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U.S. racism 'everywhere,' says Dave Matthews

  • Story Highlights
  • Dave Matthews: "I just see [racism] everywhere"; not surprised at anger at Obama
  • News media adds to anger, he says, in that it focuses on "loudest" messages
  • Dave Matthews Band aims for community, active with charitable efforts
  • Matthews calls "Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King" their greatest record
By Denise Quan
CNN
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LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- Watching the Dave Matthews Band moments before they take the stage is like watching a football team bursting out of the locker room before a big game.

Dave Matthews says he bellieves strongly in the power of community.

Dave Matthews says he bellieves strongly in the power of community.

They slap hands. Bump fists. Jump up and down, exclaiming "Feel the love, feel the love!" The energy in the air is electric.

And when they walk out on stage, the energy explodes into thousands of shining faces. People dance in the aisles. Others sing every word to every song. A few share funny cigarettes.

For more than three hours, the jubilant atmosphere creates a sense of community between an amphitheater filled with strangers and the ethnically diverse musicians leading the charge on stage.

But then DMB is all about community -- creating its own and giving back. BAMA Works Fund -- the group's charitable foundation -- has handed out $5 million in grants to worthy causes, including schools and victims of Hurricane Katrina. Video Watch Matthews sound off on the album -- and racism »

And despite the unexpected passing of saxophonist LeRoi Moore due to complications from an ATV accident last summer, the band members seem to be recharged. In June, DMB notched its fifth consecutive No. 1 album on the Billboard chart with "Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King."

We caught up with Matthews just as news hit the Web that former President Jimmy Carter believed racism was the root of some of the negativity directed toward President Obama in recent weeks. The 42-year-old singer-songwriter offered a unique perspective, as a man who split his childhood between the United States and South Africa during apartheid. The following is an edited version of the interview.

CNN: President Carter said he thinks that a lot of the animosity directed toward President Obama is race related.

Dave Matthews: Of course it is! I found there's a fairly blatant racism in America that's already there, and I don't think I noticed it when I lived here as a kid. But when I went back to South Africa, and then it's sort of thrust in your face, and then came back here -- I just see it everywhere. There's a good population of people in this country that are terrified of the president only because he's black, even if they don't say it. And I think a lot of them, behind closed doors, do say it.

Maybe I'm paranoid about it, but I don't think someone who disagreed as strongly as they do with Obama -- if it was Clinton -- would have stood up and screamed at him during his speech. (Shakes his head) I don't think so.

CNN: Everything has gone to such a frenzied pitch.

Matthews: I think a lot of it has to be on the press. We give the podium to a lot of people who shouldn't have the podium. The message that's delivered the loudest and in the most entertaining way is the one that we're going to put on because that's what we want. We want ratings more than we want to deliver information. That's just where the culture's gotten.

There's no way that Walter Cronkite, as a young journalist, no way Ed Murrow would be hired to do news today. Not a chance.

CNN: Because they're too low-key? Because they're not bombastic?

Matthews: Because they're thoughtful, and they're patient, and they're tying to tell you a truly balanced story. They're trying to impart information. I don't think that's the goal [now] because it's not a good business plan. ...

Everyone's outraged all the time. Why are you outraged? There's war -- there's always been war, as long as most of us have been alive. There have always been people being abused, there's always been horrible things in the world. Why are we outraged? We should just be quiet and figure it out, and work it out together. ... There's no solution in Washington as long as people are shouting like that.

CNN: Before you went on stage at the Greek Theatre (in Los Angeles), we were talking to the crew -- and they couldn't wait to tell us how well they're treated by the Dave Matthews organization. ... It's like your own minicommunity out there. You even print your own tickets, right?

Matthews: We have kept everything in-house. The core crew guys are the same guys we had when we were driving in a van, so they can always call "bull" on us if we start acting like prima donnas. It keeps a sense of community going when you travel a lot. There's a good vibe. ...

I have friends who are famous, and friends that are not famous -- but there are those who stick out to me. Willie Nelson is one -- a really genuine person -- or Neil Young. Adam Sandler ... people who really try and keep a sense of unity, and camaraderie and equality around them. That's essential. That's it for me. I don't think socialism, and I don't think warmness and respect are necessarily bad words.

CNN: Do you think you're competitive? A perfectionist?

Matthews: I'm a very vicious critic of myself.

CNN: So what do you think of this record ("Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King")?

Matthews: I think that's a really good record. (Laugh) Our first three records were really good. We made good records after those first three -- really good records -- but I don't think they were necessarily the spirit of the band. I think this is the greatest record that we've ever made, and it captures the band like none of our records have. ...

CNN: Before this album, weren't you burned out a little bit?

Matthews: I insisted upon taking as much time to make this as I needed. And my manager would call -- my manager who I love, who's a dear friend of mine -- he'd call and say, "Are you going to have it finished by the summer?" "No." "Are you going to have it finished by Christmas?" "No."

I practiced "no." I need to work on "no" still, but I got better at it.

CNN: What other tricks do you have up your sleeve?

Matthews: I want to figure out a way to not be stupid with money, then make a whole bunch of it, then I want to move to Outer Mongolia. I want to milk a yak. Maybe I'll just settle for a cow. Can you milk a bison? I have fantasies about being a farmer. I always wanted to be a fireman, but who didn't want to be a fireman? I just wouldn't tell anyone. I'd just go "poof!" Sometimes I like that idea.

CNN: You don't tell people about a lot of things you do. There's no press release that goes out saying, "Dave Matthews Band just donated $5 million to this cause or that cause."

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Matthews: We definitely use our fame and our celebrity to raise money for things we care about. ... What a luxury to be able to just do a show, and then look -- pow! ...

I don't want to become a poster child. That's a whole different thing. I don't want to be the face on it.

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