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A history of the dave matthews band

Culture Dave, the unknown superstar He's the man behind one of America's biggest bands. Shame about the name: I can only apologise' "I think I should change my name," declares the actual Dave Matthews, a chunky, white, 34-year-old South African who speaks, somewhat incongruously, with a deadpan Virginia drawl. I wish I was nearly as handsome or as beautiful as any of those people. They look about 12 years old, some of them.

In America, they had this anti-smoking campaign that featured a hideous woman with wrinkled lips and emphysema and a cigarette hanging out of her mouth.

In Conversation: Dave Matthews

I thought that would have been a good one: That would have made me more interesting. He is the frontman guitarist, singer and songwriter of the prosaically named Dave Matthews Band, America's most popular live actcapable of packing 60,000-capacity stadiums.

The band's four studio and four live albums have notched up over 22 million sales, and according to Forbes magazine, the five members are among the biggest earners in showbusiness. Matthews has a devoted audience who swap bootleg tapes and debate his every performance on internet forums. They are known, ludicrously, as Daveheads. On this side of the Atlantic where Matthews lived for a year during a nomadic childhoodit is a different story. By his own estimation, the only sure way for him to get noticed would be "if I took all my clothes off and walked down the street.

Dave Matthews makes (and talks) history

And even then, people might just giggle. Even in his native South Africa, he remains unloved. All I could say was, 'Well, kudos to you, but, since you haven't actually sold any CDs, I can only be so impressed. Which, frankly, you would never guess if the posters had simply carried pictures of the band themselves, being a group of rather stocky and world-worn blokes who look as if their natural home would be a Midwestern bar where they might play Bruce Springsteen covers.

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Their cause is also not helped by being saddled with what Matthews admits "may be the worst band name of all time. Lord, there's good names out there - Radiohead, REM. And all we could come up with was Dave Matthews Band!

Dave, the unknown superstar

I can only apologise. We've been trying to get people to call us DMB, then you could just throw in a U and that would about sum us up. So self-depreciating, in fact, that he does not make a particularly persuasive advocate of his own cause. There is, in fact, nothing dumb about DMB. Drawing influences from folk, jazz and world music, the multi-racial, virtuoso line-up alongside Matthews are bassist Stefan Lessard, incomparable drummer Carter Beauford, violinist Boyd Tinsley and saxophonist Leroi Moore create a dazzlingly polyrhythmic, semi-improvised musical fusion around Matthews's intricate, sprawling songs.

They have been embraced by American audiences as a post-Grateful Dead, neo-hippy jam band, but, rather than drawing on the blues, they create their own brand of epic soundscapes to support Matthews's philosophical and emotional lyrics. We have fun doing it and get lost in it. And the fun we have on stage sort of pours into the audience. In some ways, in the States, I feel we've become a backdrop to a party. Matthews left South Africa to avoid military service in 1986, settling in Charlottesville, Virginia, aged 18.

He formed his band with veterans of the local jazz scene several years his senior and, although they could not interest record companies for years, they became a sought-after live band on the East Coast college circuit.

  1. We spend a lot of time bickering at great cost, and very little time actually coming up with solutions.
  2. There is, in fact, nothing dumb about DMB. When the truth is not really what's being used to debate things, then it's hard to see what will come out when it's just madness.
  3. You know, we have a military, but what if there was a department devoted entirely and truthfully to finding peaceful resolutions? When I look at everything else that's successful, it's much more concise, more focused.
  4. And when I moved to South Africa and I spent my teen years there under apartheid , I became acutely aware of racism because it was institutionalized, even though I was on the favored side of the line.
  5. And the fun we have on stage sort of pours into the audience.

Matthews says he realised that something remarkable was happening when they drove north for a gig in Maine - "12 hours out of any place we'd ever been" - and discovered that the audience already knew his songs. That was a moment when I thought, regardless of what's in fashion, this thing could still do quite well for us.

It is complex stuff, but it genuinely rewards repeated play.

  1. When I was a kid growing up in New York, I was pretty unaware of racism. But I think it's going to be a close race, and maybe it'll be the ugliest election as far as empty falsehoods that the candidates throw at each other.
  2. We should all be talking to each other about what we think is important -- whether we're in politics, or whether we're checking out at a grocery store. But I think we should blame ourselves, and maybe get more things done.
  3. But I think I was probably disrespectful of his predecessor.
  4. I think we have to be active in teaching our children, and teaching each other. The multi-platinum Grammy winner laments, "I wish there was a third party, but right now, I will wholeheartedly support Obama -- even if I'm slightly heartbroken about it.

Although the band's most recent album, Everyday, never charted in the UK, it consistently sells about 2,000 copies a week. BMG are pouring resources into promoting a forthcoming single, The Space Between, while Matthews has been charming British audiences with small-scale acoustic shows. However, Matthews admits to being pessimistic about his prospects. When I look at everything else that's successful, it's much more concise, more focused. Everyone has their categories and their place.

I think there are many other musicians over there who go, 'How the hell did that band get across to so many people?