200 Chart. These successes can be at least partially attributed to the production of Steve Lillywhite. Lillywhite is famous for producing albums for the likes of U2, the Rolling Stones and the Talking Heads, and he has worked on many of Dave's albums.
If I Had It All
The fan that has it all will have these titles in their collection at the end of 2004:
Remember Two Things - Released 1993, including 'Ants Marching', 'Tripping Billies' and 'Satellite'.
Recently - Released in 1994, this was their second independent release, a five-track EP originally available only by mail order, including 'Dancing Nancies' and a cover of Bob Dylan's 'Watchtower.'
Under the Table and Dreaming - Released in 1994, including 'What Would You Say' and 'Best of What's Around'.
Crash - Released in 1996, including 'So Much To Say' and 'Too Much'.
Live at Red Rocks - Released in 1997; recorded on 15 August, 1995, in Morrison, Colorado.
Before These Crowded Streets - Released in 1998, including 'Don't Drink the Water' and 'Stay'.
Listener Supported - Released in 1999, recorded 11 September, 1999, in New Jersey.
Everyday - Released in 2001, including 'The Space Between' and 'When the World Ends'.
Live in Chicago - Released in 2001, recorded 19 December, 1998, at United Center.
Busted Stuff - Released in 2002, including 'Grey Street' and 'Where Are You Going'.
Live at Folsom Field, Boulder, Colorado - Released in 2002, recorded 11 July, 2001.
The Central Park Concert - Released in 2003, this was a free concert staged as a benefit which raised more than two million dollars for public education and parks. Recorded in front of more than 100,000 fans on 24 September, 2003.
The Gorge - Released 2004, another live release recorded 6 - 8 September, 2002, at The Gorge in Washington State. Two versions of this set exist, the more widely available includes two CDs and a DVD with highlights of the shows, and the other is a 6-CD set of all three complete shows.
And the Videos
Concert videos correspond to the CDs of the same title, all DVDs can be obtained multi-region or region-free encoded from the right distributor.
Listener Supported - released in 1999.
Dave Matthews Band - The Videos 1994 - 2001 - released in 2001.
Dave Matthews Band - Live at Folsom Field, Boulder, Colorado - released in 2002.
The Central Park Concert - released in 2003.
Band Members' Solo Efforts
Live at Luther College - Released in 1999, recorded 6 February, 1996, in Decorah, Iowa. This is an acoustic set with Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds, a guitarist who has guested on most of the band's releases.
True Reflections - Boyd Tinsley, released in 2003.
Some Devil - Dave Matthews, released in 2003.
One Sweet World
As a socially/politically-conscious band, DMB are involved in a number of charitable and educational efforts. Their website links to dozens of local, national and worldwide charitable organisations and awareness campaigns that the band supports through their Bama Works Foundation. Causes include hometown projects in Charlottesville, as well as environmental awareness and improvement groups. Donations and benefit concerts are commonly, though not solely, their means of contribution.
One Sweet Whirled is a particularly unusual example of a contribution from the band. Loaning a song title to Ben and Jerry's make of ice cream resulted in a flavour called One Sweet Whirled - a combination of caramel and coffee ice creams with marshmallow, caramel swirls and coffee flavoured fudge chips. The product was marketed to raise awareness about global warming, and royalties from sales are used to combat global warming through Bama Works.
The Dave Matthews Band has gone from playing bars in relative obscurity to selling out major venues, while essentially changing very little about their methods. A new song can sound at once fresh and innovative yet unmistakably theirs.
See, you and me
Have a better time than most can dream
Have it better than the best
And so can pull on through
Whatever tears at us
Whatever holds us down
And if nothing can be done
We'll make the best of what's around
- from 'The Best of What's Around'