Dave Matthews Band Talks 'Big Whiskey'

An exclusive video previewing Dave Matthews Band's new album and an in-depth conversation with Matthews himself.

From the bluesy sax solo that opens the album, to the inspired songs and performances throughout, it's clear that this one's for LeRoi.
Exclusive: DMB "Groogrux" Preview Video
In this exclusive video preview of the new DMB album, Dave Matthews, Boyd Tinsley, Stefan Lessard and Carter Beauford perform and talk about recording and the death of LeRoi Moore.
"Big Whiskey and the Groogrux King," the Dave Matthews Band's first album since 2005, shows a number of inspirations: producer Rob Cavallo (Green Day, My Chemical Romance), the band's maturation and a focus on creating a studio project on a level with the band's potency as one of the most popular live acts in rock history. But it's hard to deny the impact of the loss of founding member LeRoi Moore, who last summer died of complications from injuries suffered in an all-terrain-vehicle accident after work on the album had begun. Even so, the energy around the DMB camp is positive now as the members gear up to promote what they feel could be a career-changing album, due June 2 on RCA.

As part of the Billboard cover story, Dave Matthews sat down to talk about the impact of Moore's death, New Orleans and the making of "Groogrux King" and how being "terrified as a songwriter" is really an asset. [Order Billboard Issue 16 with DMB on the Cover Here.]

Since the start of the Nielsen SoundScan in 1991, the Dave Matthews Band ranks ninth in album sales -- and sales of the new album could improve the group's standing.
Artist Album Sales
The Beatles 57.3 million
Metallica 51.5 million
Pink Floyd 35.4 million
U2 33.5 million
Pearl Jam 29.8 million
Eagles 29.6 million
AC/DC 29.5 million
Aerosmith 29.4 million
Dave Matthews
29 million**
Dixie Chicks 26.6 million
Source: Nielsen SoundScan
**excluding Matthews' solo sales
The last time we talked you told me that you didn't think DMB had made the album that equals what you can do live. Do you think you have now?

Dave Matthews: LeRoi was always saying we should be better in the studio than we are live; it just makes sense. I think we finally managed to get it. It doesn't make sense that [if] you could do something sort of extravagant live, if that's where your strengths are, that you shouldn't be able to do something even more wild when you're in the studio. I'm really happy with how this thing turned out, [we had] a lot of fun making it. I just think we managed to find our groove.

I feel really good about what we managed to do, how hard we worked. We were really committed to getting it right from the beginning. We had a couple of obstacles and we rose to the challenges pretty well.

It's a nice touch that LeRoi's saxophone solo opens the record.

I'd been thinking about using that piece of music that he played at the beginning when we started writing the record through some improvisations. That was just one piece I thought, "Man, that's just got to make it on the record." It's hard to duplicate something like that that happens off the cuff.

I was trying to figure out how to get it on the record, then it just dawned on me if we were going to start with "Shake Me," that we should definitely go into "Shake Me" with that piece that 'Roi did. When I sang it to Rob [Cavallo] and Doug [McKean] the engineer, it came out of the air. Through the wonders of technology, we imitated the spirit of what I said and I think it's really appropriate that Roi be the first voice on the record.

Dave Matthews Band Billboard CoverThere had to have been two different vibes in the studio before and after LeRoi's accident.

We were pretty focused on what we had to do. I think it was real therapeutic, in hindsight. Everything was really hard after Roi's death, but I guess when we were all spending time and sat all together and listened to what he had already played, there were times when we really had time to think about him and be grateful for the time we had with him. This record is, among other things, our paying respects to him.

We did, I think, stand up for him on this record. He [had been] so excited; I'd never seen him so fired up about a record. He was always the one saying, "Man, we've got to get it right in the studio. If we fulfilled our potential in the studio, it would be a whole different thing.
That's where we should be excelling."

