In an interview with “Rolling Stone” magazine in August 2012, Dave Matthews created a major stir with fans with quotes that some interpreted as signs that the band’s days together might be numbered.
Matthews spoke of having to “dig a lot harder” as time goes on to come up with songs he wants the band to record — a statement that made some wonder if the group was losing its creativity.
Asked about where he sees the Dave Matthews Band going from here, he answered “I don’t know,” adding that while he feels lucky to be part of a band that turns on lots of fans and does the same for the band members, he questions if the group is losing legitimacy.
That was enough to send Dave Matthews Band fans — many of whom are known to be unusually invested the group — into a tizzy.
The interview coincided with the release of “Away From the World,” the latest album from the group, which also includes bassist Stefan Lessard, violinist Boyd Tinsley and drummer Carter Beauford.
But here it is another summer, and another full slate of concerts. And if that’s not enough of a promising sign for Dave Matthews Band fans, maybe the comments from Lessard in a recent phone interview will provide the necessary reassurance.
He said the Dave Matthews Band is in a good place — and in some respects the group is doing better than it has at other points in a career that dates back to 1991, when the group formed in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“On stage we’re the best of friends and there’s nothing but love and heart when I look at everyone on stage while they’re playing and while I’m playing,” Lessard said. “It hasn’t always been like that. It hasn’t always felt like that. But it’s been going like that for the past few years now. And it really keeps getting stronger every time.”
One of the reasons the Dave Matthews Band is still thriving, Lessard feels, is the band as a whole has been willing to give Matthews room to follow his own vision when needed.
That was very much the case with “Away From the World.” “He (Matthews) went off and wrote all of the songs to ‘Away From The World,’ which is not necessarily the way this band always is making music,” Lessard said.
“If you look at the albums, like (the 1998 album) ‘Before These Crowded Streets’ or the last album, ‘Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King’ (2009), it was probably our most collaborative record as a band since the first three records because our producer was so adamant about taking our jams and turning that into inspiration for new music.
“I feel like ‘Away From The World’ kind of was in some sense, it was the Dave Matthews Band like backing Dave’s solo record,” the bassist explained. “It came from him. It was very personal. And that’s a great moment.”
The group has certainly been tested at times during its hugely successful career.
Perhaps the low period came about three years before the band made “Big Whiskey and the GrooGroux King.” Matthews, in a 2010 teleconference interview, said during that time relationships had grown strained enough that band members weren’t talking to each other.
Eventually Matthews, Beauford and original saxophone player LeRoi Moore had a “confrontation, kind of explosion” that nearly split the band before the group found a way through its problems and realized they wanted the band to continue.
Then came another blow to the band, when on June 30, 2008, Moore was in a serious all-terrain vehicle accident in
Charlottesville. He succumbed Aug. 19 to complications from his injuries.
To be sure, it was a heavy loss for Moore’s bandmates. But Matthews said it actually became a positive force within the group, bringing the four remaining band members closer together.
Of course, there have been many great moments for the group, too, including an unbroken string of eight very successful albums and lots of creative rewards that have come with being a dynamic and adventurous band.
That spirit should be evident this summer as the four core members of the Dave Matthews Band – joined by frequent auxiliary members Jeff Coffin (horns), Rashawn Ross (trumpet) and Tim Reynolds (guitar/multi-instrumentalist) — tour the country.
The shows will be notably different from those the Dave Matthews Band played in 2012.
“Last year we were still sort of touring with a new record (“Away From the World”), so we were really pushing those new songs,” Lessard said. “In fact, a couple of times we played through the whole record, which for us is historic. We’d never done that before, during one show at least. And so this year, it’s one of those years where we’re sort of in between albums. We’re not really pushing a whole new set of new songs. So it allows for us to take our time in the rehearsals and look at some of the older tunes that we haven’t played for awhile and bring those back out, and also take songs that we had played one way live at one time, maybe change them up.”