New album explores new directions
Dave Matthews: Trying something new, 'Everyday'
(CNN) -- In years past, Dave Matthews says, the Dave Matthews Band would play new songs for months -- if not years -- before finally getting around to recording them in the studio.
The formula worked well: While gaining a reputation as a top-notch live band, known for its Grateful Dead-style jams, the DMB released a string of best-selling albums, from its 1994 major-label debut "Under the Table and Dreaming" to 1998's "Before These Crowded Streets." By the time the songs hit CD, Matthews says, they were like old friends.
But with its new record, "Everyday," the DMB decided to go in a different direction.
"It's a real concise album," the vocalist says. "Most of our albums ... had all that development. (But) on these tunes ... we haven't been filling in with all the stuff that we could find. It's like they're sort of new friends."
If the change in the band's style seems unlikely, the band itself is a pretty unlikely story in its own right. The group is an ethnic melting pot, influenced by world music as much as rock 'n' roll. Matthews is a white South African who moved to Charlottesville, Virginia, in 1986 when he was 19. By 1991 he had formed a group with two black Americans: drummer Carter Beauford and saxophonist Leroi Moore.
The trio plucked jazz-style bassist Stefan Lessard "right out of high school," Beauford jokes, and later added violinist Boyd Tinsley. The group built its fan base through constant touring, and was rewarded when "Under the Table and Dreaming" peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard charts.
But though the band had a distinctive groove going, it had to keep growing, says Matthews. The group always enjoys playing with styles and adding elements on stage; it wanted to do the same thing in the studio.
Matthews gives part of the credit for "Everyday"'s twists to producer Glen Ballard, known for his work with Aerosmith and Alanis Morissette. While preparing for recording, Matthews flew out to Los Angeles to meet with Ballard, intending to polish some lyrics and work with some old songs.
Instead, the pair started writing new material on the spot.
"I'll tell you, the first day we walked in the room together it's just like 'bum, bum' -- (these) songs started coming out," Matthews recalled. "It was like they were flying out."
The changes extended to the way the album was recorded. For the first time, the group worked out written arrangements. But even then the musicians couldn't resist a little improvisation.
"We all had the charts out and Carter said, 'Let me just go and play along with it just to get into the tune,' " Matthews recalls. "(He) initiated this method, which was Carter would go in and lay the foundation of the tune and then Stefan would go in." So instead of playing live with arrangements, the musicians improvised and recorded parts separately.
The tactic gave the album a distinct feel, Matthews says. "There was a real speed, but there was also a real natural flow to the making of this album," he says. The songs, from the single "I Did It" to the ballad "Space Between" to the Latin-flavored "Mother Father," are all over the musical map.
The group also invited outside musicians to play, including South African singer Vusi Mahlasela. In the future, Matthews hopes to include more musicians, and musical influences, from his homeland -- and other places.
"I still go back (to South Africa) quite a lot and I love to introduce everybody to it a little bit more," he says. "Like Carter (has) said, you want to play music for more and more people ... and find more and more strangers to introduce your stuff to."
For now, the band will have plenty of strangers -- and friends -- to introduce to "Everyday."
CNN Showbiz Today Reports Correspondent Paul Vercammen contributed to this report.
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