John Lamb, Published July 19 2009
Dave Matthews talks monkeys, gangsta rap and playing Jack the Ripper in drag
When the singer/songwriter’s band headlines the 10,000 Lakes Festival on Saturday night, he can cross off another state in which he’s played outdoors.
Since the release of the breakthrough disc “Under the Table and Dreaming” –which included the hits “What Would You Say?” and “Satellite” – nearly 15 years ago, Dave Matthews Band (known to both fans and detractors as DMB) has been a favorite of outdoor festivals for its ability to flex its musical muscle on funky tunes and lengthy jams.
At the same time, the outfit of classically and
jazz-trained musicians has had enormous mainstream success with radio play and record sales.
The group has another hit with its seventh studio album, “Big Whiskey and the Groo Grux King.” The disc debuted at Billboard’s peak position and sold 424,000 copies in the first week after it was released June 2. It was the fifth DMB album to sell 400,000 copies in its first week.
But when fans see Matthews make his 10,000 Lakes debut, they’ll notice something missing.
On Aug. 19, 2008, saxophonist LeRoi Moore died from complications from an ATV accident nearly three months earlier.
Though Moore laid down some early tracks, the disc also features the work of saxophonist Jeff Coffin – a member of Bela Fleck’s band, now touring with DMB“We did hold his memory dear while we were making it,” Matthews said earlier this month from a festival in Bilbao, Spain.
Moore’s presence is felt, heard and even seen throughout the album. He was known as Grux, is prominently featured on the opening instrumental track of the same name and is the centerpiece on the cover, a depiction of a Mardi Gras float.
Still, the singer doesn’t think of the new disc as a tribute to his fallen friend. Nor does he tend to dwell on any other easily defined terms for the album.
Instead he just calls it, “The best record we’ve ever made, and I don’t think that was because of him or regardless of him.”
By his own account, the singer has “been around quite a bit of death” in his 42 years, including his father’s death from cancer in 1977 and his sister’s murder in 1994.
While some writers have suggested these events have affected Matthews’ outlook and his lyrics, he was reluctant to talk about it.
“It’s hard to say. If you saw a monkey get its face ripped off you could say, I don’t know, ‘That affected the way I lived after that,’ ” he said. “I always regret saying things because then they become more than they are. I’m sure everything in my life that is in any way profound affected everything.”
(Much like his songs, Matthews’ answers weren’t predictable, in a straight line and certainly not short.)
A double shot of Dave
Even before “Big Whiskey and Groo Grux King” hit stores, Randy Levy, co-owner and promoter for the 10,000 Lakes Festival, was sure Matthews would be a hit on the stage.
Levy said the festival tried to land DMB previously, but things never matched up.
“You ask long enough and eventually some people say yes,” Levy said over the phone on Tuesday.
He said Matthews is certainly the biggest band the festival ever booked in its seven years and hopes the wait pays off.
Levy expects 10,000 to 15,000 just for Matthews’ Saturday set, thus doubling the expected daily turnout. Organizers added several Saturday-only ticket and camping packages ranging from $85 general admission tickets to $175 for VIP seating and camping.
Though Matthews and his expected three-hour set is the big draw, acts such as singer/
songwriters Todd Snider and Kathleen Edwards, world music rockers Ozomatli and soul singer Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings fill out the day’s bill.
“There was a deliberate effort to broaden the base,” Levy said, referring to the festival’s attractions.
Matthews can relate to having such a broad musical base, as his own style has been a hard-to-define mix of rock, folk, funk and jazz.
“I like any kind of music. I like good music, and there’s a hell of a lot more bad music out there,” he said. “But there’s no kind of music I’ve heard that doesn’t have good music. I don’t care if it’s country music or hip-hop or gangsta rap or if it’s heavy metal or punk or classical or smooth jazz. It doesn’t matter if it’s from Africa or Afghanistan. There’s good music everywhere in the world, we just need to sift through the endless piles of garbage that there is, and there are endless piles of garbage.”
With his noted appreciation for a variety of styles, some fans were still stymied by some of Matthews’ recent opening acts, such as the post-punk group with Minneapolis ties, the Hold Steady.
“I’m not close-minded about music,” he said. “Some people were probably surprised we had The Roots open for us. I like music. It doesn’t have to be whatever they call jam rock … I think the Hold Steady is a really cool band, and if people don’t like it they can go get a beer.”
While Matthews is a lover of all types of music, he recognizes that he attracts a sizable amount of hipster haters.
“Certainly there are a good amount of people who are too cool to like us. And they’ll put on a disguise to come to a show because they don’t want to tell their friends about it,” he said. “I just play music, and it doesn’t really matter who likes us and who doesn’t like us.”
While Matthews won’t be quitting that day job, he has returned to an earlier passion with acting. Through that he’s been able to work with other artists he’s admired. A longtime fan of Hugh Laurie, he starred opposite the actor in an episode of “House,” and worked with director Wayne Wang on “Because of Winn-Dixie.”
“I like doing things that are different,” Matthews explained. “You get an opportunity to go goof off with Adam Sandler. I’d do anything, any role he wanted me to play. He could call me on the phone tomorrow and say, ‘I want you to play Jack the Ripper in drag,’ I would jump at the opportunity.
“It’s an adventure,” he said, continuing. “It’s interesting. It’s curious. It’s not that different from music. It’s just something you put yourself out there for.”
Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533