Since arriving on the music scene in early 1991, the Dave Matthews Band has taken the world by storm. One of the most popular touring bands in the United States, DMB is an ecclectic group, both racially and musically. The unique style of music the band creates with its mix of elements from jazz, rock, bluegrass and classical 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 again to the US in 1986, this time settling in the college town of Charlottesville, Virginia. Charlottesville has a vast and varying musical scene, full of musicians whose styles range from country to jazz to punk. Dave watched performances while tending bar 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 accoustic guitar. Never having properly learned how to play, his method is a result of attempting to copy guitarists like Robert Fripp and Adrian Belew. Dave liked a percussion sound and played guitar like he would a percussion instrument resulting in a unique style that is very much his own. His performances gained a steady following.
In early 1991 Dave 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 gotten 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 joined him in the studio for his recordings; Peter Griesar would soon thereafter leave the group.
I'll Back You Up
Carter Beauford and LeRoi Moore both grew up near each other in Charlottesville, became very good at their respective instruments and over the years performed together in several local projects. Carter's father was a jazz trumpet player, so he grew up in a musical household and has known what it was he wanted to do from an early age. Beating out rhythms from probably as early as he could hold a drumstick, Carter played his first professional gig at age 9. 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 clarinets 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 he switched to upright bass which he was playing when he was approached (while still only 16 years old) by Dave. At first he tried the upright in the band but decided the electric bass fit Dave's sound better, and in the early days he was the only band member playing an electric instrument. Being the youngest bandmember, Stefan dropped out of high school to play with Dave, and later would drop out of college as well to stay with the band.
Boyd Tinsley might never have become one of the coolest violinists around 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. While he recorded some early material with the band and played with them occasionally, he didn't become a permanent member until late 1991.
The Space Between
Of his bandmates, Dave says they were 'people I'd like to jam with, but never thought would actually join my band.' He admired them to the degree that he wouldn't dream of telling them how to play their own instruments, and sometimes wondered if he was even worthy to play his own with them. The result is that each band member is able to do his own thing around what all the other members are doing and no one 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 Band, named in a pinch for its founder with intentions of changing it later, played their first date together at a private party in May of 1991. Later that year they followed 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 Things1 on their own independent Bama Rags label. Remember Two Things debuted on the college charts in late 1993 and went on to be certified gold2 by the RIAA, a feat near unheard of for a debut on an independent label.
The album caught the attention of the major record labels, and in September of 1994, RCA released Under the Table and Dreaming; the distribution capabilities of a major label launched Dave Matthews Band into the national spotlight. The resulting promotional tour lasted just over a year during which time the album went quadruple
The Best of What's Around
DMB has always been more of a concert band than a radio one. Their style of playing off one another can lead to some pretty involved jams, with some live songs stretching to 15 minutes and more. This is somewhat of a trademark of theirs, 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 of how the songs should go, and are by no means a permanent record of how songs will go every time.
Given the ammount of variety that can go into a set on any particular night, producing live albums was inevitable. What is amazing is the number of live albums that have been produced. While the average mainstream band might come out with a live album once 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 3 with no promotion at all; it was instantly certified platinum.
For a band that places its emphasis on concerts, the Dave Matthews Band has had remarkable success with studio albums as well. 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 attributted to the production Steve Lillywhite. Lillywhite is famous for producing albums for the likes of U2, the Rolling Stones, and the Talking Heads, and has worked on many of Dave's albums.
If I Had It All
The fan who 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 1994, this was their second indepent 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 1994, including What Would You Say and Best of What's Around.
- Crash - Released 1996, including So Much To Say and Too Much.
- Live at Red Rocks - Released 1997, recorded on 15 August, 1995, in Morrison, Colorado.
- Before These Crowded Streets - Released 1998, including Don't Drink the Water and Stay.
- Listener Supported - Released 1999, recorded 11 September, 1999, in New Jersey.
- Everyday - Released 2001, including The Space Between and When the World Ends.
- Live in Chicago - Released 2001, recorded 19 December, 1998, at United Center.
- Busted Stuff - Released 2002, including Grey Street and Where Are You Going.
- Live at Folsom Field, Boulder, Colorado - Released 2002, recorded 11 July, 2001.
- The Central Park Concert - Released 2003, this was a free concert staged as a benefit which raised more than $2 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, 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 1999.
- Dave Matthews Band - The Videos 1994-2001 - released 2001.
- Dave Matthews Band - Live at Folsom Field, Boulder, Colorado - released 2002.
- The Central Park Concert - released 2003.
Band members' solo efforts include:
- Live at Luther College - Released 1999, recorded 6 February, 1996, in Decorah, Iowa. This is an accoustic set with Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds, a guitarist who has guested on most of the band's releases.
- True Reflections - Boyd Tinsley, released 2003.
- Some Devil - Dave Matthews, released 2003.
One Sweet World
As a socially and politically conscious band DMB is involved in a number of charitable and educational efforts. Their website includes links to dozens of local, national and worldwide charitable organisations and awareness campaigns that the band supports through their Bama Works Foundation. Some favourite causes are hometown projects in Charlottesville and environmental awareness and improvement groups. Donations and benefit concerts are commonly the means of their contributions, but not the only means.
One Sweet Whirled is one instance of unusual contribution. Loaning a song title to Ben and Jerry's ice cream resulted in a flavor called One Sweet Whirled, a combination of caramel and coffee ice creams with marshmallow and caramel swirls and cofee flavoured fudge chips. The product is to raise awareness about global warming, and royalties from sales 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 and uniquely 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
Related BBC Links
- Find out more about your favourite bands with BBC Music.