The really sad thing about this is he's not here to see the finished product, but I think we came up with a record that he would have been really happy with. We missed him in the making of it.
Dave Matthews Band
By The Numbers
32.9 million
Total album sales in the Nielsen SoundScan era (1991-present) for the Dave Matthews Band and Matthews solo projects
4.8 million
Total track sales for Dave Matthews Band and Matthews solo projects
Number of albums from the Dave Matthews Band and Matthews solo that have charted on the Billboard 200
* Of those, 13 were top 10s and four hit No. 1: "Before These Crowded Streets," "Everyday," "Busted Stuff" and "Stand Up."

Though it has its moments, it doesn't really strike me as an overly dark album. It feels ultimately optimistic.

I tend toward the optimistic, but there's a lot [about] life and death on the record, a lot of reflection and searching in the lyrics. But I don't think there's any need to be lonely and overtly, self-indulgently mournful. That wouldn't serve us, Roi or anybody.

One of the things about playing music for all of us is that it's a source of joy. So even if we're singing about death or loss or the end of the world, at the very core of everything there's got to be hope.

"Dive In" seems optimistic, then at the fade everything drops off unexpectedly.

It's a really dark song. To me, it's about the end of the world. The chorus itself, "wake up sleepy head, I think the sun's a little brighter today / Smile and watch the icicles melt away / and see the waters rising. Summer's here to stay and all the summer dreams will last forever / let's go down to the shore and kick off our shoes and dive in the empty ocean."

It's really about, whether you believe it or not, the possible end of everything. I did it in this way of trying to disguise it as an "everything's going to be fine" kind of song. It's a sneaky song.

I hope as people listen to it they'll go "wait a minute, it's not happy, what the hell's going on here?" When you hear what the lyrics are actually talking about, it becomes really sad. But it's got that happy feeling to it, which makes it become more of an ache, the ache that comes with happiness in it when you think of all the beautiful things in our lives. And the idea of all that going away doesn't take away from the fact that there are all these beautiful things in our lives. [It is] the sweetness that comes with a heavy does of sobering bitterness.
Is "Space Man" a straight-up love song?

Absolutely. [Lyrically] what this person is doing is a confession of all his sins, of everything that's wrong with him, whether it's alcoholism or whatever excess it is, or whether it's poverty. At the end, he finishes off remembering how much he loves this lady. I like that song a lot, I really like the way it bounces.

Is that a banjo I hear on there?

Oh yeah, a friend of ours, Danny Barnes, he came out and played on a few tunes. He played on that and "Cockadile" and also on "Skworm."

"Cockadile," with its swampy feel, taps into the New Orleans vibe.

I love a lot of country music and I'm a big fan of Woodie Guthrie and old American folk music. So I wanted to bring some of that flavor and Louisiana brought it out the whole way. I have a few songs from my past where I talk about my daughter Grace. I was picking on my guitar and my daughter Stella came up and said "Daddy, when are you gonna put me in a song?" So that's why I keep saying that [in "Cockadile"]: "when my Stella cries, "Daddy when you gonna put me in a song?" That was the only line I had, then we went down to New Orleans and the rest of it came, and it seemed appropriate.

We've got Danny Barnes on that song, and Boyd [Tinsley]'s work is beautiful. And I love his solo on "Funny the Way it Is."

Whose dog is that that barks at the beginning of "Cockadile"?

There's a dog that was at the studio named Oliver that barked every time anyone came in. There was also a guy, a fruit and vegetable vendor, he'd drive his pickup truck around saying, "I got 'sparagus, I got onions, I got avocados, tomatoes,' so we put him at the end of "Skworm."

You come across pretty fearless as a songwriter here.

I'm terrified as a songwriter, but maybe that helps me a little bit. On this album I didn't let myself off the hook, I was really determined to get as much right as I could. That's how I viewed the process: as a battle for the right songs and a battle for the process, and a battle for making a great record that Roi would have loved, as well as making a record that I will stand up and if someone tells me "I don't like it" I can say "that's your problem, 'cause it's good, bro."

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